I am in my first days as the Wessex Museums Partnership Community Curator (Wiltshire) and have had a fantastic time so far. In past lives I have been a community theatre practitioner, a producer and a tour manager for theatre in education. However, the bulk of my work over the last 15 years has been coordinating and managing programmes of learning and community work for Oxford Playhouse and the Corn Exchange in Newbury. Most recently I have been developing arts & health projects and managing a three year programme of creative work for people over 55, including work in care settings. I also have two small children so some of you may see me at Under 5’s Fridays from time to time.
I am incredibly excited by working in museums and all the potential these organisations have to benefit the local community, in the broadest sense. Community Curator is a brand new role so the job will evolve over time but I will be looking ways to build projects for particular groups, to find ways to overcome the barriers people might face in engaging with us or in life more generally. I will also find ways to take our work out to people in their own familiar settings. I will also aim to establish smaller things we can do to welcome people to our buildings who have never been before. In essence my work should have a social impact and ensure that more and more people benefit from these marvelous collections.
I will be based at Salisbury Museum but also working at the Wilshire Museum in Devizes and will be taking the next few weeks to really familiarise myself with the great work that is already going on in and around both buildings.
When Thomas A’Beckett was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, the miraculous healing properties of his blood quickly became legend, and high status visitors, from home and abroad, began arriving to take caskets of relics, including flasks of ‘waters’, home to their own churches and cathedrals. Soon, humbler types were arriving and local metal workers neatly climbed on board the bandwagon by producing miniature versions of common flasks, called ampulla, which could be bought cheaply, and displayed, if so wished, as a sign that they had been to Canterbury!
Other religious centres caught on, one of the most prolific
being the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in N Norfolk where production of
ampullae probably continued right up until the Reformation in the mid 16th
Ampullae were also produced in Europe, and the shell pattern, being the accepted symbol across the continent of pilgrimage, became the most common decorative feature on an ampulla. Other motifs included, flowers, shields and letters eg ‘W’ for Walsingham. The little bottles were made of lead or lead and tin alloy – easy to melt and therefore to mass produce. They were basically circular, but flattened, with a slightly flared neck and with a small loop either side of the narrowest part, to which a cord could be attached (to be worn around the neck) or by which the ampulla could be sewn to a cap. The neck could be crimped if the water, oil, or perhaps dust (anything from the site would do) was to be held secure before being scattered or transferred. Occasionally ampulla are found that have not been opened, but the substance has escaped over time.
Pilgrim badges became popular later, perhaps as ‘display’ became more important, for whatever reason.
However, by the later Medieval period, ampullae were common again. It is currently thought that it may have become a ‘tradition’ of some kind to open the ampullae and spread the contents on fields, perhaps to bless the field and encourage fertility, or simply to bring the sacred back, literally to home ground. The bottles, with their necks ripped off, are commonly to be found in, or alongside, fields. They are also found in river banks or close to graves.
We might reflect that little changes. Using something to show where we have been (from a good tan to a sticker in the car – make your own list!) has never gone away. And all over the world little workshops produce cheap souvenirs for us to take home and show our friends. Neither have beliefs about special places, or people, which we (in our secular age) might describe as ‘superstitious’, become completely irrelevant. Indeed, in many societies pilgrimage remains important.
We have a temporary exhibition in the Wessex Gallery, celebrating the work of young people who have been part of the City Story: Historic Past, Creative Future Project, funded by an HLF grant.
Led by Salisbury Museum’s Katy England and supported by local artists, forty young carers aged between ten and thirteen years were working in the Museum on Saturday mornings, exploring objects in the museum and responding in a variety of art and craft techniques.
What is the connection? They are all favourites of Sophie Hawke, our new Finds Liaison Assistant. Welcome Sophie.
Sophie went on her first dig at the age of eleven (a long time ago she says) and never looked back. From Bradford on Avon, she was one of Mick Aston’s original Certificate in Archaeology students and has since completed a Masters in Landscape Archaeology while bringing up a family. She has come to us via Historic England and a dig at the Roman villa site at Low Ham in Somerset as well as post excavation work at Fort Cumberland in Hampshire.
Sophie is involved with writing up a report on a Roman villa under a playing field at a Bradford on Avon school, researching the manuscripts of Rev John Skinner, Rector of Camerton, Somerset, and is interested in votive objects.
