Category Archives: Collections

FRANKENSTEIN DA GAMBA?

Sitting next to its very formal neighbour, the Forster viola, in Old Tullie House, the viol da gamba looks downright relaxed.  His ample frontage, deep ribs, sagging shoulders “rustic” construction and finish suggest an old chap in retirement.  But who would have thought that an old chap like that would have had cosmetic surgery – or even something rather more severe – like a complete new head?  This old chap is not entirely what he appears to be.

Viola gamba

The Tullie’s viol da gamba-cum-viola

 

Of all the bowed instruments, the viol da gamba stands out; but not because it’s beautiful like the viola d’amore or the Amati violin. The viol is not a pretty instrument; it is best to say that it looks “country-made” and it looks downright wrong because the neck, head, scroll, and tailpiece, are not the ones it was born with.  This is an 18th century instrument made into something more modern.  So how? And, equally interestingly, why?

 

 

Brampton violin-maker Corrie Schrijver was a great help in deciding whether the instruments in Old Tullie House were in a condition that would allow their exhibition.  They have been out of sight for all but a very brief time for at least 20 years; hers was the first expert eye on them for rather longer than that.

Corrie said it was plain the VDG’s neck has been re-shaped, that the surgery really had been very drastic and done entirely to turn an instrument that once had ten strings into one that has just four – an imposing, if peculiar, viola.

Viola da gamba with seven strings

A modern viol da gamba with seven strings

And yes, ten strings.  Corrie pointed out the ten filled holes in the bottom of the viol and the long ebony saddle across the bottom, under the gut loop holding the new tailpiece.  It was common for viols to have six strings, seven too, some eight.  Is ten too many for a VDG?

 

Viola - 10 strings

Figure1 – Ten filled holes say this instrument once had ten strings

 

Corrie wondered even if it was originally a “country-made” – aka “ a bit rough” – viola
d’amore, with perhaps six bowed strings and four sympathetic strings.  No room to
explain here…look at this instead:  http://www.violadamoresociety.org/Vda.html    Whatever it was, why turn one instrument into another?

The VDG was part of a bequest to the museum by Sybil Mounsey-Heysham in 1949.  She probably bought it from the famous London violin-maker W.E. Hill in the mid-1930s.  Perhaps the surgery was done by Hills, to make the ten-string instrument into a more saleable, money-in-the-till, four-string viola?  The unusual viola might well have appealed to an enthusiastic, moneyed, amateur-musician such as Sybil.

Neck Joint

The new head/neck joint, complete with dowelling

Is the work up the Hills’ standard? Possibly not, so perhaps I am miles out.  Perhaps it is simply that the work was done earlier to make it playable as a viola, say for someone to learn on. Why buy a viola when there’s already the old VDG in the house that can be shaved down a little?  Or maybe the work was the best compromise after some serious damage.  It is doubtful we will ever know.

So is this VDG a monster or is just a bit of Hollywood nip’n’tuck going on here?  The neck surgery is quite apparent and the attachment of the head is anything but invisible, so it is fair to say that our old chap certainly could not go on Graham Norton and deny having had work done.  Let’s be kind and say facelift rather than Frankenstein, but either way, unlike the rest of the half-dozen instruments on show in Old Tullie House, it looks like this old thing had to adapt the most to survive.

Andy
Curatorial Assistant

Picture This 3

After the previous two blogs, which looked at cameras from the early 1900s, I’m jumping the generations to look first at what a camera snob might say is the most awful thing they’ve ever seen.  But it’s not really the garish, fragile, unreliable, dirt-cheap, cute and amazing Snappit camera that I’m interested in – it’s the film it used.

Picture this 3 - Image 1

A Herd of Snappits

The Snappit first though. The Tullie’s example given its name by the film processing firm Supasnaps, but the camera appeared under many brand names around the world.  It might have been given away free, or might have cost, say, £1 or less if you were unlucky enough to have to pay for one.  You might be amazed that there is one in the Tullie House Collection,  but it was a popular – in its literal sense – camera. It was aimed at those who didn’t much care what their photos looked like, but who just wanted to remember the moment.

