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.
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.
New museum attendant Rachel Ibbertson hails from the Midlands and has been teaching us the lingo; donnies are hands. We asked her to share her initial thoughts on the displays in Buxton. Over to you, Rachel:
As you may already know, the eagerly anticipated release of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is set to hit UK cinemas this November. As an extension of the wizarding world explored in the Harry Potter-verse, the “Fantastic Beasts” series seeks to broaden our magical horizons and further spark our imagination – mine included.
Growing up with this book series, I would often look for magic and mysticism in the world around me and was a little dismayed on my eleventh birthday when I didn’t receive my Hogwarts letter. In spite of this, I became determined to search the realm of the ordinary for examples of the extraordinary. So with this topic in mind, the concept of “Fantastic Beasts” got me thinking about equivalent examples in the “muggle world” and what better place to find inspiration, than Buxton Museum & Art Gallery?
Wandering around the displays in the “Wonders of the Peak” and the “Boyd Dawkins Study”, I was struck by the wealth of objects and extraordinary creatures on display. Some of the more obvious examples include the Buxton Bearand the Buxton Mermaid, whilst additional zoomorphs find a home in our reception area. By the way has anyone spotted the stained glass peacocks that adorn our entranceway or the cluster of cuddly companions sitting patiently in our gift shop awaiting their forever-homes? (merchandise plug over)…
Through further exploration an abundance of amazing animals can be found around the museum, which in my opinion, can all be considered as “fantastical” for varying reasons…
For starters let’s think about the creatures that no longer inhabit the British Isles, or indeed the earth. Throughout the 4.5 billion year history of our planet, climate change has featured continuously and in turn has shaped the world around us. To picture the scene, you have to imagine a fluctuating series of landscapes and environments very different to our own – (perhaps a little reminiscent of this year’s “beast from the east” and summer heatwave?). For instance, if we visited the Peak District 350 million years ago we would find much of the landscape submerged beneath the sea – Buxton included! Such a dramatic contrast is evidenced in the “Wonders of the Peak”, via the fantastic fossils exhibited there; Trilobites (1), Brachiopods (2) and Ammonites (3) to name a few.
If we travel a little less far back in time – 2.6 million years to be precise – we will reach the start of the current geological period; “The Quaternary”. Characterised by repeated glacial (cold) and interglacial (warm) periods, it is from this time that we find evidence for some of the animals that once featured in our landscape. Many have since migrated or become extinct but a few examples of the animals affiliated with the interglacial periods are highlighted in the “Wonders of the Peak”. They include the remains of cave lions (4), bison (5) and hyenas (6).
In contrast, signs of life from the last glacial period; or ice age, can also be spotted nestled amongst our displays. Remains of reindeers (7), woolly rhinos (8) and mammoths (9) are some of the few that feature. It truly is fascinating to think that we once walked amongst such an array of amazing creatures – imagine the fantastic sights that only our ancestors might have seen?
On the flipside, what could be noted as incredible is the evidence that we find for the continuation of a species into the present day. If you look closely at the Roman tile below, you will see an almost humorous example of man’s best friend leaving his mark on the world. A little paw print pressed into soft clay, provides us with the merest echo of a trivial event from times gone by. You can almost picture the frustration of the tile-maker upon his discovery – perhaps they found a trail of paw prints over multiple tiles? Maybe the dog was caught in the act and a colourful scene ensued? Whilst these musings stretch the imagination, I think it makes for a fantastic story which breathes a little life into the past and makes our forebears and their experiences all that more relatable.
After all isn’t the purpose of a museum, to make the past relatable? To welcome enquiry and share the remarkable stories that make up our collections? Whenever I visit a museum I often find that pieces of a whimsical nature attract my attention and Buxton Museum & Art Gallery is no exception. When looking in the “Boyd Dawkins Study” I noticed a display case with a taxidermy Dotterel inside – which according to the label, may have been originally mounted by none other than Charles Darwin himself! Whilst we have no concrete proof that this is his actual handiwork, the mystery and prestige surrounding the provenance of the Dotterel makes a great story and puts a different spin on what might be considered a “fantastic beast”.
I had far too many ideas to note down in one post, so let’s take a rain check on part two. In the meantime why not pay us a visit (we are free admission after all) and see if you agree with me? Perhaps you could find some fantastic beasts of your own…
Volunteer archivist Ian Gregory is currently photographing and cataloguing an immense collection of glass slides. Being a man of the Peaks, he recognises the occasional view:
In the collection of Buxton Museum are two photographs of a limestone dale. Its name is Lathkill Dale and it lies between Monyash and Youlgreave in the Peak District. One picture shows a lazy river between limestone cliffs with leafy branches reflected in the water. The other depicts a wider pool, again flanked by trees at their June-time best.
The River Lathkill that gives its name to the dale is special, as it is one of the few that rises on limestone and stays on limestone all along its course. This means that its waters are unusually pure and clean. Sometimes its upper course dries up as limestone is permeable and absorbs moisture. I have often walked in parts of this dale, but I keep to the path as there are abandoned lead mines whose hidden shafts are dangerously nearby.
These photographs are dated June 1911. Looking at them now, it’s easy to believe that nothing has changed in the dale. With regard to the physical structure, little has but the human world is another story. The last time I walked in Lathkill Dale, I started from Monyash and finished near Youlgreave. My Dad was waiting at the other end to give me a lift home in his car. He died a few years later. He will never collect me after a beautiful walk again.
Since then, a few visitors to John Vere Brown’s exhibition have suggested that the photographs were taken in Chelmorton; a Derbyshire village near Buxton, albeit in the 1970s. Two intrepid museum staff visited Chelmorton over the festive season to investigate and they were able to validate the suggestions, based chiefly on the sloping church yard, which hasn’t changed much.
Some Chelmorton residents who just happened to call in offered some very precise information; stating that the distinctive copse of trees in two of the images is the view over to the adjacent village of Flagg from the top of Pippenwell.
A couple who visited us over Christmas said that they knew the photographer, John Vere Brown, and that he snapped their children in the early 1970s and they too suspected that he probably took his walk in and around Chelmorton.
So from no information to lots of information! Thanks to the combined efforts of the staff and the public, the mystery has been solved and the exhibition that’s been in the care of Derbyshire County Council for over four decades now has an exact location. No one has been able to pinpoint the characterful stone in two of the pictures but this may be due to the fact that it’s no longer there. However, it’s not a bad thing to be left with a tiny morsel of enigma.
With the reopening of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery close on the horizon, the time has come to dust the cobwebs off the collection so that it can match the rest of the new shiny gallery.
I have been working closely with the museum’s bone material. In the picture above you can see that some of the pieces – like this hyena jaw bone discovered in Elderbush cave – were in definite need of a little TLC after being displayed for so many years in the old gallery. So, adorned with a set of brushes and little pieces of rubber sponge I began the task of patiently dabbing, wiping and brushing away the years to breathe new life into each of the bone objects.
Below you can see the after shot of my work, and evidently
a little bit of spring cleaning really does make all the difference!
Jasmine Barnfather MSci MA, Museum Attendant / Museum Assistant,
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery