GETTING TO KNOW A PHOTOGRAPHER by Volunteer Alan Clarke

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Going Home

After dealing with many many images from various photographers, one gets to know the style of the photographer.  Austin Underwood always tries to get the Cathedral spire in the picture.  Austin was a County Councillor for Amesbury and thus his photographs are often of items that would concern such a role.  For example road signs, accidents, road works, buildings being demolished or built, traffic jams, protest marches, Amesbury social events.  He was also a schoolmaster at BIshop Wordsworth School, so there is an almost complete record of the school activities whilst he was a master there.  This record includes details of all the metalwork that the boys were taught.  All the sporting events, concerts and plays are captured in his negatives including backstage scenes during hectic make-up for large casts.  Another aspect which distinguishes an Austin photograph is his ability to climb adjacent structures in order to obtain an unusual view.  On one occasion this included climbing a helter-skelter that was under construction in the Chipperfield’s funfair yard in the centre of Amesbury.  This resulted in some very unusual aerial images of Amesbury town centre.

Wilfred Chaplin has a great sense of humour which shows in many of his photographs. He also liked wildlife and even made a trip wire to set off the shutter of his camera.  In this way he captured badgers and birds on their nests.  As he used glass plates, he took great care composing the scene before photographing it.  One of his winning masterpieces was entitled “11:55”.  It consisted of an elderly gentleman resting against a bollard by the St Ann Cathedral gate with the Kings Arms Inn in the background.  The implication was that the gentleman was resting against the bollard waiting with five minutes still to go before opening time.

Some photographers always try to include people in the scene.  Others wait and try and take scenes with no-one present.  I have concluded that having people in the scene adds greatly to its interest.

The photographer has entitled the above image “Going Home”.  The windows open imply the end of a hot summer’s day.  No smoke from any of the chimneys.  The TV aerials date the image as early 1960s. The gentleman is wheeling his three speed Sturmy-Archered hubbed bicycle home at the end of a tiring day.  He has his tea urn on the handlebars.  A cloth hat to protect him from the sun.  You can almost feel the heat rising from the road surface.  The houses don’t have many windows and have porches to protect their front doors from the weather, not a problem today.  The road has cats-eyes and looks to me like the A338, just past Idmiston.  But what really surprises me is that the photographer is Austin Underwood.  This is definitely not his usual style.

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Anyone for Coffee?

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The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, fund raising for Macmillan Cancer Support, is on Friday 29th September and we can join in, here! Kay is organising coffee and cake for  a fiver, 10am – 11.30am, in our very own King’s House Cafe.

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In addition, Kay is cycling 300 miles in September to raise money for cancer charities. See her sponsor form in the cafe, or pop some money in her jar..

Well done and good luck Kay!

SOME OBSERVATIONS by Volunteer Alan Crooks

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As we bid farewell to our summer exhibition, some observations on British Art:Ancient Landscapes by Engagement Volunteer, Alan Crooks…

With my scientific background (former Health Service scientist and latterly a Teacher of Chemistry) I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that there are several artists featured in this exhibition of whom I had never previously heard, despite them being well-known – even famous. Among these are Eric Ravilious and Derek Jarman.  Indeed a major joy of having retired and taken on a role as a Museum Volunteer is the opportunity to learn things outside of my previous sphere.

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Eric Ravilious

My scientific background gives me a completely different perspective on many of the works, that were not picked up by the curator, Professor Sam Smiles, either in his introductory lecture or in the accompanying book. For example, several visitors have commented to me that they are not keen on Derek Jarman’s ‘Avebury Series IV’ (1973) picture. However, this is one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition because, I think,  it evokes the scientific approach to archaeology. Thus the horizontal and vertical lines are evocative of graph paper, hinting at the need to precisely record the positions in which artifacts are found, whereas the horizontal lines also hint at stratification: the layering of deposits within an archaeological site according to age. The images of the stones exemplify the need to accurately record artifacts by drawing.

To another visitor however, the colours in the picture were reminiscent of Mondrian art.  The Dutch artist and architect, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)  evolved a non-representational art form called ‘neoplasticism’ which consists of a white ground upon which is painted a grid of horizontal and vertical black lines and the three primary colours. Piet Mondrian was another artist of whom I had never heard until mentioned by this visitor.