The film of the day for doing that was Kodak’s 126 cartridge.  The cartridge is longer than the Snappit’s tiny body so that some of it sticks out; the camera’s smart design keeps the bit that matters light-tight till the shutter is pressed.

Picture this 3 - Image 2

126 Cartridge

In 1963 Kodak had reacted to complaints from people who found loading cameras generally difficult.  It brought out the 126 drop-in cartridge and the first Instamatic camera. The film involved was actually 35mm but with just one perforation per frame, not for winding on, but so a pin can engage with the film and stop the wind-on so the last part of the action can cock the shutter.  The image size was about 26mm square.                                                  

Picture this 3 - Image 3

A basic Kodak Instamatic

Kodak aimed to match or beat the success of the Box Brownie with its Instamatic cameras and its fool-proof drop-in loading system.  Millions upon millions of Instamatic cameras were sold, with varying degrees of sophistication, between 1963 and the late 1980s.  Other makers bought into the format in a big way.  Typically, Rollei and Zeiss made expensive single-lens reflex 126 cameras.

 

Picture this 3 - Image 4

Rellei and Zeiss offerings

But 126 had a built-in big drawback.  Film flatness is crucial to sharp focus and 126 film was never very good at being dead flat behind the lens.  There was no pressure plate; it relied on the film cartridge being within spec, and it was never great*.  Then consider that the majority of 126 cameras had simple plastic lenses, no fine-focus mechanism and no way to check focus, so the snapper was up against it from the start; but most people didn’t care.

Many old Instamatics are relatively new and still work and it’s amazing how many of the Snappit-type cameras can be found.  The last 126 film was made by Ferrania in 2007, but if you’re handy, you can reload an old 126 cartridge with current 35mm film, but the image will overlap onto the film’s perforations.  It’s actually quite a nice effect in a print.  The web will tell you more, and like most things, you can see it done on youtube.

The Tullie’s Snappit is currently on show in the museum atrium, along with well over a dozen other cameras dating from 1900 to 2004.

*126’s “subminiature” partner, 110 film, was even worse, but it still sold by the ton.

Andy – Curatorial Assistant

Amati Violin and Friends

Fiddle.  Some would say we have one in the foyer of the Old Tullie House; the one that was made in the 1560s by Andrea Amati.  Some violinists might be quite indignant if they heard it called a fiddle.  Most seem not to mind and many call their own instruments fiddles.

ViolinsOK then. Fiddle – a word developed slowly through the medieval period that can mean any bowed instrument.

It appears that the Arab world gave us the kick-start on fiddles in the 8th or 9th centuries in the shape of a gourd with strings stretched over it – the ‘rabab’ or ‘rebec’.  In Europe it was carved from wood.  Maybe all that carving effort was too much and gave the luthiers of old the idea to make a built-up wooden box instead.

 

If it hadn’t been for that leap forward the Old Tullie House might be graced with something rather different by Andrea Amati.  The five instruments – all fiddles if we go by the definition above – that have joined it there might have been all rather different too.  But no, the viola, the viol da gamba, the viola d’amore, the pochette violin and the tiny violin are all wonderful wooden boxes of maple, spruce, pine, ebony, ivory, bone and boxwood.  Boxes, but ones of just the right shape, weight, thickness, density to be quite wonderful things.

Violins2Andrea Amati’s violin, which has stood alone in Old Tullie House for a good number of years, is an amazing survivor from the court orchestra of King Charles IX of France.  That it is 450 years old almost beggars belief.  When it was made; Elizabeth I had been queen for eight years, the Spanish Armada was not even a glint in Philip II’s eye. It is one of the oldest violins in the world, and it survived the French Revolution.