We hope we might hear more from Sophie…. She is with us until May.
Two very busy ladies… Megan Fowler (Wessex Museums Collections Manager) and Emily Smith (Creative Wiltshire Exhibitions Assistant)
The hoards are going. If you missed our ‘Hoards: A Hidden History of Ancient Britain’ exhibition, you missed a gem (no pun intended!). It closed on 5 January and is now being dismantled with as much care, and security, as it was put up.
It will be replaced by our ‘The Origins of Photography in Salisbury 1839 – 1919’ exhibition opening on 19 January. A lot of work for Megan in the next ten days!
Also on its way, coming, is ‘Creative Wiltshire: A Celebration of Art in Wiltshire’ 19 January – 4 May 2019
It is eye-catching already! Emily has set the scene…
Our own Alan Clarke (Salisbury Museum Volunteer, archivist of our Photograph Collection) has a wonderful article (with accompanying photos, courtesy of Salisbury Museum) in the latest edition of Sarum Chronicle (Issue 18:2018). It is entitled Salisbury High Street 1853.
It nicely complements our new exhibition The Origins of Photography in Salisbury 1839 – 1919, open to the public 19 January to 4 May.
Alan says in his article “The thing I enjoy about old photographs is discovering the information hidden within them.” We know Alan, and always enjoy it when you share your discoveries with us!
Sarum Chronicle is on sale in the Museum shop at £8.95 and available to Volunteers at the usual discount.
My time volunteering at Salisbury Museum over the last few months has been fantastic. I began volunteering as a way of gaining experience of life in a museum. Having done a History degree I wanted to take further my love for the subject, how it is represented and displayed, how we as the public engage with history through sites such as the Museum, and I applied for an MA Museum Studies, which I will be starting at the beginning of October.
It has been amazing to participate in a variety of aspects of the museum. Beginning with the engagement volunteering I was able to spend time in the galleries, interacting with staff and visitors, whilst learning about Salisbury through the truly fantastic material held by the Museum. I very much look forward to seeing how the Museum develops and particularly enjoyed Adrian Green’s talk at the coffee morning this summer.
I feel very fortunate to have participated in the Rex Whistler archive project. This was not something I had expected and has been an incredibly enjoyable, interesting and satisfying project to be a part of. I recently visited Mottisfont and was thrilled to see the Whistler room. Having seen Rex’s plans for his murals and then to see his finished pieces was a very special moment for me.
Thank you to everyone at the Museum, my experience with you has been so enjoyable and totally invaluable.
Our beloved Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is finally where it belongs, in our exhibition gallery! After five years it is back for six months, right into the landscape that inspired Constable.
It didn’t come here by accident but it was carefully planned for. For the last year we have been working hard on this project. As the exhibitions officer I was responsible for arranging everything from the layout, transport, insurance and loans, to painting the space and actually hanging the works on the wall.
This year I was fortunate to work with Nicola Trowell, who is our trainee for this project. She helped me in doing the research and captions.
As you hopefully know by now, we are in a five year project with the Aspire Partnership (Tate, National Museum Wales, National Museums Scotland, Colchester + Ipswich museums and Oriel Y Parc). The six- footer came from Oriel Y Parc in St. Davids, Wales, it took a long way to get here. 322 km to be precise.
I am particularly proud of the third room of the exhibition, which shows Constable’s influence on 20st and 21st Century artists. It shows how important that big painting is, and how it has become part of our mindset.
The thing I have loved the most in working on this exhibition is having such a great team to fall back on. My colleagues, volunteers and everybody else that helped. We are amazing!
The A team of painters
…and don’t we have a lovely Medieval building? It was tight, with only 2cms to spare!
Hanging some works from our own collection
In our gallery, almost ready to go on the wall
My dog was very happy I was home and at last able to give her some attention, instead of the exhibition!
Expectation had been great all day. Then, on a murky, thundery afternoon, it finally appeared. John Constable’s ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ (1831), on loan from the Tate, London. All 1.52 m x 1.9 m of it. The only question was…would it fit through the door? Of course it would. It is an old friend who has been here before….
Purchased with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Manton Foundation, Art Fund (with a contribution form the Woolfson Foundation) and Tate Members.