Monthly Archives: June 2013

Think you’ve got Birmingham’s art attractions sussed? Think again, says BA student Maysie Chandler!

We all know about the Barber, the MAC, the IKON and the BMAG, but Birmingham has many more art historical attractions than most students know about. The National Trust manages several historical attractions in and around the Birmingham area. Think that the only paintings by Reynolds in Birmingham reside in the Barber and BMAG? Think again. National Trust properties hold hidden gems, concealed by the stigma that ‘only old people visit the National Trust’! If you haven’t yet explored what the National Trust in Birmingham has to offer, I very much hope that the following article inspires you.

For those of you not fortunate enough to have a car to hand, the Birmingham Back to Backs are probably the easiest for you to reach. They provide an insight into the life of ordinary Brummies from the 1800s through to the 1970s.The houses are arranged in a way that makes you feel as though their former occupants could return at any moment. Note that you have to pre book a guided tour to look around them, but a visit to the Back to Backs are well worth filling an idle afternoon with.

Maysie Back to backs

Hanging out the washing in the Back to Backs

If you have a car, Hanbury Hall and Gardens is only a 25 minute drive away. A stunning 18th century country estate owned by the Vernon family for nearly two centuries, the most notable thing about this property is the Sir James Thornhill murals which fill the great stairwell. Thornhill is best known for his work on the cupola of St Paul’s Cathedral but his murals at Hanbury provide a rare opportunity to come face to face with the work of one of the greatest large-scale painters of his generation. As well as historical paintings, the ‘long gallery’ at Hanbury regularly hosts exhibitions by local artists; if you find yourself here, the gallery is well worth investigation.

Sir James Thornhill murals in the stairwell at Hanbury Hall

Sir James Thornhill murals in the stairwell at Hanbury Hall

The Hanbury gardens are quite as beautiful as the house itself. If it is a fairly decent day, I highly recommend that you take a picnic with you and enjoy being in the countryside, just 30 minutes away from the heart of Birmingham! Also, do not forget to have a cream tea in the original kitchen which has been converted into the tea rooms. No visit to the National trust is complete without a cream tea!

Cream Teas are a must at National Trust properties!

Cream Teas are a must at National Trust properties!

Hanbury Hall

Hanbury Hall

Coughton Court is a similar distance away from Birmingham centre as Hanbury. A beautiful Tudor style mansion, it tells the history of the plight of the Catholics and their battle for the freedom to practise their religion. The Throckmortons who have owned the property for 600 years, were leaders in a dangerous age, helping to bring about Catholic emancipation in the 19th century. Highlights of the house include a priest hole in which several Catholic priests escaped the soldiers of Henry VIII, and the dress in which Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded.  The house remains the home of the Throckmorton family, only recently being entrusted to the National Trust. It is a rare property in that it has retained its original interior decoration along with the original family furniture.  At Coughton you will find countless objects and paintings which are steeped in history and well worth investigation if you are feeling stuck for a dissertation subject!

Coughton Court

Coughton Court

A little further a-field, perhaps a 40 minute drive is Shugborough Estate, the ancestral home to the Earls of Lichfield. The estate survives in its entirety, and boasts a working farm and a small herd of highland cattle. On a fine day you will find the gardeners and volunteers in full costume at work in the servants’ quarters and walled garden. If you dare to talk to them, they will answer in character and tell you about their day-to-day life at Shugborough and exactly what they think of their master! Again you will find a wealth of historical artefacts and paintings, however it has to be said that the grounds are the highlight of a visit to Shugborough, so choose one of our rare sunny days to go! The 900-acre grounds are peppered with monuments and statues with all sorts of unusual and picturesque picnic spots to be found! Take my word for it, on a sunny day this is the ideal place to visit!

Shugborough Estate

Shugborough Estate

Shugborough Estate

Shugborough Estate

The National Trust put on a number of events throughout the summer season. From Regency balls where you can go to a Pride and Prejudice-style dance in full period costume, to open air theatre performances, it is well worth checking what’s happening at your local National Trust properties over the next few months.

