18 Mehefin 2014,
By: Sioned Hughes, Head of Public History
It’s difficult to imagine that over the next couple of years the old Agricultural Gallery, largely unchanged at St Fagans for 20 or more years will be transformed as part of the Making History project. It will become a space that celebrates the fact that history belongs to everyone. It will be a platform where the museum shifts from being the provider of history to supporting and providing opportunities for others to explore meanings around diverse objects and make their own histories through participation and community curated displays.
Currently called by its working title Wales Is… we aim to display 17 moments in Welsh history using objects from the national collections. It will be a space where we encourage visitors to use historical skills to find out what the national collections can tell them about different moments in Welsh history.
The past few months have seen the Making History core content team work intensively with designers from Event Communications to develop this space. It’s an exciting, creative and intense process that involves looking in depth at our object selection and testing them against this exciting new concept.
To aid our current thinking and to generate discussion, we have stopped thinking about this space as a gallery and have started referring to it as a 3D social media account. Over the next few weeks we will be developing the idea of using social media as a conceptual framework for how the space works and how visitors will behave in it.
So far, we have identified that we would like the space to have followers and that it will follow other institutions or spaces that share relevant collections and opinions. We would like to ask visitors to Like, Share and Comment on what they see and provide opportunities to do this digitally and non-digitally, both in the space and remotely. We would like the space to have its own social media account and we would like its digital identity to develop as the content and the space itself develops – not as an add-on once it is open. We are looking at the possibility of tagging displays and objects so that content generated around them can be gathered and used as layers of interpretation. We want each display to have a social media feed on a screen as part of its interpretation.
The Public History Unit
Key to testing and delivering this space is the establishment of a new Public History Unit within the History and Archaeology Department. As a unit we have already facilitated workshops that support groups to develop historical skills to discover what objects can tell them about the past. These sessions have generated diverse, sometimes surprising, often emotional and occasionally controversial content that adds layers of rich and relevant interpretation to our storytelling.
In the space, we see the content generated around the displays, both digitally and non-digitally, as information that will be curated by museum staff. It will also be part of curatorial practise to manage social media campaigns around displays so that targeted audiences are reached. These campaigns will be supported by a programme of events and pop-up activities that can be used to generate interest and debate.
Suffrage Participatory Workshops
As part of the process for testing the content for Wales Is…the Public History Unit took the national suffrage collection to two schools in the Newport area as part of the Bird in a Cage project with Winding Snake. Within a few hours, over a hundred pupils from Lewis Girls School and Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd had seen and participated in a debate around the collections and suffrage movement in Wales. This is an example of how objects can generate content that is as interesting as the objects themselves. It demonstrates how groups and individuals can construct their own meanings around what they see. It also showed how social media can be used to generate interest and debate around a subject area.
The next challenge
The challenge will now be to work with Event to develop a design that can deliver this concept so that the outcomes of a participatory workshop can translate into a gallery context using the framework provided by Social Media. The questions we are asking ourselves at the moment are: is this workable? How can we use the information generated? What would a social media campaign linked to one of the displays look like? How can we create a framework and strategy to help develop the digital identity of the space? And most important of all, is this approach future proof? The Agricultural Gallery was popular at St Fagans for over 20 years. This new space will also have to stand the test of time and the changing behaviour patterns of our visitors in the future.
2 Mai 2014,
The nest of Peregrine falcons in the clock tower appears to have failed, due to unknown causes sometime during the last week or so. However, after an absence of several days, both birds are showing renewed interest in the nest-site. Today has seen considerable activity with one bird visiting the nest several times and apparently busying itself tidying the interior while the other bird of the pair watched from close by. Although peregrines only have one brood each year, if the first brood is lost at an early stage they sometimes re-lay a second clutch, either in the original nest, or perhaps more often, at a nearby site. We now watch, wait and hope that a new clutch of eggs will be laid sometime in the near future and that these magnificent falcons will have more success the second time around.
