A hedgehog family

hedgehogs

This family of hedgehogs snuffled into our Museum stores this morning! They were made in the 1970s by a woman studying Industrial Ceramics at Nuneaton Art School and are the latest addition to our museum collection.

Did you know that these hedgehogs started out as bottle-shaped pots, made on a pottery wheel?! Their eyes, noses and bodies were then shaped using a damp sponge and modelling tool. The pots were fired and dipped in a white glaze. Lastly, the hedgehogs’ eyes and prickles were painted on using an iron oxide liquid and they were fired again.

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Wonderful visit from Escape Arts

Drawing by member of Escape Arts

Drawing by member of Escape Arts

 

Niamh dressed as George Eliot

Niamh dressed as George Eliot

 

Drawing by a member of Escape Arts

Drawing by a member of Escape Arts

 

Museum Volunteer Jessica writes about meeting local group Escape Arts at the Museum today…

Having the gallery spaces enjoyed by groups and members of the public is always exciting for everyone at the Museum. Today we were very pleased to have local group Escape Arts join us. They spent the morning in the George Elliot gallery, sketching any pieces from the exhibition that caught thier eye and inspired them. Everyone produced some really beautiful drawings of various objects from around the exhibition, from the textures of George Eliot’s gown to the intricate detailing on her lace shawl.

The group’s Volunteer Coordinator, Niamh, even dressed in a fabulous gown that was actually a replica of the one on show. Wearing it, Niamh performed a wonderful short autobiography on George Eliot and her triumphs as a female author in victorian times.

Visitor drawing in the gallery

Visitor drawing in the gallery.

Here at the Museum & Art Gallery it’s always fantastic to see how enthusiastic visitors are to come and spend time getting inspired by the exhibits and I really enjoyed getting to see the group work on their selection of fab sketches!

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Town Clerk’s Historic Robes

These are the Town Clerk’s historic robes that we are hoping to display soon in Nuneaton Town Hall. A conservator came to visit us yesterday to assess the robes’ condition and to help get them ready for display. She came with some brilliant items including a super-magnifying glass that helps her to see all the individual fibres of the garment. She found a few small areas of loose stitching and fray that need some repair but otherwise the robes are in great condition!

Conservator - Town Clerk's Robes

 

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Faithful Guardians

An evocative and touching oil painting from our collection inspired October’s Hands on History session: Devotion. The painting is by a Victorian artist called Robert Morley. It depicts a girl watched over by her dog as she sleeps and has two titles, ‘Devoted’ and ‘Her Faithful Guardian’.

 

‘Her Faithful Guardian’/’Devoted’, oil on canvas, Robert Morley (1857 – 1901)

 

Our Hands on History session looks at a range of objects exploring different types of devotion, including religious, familial and vocational, but this painting specifically highlights the devotion between a girl and her dog.

With devoted relationships between dogs and their owners in mind, I note that dogs held an important place in the lives of several key figures in Nuneaton’s history.

The famous Victorian writer George Eliot, who was born in Nuneaton in 1819, had a deep fondness for dogs. Eliot’s appreciation of dogs interweaves both her personal and fictional writing. In her novel ‘Adam Bede’, Adam’s dog, Gyp, is portrayed as the ultimate devotee of his master, hanging on every move Adam makes.

George Eliot received her first dog, a pug, called Pug, as a present from her publisher, following the success of her first novel in 1859. In her personal letters, Eliot frequently mentioned Pug with fascination and adoration. In a letter thanking her publisher for the present of Pug, she writes:

‘Pug is come! – come to fill up the void left by false and narrow-hearted friends. I see already that he is without envy, hatred or malice – that he will betray no secrets, and feel neither pain at my success or pleasure at my chagrin…’.

Eliot owned a number of dogs throughout her life including Towzer, Ben and Dash. She acquired Ben, a bull terrier in 1864. Ben, Eliot’s longest surviving pet, lived with her and her partner Henry Lewes for 7 years. Writing to her close friend Sara Hennell in 1864, she revealed:

“Ben” is master of us all, and the most momentous subject must be deferred if Ben wants a stick to be thrown for him.’

The highly regarded entertainer, Larry Grayson, who lived in Nuneaton for the majority of his life, was also a devoted dog owner. Larry’s dog, Peter, a poodle, was with him and his sister Fan for 17 years. Peter died shortly after Larry began a season at the Princess Theatre, Torquay. In a letter to his fan, Pauline Pearson, with whom he developed a close and abiding friendship, Larry wrote with sadness on the loss of Peter:

‘My dear little dog Peter died just after I opened here and of course it’s been a very sad time for Fan and myself as you can imagine after having him and loving him so much for 17 years…still miss him so very much, no one could take his place so shall not have another one’.

