Objects of the Written Word – Spotlight on Scenes of Clerical Life

Objects connected to writing and text are the focus of August’s Hands on History session. Books, diaries, journals and writing implements, a miniature newspaper, memorial cards, letter seals and objects inscribed with text will feature.

 

A book of considerable local significance to share with our visitors during the session is a copy of Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot.

 

George Eliot’s ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ published in 1857

 

This hardback book published by The Walter Scott Publishing Co Ltd has an olive green cover embossed with a beautiful floral design. The book title appears on the cover in gold lettering surrounded by a curly gold border. A plate inside the front cover states that the book was presented to Nellie Currall who attended Hall End Baptist Mission Sunday School in Attleborough in 1907.

 

Book plate inside front cover dated 1907

 

Scenes of Clerical Life is the first piece of George Eliot’s fiction to be published and the first to be published under her pen name, George Eliot, in 1857. The book is a collection of three short stories or novellas: The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story and Janet’s Repentance. The stories take place in the period from approximately 1780 to 1850.

 

The fictional English Midland’s town of Milby which is the main setting for these stories is believed to be based on Nuneaton. George Eliot, or rather Mary Ann Evans, was born on at South Farm on the Arbury Estate in Nuneaton in 1819 and grew up at Griff House between Nuneaton and Bedworth.

 

Griff House, Eliot’s childhood home

 

In the following extract from Janet’s Repentance, Eliot describes the town of Milby, conveying the presence of the weaving industry whilst also highlighting qualities of natural beauty in the town:

To a superficial glance, Milby was nothing but dreary prose: a dingy town, surrounded by flat fields, lopped elms, and sprawling manufacturing villages, which crept on and on with their weaving-shops, till they threatened to graft themselves on the town. But the sweet spring came to Milby not-withstanding: the elm tops were red with buds; the churchyard was starred with daisies; the lark showered his love-music on the flat fields; the rainbows hung over the dingy town, clothing the very roofs and chimneys in a strange transfiguring beauty.’

 

‘Janet’s Repentance’ from ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ by George Eliot

 

Specific Nuneaton people and places known to Mary Ann Evans have been identified as the inspiration for particular characters and settings in Scenes of Clerical Life. For example, in Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story, the character Sir Christopher Cheverel is thought to be modelled on Sir Roger Newdigate, who owned and lived on Arbury Estate at Arbury Hall. Mary Ann’s father worked for Sir Roger Newdigate as his estate manager hence Mary Ann’s familiarity with Arbury and the Hall, where she was given access to the library.

 

In Mr Gilfil’s Love Story, Arbury Hall becomes the fictional residence of Cheverel Manor.

 

Arbury Hall, the inspiration for the fictional Cheverel Manor in ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’

 

Eliot’s description of the dining room at Cheverel Manor mirrors Arbury Hall’s dining room:

any one entering that dining-room for the first time, would perhaps have had his attention more strongly arrested by the room itself, which was so bare of furniture that it impressed one with its architectural beauty like a cathedral…the lofty groined ceiling, with its richly-carved pendants, all of creamy white, relieved here and there by touches of gold. On one side, this lofty ceiling was supported by pillars and arches, beyond which a lower ceiling, a miniature copy of the higher one, covered the square projection which, with its three large pointed windows, formed the central feature of the building. The room looked less like a place to dine in than a piece of space enclosed simply for the sake of beautiful outline;’

Join our Access Assistants to appreciate the written word and its objects at this drop in session on Saturday 19 August from 11am until 4pm in The Writing Room.

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Meet our new placement student!

Hanning (left) helps Exhibition Officer Lyndsey (right) to hang artworks in the White Gallery.

We’re pleased to introduce Hanning Feng, who is on a placement with the Museum & Art Gallery for 8 weeks this summer as part of her Museum Studies postgraduate degree with the University of Leicester.

Over the summer Hanning will gain experience of the varied and exciting work that takes place here. She had a busy first week working alongside the Exhibitions Officer, Outreach Officer and Assistant Museum Officer. Last week Hanning:

  • Helped to take an exhibition down and carefully packed objects away in store
  • Started work on the collections audit with training on how to use our specialist collections management software
  • Assisted with the installation of our latest exhibition “Dressing the women from Poldark”
  • Shadowed a planning meeting for an exhibition next year on the history of the Festival of Arts
  • Prepared children’s Make & Take activities for the summer holidays

And there’s lots more to come! You may meet Hanning at one of our summer holiday events and we’ll share more of her work here and on Facebook.