Having never previously heard of Derek Jarman, it is interesting how his name has impinged on my consciousness several times since this exhibition started, including two BBC Radio 4 programmes. One of these was ‘The Film Programme’, in June,  when they were discussing Jarman’s 1990 film, ‘The Garden’. Jarman created a garden on a shingle beach in the shadow of Dungeness nuclear power station. He retreated here to live in a “humble fisherman’s cottage” when he was diagnosed as having HIV AIDS, the “gay man’s plague”.  Jarman commented that he “became a hermit in the desert of illness”

While on the topic of stratification, another visitor commented on Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Two Figures (Menhirs) (1964) asking, “How did Barbara Hepworth find such a large block of slate with no cleavage lines?”.  In fact, if one looks at the ‘face-edge’, to use a woodworking term, one can see that there are cleavage planes, but the slate has been so highly polished as to render them almost invisible. Another visitor wondered whether Barbara Hepworth had selected the block because of the “lovely pattern” on its surface. All of a sudden I realised that this pattern was a fossil whereas, hitherto I had wondered whether she had carved it, even though the sculpture is perfectly smooth to the touch. This set my brain to ‘scientist mode’. Slate is a metamorphic rock; that is a very old rock that has (usually) been subjected to enormous heat and pressure, sufficient to change its appearance and behaviour. Slate is derived from an original shale-type sedimentary rock. However, compared to most metamorphic rocks, it was formed under relatively low heat and pressure, leading to ‘low grade metamorphism’. For this reason, any fossils formed during the sedimentary stage  can sometimes survive. The description of this fossil given by The Tate is that it “was caused by a small creature swimming through the silt that solidified, preserving the pattern of eddying mud in the stone”.

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) served as a war artist and died when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland, while involved in a search for another aircraft which had failed to return from a patrol. Ravilious’ depiction of barbed wire in his pictures, for example, ‘The Long Man of Wilmington, reflects his wartime experiences. Professor Smiles described Ravilious’ ‘The Valley of the White Horse’ (1939) as having a foreground like the hide of an animal with hairs coming out. However, a visitor to the exhibition commented that this part of the picture was reminiscent of the top surface of the wing of a military aircraft, painted in desert camouflage colours.  When I mentioned this to a different visitor on another day, he commented that this was unlikely as the Desert Air Force (DAF) was not formed until 1941, and Ravilious had been killed in 1942. However, these were interesting conversations.

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The Long Man of Wilmington, 1939 Eric Ravilious (Victoria and Albert Museum)

A gentleman came in and stopped sharply in front of Yoshijiro Urishibara’s two colour woodcuts of Stonehenge. Turning to me he commented that he immediately recognised these as being Japanese due to the use of the pigment, Prussian blue. He went on to explain that Japanese painters and woodblock artists didn’t have access to a long-lasting blue pigment until they were able to import Prussian blue from Europe in the 1820s. Prussian blue, (iron (III) hexacyanoferrate (III)) was the first stable and relatively light-fast blue pigment to be widely used following the loss of knowledge of how to prepare Egyptian blue. Hitherto, artists had been using indigo or other dayflower petal dyes. However, the synthetic pigment was more vivid, provided a greater tonal range and was more resistant to fading.

This conversation made a nice link with a Salters ‘A’Level Chemistry unit I used to teach called ‘Colour By Design’ which brought together ideas about why things (including rainbows!) are coloured, and ways of making colour. The Unit explained how from earliest times people used natural substances around them to colour themselves and their possessions, and went on to discuss the use of mineral pigments and synthetic dyes.

Altogether this was a fascinating exhibition which involved me in many interesting conversations in which I have been able to bring my scientific background to bear.

 

 

 

 

Behind the scenes…

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The return journey

British Art: Ancient Landscapes, which has been with us since April, is being packed up and is on its way this week. An interesting, sometimes striking, selection of paintings and other items has intrigued, enthralled and enlightened summer visitors to the museum.

The items are now largely being put away, or sent home, as we prepare for our next exhibition, Terry Pratchett:HisWorld, which opens on 16 September.  It all means a lot of work…behind the scenes… for Exhibitions Officer Joyce Paeson and her team.

Arrivederci Nadia

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Nadia

 

We have very much enjoyed having a second intern from Italy working with the museum and the Portable Antiquities Scheme – Nadia Messina. Nadia has now returned to her home in Sicily. Arrivederci! She writes:

Hi everybody! My experience at Salisbury museum is running out and I will miss everything and the great people who work at the museum, especially Fiona and Richard (the best bosses ever). I loved working with them!

The view from Nadia’s office…and getting used to English tea!

I’m a field archaeologist but after this experience, I would like working in a museum.

I entered lots of interesting objects into the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s database. In particular I really liked an Anglo-Saxon jewel (an incomplete silver early medieval hooked tag inlaid with niello dating to period c. AD 700-900). And another interesting object was an complete copper alloy late Roman “propellor” type belt stiffener dating to period c. AD 350 – 450. ‘Propeller’ strap fittings are associated with the Late Roman Military.

 

 

It’s been cool working with objects from different ages. I really like the early medieval and I grew to like Anglo-Saxon material because of my experience here.

