When most people think about the work of Don Bramwell they will be reminded of his accomplishments within the field of archaeology, working on sites in Derbyshire such as Fox Hole Cave and Elder Bush Cave. But a select few might also recognise his creative side through his archaeological drawings of finds like this bear skull seen below. The accompanying photograph (showing the actual bear skull drawn in his diagram) helps to highlight the precision to which he gave to these drawings and how invaluable his talent was to aid in the recording of these sites, at a time when it was much harder to get a perfectly clear image from a camera.
His talent for the arts was not just kept to archaeological objects and finds however, and while searching through boxes of archived material I have come across many detailed illustrative drawings, complete with watercolour additions, of plans and scenes strait from the digs themselves.
Some of his drawings are filled with vibrant colours and tiny detailed patterns. This sets them apart from most ordinary plans and sketches found in archaeology leaving these artworks to appeal to a widely varying audience – as who doesn’t enjoy the satisfying imagery presented in the images below?
Although, what actually caught my attention most were the charming little doodles and sketches found around the boarders of his notes. Scattered and hidden throughout excavation notebooks containing his daily musings regarding the current state of the dig and the everyday occurrences of the archaeologist are hordes of little scenes. Some revealing animals which could be spotted around the Derbyshire countryside set within the margin of a page complete with a backdrop of rolling hills and a tree studded horizon. There can also be found doodles of flowers so tiny that they could be easily missed if you were simply skimming though the journals looking for information about the excavations. I should also not forget to mention the small sketches depicting the archaeological tools of the trade. Possibly trial sketches for his more elaborate drawings and excavation plans seen above or simply just Bramwell sketching out the items he could see around him. Either way they are still just as well drawn and fun to discover.
I find it hard to stop thinking about museums and art galleries, even whilst I’m on holiday in California for two weeks. Try as I might to take my mind off work, there were a few moments when I found a connection back to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
The stuffed bear from the old Wonders of the Peak display at Buxton became its unintentional mascot. The Science Academy in San Francisco has its own really fun character; Claude the Albino Alligator. Unlike the Buxton museum bear, this pallid reptile is very much alive but he didn’t budge an inch while I was there. I guess it was nap time.
The second stop on my Californian itinerary was Yosemite National Park. Bear country! At 4,000 feet (1200m) above sea level, I found myself higher up than Buxton, which resides at a mere 1,000 feet (300m). It was made clear to me beforehand that the chance of seeing a bear was remote. British bears were hunted to extinction over a thousand years ago so some chance was better than none. My luck was in, as this slightly blurry shot will testify. This specimen was about the same size as Buxton Museum’s bear but its fur was blond. After spending so much time in the company of a taxidermied bear in Buxton, it was great to see a live one and very animated it was too; furiously clawing away at a log in search of grubs to eat.
Visiting museums is like a busman’s holiday for me but I couldn’t resist a quick peek at the one in Yosemite. I was curious about the heritage of the national park and where better to go than the local museum? Sadly, like a lot of American history, it seems to go back 200-300 years to an era when European settlers seized most of the land from the indigenous population, who had managed to live in harmony with nature for thousands of years. At least they don’t shy away from the fact. There is even a reconstructed Native American village next the museum that illustrates how people lived. I also was impressed by the information panels scattered throughout the park. They offer you the chance to learn more whilst catching your breath from the hike.
I went in search of more recent history in Los Angeles. I love films or movies, as they call them over there so it seemed a logical decision to visit the birth place of the US film industry: Hollywood. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge. The vast urban sprawl of LA is difficult to negotiate, especially without a car. Hollywood Boulevard itself is a tourist trap where it’s impossible to move without being hustled. The Universal Studios tour is fun but offers little more than expensive theme park rides. Remaining philosophical, I suppose Hollywood has always been in the business of making money. There may have been some historical interpretation somewhere but it was lost amongst the dollars and the dazzle.
Some plucky visitors took the rare opportunity to step into the bear’s cave at Buxton Museum to have their photo taken. Normally out-of-bounds, the rocky domain of the beloved ursine scare-monger is accessed by staff via a locked door at the back. Considering it was the last day of the old Wonders of the Peak exhibition and seeing as they asked nicely, we decided to reward these people for their bravery.
Click here to see how the new project is coming along.
While wandering through The Wonders of the Peak exhibition, before reaching our infamous bear, you will pass several pieces of his fallen comrades. Featured here is the right side of a brown bear’s jaw bone, from Elderbush Cave in Staffordshire.
Considering its large size and the sharpness of its teeth, even to this day. It may be hard to imagine a great beast such as this roaming the Manifold Valley. Looking for something tasty coming its way. So the next time you are out enjoying a nice stroll around the Peak District. Try to picture the silhouette of a bear off in the distance and bring a little bit of the past into your present.