There are also many opportunities for volunteering and work experience with the National Trust. From room guiding to helping out with the children’s activities, it is a brilliant way to gain experience within the heritage sector as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable pass time. I volunteer at Hanbury Hall and I have had the opportunity do everything from room guiding, in which I talk to visitors about the history of the house, to family activity days running around the gardens helping children with their nature trails. If you are interested in a career in heritage or education, or simply want something with which to fill in the summer months, I highly recommend volunteering with the National trust.

There is much more to Birmingham’s arts sector than the MAC, BMAG and IKON, it just takes a bit of exploring to discover it! I really hope that this post has given you some ideas for visits, or inspired you to explore your local National Trust attractions. Below is a list of some more of my top historic buildings in and around Birmingham to visit. Not all are National Trust properties, and most of them offer discounts to students.

Aston Hall (amazing stuffed tiger in this one!)

Soho House

Wightwick Mannor and Gardens (you can read about Hannah Squire’s experience volunteering at Wightwick here)

Moseley Old Hall

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/moseley-old-hall/

Attingham Park

Black Country Living Museum (go to an evening event and get merry in a Victorian pub!)

Dudmaston Estate (this one has a modern Art Gallery within it)

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dudmaston-estate/

Greyfriars House and Garden (easy to reach by train)

Can I do it all over again, please? Stephanie O’Neill-Winbow reflects on her time as the Barber’s Learning and Access intern…

Four years ago, having moved from Muscat, Oman, to Birmingham to study History of Art, I was just a little bit lost. Like most students starting university, I was moving away from home to a place where I didn’t know anyone or where anything was; you suddenly have to become completely independent, make new friends, take care of yourself and try to cover up your ridiculously low alcohol tolerance, all the while working towards a degree so that, in three years’ time, you hopefully know a little bit more than you knew before! It’s fun, very fun! However, when your mind turns to work experience (so important for finding a job these days) it can often become clear that not everyone is in the same boat: some people have had gap years in which they gained experience or their parents know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can get them a job over the summer. I had nothing like this. In Oman you couldn’t work anywhere unless you had a work permit (generally not given to 17 year olds), my parents hadn’t lived in Europe for about thirty years, and I went to university straight out of High School. So I decided to gain my work experience right on my door step – at the Barber Institute.

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber's portrait

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber’s portrait

In the second term of my first year, after I had settled in a bit, I started to volunteer. I spent many mornings and afternoons at the welcome desk, greeting and providing information to the patrons; I also spent a couple of afternoons in the galleries, talking to people about the paintings, and asking the children to stop running around and not to throw themselves at the paintings. Then when the current volunteering scheme at the Barber was introduced, I began volunteering in the Learning and Access department. Immediately it became evident that this was what I preferred: I was working with children during workshops, helping out on tours, assisting at seasonal ‘fairs’ and generally setting up and cleaning up from activities. I volunteered so much that the members of the department knew me – I was even asked to pose (fully clothed and paid!) for a portrait sculpture class and to represent the Barber at Careers fairs. Although as a History of Art student I was spending a lot of time in the Barber, there is so much that I wouldn’t have known about it if I had only spent my time in its library or seminar rooms. There is so much going on in the Barber Institute besides it being the home of the University of Birmingham’s History of Art and Music departments. It was especially enlightening to learn about the different departments that make a working gallery successful: it’s not as simple as hanging some paintings on the wall and waiting for the visitors and money to roll in.

After two and half years of regular volunteering, I was coming to the end of my degree and becoming slightly concerned about what to do next. The opportunity to apply for a paid Learning and Access internship at the Barber came up and I knew that I wanted it! In fact, I had known about the internship during my degree and the thought of applying had been an added incentive to volunteer; thankfully it paid off! After I graduated in June 2012, I was offered the 5 month internship to start in February 2013. I was nervous starting here since it felt strange: for the previous three years I had gone to the Barber for lectures and seminars or to spend hours poring over books in the library. Suddenly it was completely different. I had a desk, a computer, and an office, and I was actually responsible for aspects of how of the gallery as a business was run, rather than a place to study! Initially the internship involved lot of admin, answering phone calls, making bookings and passing things onto members of the department who actually knew what was going on. However after about 2 months I felt completely at home. Alex with whom I mainly work has been unbelievably patient with me, answering every little question I come up with and giving me every opportunity to challenge myself and learn more. In fact all the staff behind the scenes at the Barber have been a delight to work with. From the security guards who help me move big furniture to set up for workshops, to the lovely ladies in HR who deal with the payroll, and the marketing and collections team (who also have interns) who are so easy and helpful to work alongside, it has been a real pleasure. Instead of ‘just’ an intern, I feel like a part of the team. It has also been incredible to be specifically trained to become part of a professional team. As I write this I have just under 4 weeks left of my internship, and the interviews for the next ‘lot’ of interns are taking place very shortly. I find that I’m passing the phone over less and less to somebody else, and if anything it’s actually very satisfying and enjoyable being a point of contact.

