Inspired by George Eliot’s Boots



Our August object handling session, examines two items from our collections, which respond to the theme: Dress to Impress. One of the objects we shall share with our visitors at the session is a beautiful pair of cream, kid leather ankle boots that belonged to George Eliot.

 

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In addition to being an Access Assistant at Nuneaton Museum, I am a published poet. I recently, wrote a new poem inspired by these boots. I read the poem as part of my set at Writers in Warwickshire Festival at Astley Castle in June with George Eliot looking over my shoulder!

 

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I would like to share the poem with our blog readers. The poem uses George Eliot’s original name: Mary Ann Evans. In the poem, I imagine that Mary Ann chose the boots for her honeymoon in Venice with John Cross, her second partner. Her previous partner, Henry Lewes, whom she lived with for 24 years but never married because he was already in an open marriage, died in 1878. George Eliot married John Cross, twenty years her junior, in 1880, the year of her death.
Mary Ann Evan’s Honeymoon Boots

Kid leather, milky and silken as butter
churned by Mary Ann in father’s dairy,

in God’s dairy, where her turning hand
broadened in the occupation of prayer.

From the Red Deeps, the brown canal,
where ivory boots could never fare well

to London drawing rooms, Regent’s Park,
in slender steps, still dewy from the pond.

Gingerly, Mary Ann tried on second love
like a new pair of boots with skin the hue

of a manuscript in candlelight, laid out
for her last chapter: a younger man’s love.

She bade goodbye to her unmarried status
as Venice beckoned and her trousseau,

unabashedly, revered the latest fashions.
Her offbeat get-ups of the past cast off.

She came from the town where ribbons
were woven, from the farm where pats

of butter were moulded and on the tips
of her bridal toes, she wore silk rosettes

that flourished like fine curls of butter,
floated atop the cream like water lilies.

by Camellia Stafford

 

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Kayleigh and I look forward to seeing you for our object handling session Dress to Impress in the Yellow Gallery on Saturday 20 August from 11 – 4pm.

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Baby’s first shoes

This week I’m sharing items from one of our latest acquisitions, a collection of five pairs of baby’s shoes.

2016-10-2The shoes were worn by Duncan Claridge who was born in Nuneaton in 1949. They date from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Duncan’s aunt was a seamstress and it’s possible that she made some of his first pairs of shoes.

2016-10-32016-10-4It was only in the 1940s that today’s norm of pink for girls and blue for boys began to gain popularity and it took some to become widespread. Before this it was common for boys to wear pink shoes, such as those belonging to Duncan. The design and style of the blue shoes decorated with small flowers and a button fastening also have a long history, resembling those worn by Victorian children.

To care for these new acquisitions I’ve padded the shoes out with acid free tissue paper, which helps to re-create and preserve their shape. The leather shoes have also been treated with Renaissance wax to condition and protect them.

We think the shoes are a lovely reminder of childhood and life growing up in the Borough in the 1940s and 1950s. We’ll look forward to sharing them with you in future displays!

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School’s Out!

It’s the end of a very productive year working with our local schools and colleges!

Film and Media students from King Edward VI College worked with an animation artist to produce our fantastic ‘Little Brother’ stop motion film.  You may remember this featured in our ‘Protest’ exhibition and drew praise from teachers and visitors alike.
We rounded our year of school projects off in June with a very successful visit by pupils from Arc School, Old Arley. In this project pupils were invited ‘behind the scenes’ to investigate objects in our stores that have an industrial or architectural link. Taking inspiration from the objects they were then tasked to produce a piece of artwork back in the classroom.
So, as another school year ends and the summer holidays begin, we are already hard at work planning more school projects in the autumn. Thank you to all the teachers, pupils and students for your enthusiasm and creativity which makes all our projects very special!IMG_6440

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Let me share with you an object that speaks of Crime & Punishment. . . .

Whilst searching in the Museum store in preparation for out next Hands on History session, Kayleigh, one of our Access Assistants came across this crystal.

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“This colourless oval caught my eye as it reflected the light so beautifully. Beside it was a transcript of an original letter, composed by Mr H. Evans a Superintendent based in Nuneaton, without which I would not have known the crystals purpose or significance, particularly in regards to Crime & Punishment in Nuneaton during the early 1900s.

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The transcript reads;

‘This crystal was found on a gipsy which was used by her for fortune-telling and was at Law Courts Nuneaton on July 1920’.

The act of fortune-telling involves the prediction of future events and aspects of a particular sitter’s life. Unfortunately we do not know the name of the fortune-teller to whom this crystal belonged but we have discovered that the crystal was confiscated from them and they were evicted from Nuneaton.  At this time the acts of fortune-telling, astrology and spiritualism were deemed punishable offences under the ‘Vagrancy Act’ established by Parliament in 1824.”

