It started with the Gokstad ship
Visiting the Viking Ship Museum
The Gokstad ship
The Tune ship
The objects and textile gallery
The museum shop and cafe
And there’s more
I knew of Henry Lamb’s work only though his portrait of Evelyn Waugh. On seeing this exhibition at Salisbury Museum I realised I had seen some of his Second World War paintings of Canadians before. So this exhibition was a great chance to see more of his work and find out more about the artist.
The exhibition at Salisbury Museum
The museum itself is close to the cathedral and the staff are very welcoming. It is paid admision so be prepared for that.
The exhibition covered the artist’s life from start to finish with plenty of work from each phase. As well as finished work sketches were included. In the war artist section this showed how he made colour notes on sketches. These informed the finished work which was also on display. I thought this was a lovely bit of curation.
Some of the highlights were seeing major works alongside family portraits. Also the quotes from others and his relationships as a young artist. He was legendarily good looking, so there was plenty to read about! The portraits of his family and children were a contrast to the earlier and war work. Again seeing a body of his work on his family made the exhibition worthwhile.
The permanent displays
We had a good look around the rest of the museum. The archaeology galleries are very well laid out and plenty of objects to discover in cupboards and drawers. Seeing familiar objects from photographs in context with related finds is always interesting.
From the very contemporary archaeology galleries the costume display is very much traditional regional museum in feel. We both liked this mix of new and old in presentation though. The costume collection is impressively varied and naturally has local connections. The reconstructed doctor’s surgery is a reminder of how tough things were before the NHS.
If you’re in Salisbury I’d recommend a visit to the museum. And they have their own cafe.
New artefacts for old?
Something I’m regularly asked when people find I work in a museum is “how do museums get new objects”?. The answer probably is that it varies. Where there’s a collecting policy the process is transparent but otherwise an enigma inside a mystery.
On visiting the National Army Museum in Stockholm in early September 2017 I saw their exhibition dedicated to explaining this mystery.
How museums get new objects – the exhibition
The Army Museum’s exhibition was in their temporary exhibition space on the ground floor. I liked the focus on objects for visitors to reflect on and practical examples. Also the emphasis on who made decisions.
A key part of the exhibition was an infographic showing the path an object follows to join the collection. Unfortunately this was in a shadow so whilst legible in the museum didn’t photograph well. This was supported by another display explaining who makes the decisions.
This display was very honest about the influence of individuals and groups on collecting policy. It stated that in the museum’s early days former soldiers were making the decisions but now it’s mainly highly educated middle class people.
An object that didn’t get in
An example of new objects was based around items used by an officer in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Most items were conserved ready to go into the collection. One item was not and this was the shipping crate the officer had lived in. Why was it rejected? Because it wasn’t the actual container the officer used but one the shipping company sent. So a good example of an object being rejected because of a lack of direct association with the museum’s purpose and lacking heritage authenticity.
Ship burial from Sutton Hoo redisplayed
The Sutton Hoo ship burial and the dark ages artefacts found there have fascinated many of us from first sight. The full face helmet alone is an amazing object in its own right. The other treasures create an impression of wealth not normally associated with the popular idea of the Anglo-Saxons in the dark ages.
The recent redisplay of the Sutton Hoo discoveries at the British Museum shows the objects familiar to frequent visitors in a new setting and with new interpretation. What I liked most about the redisplay was the context given to the finds. The display case is long and tall with the outline of a ship in white. The photo shows this is faint but helps remind visitors that the objects come from a ship grave. This is underlined by the simple labels showing whereabouts in the ship the objects were found.
Recreated objects and interpretation
A big change in this display is the number of modern recreations of objects displayed alongside the originals. I liked this approach because it helps the non-specialist understand what the original looked like and can help see how it was used. For example the modern versions of the cauldron and chain make it clear the size of the object and it’s use. Not least the length of the chain shows it was hung from a high support. I also liked the way the modern versions were clearly marked to avoid confusion.
Inevitably the modern helmet attracted most attention while I was in the gallery. Having it displayed by the original allows a compare and contrast the two. Plus it shows how much the Anglo-Saxons liked to create an impression with polished metal objects.
The reconstructed helmet has more detailed interpretation than I expected. It highlights the pagan horned dancing figures similar to other pagan depictions. It also points out the similarity to Roman cavalry tombstones that show a Roman (or auxiliary) riding down a barbarian.
The shield was a reconstruction to provide a display for the original shield fittings and this is essentially unchanged. It has a modern and an original sword below it. Seeing the modern sword in pristine condition helps the visitor imagine the impact visually and physically of this finely made weapons.
Sutton Hoo and the Anglo-Saxons
What does this splendid display tell us about the Anglo-Saxons and their world? It makes clear the wealth that an individual could command. From gold metalwork and red garnet fittings on the pouch cover to the workmanship of the helmet’s decorated panel and ridge it shows the love of bling and display. Identifying where objects come from gives an insight into the wider world of the time. Clear links between East Anglia and East Sweden are seen along with silver plate from the Mediterranean (more dark ages bling!).
The discovery is significant enough to feature in the name of Room 41 at the British Museum. Room 41 is now the Sutton Hoo and Europe, AD 300-1100 gallery.