Finally I wish to thanks all for this unforgettable adventure and I hope that this is just an “arrivederci”.

Nadia’s parents wrote this comment on our blog a few weeks ago:

Siamo tanto contenti che fai la tua prima esperienza di lavoro al museo archeologico di Salisbury, certi che sara’ entusiasmante per te che ami tanto la storia e l’archeologia…Mamma e papa

Digging With No Mud

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Chris Elmer, previously Head of Museum Learning and Community Engagement at Hampshire County Council and now researching a PhD at Southampton University, adapted his teaching beautifully to a much younger audience than usual for one of our Summer Discovery Days recently. Rapt seven, eight, nine and ten-year olds (and one or two babes in arms!) were thrilled to be handling real bones and flints and Roman artefacts as Chris ‘unearthed’ them while “digging with no mud”.

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The archaeologist’s ‘trench’ can be seen in the background here – green and brown and cream coloured blankets cleverly representing grass, topsoil and the lower levels of the trench itself.

Volunteers were on hand, as always, to assist: Rodney Targett, Amy Middleton and student Megan Corbett. Many thanks, as always.

The next generation of archaeologists is already on its way….

 

THE ALCHEMIST AT ST THOMAS’ CHURCH by Volunteer Alan Crooks

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The St Thomas Church alchemist

Colleagues will be aware of the interest I have in the alchemist St Thomas Church. I first became aware of this when, during a Hallowe’en Walk with Fisherton History Society, we stopped outside the Church to be regaled with certain tales. As a former pupil of St Thomas School, for which this was our church, I decided I ought to pay a longer visit having not been since leaving school.

As a retired Chemistry teacher my interest was piqued by a plaque by the North Door which says:

The North Door which once led to a room above the now destroyed North Porch. At one time an alchemist lived there. Outside you can still see the ruined tower from which he dashed to escape the noxious fumes of his experiments.

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-The North Door at St Thomas

Who was this alchemist? When did he live? What was the nature of his experiments? There were many questions which sprang immediately to mind.

One immediately available resource was Tim Tatton-Brown’s booklet (available on the St Thomas Church website) entitled ‘The Building of St Thomas’s Church, Salisbury’. Here he says that  “it seems very likely that the nave aisle walls  and the north and south porches were also being built in the years around 1400”. In a footnote, he notes that “The north porch was demolished in 1835…”.

Thus the alchemist must have lived here in the 15th Century or later – but who was he?

Further research revealed that an antiquarian, Edward Duke (see below), had “lately found (five small crucibles) plastered up in a small niche in a room over the large entrance porch of the Church of St Thomas in Salisbury”.

This was quite likely when the porch was destroyed in 1835.

The report goes on to say that, “The gentleman (Rev. Edward Duke M.A.)… is of the opinion that these carefully concealed crucibles were evidently intended for alchymical purposes. He conceives, however, that they were employed not for the purpose of making gold, but for the higher and more difficult branch of the art, namely making the “Elixir of Life”, which was believed to consist of the “quintessence of gold”.

Thus Duke related the five crucibles to the quintessence.

The question arises, do these crucibles still exist somewhere, perhaps in a museum? Edward Duke lived (and died, in 1852) at Lake House, currently the home of the rock musician, Sting. Edward Duke is known to have kept a small museum at Lake House. Lake House suffered a serious fire at the start of the 20th Century, but it is quite possible that artifacts such as crucibles would have survived. Edward Duke’s collection entered the Pitt-Rivers Collection after his death, and therefore it’s possible that these crucibles could be at Salisbury Museum or in Oxford. Adrian Green (Director) tells me that they’re not at Salisbury.

Edward Duke suggested two possible names for this alchemist, these being Thomas Charnock, a “visionary alchemist, mad man”, who became known to… Sir James Bekinsau, Vicar Choral of the Church of Salisbury, who was born in Broadchalke. To date I have been unable to find any information on Sir James Bekinsau, except that he may have been the brother of John Bekinsau, a theologian, and author of ‘De supremo et absolute Regis imperio’ (London, 1546), dedicated to Henry VIII.

However, I myself believe the alchemist could well have been Dr Simon Forman who the author, Barbara Howard Traister , has described as being “The Notorious Astrological Physician of London”.

Forman was born in Quidhampton in 1552 and, in his Autobiography, states that among other places where he lived in Salisbury, he lived in St Thomas churchyard. During his time in Salisbury he was imprisoned several times for practising medicine without a licence and for possession of  ‘suspicious books’. He was also publicly practising necromancy, foigiomercy and to “calle angels and sprites”. The JP responsible for causing his imprisonment on several of these occasions was Giles Estcourt. However, although Salisbury Library has the transcripts of the Quarter Sessions for 1563 and 1574 to 1592, Simon Forman’s name is not mentioned, although Giles Estcourt can be found for several occasions. It seems that crimes more serious than larceny were tried in the Assizes, and it will be necessary for me to access these at the National Archive in Kew.

