It’s been two weeks since Buxton Museum and Art Gallery closed for refurbishment and there have already been dramatic changes to the building. The staff room has been emptied to make way for a lift and the builders have ripped out the old toilets. This means the museum staff are temporarily having lunch in an empty art gallery and visiting a portable lavatory. We are happy to endure these provisional measures to improve the facilities for you, dear public.
Closure has given us the opportunity to take stock of the museum shop and pack everything away. This entails counting hundreds of imitation Roman coins, gemstones and Woolly Mammoths. The retail is actually part of the redevelopment. Arts Council England are kindly funding Buxton Museum to help improve both the shop and the merchandise. Some of the items on sale when we re-open next Spring are based on the collections and they will help the museum to establish a stronger identity. Click here for more information about our funding.
Some of the front-of-house staff are mucking in and have begun to write content for the new gallery. I’m working on a digital trail around the Goyt Valley. We aim to supplement a walk around the heritage-rich location by revealing items from the museum. It is based on an old blog of mine but we hope to build on this with the help of the Peak National Park rangers who care for the Goyt.
Jasmine is busy with a similar assignment on Chapel-en-le-Frith, a small town in the Peak District. Her granddad once lived there and Jasmine is applying the family knowledge to form a picture of the town’s fascinating and little-known history. Our goal is to do this with a lot of places in the Peak District. Buxton itself is ready to explore with a fledgling trail; see pocket.wonders.co.uk
The museum’s temporary closure doesn’t mean we have stopped running events. Our pop-up museum was previewed outside Buxton Opera House on Heritage Day two weeks ago and it will be making more appearances over the next few months. Watch this space.
Ian Gregory, volunteer archivist at Buxton Museum, gives us some insight into another of the lesser-known collections he’s been working on:
For the last two weeks, I have been editing images of programmes for The Spa Orchestra of Buxton. These date from the 1940s and include summer seasons (May to September) and winter and Christmas concerts.
There are, unsurprisingly, differences between live entertainment then and now but also parallels. The programmes are overwhelmingly Classical apart from a little Rodgers and Hammerstein and Irving Berlin. Many end with the National Anthem. There are names of composers now forgotten although many are still familiar.
Nevertheless, there is a general parallel between then and now; present day Buxton has a thriving arts festival and fringe festival. The festival began in 1979 and has gone from strength to strength. The Buxton Fringe is now a good size with young people involved in live productions.
Buxton Opera House was a bingo hall in the 1970s. Today it is a popular theatre hosting a variety of shows and talks all year round. Could it be that after a decline in the mid-20th century, live entertainment made a comeback? Styles and tastes may have changed but the idea that even small towns can have live theatre is alive and well.
On Saturday 26 July, one of our intrepid volunteers, Ian Gregory, joined a group on a walking tour of Buxton, exploring the town’s archaeology. The tour was led by Dr Catherine Parker Heath who specialises in educating people about archaeology. You can find out more about her work at her website Enrichment Through Archaeology. It’s over to you, Ian:
On Saturday 27 July, I joined a guided walk around Buxton which was organised by the Museum and Art Gallery. Our guide started by explaining how the museum itself had changed functions, having been built as a hotel in 1880 and becoming a museum in 1928.
Our party included several children, who were encouraged to look at buildings for signs of aging, differences in styles and signs of changes in use. They were asked to imagine what sounds from contemporary life would already have been in the air during the Neolithic era. At the end of our walk, the children dressed up as Roman-Britons and enacted a scene where news of a Saxon invasion arrived in Buxton.
Our guide paused at Lismore Fields, the site of one of the few Neolithic settlements to have been excavated in Britain. She distributed stone tools from the period amongst our group, also pictures of reconstructions of life 6,000 years ago. We also walked around the Pavilion Gardens where we learned when buildings like the Octagon and Opera House were constructed.
After two hours, our walk came to an end on The Slopes. Strangers to Buxton had been given a good introduction to the town, while local people had been stimulated to look at familiar things from a fresh perspective.
There are no less than eleven prizes up for grabs in Buxton Museum’s annual art competition The Derbyshire Open. The first ten are chosen by an independent panel of experts but we’re interested in what our visitors think too, hence the Visitor’s Choice Award. The public have the first month of the exhibition to decide if they agree with the judges and vote for their favourite artwork, using slips of paper dropped anonymously into a box. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. Receiving a total of 105 votes this year, An Engagement at the Opera House by Karl Schindler, is a clear winner of the Visitor’s Choice. It is a bold, colourful and affectionate rendition of one of Buxton’s most famous landmarks and has obviously struck a chord with the masses.
I had a chance to chat to Karl about his successful entry into the competition; he remarked that out of all the awards, he was particularly pleased to win the Visitor’s Choice. Surprisingly, Karl has only been painting for around five years. Usually commissioned for portraits, he decided to have a go at something different. What strikes me about the painting is that it brings a certain warmth and splendour to what is already an impressive and well-loved building. What I failed to notice, however, is the story within the image; it isn’t called An Engagement at the Opera House for nothing. Karl drew my attention to this detail.
I wonder if this romantic feature is what resonates with many visitors to the exhibition? Karl explained to me that he added texture to the paint but he was just lucky that the intended’s engagement ring ended up on a tiny grain. A cheque for £100 is awarded to the artist for his noble endeavour. Perhaps next year it will be you? The Derbyshire Open Art Exhibition is on until Friday 5 September, you can plan your visit at our website http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/buxton_museum/default.asp