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

One of my tasks at the beginning of my internship was to put together the initial draft of the Family Guide for our new exhibition About Face: the guide is now finished and the exhibition is open and all has turned out very well! I’m responsible for the Learning Room, and the activities that are placed there for children when they visit the galleries. As I’ve grown into the role, I now help out a lot more with gallery visits and workshops, and my confidence had soared; I genuinely feel beneficial to the department and part of the team. Last week the Barber Institute’s staff were invited to the National Gallery’s private view for the opening of the exhibition Birth of a Collection: Masterpieces from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Unbelievably, I was invited as well! And I must say, I didn’t think that at the start of my career I would be attending a private view at the National Gallery in the company of so many important and influential people in the art world. This internship has given me opportunities and experience that I genuinely was not expecting and for which I will be forever grateful.

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

It is rare to find an internship in a respected, impressive and successful gallery that is not only long enough to allow you to learn something new and to challenge yourself, but also where you’re part of a team in which you have real responsibility – and one which is paid!  My internship here has given me incredible experience that I know will hugely benefit me in the future. Working in the Learning and Access department has made me sure that I want to continue in this direction. I truly feel that I owe the Barber Institute so much: I not only studied for my degree here, but I gained so much relevant experience here through volunteering, all of which led to the most amazing opportunity of actually working here. I’m now looking into doing a MA in a relevant field once I finish here in June, but really, I’d quite like to be the intern all over again…!

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Read about Sophie Rycroft’s experience as an intern in the curating department here. The next round of Barber interns will be recruited in May 2014.

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Defining Faces: MA student Katie Wilson on curating one of the new exhibitions at the Barber

The sun shines brightly outside over the Barber Institute and inside the tables are lined with wine glasses. Canapés are circulating and a convivial atmosphere greets me as I mingle amongst familiar faces and unfamiliar smiles. The date is June 6th 2013 and at 6.30pm our exhibition ‘Defining Faces,’ along with another exhibition ‘About Face,’ will be officially opened for inspection by the wider public. Up until today only Barber staff and other students studying for an MA in History of Art at Birmingham know what was going on behind the closed doors. Whilst a flurry of activity and busy excitement had accompanied the installation at the Barber, I felt a nervous anticipation at wanting to know what other people thought. Had we achieved our aims in curating this exhibition? Did people like the portraits we had chosen? Was the interpretation on labels insightful? More importantly, do people like it?

Spotlight on the action: Barber staff working together with students in the run up to the opening

Spotlight on the action: Barber staff working together with students in the run up to the opening

Along with nine other MA students and lead curator of the Barber, Robert Wenley, I had worked since October 2012 to put this exhibition together and now standing here at the private event I thought back to the many hands and faces along our journey that helped bring this exhibition here. I also had time to reflect on all the experiences that helped define our exhibition and as a result has made me feel more confident in applying for jobs directly relating to gallery and museum work.

MA students from left to right: Nikolay Bogantsev, Qian Xiao, Jemima Willis, Shenjia Xu, Shelley Longford, Jas Lally, Katie Wilson, Michael Cullen, Louise Hatton, Stephen Lloyd

MA students from left to right: Nikolay Bogantsev, Qian Xiao, Jemima Willis, Shenjia Xu, Shelley Longford, Jas Lally, Katie Wilson, Michael Cullen, Louise Hatton, Stephen Lloyd

‘Defining Faces’ is the second in a three part instalment, working in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), and features a selection of twentieth-century portraits recently acquired by the gallery. The fifteen NPG loans that we had selected for our show originally came from a larger exhibition called ‘Life Lines’ (2009), and were first introduced to us on a trip to London in October 2012 where we were told that it would be left to us to interpret and create something new. With this in mind, and having just viewed the portraits in person, it made it more possible to choose which items we liked the best for our exhibition. Some of the portraits that were offered to us and that we selected for our show featured sitters such as Henry Moore, Ted Hughes and Stephen Hawking, and artwork by Sylvia Plath, Percy Wyndham-Lewis, and Oskar Kokoschka.