Despite Larry’s feeling that Peter was irreplaceable, he did in fact acquire another dog. A further letter to Pauline Pearson tells of Larry being presented with the gift of a new puppy at the end of his run at the Princess Theatre:

‘Fan is fine and we now have another little poodle since our Peter died last June, he was a last night present at Torquay and his name is Arthur Marshall, he’s smaller than Peter and he’s white but just like Peter in his ways and Fan and I love him very much’.

Following Larry’s death in January 1995, an article appeared in Today newspaper dated Wednesday 31 May 1995.

 

Article from Today newspaper, dated Wednesday 31 May 1995

 

According to the article, so deep was the devotion between Larry and his last poodle, William, that Larry wanted to save the dog he described as ‘my dear and loyal companion’ from grief. In his will, Larry apparently left instructions for what was to happen to William after his death:

‘Sure in the knowledge he would fret inconsolably after my death I direct that he be put to sleep in the kindest and most humane way possible.’

Thankfully, no one had the heart to carry out Larry’s instructions and William was happily placed with a new owner.

Although I know very little about Edward Melly’s dog and the relationship between them, I do know that Melly had a dog, who was, wonderfully, named Tootles. Since Tootles was the pet of the founder of Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery, his memory is kept alive here via our audio trail for children aged under 5, which is named after Tootles.

Join our friendly Access Assistants for Hands on History: Devotion on Saturday 20 October in the White Gallery from 11 until 4 pm.

 

 

 

 

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Puzzle Jugs!

It always surprises me what weird and wonderful things one can find while searching through the Museum’s collections. While locating items for our upcoming Journeys themed Hands on History Session (on the 15th of September if you would like to come join us), I stumbled upon something I had never seen before and found rather odd. This was clearly a jug of some sort, but it had a series of rather large holes in the neck as well as some conspicuous spouts set in the rim.

Puzzle Jug for blog

After a quick search thanks to our ordered stores and helpful database, I discovered that this object is a puzzle jug. What is a puzzle jug? Well, the helpful taunting text on the body provides a good clue.
“Here Gentlemen, Come try your Skill;
I’le (sic) hold a wager if you Will
That you don’t Drink this Liquor all;
Without you spill or lett (sic) some fall”
The goal, then, is to drink the contents of the pitcher without spilling any – a task made quite obviously difficult due to the large holes in the neck.

The secret, however, is that the rim and handle are hollowed, allowing the clever person to suck the liquid through a small spout. This example has an added layer of complexity in that the other two spouts would need to be covered in order to create suction. Or, of course, you could always enlist more drinkers!

I have had a bit of fun learning about drinking puzzles, something entirely new to me, and I hope that you might be inspired to investigate as well. Be sure to share with us in comments some of the interesting things you discover!

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How to handle a museum object (carefully!)

Today we were training three of our Museum volunteers about how to correctly handle some of our fabulous museum objects. Museums look after and preserve objects for their communities so it is important that objects are handled carefully so that they are not damaged or worn. Objects sometimes need to be handled when they are being moved to an exhibition, being shown to researchers or being moved about in the museum stores.

After donning our attractive blue handling gloves, we all had a go at lifting and moving museum objects correctly. We made sure we supported their weight with our hands, removed loose parts before moving them, didn’t pick them up by their most fragile areas (such as by handles and spouts that could break off) and laid them on a padded surface to cushion them.

After all that practical training, we had definitely earned a nice cup of tea (which we definitely did NOT make in the Museum’s beautiful Tibetan teapot!)

Handling training - Harriet, Jessica and Eve

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Bake off is back; so let’s get cooking 18th century style!

As followers of this blog will know many of the museum team have a healthy interest in cakes and that’s probably why one of our favourite objects is Elizabeth Raffald’s Cookbook from the late 18th century.  With the Great British Bake Off due back on television next week it seemed the ideal time to share a couple of Elizabeth’s recipes particularly ones suitable for harvest time.

To make an Apple Tart.

SCALD eight or ten codlins*, when cold skin them, take the pulp and beat it as fine as you can with a silver spoon, then mix the yolks of six eggs and the whites of four, beat all together as fine as possible, put in grated nutmeg and sugar to your taste, melt some fine fresh butter, and beat it till it is like a fine thick cream, then make a puff paste (pastry), and covera tin petty-pan with it, and pour in the ingredients, but do not cover it up with the paste (pastry); bake it a quarter of an hour, then flip it out of the petty-pan on a dish, and strew fine sugar finely beat and sifted all over it.

  • Keswick Codlins are apples that were in use before Victorian times. Their name comes from the term to coddle which is to cook gently.  As these apples were good for cooking as they reduced to a puree easily.

To make Black Currant Jam

GET your black currants when they are full ripe, pick them clear from their stalks, and bruise them in a bowl with a wooden mallet, to every two pounds of currants put a pound and a half of loaf sugar beat fine, put them in a preserving pan, boil them full half an hour, skim it and stir it all the time, then put in the post and keep it for use.

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