The five instruments new to Old Tullie House are all rather younger, three of them 18th century, the viola is early 19th century, and the tiny “toy” 16cm-long violin late 19th.  All survivors, if only from the ravages of children.

The miniature violin is included in the display to represent the local makers of Cumbria in the Tullie collection – Maghie, Birtles, Scott.  I wish we could tell you the names of the luthiers who made the elegant viola d’amore with its 13 strings, the rather rustic viol da gamba that at one time had ten strings but now has just four, and the pochette violin (somebody said “dinky” the other day) which would have been played for the better off as they honed their ballroom skills – but not one of those instruments has a maker’s mark that can be seen.

They are on show now for the first time in more than 20 years.  To add to the spectacle, a new Collection Conversation has been developed around them.  You can find out more about how a violin is made; what Mr Amati came up with that makes the violin different to its contemporaries, and more about the origins of the instrument, with a replica soprano rebec that you can handle.  You can even try to play it if you feel bold and want your cat to write a sympathy card.

For their help in putting these instruments on show, and developing the collection conversation, Tullie House would like to thank:

 Violins3

Anthony Calvert, of the Early Music Shop, Salts Mill, Saltaire, W.Yorks
Corrie Schrijver, violin maker and restorer of Brampton, Cumbria
James Rawes, violin maker and restorer, of Cotehill, Carlisle, Cumbria

 

Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosity

cabinet1Our new ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ display in the Victorian Entrance of the museum has been designed to give everyone a glimpse of how varied Tullie House’s collections are.  And to show you the types of material you can expect to find in the museum if you want to come in and take a closer look.

 

Cabinet_of_Curiosities_1690s_Domenico_Remps

European Cabinet of Curiosities from around 1690

We’ve been inspired by ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’, one of the first types of museums that date back to the fourteenth century.  These cabinets started as display cases in private homes where well-travelled people could display all the weird and wonderful objects they had collected and show them (or show off?!) to their guests.  The concept developed over the next three hundred years and expanded from a display case to creating whole rooms of objects that had the effect of inspiring wonder and stimulating creative thought.

 

A number of contemporary historians have gone a little further in their interpretation of these ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’.   These cabinets were created during the Renaissance, a time when scholars wanted to understand how mankind fit within the grand scheme of nature and the divine.   It is argued that these collections of objects were a physical manifestation of this scholarly endeavour, formed around a belief that all things were linked by visible or invisible similarities.  Some people who created their own cabinet believed that by recognising the similarities between objects, they would be brought to an understanding of how the world functioned, and what mankind’s place was in it.

 

Both ideas are plausible: showing off, something more intellectual or indeed somewhere in between.  Whatever we believe, many have argued that from these cabinets the modern museum was born out of this seemingly basic human impulse to collect and be curious about the world around us.

cabinet3

Winter camouflage, keeping warm and having fun in Winter

In our ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’(as you can see from the image above) the curatorial team have selected items from the collections around the theme of ‘Winter’.  These quite different objects have been placed together within the case creating some intriguing contrasts that is certainly in keeping with the concepts of the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’. Below are two objects that you can see up close in the case.

Government Information Pamphlet

Government information pamphlet from the 1960s

Winter Skating by Dutch School

Winter; Skating by Unknown Dutch artist, 1700s

This is new project for Tullie House and one that we hope to develop further, so we’d like your thoughts about what you’ve seen and how you think it can develop.  Over the next few weeks we will Tweet regularly highlighting individual objects from the case, all object images will be on Pinterest and we will post another Blog featuring more in-depth information about individual objects and report on feedback we’ve received.

cabinet2

We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say so Tweet or leave your comment below.

Winter Warmers

The weather is starting to turn colder and we are all reaching for our favourite knitwear to make those cold winter days bearable.  For centuries we have been turning to wool and the art of knitting to keep out those Winter chills.