30 Ebrill 2014,
It now looks that the breeding attempt by Peregrine Falcons in the clock tower has failed. All indications were that eggs were laid during late March and early April and if all had gone according to plan, they should have been hatching about now (eggs are usually incubated for 31-33 days). Unfortunately, no birds have been seen at the nest or perched nearby on the clock tower for several days now so it seems certain that the nest has been abandoned. We do not know why this breeding attempt has failed but the most likely cause is that the eggs have been eaten by predators, perhaps crows, ravens or gulls. Although peregrines only raise one brood each year it remains possible that the birds will make a second attempt to breed and we remain vigilant in case that happens.
26 Mawrth 2014,
The Peregrines are back on the City Hall Clock Tower. One bird seems to be spending most of the day hidden in the recesses of the nest (on the right hand side of the ledge underneath the clock face), suggesting that she may have started incubating eggs. This would imply a laying date a little earlier than we have seen in previous years. However, we are aware of another local pair of peregrines that are incubating eggs, so perhaps it is an early season this year. Museum Curator Adrian Plant has taken over the duties of the Peregrine Web-cam, and will be keeping an eye on them for us.
We will keep you posted on what happens.
27 Chwefror 2014,
As part of Amgueddfa Cymru’s First World War centenary programme the collections relating to this period will be conserved, digitised and made available online. My role at the museum is Textile Conservator so I am responsible for the practical care of the textile collections across all seven sites. There are many WW1 objects in the textile collection; most take the form of commemorative or souvenir pieces while others are costumes and accessories.
One of the objects recently conserved for the project is an embroidered panel measuring 43.5cm x 53.5cm maker unknown, it is made from a single piece of royal blue silk satin embroidered with flags and text which reads ‘VICTORY FOR THE ALLIES MALTA PRESENT’ in yellow silk thread using stem stitch. It also features a photograph of a Welsh soldier printed onto a postcard which is slipped inside a frame made from card and covered in painted silk. The frame is tacked to the satin along the bottom and sides with the top edge left open. The flags are made with lines of silk floss which have been laid down to form the coloured sections and secured in a criss-cross, net like fashion and couched using a very fine thread. Thicker, cotton threads are used to define the sections of colour, the flags and poles are made from a coiled paper thread with a cotton core.
When it came to the conservation studio the panel was in a fair condition with some light surface soiling all over and creasing across the silk from being folded around the frame at some point, probably before it came to the museum. It is possible that the panel once had an adhesive backing as the embroidery threads on the reverse appear stiff and flattened. There is also some abrasion to the surface of the embroidery threads and satin floating yarns. The top and bottom edges are frayed and there are several splits in the ground fabric where it has been stitched through.
The conservation treatment began with a surface clean using a micro vacuum to pick up dust and fluff. It was then humidified to remove the creases; we cannot iron historic textiles because the heat and pressure of conventional irons can cause further damage. Instead we use gentle techniques with cold water vapour or in this case, a combination of materials layered up to introduce moisture gradually to the textile giving it time to penetrate the fibres. Once the fibres were relaxed, glass weights were used to hold them in position whilst drying. The photograph was removed during the humidification process to avoid any damage. The next stage was to support the splits in the satin which affect the stability of the textile. Fine silk crepeline was chosen to do this because it is gives a light support but is almost transparent, so even though it covers the reverse you can still see the threads; it was dyed blue to match the colour of the satin. The crepeline was fixed to the textile using a very fine layer of thermoplastic adhesive, which was applied to the dyed crepeline and allowed to dry. The adhesive was then re-activated to bond it to the reverse of the panel using a heated spatula, the bond created is enough to support the textile but not so strong that it cannot be removed in the future if required. The frayed edges were then laid out and secured though to the backing by working a blanket stitch along the edge using a fine polyester thread.
The textile is now back in store but will soon be available to view online and may one day go on display at St Fagans. Keep checking the blog for more updates as the project progresses!
The Soldier in the photograph is yet to be identified if you recognise him please contact the museum via Elen Philips Principal Curator: Contemporary & Community History Tel: 029 2057 3432 or on Twitter: @StFagansTextile