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Dressing up 1780’s style!

We are very excited about our exhibition ‘Dressing the Women from Poldark’ opening on Saturday. This Cosprop exhibition presents costumes from BBC One’s hit television series ‘Poldark’, an adaptation of Winston Graham’s series of historical novels. To accompany the exhibition, we have commissioned several beautiful pieces of dressing up for children to enjoy, I’m particularly fond of this lovely hat!

Dressing up is a key element of learning, enabling children to explore imaginary worlds and develop their creative thinking. Dressing up also plays a valuable role in museum learning and encourages families, children and adults to connect with our exhibitions. Trying on costume opens up a discussion about who would have worn it and when or where it would have been worn. Dressing up offers a tactile experience, inviting children to touch different materials and textures like lace, straw and felt. Captivating storytelling is at the heart of Poldark. Dressing up can inspire children to create their own characters and begin telling stories of their own!

Camellia Stafford

Museum Access Assistant

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Vessels

July’s Hands on History session explores objects from our museum collections which can all be described as vessels. The session will look at use of vessels to hold, collect, preserve, carry and protect their contents whilst also being decorative, beautiful and tactile objects.

One particularly enticing vessel combining an elegant appearance with a specific function is this Turkish Spice Box.

 

 

The round box is made from pewtered copper and has a domed lid that lifts off, with a spire shaped handle. The lid is attached to the box base by two small chains of pewtered copper and fastens at the front with a clasp style copper loop. The design gives the impression of something precious inside. Patterns and shapes have been added to the surface of the box so that every inch of it is covered with sprays of dots, circles, zig zags, flower and leaf shapes. The inside of the box is in contrast plain and undecorated. Inside the box, spices would have been kept and preserved, filling it with their colours, textures and smells.

 

 

The spice trade originated in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago. Trade on the Silk Road via Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (and other land routes) was initially conducted by camel drawn caravans. The spice trade in its heyday became the world’s biggest industry. Black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg and cloves amongst many spices that were introduced to the wider world.

Traders were secretive as to where they got their spices from.  Magical stories were created for specific herbs & spices. Cassia was said to have grown in shallow lakes guarded by winged animals whilst cinnamon reportedly grew in deep glens infested with poisonous snakes. These mythical tales created a sense of mystery, danger, exoticism and rarity that surrounded spices and resonate in this Turkish Spice Box from our collections.

Join our Access Assistants in the Picture Gallery on Saturday 15 July from 11am until 4pm to discover this spice box and other vessels from our collections.

 

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Stories from the store: A box of books

“The War 1914: For Boys & Girls” by Elizabeth O’Neill

We are continuing to work on our collections audit in the Museum’s main store and are uncovering some amazing objects that have been previously undocumented. Today we wanted to tell you about one box that contained a group of historic books.

Three books in particular grabbed our attention. The first was a children’s history book that gives the story of the outbreak and initial months of the First World War. A handwritten message inside tells us that it was given as a Christmas present in 1914. The owner lived on Haunchwood Road in Stockingford, Nuneaton.

Another fascinating book was a kind of ‘dummy’s guide’ to photography dating from 1902. We loved the advertisements, which show images of cameras and photography equipment. It’s interesting to note the technology that was current at the time, with chapters on how to make negatives, prints and lantern slides.

“Photography for Novices: The Primus Handbook” by Percy Lund

“Photography for Novices: The Primus Handbook” by Percy Lund

Finally, there’s a piece of local history with this rather appealing guide to dyeing textiles, including wool, cotton and silk. Its handy cut out tabs allow the reader to turn quickly to the textile of interest. The book was used in the dyeing department at Hall & Philips, a hat factory on Meadow Street, Nuneaton. The hatters were based in Nuneaton from 1868 and we believe this book was in use in the early to mid 20th century.

The book was written by German company Badische Anilin- & Sodafabrik

“Pocket Guide to the Application of Dyestuffs” used at Hall & Philips hat factory.

