Welcome to Travelling Stories, our online exhibition of artist commissions responding to some particular museum collections.
In 2018, the Derbyshire Schools Library Service closed. The collections had been assembled since the 1930s and needed new homes. With the help of the Esmee Fairburn Collections Fund and the Museums Association, staff at Buxton Museum have been finding their custodians.
More than 2,000 items have been allocated to nearly 100 museums, libraries and publicly accessible collections from across Britain and some items have been restituted to communities in North America. Some items were kept by Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, including the Arctic and Sámi material.
Lockdown meant that we were unable to engage with new communities in these museums quite as we planned. Instead, were able to offer a number of commissions to artists relating to some of the museums the collection is dispersing to.
Part One: Japanese Prints
The first objects to make up our Travelling Stories Exhibition are three Japanese prints from the Derbyshire SLS. These Japanese prints have been transferred to Tullie House and Art Gallery in Carlisle.
We offered Tullie House a modest commissioning fund to work with artists from Prism Arts to engage and respond to these prints. Prism Arts mission statement is ‘Art without Barriers’, as the charity works with people with additional needs to achieve their artistic potential.
Harvey Tye, a member of Prism Arts, created two large (A2) pieces inspired by the Japanese architecture featured in the prints.
Jonathon Harkins, a member of Prism Arts, created a mixed media triptych to ‘create unity in humanity’, utilising both Christianity and Shinto religious quotes.
Read more here: Part One
Part Two: Aboriginal Objects
Our second Travelling Story focuses on Aboriginal objects and artefacts that have been transferred to the world culture collections of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Bristol Museum worked with artists curated by Border Crossings’ ORIGINS Festival to respond to the items.
Australian artist Dr Ryan Presley, worked with Bristol Museum via Zoom to create a piece of artwork inspired by boomerangs generally used by the Australian Aborigines. Boomerangs are used to hunt a variety of prey, the largest being the kangaroo, but have also been used as war weapons.
Ryan Presley created the piece to showcase and prove Aboriginal strength, intelligence and ingenuity.
Read more here: Part Two
Part Three: Sámi Ladle
For our third Travelling Story, Helen Leaf, a Derbyshire artist, worked with Sámi material that remained part of Buxton Museum’s collections. Helen’s starting point was a Sámi ladle with antler inlay and she used this object, and the traditions and qualities embodied within it, as inspiration to create her piece titled Forest Bowl.
For the Sámi, the indigenous people of Northern Europe, reindeer play a central role to their lives. A Sami’s wealth is measured by how many reindeer they own, and it is of the utmost importance to respect the animals and treat them well. Helen used antler to create her piece and additionally used resources from our forests and woodlands, in order to symbolise the relationship that we have with our natural environment and traditions.
Read more here: Part Three
Part Four: Itsekiri Paddles
For our fourth Travelling Story, Akran Girmay, a Bristol based illustrator, responded to Itsekiri ceremonial paddles. The Black Lives Matter 2020 initiative introduced Bristol Museum to Akhran Girmay’s work and they offered him the chance to engage with the new additions to their world culture collections from the Derbyshire SLS.
People living in the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria, like the Ijo, and the Itsekiri people from the Warri Kingdom, made ornately carved, non-functional paddles for shrines dedicated to water spirits. As these paddles were power symbols, unpainted paddles were sought after and purchased by Europeans in the 19th and 20th century.
Akhran Girmay used these paddles as a starting point for his piece, as a way to create a conversation starter regarding the lost pasts of objects due to colonial omission and appropriation.
Read more here: Part Four
Part Five: De Morgan Vase
The focus of our fifth Travelling Story is a De Morgan Vase, Rob Young, an award-winning artist and writer, worked with the de Morgan Foundation at Cannon Hall in Barnsley to respond to the vase made by William de Morgan. William de Morgan was a 19th century artist who believed in the power of art to create a better, more beautiful world. Rob produced a collection of work, based around the eagle vase by William de Morgan, looking at the family, at their extensive creativity and the way they were interested in the people around them.
Rob pondered on what William de Morgan’s work would look like now if he could have used the resources of our contemporary society. He digitally added the De Morgan images onto some existing stock shots of models, in order to bring the family to life in a modern style of art.
Read more here: Part Five
Part Six: Sámi Spoons
For our sixth Travelling Story, Ingrid Karlsson, a Peak District artist, worked with Sámi material that remained part of Buxton Museum’s collections. A small collection of Sámi spoons stood out to Ingrid, these are hand carved from antler in the traditional way by the Sámi, nomadic reindeer herders living for centuries in the most northern area of Europe.
Ingrid created her narrative mixed media pieces inspired by the history and life cycle of the Sámi, which she describes as a continuous circle without a beginning or an end. She attempted to visualise this in a triptych looking at the circumpolar north, the calendar and the Sámi flag.
Read more here: Part Six
Part Seven: 20th Century Paintings
The objects of our seventh Travelling Story are a selection of paintings from the SLS that have been transferred to Oriel Mon in Anglesey. Writer and poet Mark Johnson picked up on these paintings going to Oriel Môn. Paintings of the island landscape resonated with a story of quarrymen and their families who moved from the island to the Peak District in search of employment during the nineteenth century, where Buxton Museum and Mark himself are based.
The 19th Century Welsh families brought their language and culture to the quarries of Cauldon Low, Staffordshire, but left their homes behind, creating a story that travels from Wales to the Peaks and back again, a story Mark charts in his poems.
Read more here: Part Seven
Part Eight: Inuit and Sámi Material
Our eighth Travelling Story focuses on Inuit and Sámi retained by Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. Gordon MacLellan, an artist and a storyteller who works with environmental and historical themes, responded to the retained collections by creating various pieces of work.
Gordon enjoys museums for the stories that they hold, thus he was interested in how the arctic pieces in the Buxton collection could be interpreted and how these interpretations could reveal new stories about how the artefacts were used. His collection of pieces reflect how objects can inspire creativity and lead to new narratives.
Read more here: Part Eight
Part Nine: Chinese Artefacts
For our final Travelling Story, Manchester Museum accepted the historic Chinese collections into their collections as they develop their Chinese and South East Asian galleries. Instead of asking an artist to respond to the collections, the curators invited a facilitator to use the items to explore how Chinese students perceived the museum’s understanding of Chinese culture through objects.
Participants demonstrated intercultural communication, connectivity and alternative perspectives in respect of their own sociocultural and political stances. This resulted in Manchester Museum seeking to deliver different presentations of information and knowledge, in order to present accurate, culturally informed knowledge which reflects and enhances cultural understanding.
Read more here: Part Nine