Friday, 27 March 2015

Cotton to Gold

Two Temple Place in London is only open to the public for a few months each year.
Every year, in this magnificent building, there's an exhibition of publicly owned objects and art-work from museums and galleries from around the UK.

What have these three museums and galleries got in common?

All have objects collected by industrial entrepreneurs in the North West, bought with wealth amassed through the booming textile industry in Lancashire in the late 1800s. These men were magnates of industry and trade and they had spare cash, a lot of it, to collect stuff.
Collecting has always been a hobby, and one that has been part of the story of museum collections. You can read about this in my post, 'Cabinets of Wonder: Royal Albert Memorial Museum', here

We are told, 'Displaying these collections together, the exhibition highlights the circumstances of their exceptional accumulation, asking what such groups of objects can reveal about their owners and the rapidly-changing times in which they lived'.

So who are these men, what did they do and what did they collect?
Here are a few.

Robert Edward Hart, rope maker,
with his books, ...of Hours.

And coins. Roman, Greek, Byzantium and British.

 He got the set, one from each Roman emperor from Augustus to the 3rd century AD.

Gold coins from the reign of Elizabeth I.
The daughter of the king played by Damian Lewis. We had a little Wolf Hall chat with another visitor.
Seriously though, these coins in front of us were in circulation 500 years ago, used to buy things. We think that's quite something.

Thomas Boys Lewis, managed the family's cotton spinning mill,
and collected Japanese prints.

"I'd like to knit a scarf in either of these two colourways".

Arthur C. Bowdler and his beetles from all over the world, was a successful manufacturing chemist and factory owner.

Joseph Briggs, a fabric designer, not only collected Tiffany ware but worked for him, he was his chief assistant.

George A. Booth, an iron founder from Preston collected stuffed birds.
Some in cases,

and some not.

Some with claws nearly as big as our hands.

George Eastwood, who began his working life, aged 10, in a local mill, and as far as I can tell, made his money with a party planning business for the rich and famous of Manchester, collected ivories.

James Hardcastle collected book illustrations.
Nothing is known of his life, just his collection.

Wilfred Dean who made gas-heated washing machines and boilers, collected life-drawings by John Everett Millais.

Millais was a pretty significant figure in the art world, was this investment or a genuine love of drawing? In answering this question, I find out that Wilfred Dean was closely involved in the development of Towneley Hall Art Gallery and 'played a significant role in its purchasing decisions'.

There's a bigger picture surrounding the accrued wealth that financed these collections, which is recognised in the exhibition.
Questions about the hardships workers endured, ivory, taxidermy, child labour are acknowledged. As said in the museum interpretation, 'Doubtless prompted by the hardships endured by their workers, the industrialists of the North West supported a wide range of cultural causes that benefited the inhabitants of the cotton towns. ...they funded museums and galleries, founded local orphanages and schools, and donated money to local churches and Blackburn Cathedral.'
I'll leave that thought with you. The balance of workers' conditions and philanthropy. Was this just a thing of the past?

Cotton, where it all began.

Cotton to Gold is on at Two Temple Place until 19th April 2015.
Details on their website here.
As well as the exhibition, you get to see inside Two Temple Place. we loved that too.
If you'd like to see inside, check out this post by blogger Fun60, 'Two temple Place'.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Thea Porter: Fashion

I was asked if I wanted to see the Thea Porter exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum
by two lovely bloggers, Hatty Uwanogho and Jane Martin.
What better way to get to know each other than hanging out in a museum.

Thea Porter of Irish, Russian, Jewish, French descent,
loved the exotic,




and the ephemeral.

She made clothes to enjoy with little concern for washing and dry-cleaning.
But who cares because these are 'exotic clothes made for beautiful people at beautiful prices'.

But she did also produce Ready to Wear collections.

Setting out in 1965, as an interior designer, Thea Porter was asked to make clothes by her customers. Fashion became 'another form of upholstery'. 

She made clothes for men, Pink Floyd. Check out the album cover.

The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, Cat Stephens. You get the picture.

The military jacket, one of her signature shapes, she made for men and women.

Thea Porter made clothes to enjoy, 'to put on and not worry about, clothes to get on with life in'. That kind of depends on what you're getting on with. I'd never be able to even load the dishwasher in these sleeves, let alone do the washing up.

But there was a nod to some practicalities in life.
She gave women the chance to ditch the bra, with a tight bodice that gave them the lift they needed.
This was very popular.

And this outfit came with a skirt if it wasn't a shorts kind of day.

So three bloggers visit a fashion exhibition. What of our tastes?
I love this green and those butterfly wings, "I could wear that. I want that dress".
I can't have it, it's on loan from the V&A.

But Hatty would wear these, she "doesn't wear tight trousers".

Would we wear all this colour?
Well Jane does.

 Whether fashion is your thing, or not,
you can still admire the work of this dynamic creative woman who began her career as a designer, in London in 1965, aged 38 and had her first fashion show age 41.
 I'm going to take that away with me. A career in fashion, in anything, taking off in her forties!