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Disguise

The Hands on History session for May explores Disguise through the form of masks.

Take the opportunity to get hands on with masks of all shapes, sizes & colours from the Museum’s collection, while the Access Assistants share with you the stories that hide behind them. Discover how they were made, the materials they were made from and the unique individuals who wore them for performance, dance, or ritual.

One of the masks we will be sharing with you is this extremely rare wrought iron Siberian Shaman mask that was probably worn during a ritual or ceremony.

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The mask originated from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. The Shaman of this tribe was a spiritual leader associated with the spiritual realm. His role was passed down through generations  to sustain the balance between the human, natural and spiritual world, with the belief that each realm is made up of living spirits that should be honoured.

Through blessings, spiritual ceremonies and rituals the Shaman was able to access the healing powers of the spiritual realm and ultimately achieve harmony for their community.

The Museum Access Assistants look forward to sharing our magnificent masks with you from 11am to 4pm on Saturday 20th May in the Picture Gallery.

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Art Detectives at the Museum: Who is E. Jackson?

Our collections contain some amazing stories but there are also many tales we’re yet to uncover. At times our collections documentation is very vague, containing little information about an object or why it was acquired. However, every now and again we discover something that can help us to solve these mysteries…

Several years ago we participated in the Public Catalogue Foundation’s Your Paintings project. Through this project we digitised oil paintings in our collection and these are still available for anyone to view via the Art UK website, which is a fantastic, free resource.

More recently Art UK launched Art Detective. Through Art Detective anyone with specialist knowledge can help public collections to learn more about their artworks. This forum has generated some interesting discussions and a recent conversation has been key to unlocking a mystery in our collection.

‘Boat Builders in Madras’ by E. Jackson

Last year we were contacted via Art UK for more information about an E. Jackson, artist of ‘Boat Builders in Madras’ (H/1/1977/65). It was suggested that the initial had been incorrectly recorded and that the work should instead be attributed to Stanley Jackson. Stanley Jackson worked in India in the 1930s. His painting ‘A Soldier in Battle Order, Madras Guards’ is in the collection of the National Army Museum and appeared to show a similar style to our painting of the boat builders.

We investigated a little further. Our accession register showed that the work was bought directly from the artist in 1970. The address given was local but to our frustration again only the initial and surname of the artist had been recorded – E. Jackson – and we didn’t hold any more information about the artist in our history files or collections database.

Behind the scenes in our art store.

It was time to visit the artwork in store for a closer examination. We took a careful look at the signature on the painting. Unfortunately the signature had been partly obscured by the frame, which we’re unable to remove without the help of a professional conservator. Nonetheless, it did appear that the initial was ‘E’ rather than ‘S’.

So who was E. Jackson? Was our identification of the artist as E. Jackson correct? Could the artwork have been bought from a relative whose initial had been mistakenly recorded as the artist’s? The artwork wasn’t formally accessioned until 1977, had some vital piece of information been lost in that time?

More recently we have been looking through the museum’s scrapbooks. These contain press cuttings relating to new acquisitions, events and exhibitions at the museum since the 1960s. We found the answer in our 1970s scrapbook.

Newspaper cuttings from 1970 reveal that our artist, E. Jackson, was Emily Jackson. Emily Jackson lived in Nuneaton and entered the Festival of Arts in 1970. She entered paintings into several sections of the Festival and was awarded three firsts (in figure composition, portraits and free choice), one second prize (still life) and a special trophy in the art section of the festival (The Warwickshire Miners’ Association Cup).

Mrs. Jackson is described by the Coventry Telegraph as “A Nuneaton housewife” and the Evening Tribune records how she “swept the board” at the Nuneaton Festival of Arts that year.

‘Boat Builders in Madras’ was purchased by the museum’s curator Francis Fawcett following public and expert consultation about which paintings should be acquired for the collection.

Crucial information about the artist was found in the museum’s scrapbook of press clippings.

It’s always satisfying to uncover more information about an object or artwork in our collection and this will be added to our records for future research and interpretation. We would still love to know more and would be grateful to hear from anyone with more information about Emily Jackson. Please contact Becky at becky.harvey@nuneatonandbedworth.gov.uk  if you’re able to help us.

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