New recruit at Buxton Museum: Nikki Anderson shines some light on an equally new exhibition that showcases a lesser-known part of Derbyshire’s art collection:
If you are interested in Japanese art and woodblock printing then there is a great exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery you must see. This exhibition is to celebrate 20 years of the twinning of Derbyshire and Toyota City in Aichi Province, Japan.
As a Textile Designer myself I was excited to be able to enjoy this amazing exhibition and view the incredible detail in each work up close.
The print ‘Mimi’ by Yoshimi Okamoto grabbed my attention immediately. It is particularly interesting, and the vivid colours of the blue sky achieved by using Japanese water based inks are prominent. The use of blank space is intriguing and it’s as if the sky above is so far away it is in another world. I could find little information on the print, but the artist was a pupil of Toshi Yoshida’s Art school Toshi being one of The Yoshida Family Artists, a group whose work became known for its innovation. The artists were using traditional Japanese woodblock printing techniques and being influenced by Western styles. These 20th Century new generation artists were pushing the boundaries in art and the Shin-hanga ‘new prints’ movement was born.
The Yoshida Studio was established in 1925 by Toshi Yoshida’s parents Hiroshi Yoshida and Fujio Yoshida. After the death of his father, Toshi (his first-born son) took over the studio in which is younger brother also joined.
The Yoshida brothers, Yoshimi Okamoto and the other studio artists’ all shared similar concepts and in art and are known for their use of colour field abstraction and asymmetrical compositions and leaving large areas of empty space within the art work. They brought a whole new array of ideas in terms of the placing of the subject matter in the painting. In ‘Mimi’ by Yoshimi Okamoto a large proportion of the space is left white, the vivid blue sky is at the very top and the farmhouse is bottom right and the long grass is cut off at the bottom of the painting. A similar composition can also be seen in the work ‘Silent Landscape’ by Hodaka Yoshido.
In terms of the printing process the artists kept more in line with traditional woodblock printing although Hodaka Yoshido would also use other printing methods such as lithograph, silk screen and photo-transfer method.
A bit about woodblock printing techniques:
Bokashi: Bokashi is a technique creating variations in lightness and darkness of colours. This effect is achieved by hand applying a graduation of ink to a moistened wooden printing block.
Fukibokash: This technique will give inconsistent results from print to print and requires gradations of ink to be applied to the printing block.
Itabokashi: Here, uneven edges on areas of colour are achieved by ’block shading’. By first cutting an area slightly larger than needed for a colour, the abrading the edges of that area to make the transition from that colour less sharp. requires gradations of ink to be applied to the printing block. Again, like Fukibokash, Itabokashi was not a precise technique and would deliver inconsistent results.
What techniques do you think have been used in the prints on display?
You can see the Japanese art for yourself until mid March, alongside other exhibitions, all admission free. Over the festive season; we are open on Thursday 27th, Friday 28th and Saturday 29th, 10am to 5pm.
A few weeks ago, I promised to write more about Douglas Marshall Rigby, the talented amateur artist brought up in Buxton, whose artwork we have been delighted to display at the museum over recent months. My previous blog explored Douglas’ family life and growing up in Buxton where, at a remarkably young age, he produced many of his surviving sketches and watercolours. Now I want to talk about his life as a soldier, as we move towards remembrance Sunday and the close of our exhibition.
The 1911 census records solicitor Marshall Rigby and his wife Grace still living at White Knowle, Buxton with their children. Honor (aged 22) has her occupation listed as gymnastics teacher and Douglas (19) as clerk to a iron merchant. Later that year the family moved from Buxton to the market town of Knutsford in Cheshire. When the First World War broke out in 1914, Douglas soon enlisted in the Cheshire Yeomanry, a cavalry brigade formed of men of every class from the county. Several months later he took a commission in the Cheshire Regiment, which would eventually take him to the front.
Like many young men of his age, Douglas had enlisted quickly and he was apparently frustrated by the subsequent delays that kept him from the front line. Once he had disembarked for France, in the summer of 1915 and a year into the war, his letters and postcards home reveal a cheery disposition and a fascination with the world around him that seems undiminished by the conflict. As a first lieutenant, he was responsible for the welfare, accommodation and entertainment of the men under his command, and his surviving correspondence is rich in observations of the landscape and an obvious concern for the comfort of his men.
