Tea in Miniature

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Doll’s Tea Set

 

This ceramic tea set is soon to appear in ‘Life in Miniature’, our Hands on History session on Saturday 20th April. The small-scale tea set was donated to Nuneaton Museum by someone who grew up in Bull Street in Attleborough. At the donor’s childhood home in the early 1930s, the little tea set was kept in a cupboard and brought out only occasionally for careful playing.

 

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Miniature sugar bowl, teapot and cream jug

 

Mini tea sets such as this one are often called doll’s tea sets or toy tea sets. Given to girls as precious gifts, doll’s tea sets were usually reserved to be played with on special occasions under parental supervision as reflected in the donor’s experience.

 

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Six little tea plates

 

The tea set consists of six plates, six cups and saucers, a teapot, cream jug and sugar bowl with a floral design in pink, green and blue. The ceramic has a lustre glaze. Faience is a type of fine tin glazed pottery that, during the nineteenth century was predominantly produced in England and France. Scientific and technical advancements in faience and porcelain manufacture in nineteenth century Europe broadened the scope of their use. Faience and porcelain began to be used to make toys including doll’s tea sets and other doll’s accessories.

 

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‘Foreign’ mark

 

Each piece of the tea set is marked ‘Foreign’ indicating that it was not produced in England but imported from another country. It was not until 1923, that imported goods were required by law to be marked as made in their country of origin such as ‘Made in England’ or ‘Made in China’.

 

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Tiny tea cup

 

Just as the doll’s tea set was hidden away for its protection in a cupboard in the donor’s childhood home and brought out only occasionally, it has been kept in our museum store for preservation but will be brought out for the special occasion of ‘Life in Miniature’ this Saturday 20th April from 11 am – 4 pm in the Picture Gallery.

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Art UK spotlights sculpture

Today we are welcoming Art UK to Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery! They have come to photograph some of the sculptures in our collection for the Art UK Sculpture Project. This major new project aims to catalogue and make available on-line the UK’s national sculpture collection – around 170,000 sculptures from inside public collections and outdoors in the nation’s streets and squares.

Over the last few months, we have been compiling a detailed spreadsheet of all our sculpture – over 100 items in total! Some are from our art collection, while others are classified as social history or ethnography.

This morning, I have been busy in our museum stores. I have been moving boxes, opening lids and getting out lots of wonderful sculptural pieces for the sculpture team to photograph. The project is a great way to make some of the objects that we don’t have room to display in our permanent galleries more accessible to the public.

One of the highlights for me was this wonderful African carved female head.

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The photographer had to go up a ladder to photograph this sculpture, ‘David’, by John Letts!

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Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery’s sculptures will be uploaded soon onto the Art UK website. Check it out at: http://www.artuk.org.

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Bead Society of Great Britain

We are delighted that the ‘Bead Society of Great Britain’ has published an article about one of our museum objects in the latest edition of its Journal!

The object is a wonderful Native American beaded shirt that we hold in our Ethnographic collections. A specialist researcher came to view the garment in August 2018 and he has now written a fascinating piece about the shirt, which has added detail to our knowledge about the garment and its origins.

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The shirt is made from antelope hide. It dates from about 1885 and is probably associated with one of the Plains people groups who settled in one of two reservations in northern Montana, United States, in the late nineteenth century. The shoulders and arms of the shirt have been stitched with panels of brightly coloured beads. These beaded designs include ‘feather and bar’ motifs, stylised hands and four-branch crosses – all of which were common Plains people motifs. The hand motifs are thought to represent the wearer’s coups (military honours) in battle. In traditional Plains culture, a man would earn respect by touching the enemy with his bare hands rather than with a weapon such as a lance.

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Green!

A curious collection of objects awaits you at this month’s Hands on History session on the 16th of March! In light of our own efforts to enhance our sustainability and in anticipation of St Patrick’s Day, we’re going green with objects from around the world and across time brought together by their green hue. Hopefully you’ll not go green with envy or green around the gills when you join us for a look at some of our intriguing collection.

Today though, I’d like to focus a bit more on one of the objects coming out for the session, a Roman glass bottle from the first century AD. Though it may not look particularly fancy, it is just this fact that makes it so interesting! You see, working with glass is old, but was to a large extent based around the production of high value luxury goods like beads or thick-walled containers. However, a new development in glass-working was developed in the first century BC. Glassblowing.

With a slightly different recipe, molten glass could be set at the end of a pipe and blown into, forming a thin-walled bulb which could be further shaped by the blower. This lead to faster, easier, and finer production. Before this, glass was either formed in chunks and carefully hammered down into pleasing shapes, cast into thick shapes, or poured in patterns while in a semi-molten state. This new technique made glass products more useful and cheaper to produce. Coinciding with Roman domination of the Mediterranean, particular the East where this process was developed, the practice of glassblowing spread readily affordable glass across the new empire as vessels, tableware, and decorations. Glass became the plastic of its day!