Sylvia Plath (1931-1962), Ted Hughes, about 1957. Pen and ink. © estate of Sylvia Plath / Faber & Faber Ltd.

Sylvia Plath (1931-1962), Ted Hughes, about 1957. Pen and ink. © estate of Sylvia Plath / Faber & Faber Ltd.

Quite early on in the process we decided to do something new. Rather than focusing on a biographical interpretation of the artist or the sitter we decided as a group to curate a show that would offer a new and insightful way of looking at portraiture. One of the hardest parts was agreeing on a theme, because that dictated the course of events for the rest of the show and so, getting it right sometimes meant sacrificing personal preferences for a cohesive flow of ideas. However, once all the research into the portraits (the biographical, historical and artistic movements) had been accomplished it was lot easier to decide how we could build our show around four distinct functions – Practise, Personal, Preparatory and Published& Presented. After we divided our portraits into one of these categories, everything else seemed to come together quite easily and gave us time to build ideas for events to coincide with the exhibition.

During the course we also had the opportunity to see behind the scenes at the Barber and learn about the daily goings-on; we learnt how to write interpretation labels from the Barber’s former director Ann Sumner, learnt how loans are processed, and saw how artworks are wrapped up and delivered to other institutions. For those who were interested in getting more experience, volunteering in one of the Barber’s departments was an excellent opportunity to gain a new set of skills. I volunteered in the Marketing Department and enjoyed working closely with Naomi and Andy who gave valuable advice during the exhibition. For me, it was a great way of getting to know more about the gallery, understanding how decisions are made and also contributing a little bit more to ‘Defining Faces.’

Marketing volunteers with Andrew Davies (Head of Marketing and Communication) at the opening

Marketing volunteers with Andrew Davies (Head of Marketing and Communication) at the opening

I had a positive experience. I was able to understand better the work of curators and other departments that help make an exhibition possible and was also able to refine my organisation and leadership skills as group representative; I know that I wouldn’t have had this unique experience at any other university.” – Jas Lally, MA student

Our show was further enriched by loans from the University’s Cadbury Research Library and the Research and Cultural Collections, which we also visited during the course of the programme and which helped to produce diverse range of portraits. Both collections proved to be rich in material and at one point we thought we might have too much to display, but a large amount from these Collections fitted into the vitrines to complement the portraits on the wall. What I found particularly exciting was that a lot of the material that we had chosen from these sites, which included original letters and books, had never before been publicly displayed in Birmingham and meant that we would be displaying and creating new research around these artefacts.

For the MA students who participated on this programme and curated their first exhibition, this show will serve as an experience that will remain with them for a long time. Walking around and talking to some of the guests, it was nice to see people enjoying themselves. I know the next time I come I will look at the visitor book to see what new comments have been written about ‘Defining Faces.’

Enjoying a few drinks at the opening and listening to speeches

Enjoying a few drinks at the opening and listening to speeches

Defining Faces is on at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts until 26 August

Find out more about our MA programme here.

By: Katie Wilson

BMAG’s Gallery 27…some lovely parallels with works held in the Barber

Originally posted on Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery:

Good things come in small packages.  Gallery 27 may be one of our smallest gallery spaces, but the new display of 14th to 16th century European art contains some gems which are worth spending time with.

One half of the room explores the way Christian art has used women to represent extremes of good and evil.  A bronze sculpture shows Eve, who took an apple from the forbidden tree and caused humanity’s expulsion from Paradise.  In contrast, Suzannah was a symbol of virtue because she refused to give in to the advances of two men who interrupted her bath.

Suzannah and the Elders

Suzannah and the Elders

The Virgin Mary, the ultimate example of female purity, is depicted with simple realism in Verrochio’s terracotta panel.  This panel was made in the same workshop in which Leonardo da Vinci receiving his training as a young apprentice.

Madonna and Child by Andrea Verrocchio

Madonna and Child by Andrea Verrocchio

The…

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