Our Curate the Commons project is moving on apace. Over the past month our participating Flickr users have been “favouriting” and tagging their chosen images. With varied backgrounds and interests everyone has approached this selection process from a different point of view. The next (and potentially trickier) stage will be to narrow down the selection of what goes on display in the Compass Lounge as a group.
Here Nerisha explains her top five picks and why she chose them, we’ve linked all the image titles back to our Flickr photostream:
Two crab-eater seals on the ice, Weddell Sea
Reproduction ID: P00017
Maker: James Francis Hurley
Date: circa February 1915
Materials: Gelatine dry plate
The contrast of colour between the seals and ice provide something very interesting for the eye. The ice seems to go on forever in the background and gives you a real sense of the environment.
Camel in Kuwait carrying fuel for cooking
Reproduction ID: PM5322-6
Maker: Alan Villiers
This photo is simply striking, unusual and makes me wonder how far are the man and his camel travelling? How much food will that amount of fuel cook?
A sailor and his accordion on-board the ‘Parma’
Reproduction ID: N61653
Maker: Alan Villiers
This photograph is interesting as it offers a glimpse of daily life and activities. I like the composition as there is a view of the sea, the boat and at centre the sailor plays his accordion.
Restful days on-board the ‘Parma’
Reproduction ID: N61612
Maker: Alan Villiers
Sailors’ life, basking in the sun. This photograph is beautifully composed, the basking men draw your eye in and you notice the men at the centre of the photograph.
Commercial Dock Pier
Reproduction ID: P27581
Maker: Waldo McGillycuddy Eagar CBE
Date: circa 1914
I love the photographer’s perspective, a peek into what happens down at the docks. I love the way the photo is ‘framed’ by the chains.
Our project participants have an external blog of their own charting this collaborative process at curatethecollection.wordpress.com
The Museum is embarking on its second co-curated exhibition since the July 2011 opening of the new Sammy Ofer Wing and the Compass Lounge – a dedicated space for participatory displays developed by the Museum and the public together. The Compass Lounge is a place to make new connections with our collections, and to offer alternative and multiple perspectives to the Museum’s interpretation of what’s on display.
We’ve invited members of the Museum’s active Flickr community to curate a display of historical photographs from our collection, to give our audiences a chance to highlight objects and images that are significant to them. Over the next few weeks those taking part in the project will add their views and thoughts to the Museum’s Collections Blog. Here’s Duncan on his first impressions:
On 14 April 2012 the assorted members of the Curate the Collection group met for the first time at the National Maritime Museum. For me personally, it was the first time I have visited Greenwich or the National Maritime Museum. I had no real expectations for the meeting apart from a desire to see how exhibitions are constructed in a museum space using both interactive content and user opinion/feedback. Armed with my historical hat on I approached the meeting with increasing excitement. I spent the morning exploring Royal Greenwich and after being surrounded by Maritime buildings, pubs and boats (Cutty Sark) I was ready to begin debating. I was very encouraged by the diversity of personalities, ages and opinions amongst the group – all brought together by a mutual appreciation of Flickr and its communal spirit.
“Curate the Collection” Flickr group looking serious and listening intently to the project outline! By benicektoo on Flickr.
The breadth of individual interests certainly complicated our attempts to ascertain a common theme for our project. This was further complicated by the wealth of available archive material that we could have access to. Our resources include the Flickr Commons, the National Maritime Museum digitalised collection and a planned visit to the photographic archive at the Brass Foundry. As a group we were also introduced to ‘The Compass Lounge’ exhibition space and caught a tangible glimpse of our future interactive exhibition space. Marrying both digital and print photography in an interactive space may pose some interesting challenges for the group but I was again encouraged by the plethora of imaginative ideas.
I was also surprised to learn that only about 1% of the NMM’s photographic collection has been digitalised. If anything this project will hopefully be a reason to digitalise individual images that would not usually see the light of day outside of the NMM collection.
Next stop the Brass Foundry!
Our project team have an external blog of their own charting this collaborative process at curatethecollection.wordpress.com
Britain’s history has been fundamentally shaped by its relationship with the sea – you won’t find too many people here at the National Maritime Museum disagreeing with that statement! Sometimes, when we are particularly enthusiastic, we might even say that ‘boats built Britain‘ – the title of a recent exhibition here in Greenwich. Of course, this naturally begs the question: what did these boats help to build? Or, to put it another way, what type of British state emerged as a result of the maritime activity facilitated by the boats, ships and other vessels of the great Age of Sail?
These are some of the questions that I am currently grappling with as I prepare to give a lecture at Gresham College, in the heart of the City of London, on the subject of ‘Britain’s global trade in the great days of sail‘. The possibilities and profits offered by maritime trade were crucial in defining the country’s development as a global power in the Age of Sail. In this lecture, I will be exploring how British overseas trade went hand in hand with Britain’s global empire in those eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries days of the sailing ship.
Preparing a lecture like this is quite a task. In the space of about fifty minutes, it will cover events in several oceans; a couple of centuries of history; thousands of vessels; tens of thousands of voyages; and millions of people. But it is a fascinating subject and one which I hope can add to the exciting programme of events being organised by Gresham College. Founded in 1597, Gresham College is London’s oldest Higher Education Institution and has provided free public talks for over 400 years.
You can find out more about the range of events there on its website.