Melanie Gardner, Curator of Art, has been delving into our extensive collection of knitted items and here are just a few examples:

This little Staffordshire pottery child’s mug is inscribed ‘A Gift for Knitting Well’. It has transfer blue printed decoration and dates from the Victorian period.

Staffordshire Pot

This lovely miniature knitted jug is called a ‘pence jug’ and dates from the 1850’s. It was used as a purse for storing change or small items. It is knitted in blue and red cotton. Knitting was a popular leisure activity in the 19th century and a wide variety of items were knitted from patterns.

Knitted Jug

Another small knitted purse in the collection this time used for holding a sovereign. Sovereign purses were very popular during the 19th and early 20th century.

Knitted Purse

This amazing ‘flapper’ style dress dates from about 1925 and was probably worn for special occasions. It is crocheted in grey silk with very long silk tassels at the hem and has a matching grey silk under-slip. This style of dress was the height of fashion in the 1920’s.

Flapper Dress

This pair of child’s brown wool socks date from the Second World War. Although they are unworn they were made for practicality and warmth. The mark ‘CC41’ stamped on each sock refers to the utility scheme introduced in 1942 during wartime rationing. Clothes with the utility mark were made from standard designs from a regulated amount of material with no superfluous decoration.

Socks

This little girl’s cream lambswool knitted dress was worn by the donor in 1946. Knitwear was hugely popular during wartime and a wide variety of knitting patterns became available to meet demand.

Baby Dress

This gents patterned knitted tank top dates from the early 1970’s when knitwear went through a revival and was hugely fashionable.

Tank Top

This stylish purple wool bat-winged jumper was knitted by Mabel Bateman from Carlisle for her daughter Jackie to wear in the 1970’s.

Batwing Jumper

Written by – Melanie Gardner, Curator of Art

Do you have any home made knitwear master pieces or even disasters lurking in your cupboards?

It may be a school jumper that went sadly wrong and you paid the price all term long! A balaclava that mum insisted you wore when the weather took a turn for the worse.

Take a picture and send it to us or share your knitwear stories.

Picture This 2

Volunteers – Caldew School NCS Students Get Involved

On Saturday 28 November, the volunteer programme were delighted to welcome 22 pupils from Caldew School to complete a day of  ‘Social Action’ at Tullie House as the culmination of their National Citizen Scheme Award.DSCN1273

Nicky and John tell us about their day at Tullie and the work towards their award.

Last Saturday we completed our social action project at Tullie House Museum. As a group we developed and participated in three activities.  The focus of the day was thinking about visitors from the community with visual impairment.  This meant that one group created a sensory space in the garden, and another group researched and wrote scripts then recorded audio ‘labels’ for the Social History gallery. Finally the third and smallest group produced an NCS display, highlighting what the NCS programme involves and has to offer all young people.DSCN1287DSCN1276DSCN1302

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To give you some background, the NCS stands the National Citizen Service award and is open for all 16-17 year olds across England and Wales. It is a journey through a series of phases with its ethos being based on:

  • Challenge
  • Responsibility
  • Inspiration
  • Social mix
  • Independency
  • Social action

All of us who complete the NCS journey are awarded with a certificate signed by David Cameron (prime minister). However the skills and knowledge that we gain on the route are extremely valuable to wherever our futures lead.

We are all year 12 pupils from Caldew School.  The start of the course saw us go to Lockerbie Manor, an outdoor pursuits centre where we did a range of activities designed to build up our confidence and communication skills.  Then over the Autumn half term we visited various places within Carlisle and improved our understanding of the local community.  We also took inspiration from the local organisations which eventually led us to taking part in a social action project at Tullie House Museum.

Davie, one of the students summed their wish to participate perfectly saying “I’m here to give something back to the community” a sentiment echoed by all the students.