Douglas was first wounded by debris from a mine explosion at Fricourt in June 1916. This ‘Blighty wound’ led to a short period of recuperation in Lincoln General Hospital, after which Douglas rejoined his regiment at Oswestry in Shropshire. Here Douglas was a Bombing Officer, training others to throw grenades into enemy trenches. Very early into this role, a man dropped his missile on Douglas’s foot leading to 18 months of painful operations and physiotherapy. After this protracted and frustrating convalescence, Douglas returned to the front in August 1918, rejoining his regiment at Ypres in Belgium. Two weeks later, on 4 September 1918, he was shot dead by a sniper while leading his company in the advance which contributed to ending the war.
Douglas’s family received news of his death in a War Office telegram on 10th September, almost a week after the event. In the correspondence they received from those he had known and served with, Douglas was universally acclaimed as a splendid chap and a fine officer. His mother Grace wrote this dedication in her journal: “In glad thanksgiving for his life, in proud remembrance of his death.”
Thanks to the generosity and hard work of Douglas’s surviving family members, we have been privileged to share Douglas’s story and artistic output with our visitors this autumn. You can enjoy the display of Douglas’s artworks and a small selection of personal items during our normal opening hours, until Saturday 10 November 2018. A companion book and DVD produced by Douglas’s great nephew, Richard Elsner, are available for purchase from the museum shop. Additional artworks and other items kindly loaned by Douglas’s family can be seen at Knutsford Heritage Centre until 22 December.
On Saturday we were delighted to open a display of sketches and watercolours by amateur artist Douglas Marshall Rigby (1891-1918). This is one of three exhibitions taking place locally to mark the centenary of Douglas’s death, organised by his family to celebrate the life of this remarkable but little-known man.
Douglas was born on the 27 July 1891 in Timperley, near Altrincham in Cheshire, the second child of Marshall and Grace Rigby. Marshall worked as a solicitor. His father, John Rigby, was a partner in Armitage & Rigby, one of the north-west’s most successful manufacturing and merchant businesses, operating mills and warehouses in and around Manchester. John’s business partner and brother-in-law, William Armitage, was also the father-in-law of William Oswald Carver, from another wealthy cotton manufacturing family. The extended family were known as ‘the clan’ because of the large New Year gatherings they held annually in Altrincham. Many of the men in this extended family would later serve in the Great War.
Douglas grew up with his older sister Honor (born 25 June 1888), first in Altrincham and then in Buxton, where the family moved in March 1898 for the children’s health. The family lived at White Knowle House in Burbage, enjoying a comfortable middle class existence with live-in servants, regular visits to family around the country and holidays on the Welsh coast. Grace records in her journal that Douglas had drawn from infancy but began to draw and paint in earnest aged about 7 years old. In May 1899 his father took him to Manchester Art Gallery, and Grace noted several months later that her son would still occasionally tell her something new about a painting he had seen there. In November 1899 she writes: “He is of a restless nature, unable to keep still for a minute together – except when drawing or painting” and “at any spare minute he is always drawing.”
After the move to Buxton, Honor and Douglas were first schooled by a governess and then by their mother. By the end of 1899 Grace was reporting that they also had private lessons in gymnastics and dancing, and that Honor went fencing once a week! In 1900, Douglas had his first art lessons, but these were sporadic. He was later enrolled at Holmleigh Preparatory School on Devonshire Road in Buxton (demolished 1961), and by 1905 he was studying at Marlborough College, a boys boarding school in Wiltshire. Here he took painting and drawing lessons alongside his other subjects. In his own time he drew caricatures of fellow pupils and school staff and was encouraged to paint by his housemaster. In autumn 1907 he won the school watercolour prize.
Douglas begged to leave school when he was 17 and go to a studio so that he could become an artist. He went to a studio in Kensington, London and boarded with a family nearby. Apparently he enjoyed his time there, both working in the studio and visiting places of interest, but soon realised that he was not good enough to make a living as an artist and worried about how much money was being spent on his training. After about a year he decided that he had better follow his father into business. He returned to live with the rest of the family at White Knowle in Buxton and joined the office of one of his uncles, an iron and steel merchant in Manchester.
I can’t imagine that working in an office in the city held much joy for a young man of artistic inclination who loved the outdoors, but this is Douglas’s last known occupation. A few years later, war would break out and his life would change forever. I’ll write more about that in a few weeks time.
You can enjoy the display of Douglas’s artworks and a small selection of personal items during our normal opening hours, until Saturday 10 November 2018. A companion book and DVD produced by Douglas’s great nephew, Richard Elsner, are available for purchase from the museum shop. Additional artworks and other items kindly loaned by Douglas’s surviving family members can be seen in exhibitions in Chester and Knutsford*.
