Making mermaids, mermen and monsters

Jenny Greenteeth’s Mother

Make a mermaid, model a monster,

shape a serpent

or simply love your water-people

February events the tide is washing in

Mermaids
one of our wilder Merfolk

Seapeople inspire us, it would seem….or water-people do, generally. Our Peak District “mermaids” are not saltwater folk but frolic in our cold spring-fed pools and stone-sprung, moss-spawned rivers. And looking wider, we meet Peg Powler and Jenny Greenteeth in their rivers, from Scotland come kelpies and water horses. There are spirits in streams and ladies in wells, hoary old river gods under bridges and strange monsters in lochs and lakes, tarns and llyns.

low sea puppets
a sea full of cheerful puppets, 21st Feb event

And then we get our feet wet as we go paddling and there are sea serpents and krakens, tritons and sirens. There are selkies and roane, fin men in their boats and the strong, sad, remorseless Blue Men of the Minch. There Shony in the western seas expecting his tribute to guide fish into the fishers’ nets. Just out from Liverpool, on the Irish Sea, we might meet Manannan mac Lyr riding in his chariot of seaweed pulled by horses made from the white foams of the largest waves. Or we might yet see the ghosts of the Children of Lyr who spent years living as swans on that same cold, wild sea.

Gordon MacLellan at Doxey Pool
Doxey Pool, the site of recent water-people stories

mermaid, buxton, faceAnd then there is Buxton Museum with our Victorian “mermaid” in her lonely splendour. She has a suitor, you know, a gentlemen (we think, with merfolk it can be hard to tell, and what does it matter anyway?) who spends most of his time in the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill in London. So if you are down that way, you might pop in and blow him a kiss from his northern lass…..

 

As part of BM125, we are exploring mermaids and our artist Rob Young is creating mermaid films and stories. You could have a look on this blog at some of his lovely posts about mermaids at the Museum, out in the Peaks and out of his own imagination

 

And still there is us at Buxton museum and we just enjoy our water-people….so we will have various watery moments over the next few months

 

Firstly, we have two events in February

low squid
Thursday: mermaids or maybe giant squid

Thursday February 21st: mermaids and monsters: 10.30 – 12.30, join us to make quick watery people. You might make a mermaid or a fish or a lobster or some dreadful creature no-one has ever seen before: the choice is up to you. This is a quick and cheerful activity making beautiful shimmery puppets

 

 

lower mermaids 3
Finfolk and merpeople….

Saturday 23rd, Wilder mermaids: and then we’d like to invite you to join us for an activity with a bit of fiddling, a bit of care, thinking and planning and building as we go to make fiercer, stranger, maybe more beautiful water-people….1 – 4pm

  • Details are still developing so times or event titles might change a little. Keep an eye on this blog, on the Creeping Toad facebook page or the museum events page on the BMAG website
  • Both events are free and materials are provided
  • No booking needed, just drop by and join in
  • Children under 7 need to bring a grown-up with them and these events are often busy so older children might well appreciate having their own adult nearby, too

 

Other BM125 events are coming for March and April, so watch out for more announcements – there should be minerals, sabre-tooth cats and some golden treasures. We are hoping that a mermaid tide will come in again in May!

 

 

 

 

 

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Introducing My Sister’s Scarf (working title)

If you had to leave your home at a moment’s notice and could only take one possession with you, what would you choose? For this blog, Richard and Amanda Johnson from Kidology Arts describe their current ‘work in progress’.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s collection is made up of objects that have been chosen. Someone, at some point in time, has deemed them to be special and worth keeping. One of those objects is the Hopton hand axe. Around 350,000 years ago it was lost by its owner – probably a migrant hunter-gatherer following herds of deer north having crossed the land bridge that then connected what is now Britain to continental Europe. The axe would have been essential to its owner; its loss would have been serious.

Hopton Handaxe
The Hopton hand axe displayed in the Wonders of the Peak gallery at Buxton Museum

We want to make an artwork that draws parallels between the story of the people who first migrated to Britain and migrants who have come here recently. We hope to point out that migration is not something that has only happened in the UK in the last 50 years, but something that has been essential to its growth for millennia.

To enable us to hear first hand accounts of the journeys that migrants take and the choices they have to make we have recently begun a series of engagement workshops at Derby Refugee and Asylum Centre.

To make the artwork we will collaborate with choreographer Kevin Turner and emerging dance artist Maddie Shimwell from Company Chameleon in Manchester. The work will be inspired by real stories of recent migrants and will result in a 20 minute dance piece devised by Kevin and performed by Maddie, accompanied by Amanda on violin, performing a new piece of music she has written especially for the project. During the performance Maddie will interact with a piece of visual art made by Richard that, at this stage, we envisage will take the form of a large square of printed or painted material. As Maddie dances, she will manipulate the material into different forms: she might hide beneath it, wrap herself in it or bundle it up to cradle it like a baby.

The performance will be filmed and will appear on Buxton Museum’s web app, the Wonders of the Peak.

Funded by Arts Council England, this commission is a creative collaboration between Kidology Arts and Company Chameleon in celebration of Buxton Museum’s 125th year.

 

 

 

In proud remembrance: Lt Douglas Marshall Rigby in the First World War

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.

Douglas in uniform_1915
Douglas in uniform, 1915

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 with parents_1918
Douglas with his parents Grace and Marshall Rigby, Knutsford, 1918

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.

Military museum medals
Douglas’s medals, recently on display in Cheshire Military Museum

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.”

image00062
Rigby family items displayed in Chester Military Museum.

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.

 

Shells, and gems, and dried cicadas

For the BM125 celebrations, my role is to create a series of events that will invite people to engage with the museum collection in creative ways. Events will happen in the museum itself and also out in the local landscapes that gave us so many of the wonderful specimens that we see in the museum today.

Events are already under way and as they unfold, we’ll advertise them here, on other museum social media and on the Creeping Toad* blog and facebook pages (just search for Creeping Toad). We’ll also feed back on the activities and results of the events: sharing poems and stories and “d-i-y” guides to the activities we have been doing, inviting you to try things for yourselves

Low Haymeadow

On National Meadows Day at the start of July, we were out enjoying the delights of hay meadows in the Upper Dove valley. Out of that grew a collective poem and a set of instructions for building your own landscape books

Memories are rooted in these meadows,

In the fleeting lives of butterflies,

In nodding seedheads

In thistledown drifting on a hot breeze,

Farms, families, paths, tools and stories,

All knitted as tightly to the earth as the meadow.

Childhood holidays rooted here too,

New names, first meetings,

Stonechats, curlews, those grasshoppers again.

Extract from the Haymeadow poem, July 2018

Cabinets 2018 - 42In August, there was a lively afternoon in the museum. Drawing inspiration from the current Collectors and Curiosities exhibition, we were making our own small cabinets of curiosity. Boxes, cupboards, treasure chests for precious finds and stray memories, these were bright, colourful and very distinctive.

You can see more of the cabinets here, find out how to make your own, here ,and listen to our “what will you keep in your cabinet” here.

The Cabinet poem follows: try reading it out loud!

Shells and gems and dried cicadas,

Stick insects if they ever stayed still long enough,

Or maybe just sticks.

 

Leaves and sticks and stones,

And rocks,

And sticks again sometimes.

 

Rocks and feathers,

And fossils.

Shells,

And sea glass from a wide, windy beach.

 

Cows, obviously,

And horses, maybe.

Pottery, Lego, coins,

Shells again,

Holiday treasures,

With sand from sunny places.

 

Cars and squishies and rubbers,

Because a special collection needs a special box.

 

Crystals,
And cryestels

And sharks teeth and other bones.

I collect shark’s teeth you see.

I have a lot of them.

There will be feathers and bones,

In my cupboard,

And my brother’s bones.

And my sister’s skull.

 

I have fossils from Robin Hood’s Bay,

And Lyme Regis where I found an ammonite,

Lots of tiny ammonites,

And one big one that will be too big for this.

 

This Cabinet will be full of memories.

This Cabinet will be full of leftovers.

This Cabinet will be a Museum for Bears,

This Cabinet will hold Treasures and Taonga.

This Cabinet will hold inspiration for my own creativity

Low Cabinets 2018 54

Our next BM125 public event is at Apple Day at the Dove Valley Centre  near Longnor, on Sunday 14th October from 12 noon – 4pm. Here we will be celebrating the heritage of orchards and old fruit varieties – a reminder that museums hold memories as much as objects and those objects belonged to lives lived in our wider landscapes. Join us and make your own apple-puppet to tell your own orchard stories. Check the social media pages mentioned above for final details

Low apples

*And I am Creeping Toad: storyteller, artist and creator of celebrations and disturbance. I also have a bit of a thing for amphibians…hence the Toad in the name!

 

Lt. Douglas Marshall Rigby – a celebration

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.

Rigby_Cottage with Haystacks and Hills (undated)
Cottage with haystack and hills, watercolour by Douglas Marshall Rigby

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 as a baby with Grace & Honor
Douglas as a baby with his sister Honor and their mother Grace

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.”

Rigby_photo_1897
Douglas drawing circa 1897 with Grace and their pets

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.

Caricature on postcard to mother_1908_front
Postcard sent to Grace Rigby from Douglas while at Marlborough College, 1908

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.

 

Sketch_man smoking
Untitled and undated pencil sketch by Douglas Marshall Rigby

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.

Douglas painting_Dec 1903
Douglas photographed while painting, December 1903

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*.

*Related exhibitions are running at Cheshire Military Museum until 31 October and Knutsford Heritage Centre until 22 December.