Join Kayleigh and Camellia at the Museum & Art Gallery from 11am – 4pm on Saturday 16th July, where they will share with you more objects, exploring their association with both Crime and Punishment.

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(B)lab!

ratThis week we are putting together our new exhibition called “(B)lab” and I can safely say we haven’t done anything like this before.  The exhibition has come out of our work with Battersea Arts Centre and the Creative Museums Programme.  Creative Museums is about us learning “Scratch” the method which Battersea uses to make new shows and test ideas.  At its heart is the principle that you share an idea with your audience at the first opportunity.

We really want to use Scratch here at the museum to make change.  We are starting off by wanting to find out what stories should be told about local history.  To do this we worked with Matt and Kirsty, 2 artists who have previously worked with Battersea, to come up with ideas about how we might test stories on visitors to the museum and our Blog.  At one of our sessions the idea of a Borough Lab or (B)lab was born.  We are now installing the Lab which will contain stories to be tested alongside a feedback area called the (Blab)Back.  We want lots of people to visit the (B)lab, young or old and tell us what stories should be kept and added to our Reposi(story).

For those of you who can’t visit in person we’ll be adding stuff to this Blog; please post a comment to let us know what you think.

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The Fabric of Co-operation: Waving the banner for women’s history

Today we were very excited to acquire a new collection of objects relating to women’s history in the Borough.

The poppy is used by guilds in the Midlands as a symbol of courage. This banner was made in 1983 to celebrate the Guild's centenary.

The poppy is used by guilds in the Midlands as a symbol of courage. This banner was made in 1983 to celebrate the Guild’s centenary.

Nuneaton’s Co-operative Women’s Guild disbanded in early June 2016 and over the last few months we have been working closely with the group to help it find a home for its banner collection. After careful consideration we decided to acquire two banners from the Guild together with a small group of artefacts for the museum’s collection.

Women’s history is generally under-represented in the museum’s collections and these objects are important additions that will enable us to tell stories about women’s work, retail and the impact women have had both locally and nationally through the Co-operative movement.

Founded in 1883, the Co-operative Women’s Guild aimed to educate women on the principles and practices of the Co-operative movement and to help improve the status of women within society. Through the Co-operative movement ordinary people campaigned for civil rights and women’s equality.

This fragile banner displays the Co-operative slogan "each for all and all for each".

This fragile banner displays the Co-operative slogan “each for all and all for each”. The banner is headed “Nuneaton Co-operative Women’s Guild 1908”.

Banners have played a central role in the imagery and work of the Guild. They are used to advocate and proclaim beliefs through parades, protests and marches. They also form the backdrop to the social and cultural life of the Guild. These banners often demonstrate significant artistic skill and beauty.

The next step is for us to explore the conservation work needed to preserve the older of the two banners, which is particularly fragile. The banner has hung in the Guild’s meeting rooms and has been taken to Annual Congress and rallies to parade or decorate the rooms where members gathered. It is a tangible reminder to members of the commitment made by the women at the beginning of the Guild’s history and symbolises the work done to improve the lives of ordinary people.

The painted face of the banner has weakened with exposure to light and soiling over time. As a result the fabric is splitting quite badly and the banner is in a very vulnerable condition. We are very grateful to the national executive of the Guild, which is kindly donating £1,000 towards the cost of the work needed to stabilise the banner and ensure its preservation for future generations.

We’ll keep you up to date as we uncover more about the banner and its history through the conservation project.

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Bark Cloth Animal Tales

In anticipation of June’s Hands on History session, I’d like to share with you, two animal characters from our collections, who you will have the chance to meet on Saturday 18th as we explore the theme of ‘Animal Tales’.

 

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These two dolls, a bird and according to its ears, an elephant (without a trunk!) were collected by a donor who taught in South West Uganda during the 1960s and 70s. The dolls are made of bark cloth. Bark cloth-making is an ancient craft of the Baganda people, who live in the Buganda Kingdom, South Uganda. The cloth is derived from the Mutaba tree. Its soft, fine texture and terracotta colour are achieved by beating the inner bark with a variety of wooden mallets: a strenuous and time-consuming process.

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The dolls are sewn together with natural fibres, likely to be straw or grass, which is also used to create the decorative stripes on the bird and stars on the elephant’s hide. I wonder if our youngest visitors would like to give our bird and elephant names.

Looking forward to seeing you in the Picture Gallery on Saturday 18th June.

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