New multi-sensory exhibition Lullaby of the Larks commemorates the massacre at Fin Cop, an iron age Hill fort near Ashford-in-the-Water. Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood explains more:
Haunting anthems written by award-winning composer Amanda Johnson are now encouraging visitors to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery to reflect on the events that may have occurred about 2,500 years on a hilltop in Derbyshire. Sixteen pictures by Richard Johnson are memorials to the remains of sixteen young women, children and neo-natal babies that were recovered from the surrounding ditch, and are now retained at Buxton Museum. In four exhibition cases, bashed rocks and stones from the archaeology surround scarlet rosehips and hawthorn berries, and a sole leg-bone of a tiny bird reminds us of the larks in the landscape.
Lullaby of the Larks is Richard and Amanda Johnson’s response to archaeological remains from Fin Cop. Many artists working at the museum have been moved by events there. Visitors to the Wonders of the Peak gallery can see the work of Caroline Chouler-Tissier, and read Gordon McLellan’s moving poetry and stories, while considering the face of one of the people who was there.
But what is the story behind this?
I first learnt about Fin Cop in a letter that was sent to the director of the museum (me) over 15 years ago. The notelet was written in the hand of an elderly lady who had heard about the remains of a woman being found in a ditch. “I am appalled…”, I read, and then I had to work out where the letter continued, so that ultimately, it is these words that hang in my memory.
“I am appalled…”
I worked out that this was not a matter for the Derbyshire Constabulary Cold Case squad, since this was all too long ago, but rather for the archaeologists at the Peak District National Park, and they were already ‘on to it’.
Let me take you there
Fin Cop is a high spur of a hill overlooking the deep valley of the Wye River. If you go to Monsal Dale, and stand on the Headstone Viaduct and look downstream – Fin Cop rises on the left. It is probably a good place for a settlement, with meadows on the hills around offering level ground for modest iron-age pasturage and ‘gardens’, and fertile soils in the valley below, and fish and wild fowl from the river. From this platform, the views are spectacular (although be aware, this is private property and visiting isn’t encouraged). Back then, people would be able to see the smoke from fires from neighbouring settlements in the early dawn, and the comforting glow of distant firelight under the sweep of the Milky Way on dark nights. Communities then were not necessarily alone.
But something happened here, and the limestone of Derbyshire has preserved some of the story. Between 2010 and 2012, an award-winning, community archaeology project excavated at Fin Cop alongside archaeologists from the Peak District National Park. What they found asked more questions perhaps than anticipated, but the story suggested does not make comfortable reading. It is not my task here republish the archaeologists’ report; that can be seen at www.archaeologicalresearchservices.com , but what remains there were preserved in the limestone and what is missing leave many questions to consider.
What might have happened at Fin Cop?
People had been going there for thousands of years. There is a tool-knapping floor, with the remains of chert flakes scattered around, dating from long before the iron age. But by the time of our events it seems that there was a community here, maybe not permanently, but with the security of a wall around the houses. Something happened, and the community reinforced that wall, not very well so we can imagine it had to be done quite quickly. And then…?
Let us start with the things which are missing from the archaeology. We would expect clothes and baskets and other organic materials to have disintegrated completely, which they have. But there is very, very little pottery – admittedly the pottery of the time was friable and poorly made – more like flapjack than ceramics! No metal – well, the limestone reaction will not have helped that. No beads, no bone ornaments and tools; no spindle whorls or loom weights. If you want clothes made from wool, then these would surely survive, just round or circular pieces of stone with holes drilled through them?
It is unlikely that the archaeologists didn’t choose to collect them. They just aren’t there. Nor are the bones of animals – pigs or sheep. There is no evidence of men, or older women. There is no evidence of infection, nor of a site being raised to the ground.
So what is there?
What there was, found seemingly tossed into the ditch below the wall, and with the wall tumbled above, were the remains of young women, children and unborn babies, including a woman carrying twins. No clothes. No ornaments – not a bone pin that might have held a cloak, or beads that may have braided hair. The soles of the feet had been beaten, to such extent that the marks remain even now in the bones. A drinking cup, broken and friable was thrown away too, like a modern emptied takeaway coffee cup; this was the only artefact other than the rocks from the wobbly defences above. Sixteen skeletons or partial remains were removed from the trenches. There may be four hundred more – let them rest there.