Our example here is one of those affordable pieces. The green colour of this piece is the natural for glass. It comes from traces of Iron. Clear or near transparent glass, developed only a little earlier than glassblowing, required extra materials to make the colour from the Iron weaker. Other colours, like blue, red, or purple, required other components to produce and were thus more valuable.

Glass soon found its way into almost every part of daily life, from morning rituals to markets to dinner. Our piece was possibly used to store and transport oil, which may very well be how it ended up here. Romans on campaign or stationed at the edges of the empire still desired the comforts of home. Large quantities of oils and other goods were shipped to where the soldiers were.

Interestingly, this isn’t too different to what we have today. We still go to the store and buy ourselves bottles of oil and these are still often made of glass (or else plastic made to look like glass). While our bottle may not take centre stage as a work of fine art, it is a testament to our ingenuity, creativity, and practicality and can tell us much about how people lived in the past and continue to today.

This is just one of many green objects we will have available for you to engage with, hands on, and each of them have their own stories to tell.

 

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New Community Showcase display

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At the museum, we regularly work with different groups to create changing displays using museum objects. These are presented in our Community Showcase in the Local History Gallery.

Yesterday, I was working with three members of our invaluable volunteer team. We were busy installing a display that they had created for the Community Showcase.

Over the course of three workshops, the group have come up with a theme, explored a range of museum objects, chosen favourite objects and created labels for the display.

Their chosen theme is ‘Made by Hand’. The objects they have chosen all reflect the skill of their makers, including a knitted jumper, carved wooden butter mould and model power station. They show the ways that people made, reused and recycled in the past.

Steph chose a knitted jumper which she donated to the museum a few years ago:

“This hand-knitted jumper was made for me by my Mother-in-Law, Mrs Marjorie Broughton, around 1980. She lived in Arlon Avenue, Nuneaton. She was a keen knitter and everyone in the family received jumpers, gloves, hats, scarves for birthday and Christmas, every year. Marjorie had a life-time of skill and patience. She could knit intricate, multi-coloured patterns without even looking down!”

Sally chose a model power station:

“The power station is just one of many buildings from a model railway. I imagined a ‘man in his shed’, taking his time, patiently building it bit by bit, by hand, from bits and pieces. You can see pen tops, marker pens, paint rollers, possibly yogurt pots, and other items. When I was aged 8-10, a friend and I would spend long hours in my dad’s shed making things like farms, houses and boats for school projects. We loved to see what we could use to build something out of ‘nothing’. The sense of fun, satisfaction and pride still remains with me.”

Julie chose a butter mould:

“I loved the craftsmanship of the butter mould and the fact that it was made by hand for an everyday product. I can imagine the blocks of fancy decorated butter on display in shop windows and market stalls in time gone-by.”

Our new Community Showcase display is now open so do come along and see it!

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Nuneaton Brass Band

Brass band photo

A lovely lady came into the Museum this week to donate this photograph into our collections. The image shows members of Nuneaton Brass Band outside Nuneaton Town Hall. The lady’s husband played with the band for many years, as did various members of his family. Although her husband isn’t in this photograph, she thinks that his uncle is. His uncle was called Norman Dodd and she thinks he is the  man located 4th from the left, at the back.

We unfortunately don’t know much else about this photograph. We don’t know the date it was taken, though we do know that it must have been after 1934 as this was when the Town Hall opened. We don’t know the names of the people who are in it. We don’t know why a cup is being displayed – was this something they had won?

We would love to hear from anyone who can shed any more light on this photograph. Do you recognise anyone in it? Do you know when it was taken? What is the cup for? Thank you in advance!

Brass band photo closeup

 

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Conservation of George Eliot’s dress

We are getting very excited about the opening of our new exhibition, ‘Becoming George: The Unexpected Life of George Eliot’ on 10th May.

Last week, I delivered a lovely nineteenth century dress to a Conservator in Warwick. This silk dress, consisting of beaded bodice and skirt, belonged to George Eliot. The Conservator will be repairing some stitching that has given way and mending a small tear which has developed as the dress has aged.

The conservation work is to get the dress ready for display in our new exhibition. It hasn’t been on display at Nuneaton Museum since 2001 as the fabric is sensitive to light and would fade further if it was permanently on display. The exhibition is an opportunity to get the dress out of its conservation storage and enable visitors to see it close up for the first time in 18 years!

Conservation of George Eliot dress

 

 

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