Friday, 1 August 2014

Visit to the Imperial War Museum North with the Art Galleries and Museums Group

Yesterday morning the Art Galleries and Museums Group, consisting of service users from the Henshaws Manchester Resource Centre, visited the Imperial War Museum North as part of their monthly trip out; organised by group co-ordinator, Mary Gifford. There are around 30 members that attend the group each month in their visit to different art galleries, museums and heritage sites for an accessible audio described tour and object handling session.

This was my first outing with the group, and I enjoyed it immensely. Quite a number of service users are regular members that I know from other groups at Henshaws, such as the Arts & Crafts group - which is run each Friday afternoon, so it was lovely to speak to them before our session began and to hear about some of the other places of interest that they had visited recently.

The group was divided into three smaller groups in order to rotate around each of the three 'stations' that were available to us. The three different stations consisted of a touch and handling session of objects from the First World War, an audio described painting produced in 1915 by Gilbert Rogers and an audio described and tactile bronze tablet from inside the 'From Street to Trench: A War that Shaped a Region' special exhibition.

The first station that I attended was the touch and handling session of specially selected artefacts from the First World War, not on display in the exhibitions. This was located inside the Libeskind Rooms with background provided for each object by Martin Skelton. Some tape recordings were also played before the artefacts were passed around to the rest of the group. The first object was that of a Munitions' Factory Staff Award; a circular medal, engraved on the back with text, surrounded by two laurel leaves. The medal is suspended from a royal blue silk ribbon and brass pin. It was awarded on December 21st, 1918 to D. Sewell for producing the highest average output of shells, copying and boring.

Munitions Factory Staff Award, awarded to D. Sewell
 Ponders End Shell Works 6" Shop

The next object to be passed around to the group was a trench art ring - a brass finger ring associated with, and possibly made by, Sergeant W. Skinner of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Engraved with 'Ypres' located in West Flanders, Belgium. The engraving itself suggests a familiarity of Sergeant W. Skinner to the municipality of Ypres. Skinner was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for 'conspicuous good work and fearless devotion to duty during thirty months' active service'.

Brass trench art ring, engraved 'Ypres'

The third object to be passed around and described to us was that of a trench art bullet, featuring a cross crowning its wide end. It had a height of 45 mm, a width of 12 mm and a depth of 8mm. This was one of my favourite artefacts from the touch and handling session, as something quite beautiful was created from an object of destruction; a flicker of hope in the war and beauty from within the battlefield. It was also very tactile and easy to acknowledge its shape.

Trench art bullet with cross

The fourth and final object, to be described by Martin and passed around to the group, was a Princess Mary Christmas Box from December 1914. Princess Mary had collected funds from the general public by putting out an advertisement. The purpose was to create a 'gift from the nation' to everyone wearing the King's uniform.

The money was used to create an embossed brass box, based on a design by Messrs Adshead and Ramsey, which featured the image of Princess Mary in the centre surrounded by a laurel wreath and flanked on both sides by the 'M' monogram. At the top of the box, a decorative cartouche surrounds the words 'Imperium Britannicum' with a sword and scabbard on either side. The bottom of the box has another cartouche emblazoned with 'Christmas 1914'. The corners of the box feature the names of the Allies; Belgium, Japan, Montenegro, Servia, France and Russia.

The contents of the box included a 1oz tobacco and 20 cigarettes, both incased in yellow monogrammed wrappers along with an accompanying letter of how the officer should behave while on active duty.

The Princess Mary Christmas Box, 1914
with accompanying letter

Inside the Princess Mary Christmas Box, 1914 with
accompanying letter, tobacco and cigarettes

After the touching and handling session with Martin Skelton, my group rotated to the next station of a painting, produced in 1915 by Gilbert Rogers, located outside the Main Exhibition space with audio description provided by Carisse Foster.

Gilbert Rogers was the lead artist commissioned in 1918 to produce work for the medical section of the Imperial War Museum. This huge - 11 foot by 15 foot! - canvas depicts the Royal Army Medical Corps along with the British Red Cross Society, collecting and transporting British troops who were injured during the first Battle of Ypres, in 1914. It boasts mainly earthy tones of brown, green and black - typical camouflage colouring - with bold, contrasting areas of white bandages and red crosses. Another contrast is the quiet imagery of the foreground against the explosions and ruins shown in the background.

This is the first time in 90 years that this painting has been displayed to the public again. It was originally exhibited in the Imperial War Museum of Crystal Palace, London, but a leaky roof damaged the painting and it wasn't able to be restored until the late 1980s.

Ypres, 1915 by Gilbert Rogers

The third and final station that my group rotated to was inside the Special Exhibition showcasing the Great Gable Memorial plaque - a bronze tablet, set within a plinth, commemorating members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club of the Lake District who were killed in the First World War.

Audio described by Camilla Thomas, she described the bronze plaque in detail and how it comprises of the 12 peaks at the top inside a model map recreation. Underneath is a tablet featuring the names of 20 walkers and climbers who lost their lives in the war. The map was extremely tactile, and the group and I were invited to touch and count the peaks as Camilla read out the names of those on the memorial plaque:

In glorious and happy memory of those whose names are inscribed below, members of this club who died for their country in the European War 1914-1918. These fells were acquired by their fellow members and by them vested in the national trust for the use & enjoyment of the people of our land for all time.

J.S.Bainbridge; J.G.Bean; H.S.P.Blair;
A.J.Clay; J.N.Fletcher; W.H.B.Gross;
E.Hartley; S.W.Herford; S.F.Jeffcoat;
E.B.Lees; S.J.Linzell; L.J.Oppenheimer;
A.J.Prichard; A.M.Rimer; R.B.Sanderson;
H.L.Slingsby; G.C.Turner; B.H.Whitley;
J.H.Whitworth; C.S.Worthington.

Bronze plaque commemorating fallen members of
The Fell and Rock Climbing Club

I enjoyed my first outing with the Art Galleries and Museums group a great deal. The subject matter itself was extremely fascinating, the staff were very accommodating and the audio description of paintings and objects were informative, descriptive and interesting.

I especially enjoyed the handling session of a special selection of objects from the First World War; to have that extra tactile dimension while learning about the object's origins through tape recordings and background provided by staff members was both beneficial and much appreciated. I want to say a big thank you to Martin Skelton, Carisse Foster and Camilla Thomas for their audio descriptions, and to Mary Gifford for organising the visit!

You can find out more about the Imperial War Museum North; their current exhibitions, opening times and facilities by clicking here.