The removed bones have been subject to a variety of investigation. Amongst my favourite pieces of information is of the woman with caries in her teeth: clearly she liked honey, the best and easily available natural sugar. My imagination wanders with her as she steals it from the pots, licking her fingers and the residual taste on her lips; as she follows the bees back to the hive so that she can plan to harvest the comb.
But ominously, as I say, these are all women of child bearing age and children. With Liverpool’s John Moore’s University, we have tried to capture the face of a teenager who died, whose early life had been blighted by injury, illness and hunger.
We can never know. We can surmise, but there will always be doubts.
However, as discussions for the deposition of these remains continued at the museum, I had occasion to be listening to the radio. Likely it was Woman’s Hour, because the conversation was topical, sympathetic and a women’s story. Two women from the Balkan states, refugees now in Britain (and I apologise here for my sloppy memory) were recalling horrific events they had witnessed during the war there at the end of last century. One day, their female relatives – was it mother … aunt … sister, even – were forcibly pulled away from them, walked onto the bridge, made to perch on the parapet … at which point the two surviving witnesses watched the drunken soldiery shoot these women, and their bodies falling into the river below.
How do they reconcile this memory with their grief?
Is this what happened? A falling out amongst communities? The men and older women, all the possessions – animals, looms, utensils, clothes, everything – cleansed from the site, just leaving this youthful generation, and possible evidence of a genocide. Did these women and their children have any protection, any clothes? Unlikely – clothes, blankets – they can all be reused. But just as the new male lion does, these offspring and potential offspring were wiped from the record. The killers’ will have their own children, their DNA lines, with their women, only.
After that, from what we can see, no-one except the ghosts returned to Fin Cop. But oral memory is long; the footpath to Ashford is known in Old English as the Way of the Young.
The birds still sing; hazelnut shells, rosehips and hawthorn berries bear witness of to the berries these iron age women may have gleaned. It is a meadow of extraordinary beauty, whose history can only really be imagined.
The people have spoken and the winner of this year’s Visitor’s Choice Award goes to Ewan by Phoebe Wilman, with 104 public votes. Well done, Phoebe!
All the more incredible when you consider the oil portrait was a final piece for Phoebe’s Art GCSE at a local school. Phoebe has now moved on to college to study graphic design, photography, maths and Japanese. She hopes to go to university to continue graphic design. With her painting beating those of professional artists hanging alongside, it’s certainly a promising start.
Phoebe told me:
Although the work I do now at college is more digital-based (I actually haven’t painted for over a year now), I’m really enjoying it; we’ve had a few live briefs from people out of school, and I ended up being chosen to produce some typography to promote a production of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat at Romiley Theatre, as well as being part of a small group that got chosen to have our mural of Florence Nightingale put up in Stepping Hill Hospital to celebrate 70 years of the NHS.
Ewan took 8 weeks to complete which consisted of Phoebe going in for an hour twice a week before school, and staying for about 2/3 hours two or three times a week after school, as well as having 3 art lessons a week. Her hard work and dedication has paid off; the intensity of a young musician’s performance has obviously struck a chord (no pun intended) with visitors to the gallery over the last few weeks. I asked Phoebe how and why her creation came in to being:
I had chosen the subject because I’d done a very small piece for my project of the same model playing the piano, and my art teacher wanted to see more of this kind of work, and it kinda lead to this whole big music-based art project. Ewan himself is actually a friend of mine that I’ve known since primary school, and we were also in the same choir as well as both being a part of Peak District Music Centre. Since he was the model in the start of this project, I thought it would be fitting if he finalised it too.
As far as the medium goes, we only really used oil paint at school, and it was helpful that it took a while to dry so I could go back and add to or change things a day or two after. I also chose to use a palette knife because it matched the style of Leonid Afremov (who I was researching at the time, and also explains my use of bright colours), and also because I actually couldn’t paint very well with brushes for the whole of my first year of GCSE!
I’m actually not sure why it’s so popular! Maybe it’s the bright colours or maybe the fact that I feel like Ewan’s rather well-known around Buxton and maybe people just recognised the painting to be of him? I was really surprised so many people voted for it to be quite honest, as there were so many amazing art pieces in this year’s exhibition, and I believe the Visitor’s Choice Award over the past few years have been given to older, more experienced and professional artists.
It’s not for sale because I’d actually like to give the painting to Ewan and his family (if he still wants it, hopefully!)
You can see Phoebe’s award-winning artwork and another called Harry, which won a commendation from the judges, plus many more until Friday 31 August. Admission free.