Halfpenny token obverse and reverse (MEC2033)
The craft of putting ship models in bottles has both fascinated and puzzled people for years and when the new sculpture by Yinka Shonibare M.B.E. for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was installed, the interest became front-page news. As Curator of Ship Models at the NMM I was asked, for instance, by ITV London Tonight News, to comment about ship models in bottles and on the newly-installed sculpture, including the history of the craft and the various techniques used to construct them.
Yinka Shonibare’s sculpture of HMS Victory in a bottle on top of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.
The richly patterned fabric sails are symbolic of African dress and independence and are a trademark of the Anglo-Nigerian artist.
The origins of putting models or objects in bottles can be traced as far back as the mid-18th century. These objects ranged from human and heavenly figures to wooden puzzles, with some of the earliest examples thought to have originated in monasteries where many quiet hours were given over to crafts.
It is generally accepted that the bottling of ship models started during the second half of the 19th century with the improvement in glass bottle production allowing a thinner and more even thickness of glass to be achieved together with reduction of unsightly air bubbles. This allowed a much better and less distorted view of the model through the glass and, as a result, the craft soon became a popular activity of seamen and others with an interest in the sea. The models themselves generally depicted sailing ships with the hull normally carved from solid piece of wood. These were then set in a painted putty seabase up to the level of the waterline.
An early 20th century example by Robert Orr illustrating a four-masted barque on a painted putty sea base. It was also common to cover the neck of the bottle with decorative ropework, the most popular in the form of a ‘turks head’ (AAA0045)
People have always been fascinated as to how these models were placed in the bottles. Probably the most common method was using a ‘flatpack’ approach which incorporated pivoting masts and carefully led rigging. The masts were constructed in several sections and connected to the hull via small wooden hinges at their base. The yards were crossed and allowed to turn through 45 degrees so that they would lie flat in line with the masts along the centreline of the hull. The cord rigging was then fixed or allowed to pass through small holes drilled in the spars and hull. This method enabled the model to be constructed in a collapsed – almost flat – state, allowing it to pass through the narrow neck of the bottle stern first and then be positioned on the painted putty sea. The whole rig was erected by pulling the rigging through a series of guide holes, either down through the hull towards the bow or through and under the bowsprit. Finally, the excess rigging was then hidden under the hull or tied off at the bowsprit and trimmed as required.
In the case of the Fourth Plinth ship in a bottle, Yinka Shonibare prefers to keep his method a secret. When I met the artist in his East London studio, a few weeks after the work was unveiled, he politely declined to tell me how he managed to put what is a large fully rigged model into the ‘demijohn’ shaped bottle. I have my own personal views on how he achieved it, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the mystery!
During the early 20th century, the range of vessels modelled increased with introduction of tugs, steamships, light vessels, together with lighthouses and dioramas of the shore all finding their way into bottles. Today, the craft is still very popular worldwide with models made from scratch through to commercially available kits (see illustrations). It is intriguing to see that Yinka Shonibare’s sculpture has married an old traditional maritime craft with the world of contemporary art. Let’s hope that it inspires others to keep the craft of ship models in bottles alive for years to come.
A modern example made by Patricia and Leon Labistour in 1977. It is complete with a barque under sail and a steam tug nearby. Notice the small diorama in the neck of the bottle. (AAA0059)
The four-masted barque Olivebank (1892) at anchor with a lighthouse on the shore just off the bow. (AAA0060)
A model made in 1967 of the containership Mosel Express with a drawing of the docks and cranes in the background. (AAA0049)
The three-masted topsail schooner Kathleen and May (1900) set inside the familiar dimple whisky bottle. This model was made in 1978 by Mark Lester and is typical of the style of model and bottle that is available commercially as a kit. (AAA0053)
This year sees the 250th anniversary of Britain’s Annus Mirabilis. In other words, and in case your Latin’s a bit rusty, 1759 was the so-called ‘Year of Victories’: a watershed year in the Seven Years’ War and one which, arguably, altered the course of British history.
The Death of General Wolfe
For Britain, 1759 was a year of military triumphs, at places like Minden in today’s Germany and Quebec in Canada, as well as decisive naval victories, at Lagos off Portugal and Quiberon Bay in France. Some people, like General James Wolfe and Admiral Edward Hawke, emerged as heroes; others, such as Lord George Sackville at Minden, were vilified for their contribution to the war effort (or, rather lack of it!). Over the past number of months, I have been working on how 1759, and the Battle of Quebec in particular, has been remembered and commemorated over the course of the last two and half centuries. There is a very important local Greenwich connection here too: James Wolfe spent part of his teenage years in Greenwich, his mother lived in a house that looks on to Greenwich Park, and Wolfe himself was buried in St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich following his death at Quebec in September 1759.
‘A View of the Taking of Quebec September 13th 1759′
Of course, military engagements were not the only things to happen in 1759. Recently, I attended a conference that considered the year from a number of different points of view. It was a year in which George Frideric Handel died and in which William Wilberforce, Robert Burns and Mary Wollstonecraft were born. In the fields of literature, it saw the publication of Voltaire’s Candide, Samuel Johnson’s The Prince of Abissinia (later Rasselas), and the first two volumes of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. The second edition of Edmund Burke’s highly influential A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, with its important new introduction on ‘taste’, also appeared in 1759. And, in the world of museums, the British Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time.
One historian has remarked that 1759 should be as well known as 1066, 1588, 1688 and 1707, but I have found it to be generally inconspicuous among the years that people regard as historically important. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the events that took place in 1759 impacted so significantly on so many people, and with such monumental consequences for this country, that it is certainly worthy of remembering.