During his time in Salisbury, Forman tutored the sons of a Mr. Duke of Ashgrove, Wiltshire. He was from a family of prosperous clothiers, the Dukes, who owned property in the parish of Wilsford near Amesbury. In 1578 they bought the Lake estate there, and subsequently built the beautiful house of chequered flint and grey stone, currently owned by the rock musician, Sting. The aforementioned antiquarian, Rev. Edward Duke, M.A., is of this family and so, unbeknown to himself, had a direct connection to the alchemist of St Thomas Church, if indeed it was Simon Forman.

Forman left Salisbury for good in 1589, moving to London. This was in the aftermath of some sort of scandal. During his time in London he writes that, in 1594, he began to search for the Philosopher’s Stone, thus implying that he wasn’t doing this during his time in Salisbury.

Forman eventually achieved success as an astrological physician, but only after many trials and tribulations with the College of Physicians, including being fined for practicing without a licence. Forman eventually managed to circumvent the College of Physicians by obtaining a licence to practice medicine from Cambridge University.

Despite in his day being considered a quack and a charlatan, Forman’s reputation has undergone something of a transformation in recent years, this being due to his meticulous record keeping of patient consultations. He and his protégé, the astrologer Richard Napier, recorded detailed information about their patients’ medical conditions, then treated them through careful calculations using astrological charts. Unusually for their time, Forman and Napier actually recorded people’s symptoms. This means that their patient consultation records are better than any other records from the period.

A fuller account of this article, with illustrations, can be found on the ‘History and Heritage’ section of the St Thomas Church website:

http://www.stthomassalisbury.co.uk/documents/history-heritage/105-the-alchemist-of-st-thomas-s/file

The Reverend Edward Duke MA (1779-1852) was Lord of the Manor of Lake, and lived in Lake House.

Intriguing Excavation

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Last week, a team of archaeologists led by Dr David Roberts of Historic England, and which included Members, Volunteers, Staff and friends of Salisbury Museum, were in the Wiltshire countryside on an exciting excavation. It is part of a project initiated by Dr Roberts as long ago as 2008 when he was still a student at the University of York, and digging has continued during most summers since then. The research is primarily into Roman remains in the area but much of the prehistory and early history has been exposed also.

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Dr Roberts and colleagues in what may be a Roman sacred grove

The site is particularly intriguing. Extensive masonry walls have been found and buildings which are not domestic. Nevertheless, some detritus of everyday living has been found, including coins, brooches, and, this year, significant amounts of pottery.

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One of the trenches, and above, the ridge, which is surrounded by earth and masonry walls

Within the walls which have been discovered, surrounding a high ridge, the remains of ritually killed animals (found in previous seasons’ excavations) suggest a sacred site of some kind, with many of the building remains perhaps being to serve visitors, and only in use for part of the year. Interpretation continues.

Apart from an impressive thunderstorm which caused a rapid evacuation of the site on one afternoon, the weather was kind. The professionals were endlessly patient with the amateurs, and the fresh air, exercise, and the history were wonderful.

 

Event Reminders

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Thursday 31 August from 10.30am-11.30am

Collections in Focus lecture

The first of our ‘Collections in Focus’ lectures will be on the theme of the Rex Whistler Archive and the lecture will be given by volunteer Christine Mason. We will aim to deliver three collections lectures a year. Please let me know if you would be prepared to give a talk about an aspect of the collections – or if there is anything you would love to hear about. There is no need to RSVP for this event.

Tuesday 5 September

Volunteers’ Summer Party from 6pm-7.30pm

You are warmly invited to the Volunteers’ Summer Party. This is to say a big thank you for all of the hard work and commitment that you have given the museum over the year. There will be food and wine, and a trusted favourite – the Museum Quiz! Please RSVP.

Tuesday 19 September and Wednesday 20 September from 10.30am-12pm.

Volunteer Coffee Morning

Come along to meet other volunteers and have some tea and cake with us. Volunteer David Balston will be giving a talk entitled: Behind the scenes of the museum: collections and cataloguing. There will also be short presentations by volunteers on an object of their choice. There is no need to RSVP for this event.

Tuesday 21 November and Thursday 23 November from 10.30am-12pm

Volunteer Coffee Morning

Come along to meet other volunteers and have some tea and cake with us. Louise Tunnard, our Marketing Officer will give a presentation on reaching out to different audiences at the museum. There will also be short presentations by volunteers on an object of their choice. There is no need to RSVP for this event.