Easter Eggs-hibits at Buxton Museum

Museums commonly deal with old things and creatures that have long shuffled off the mortal coil. You would not immediately associate them with a holiday like Easter which celebrates new life. However, among the collections at Buxton Museum, there are a few peculiar eggs; traditional symbols at this time of year. We thought we would share some of them with you while we are closed for renovation.

Eggs made from rock, minerals and gemstones were popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We can only speculate why. With no internet, the people of these eras had to resort to talking to each other so perhaps such novelties inspired cheerful conversation. Indeed, Buxton Museum still sells quite a lot of colourful marble eggs in its gift shop. They look pretty and feel pleasingly tactile in the palm of your hand.

blue john egg

This egg has been crafted from the local rare mineral called Blue John, mined in small quantities in the Peak District village of Castleton.  It dates from the early 20th century and is 13cm long. Buxton Museum has all sorts of intriguing objects made from Blue John, all displaying the same unusual purple-blue-yellow colour from which it gets its name; bleu-jaune, meaning blue-yellow in French.

Nest

This is a close-up of a petrified birds’ nest. Objects can be turned into limestone by exposing them to mineral-rich water or “petrifying them”.  This specimen is from the collection of Randolph Douglas who once had his own museum in Castleton, the same village where Blue John can be found. He gathered fascinating items from around the world and exhibited them alongside keys, locks and miniature dioramas of his own ingenious creation. Douglas had a passion for escapology; the art of breaking free from death-defying traps, which ultimately hooked him up with famous magician and escapologist Harry Houdini.

When Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reopens on Tuesday 6 June, you will be able to see brand new displays featuring both Blue John and Randolph Douglas; admission free! We hope to see you.

Collections in the Landscape does Buxton

The team of Heritage Lottery funded project Collections in the Landscape have been blogging about their work for a few years now. Like the museum where they are based, the project focuses on the heritage of the surrounding Peak District, rather than just Buxton. However, they have thrown a spotlight on the town a few notable times recently; in case you missed any of them, here is a handy round up:

Back in June 2016, Assistant Collections Officer Joe Perry revealed The Oldest Building in Buxton.

lismore

In the following month, appropriately named Laura Waters shared some images from the museum collection of the curious local tradition of well dressing.

well dressing

Flowing with the water theme, Visitor Services officer and Buxton resident Ben Jones was delighted with an old letter from the town’s spa heyday.

spa

He also delved deep into the past to find 7 buildings in Buxton that no longer exist.

girl's school

And, unless you’ve been stuck down Poole’s Cavern for the last few months, you can’t have failed to have heard about the museum’s latest acquisition. Just in case you did, here it is.

moggy

The Willow Pattern

Ian Gregory, volunteer archivist at Buxton Museum, finds another thought-provoking curio from the collections:

Buxton Museum has a collection of ceramics. One of the items is a Ridgeway vase with a copy of The Willow Pattern; one of the most famous designs in British pottery. Its origins lie in the 18th century when what they called Chinoiserie was all the rage in Britain and Europe.

the willow pattern

Chinese styles may have been popular but did Georgian people understand it as well as they thought? Cobalt blue on white is certainly a Chinese colour scheme but the story of The Willow Pattern is European, not East Asian. There are similar scenes on Chinese export ceramics but what the Chinese made for exports often differed from objects made for their domestic market. Many motifs on porcelain bound for the home market would have meant nothing to Westerners, but a great deal to Buddhists or Taoists. Bats were a symbol of darkness in Europe, for example, but one of good fortune in the East.

Japanese painting

The Willow Tree by Eika Kato (1859-1942) watercolour collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Late in the late 19th century, a change took place; large numbers of Japanese prints arrived in Europe, and Western artists, especially those in France took an interest in them. Impressionist painters began putting figures on the edge of pictures, partly cut off by the frames. Post-impressionists depicted flatter images than their predecessors. Both practices derived from East Asian art.

Which is the deeper influence: The Willow Pattern and other Chinoiserie ceramics or the Post-impressionist borrowings from Japan? Most experts would say the latter.

Small is Beautiful

We are always pleased at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery when a local artist we know does well. Laura Critchlow won the Made in Derbyshire prize in the museum’s annual art competition The Derbyshire Open in 2015. Despite being a miniature painting, Windfall stood out amongst its larger neighbours.

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Windfall acrylic (copyright Laura Critchlow)

Since then, five more of Laura’s miniatures have been accepted in the Royal Miniature Societies Exhibition, held in the Mall Galleries just off Trafalgar Square in London.  In 2016, Laura was appointed Associate Royal Miniature Society member, giving her the title of Laura Critchlow ARMS.

Later in the year, Laura also gained a place in the final of the National Open Art Exhibition. This time, her miniature was up against large scale work, exhibiting in the Mercers Hall, London. The tiny painting held its own as it was snapped up by a buyer.

laura-critchlow

Continuing the success, Laura’s miniature work Pear Shaped was chosen for the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition, also held at the Mall Galleries in London.  Laura went down to the artist preview, where she got the chance to meet Chris Orr RA; the judge that chose her work.  Much to her amazement, Laura won the Wright Purchase Prize along with a trophy and a cash prize.  The work has been added to the Wright Art Collection.

Laura has just found out that her work Overlooked has been accepted in the Lynn Painter Stainers exhibition, running 6-18th March 2017, again held in Mall Galleries.  Laura is delighted to be on the 80 person shortlist for the prize, out of 2000 entries; its highest number to date.

It’s an amazing run of triumph for Laura. However, we often find that an artist’s work speaks for itself and it goes to show that size doesn’t matter. Infact, small artworks invite the viewer to step closer and have the power to draw you in.

Shop Around

empty-foyer-2

The old shop at Buxton Museum has been dismantled to make way for a new one, allowing us this rare glimpse of an empty foyer. Those of you who have visited the museum may have fond memories of purchasing souvenirs on your way out. Countless people have also worked behind the creaky wooden desk during its twenty-five year lifespan.

gift-shop

Despite being somewhat of an institution in its own right, the museum shop had its problems. It was too tall for young children to see the stock and members of staff found it hard to divide their attention 360⁰. The new shop will address both of these issues; the displays will be lowered and the desk is moving into a corner so employees do not have to turn their back on anyone, nor will they risk the injury that I call “owl-neck”.

Foyer - 3 with bike.JPG

The Derbyshire Police Norton motorcycle that became another long-term fixture in the foyer has also moved on. We decided that its unique rotary engine would be more at home in The Internal Fire: Museum of Power in West Wales. It took four men to move the mechanical monster into the foyer and it took four men to move it back out again!

old cases leaving.jpg

Continuing the development; four glass-topped display cases that have featured in exhibitions beyond the memory of any current staff have been donated to Middleton Top Visitor Centre. The new foyer will create more space for people to sit down but we are planning a display on a subject that many visitors ask for; the history of Buxton. The museum has always concentrated on the bigger picture of the Peak District but with Buxton being the characterful town that it is, there is an undeniable appetite for its past.

amethyst

This fantastic chunk of amethyst has been perched in a little cabinet in the front of the shop for at least two decades. I suspect that it may have been part of the stock at one time but no records exist to shine any light on the mystery. We have decided to accession it and add it to the mineral collection.

We hope to see you when we re-open in May.