This may be where it all began.
With that dress.
You know, the outfit you loved as a child that you will never forget.

Mine was a burgundy suedette grandad collared, pin-skirted dress that my granny made for me one Christmas. I felt so grown up in it, alongside my other cool present. My Christmas single, Jona Lewie, Stop the Cavalry.

Thea Porter is on at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London
until 3rd May 2015, details on their website, here.
Can I recommend their free exhibition highlights tour, every Wednesday and Friday at 1pm.
We had a great tour of the exhibition. Thankyou FTM.

If you want to know what my fellow bloggers get up to,
click on their names for links to their blogs.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The new Bethlem Museum of the Mind

I've been looking forward to writing this post, just as I was looking forward to seeing the new Bethlem Museum of the Mind. It has been closed for a couple of months, moved building and undergone a considerable transformation. It is still housed in the grounds of the hospital, the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. 
I went with friends, the same friends who I visited the old museum with last December just before it was about to close and we loved it. You can read about that visit here. The old site was tiny, and what we remember most was that it was full of artwork by patients depicting their stories and experiences of their own mental health.

Things have changed.
You're drawn into the museum by this compelling portrait, Numb by Lisa Biles.
Looking at it, I felt anything but.

In this new incarnation of Bethlem Museum of the Mind, there is more of a focus on the history of Bethlem Hospital, told through the 'lens of mental health issues'. But that is slightly misleading, leading you to believe that this is all about the past. For me it was all about the now, as every object, quote, painting and photograph evoked the most powerful of emotions right here in the present. I couldn't just situate things historically, and think, 'that's OK, that's what happened in the olden days' and leave it there, parked in my 'olden-days' file. Throughout this exhibition we were asked what we thought, asked to contribute, contemplate and decide.

 The first thing I had to think about was my language.

Labelling and diagnosis.

The language surrounding mental health has changed over centuries. Some words are now acceptable, some can cause offence. These words are being collected and you are encouraged to add to the collection. I didn't. I felt uncomfortable, quite rightly, challenged by the insensitive words I have probably used over the years, particularly as a child. I don't think that this was intentional, to make me feel uncomfortable, so it was reassuring to read that in recent years the words 'mad' and 'bonkers' have been reclaimed for positive use. 

In the 19th century, it was believed that facial expressions and physical appearance provided clues about people's mental states. With this in mind, these photographs were commissioned to document different states of mental health, I assume to help with future diagnosis. These two individuals were noted to have chronic melancholia (above) and acute melancholia. We now know that the camera 'often' lies, but imagine having your photo taken for these reasons. I'm struck by the fact that they are patients, this is for real, they're not modelling melancholia.

I feel uncomfortable looking at much of the treatment from the past. But I'm in no position to criticise, I've never worked in this profession. I can only think about it from the perspective of a potential patient, thankfully not an actual patient.

The walls of an isolation room contrasted so beautifully against the tree outside.

Physical restraint.

ECT Electro convulsive therapy.

Not all therapy made me feel uncomfortable. Occupational therapy, time spent doing something 'useful, purposeful and worthwhile'. I know how it feels to be involved in something, to do something, useful, purposeful and worthwhile. Good for the soul and my self-esteem, rewarding.

Here I read about sewing, carpentry, ceramics, music and gardening.
There's a place for these therapies in most of our lives.

Then there's social therapy, talking.
Finding the right person to talk to.

This portrait is a testament to mutual respect. The individual who painted this was reassured, thinking his social worker was "crazier than he was". I liked the hope in this painting. He dedicated it to "friends, family and mental health professionals who... have given me perspective on a journey through to the other side where there is hope in being able to cope with my illness".

More opportunities to contribute, to have your say. But these are decisions not to be taken lightly. After hearing from a girl with mental health issues, her family and the healthcare professionals in this film, you get to have your say, to experience the weight of decision making. In making her decision, one of these students faltered and turned to my friend for reassurance, had she done right by the girl?

Not all stories end well,

but for some they do.

With this in mind, I found it it important to reflect on the World health Organisation's definition of mental health, which is
'a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community'.
Who ticks all these boxes, all the time?

The Bethlem Museum is aware of it's impact and the need to reflect. It provides a space right in the heart of the museum to do this. In this space you get a chance to reflect on some of the artwork made by patients that has been produced to explore their own state of mind or to provide a chance to escape.

Visitor comments, what you think, is important to Bethlem Museum. Your voice will be heard and displayed on the museum walls.

Bethlem has hosted visitors for centuries. In the 17th century the well-to-do came to see the 'lunatic poor'. Coming to the Bethlem myself, I was not only inspired and challenged, but had questions about my place here. Were we like those 17th century visitors? Well meaning onlookers? The Bethlem Museum says not, they tell us their work at the hospital and the museum is for everybody, it is 'important, not only for the future of mental healthcare, but for the future of us all'. 

Bethlem Museum of the Mind is open to the public Wednesdays to Fridays, and the first and last Saturdays of the month. details on the website, here.
I urge you to visit, there is so much more than I have mentioned, including an art gallery.
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