John Sander the NCS Co-ordinator from Carlisle United had these further comments to make:

“I am thrilled that the group have chosen to work in partnership with the city’s leading tourist attraction. The confidence and inspiration they will gain as this project develops will not only have a big effect on their futures but it will be something that they will always remember. Hopefully their endeavours both in raising the funding and then working at the museum will also have a long, lasting and beneficial effect on the city and people of Carlisle”

John Sander added:

“For most of these sixth formers who attend Caldew School the NCS journey has been a life changing experience. This relatively new government initiative has improved their employability and allowed the young people to build friendships and memories on both the away and home residential experiences that will last for ever. The work at Tullie House is now the icing on the cake that allows all these students to graduate”

What Nicky and John didn’t mention in their text above is that they also carried out fundraising  that meant Tullie House was able to benefit from £200 worth of plants for the garden and further £600 for the museum.  It is my intention to see these funds used to continue the work you have started.

I was very pleased to host these students and enable them to complete their award.  In addition, they have made a real contribution to their museum and created superb resources for visitors to enjoy for years to come.  It was a privilege for me work with these students who gave up their Saturday and worked solidly throughout the day to achieve their aims – even in the rain!  Well done and thank you all!.

 DSCN1299

Claire – Volunteer Co-ordinator

Picture this….

ORIGINAL BROWNIE

Tullie staff’s interaction with visitors is often memorable; I never cease to be amazed at the turns our conversations with visitors can take.  Recently in Old Tullie House, a very elderly man and his grown-up granddaughter appeared.  We started talking about the Pre-Raphaelite artists, but the conversation swung to how the young woman was about to start the third year of her degree in photography as fine art.

Her course was heavily film-based; that’s to say very little digital and lots of rolls and sheets of film and long, absorbing hours of darkroom work.  The grandfather’s love of photography had infected her, and she was taking an opportunity he had never had.  He was clearly bursting with pride and was overjoyed that she understood film.

There’ll be plenty now who have never seen a roll of film but will doubtless have seen a film camera – maybe in a junk shop or car boot sale or in the back of that rarely-opened drawer.

Recently I started a trawl through the cameras in the Tullie collection, improving their descriptions on our database.  It was interesting to see how many of the very old simple cameras are still fully functional, and to be reminded how solidly even some of the cheapest of them were built.  Of course “cheap” is relative.

They deserve attention, after all these old cameras were in at the beginning of popular photography and are the devices that gave us our most detailed social record.  This year the People of Earth are expected to take well in excess of one TRILLION photos.

What surprised me a little was that more than half the 90-or-so cameras in the collection turned out to be Kodak-made.  They are mostly the cameras of the “common man” (although for years Kodak’s advertising deigned to acknowledge that even a woman could take a photo). They are also of a time when photography was still something quite special.  The majority are box and folding cameras, the earliest about 1898, the latest about 1984, with the 70s and 80s represented by the odd Instamatic and one or two cine cameras. There are no what you would call “good” modern cameras. There are a few amazing pieces of machinery in the collection.  But a, or better, THE stand-out camera of the lot is this model of simplicity pictured here.

This unassuming black box camera is the camera that took photography into the price-bracket of the ordinary person.  This is THE Kodak Brownie of 1900-1901.  The one-dollar camera.  That was about five shillings, or 25p, in Britain then.  Add another dollar and you could buy a Brownie and a film AND get it processed and probably get fish and chips for two with the change*.

Kodak made 245,000 original Brownies from February 1900 to October 1901. They were wooden boxes with a mostly cardboard interior (check out the picture – you almost feel you could make one at home).

They had a simple metal rotary shutter and took just half a dozen pictures 6cm square on 117-size roll film.  The small box on top of the camera is a reflecting viewfinder, which could be bought as an accessory.  Without it the user had to almost imagine what would be in the photograph using two lines marked on the camera body as a reference.

The Brownie is fully functioning, and in remarkable condition taking into account its age, construction and the amount of use it could have had.

*Fish and chips in 1901, say 3d or a bit less maybe?  So taking inflation into account, about £1.50 each now?

Andy Whysall – Curatorial Assistant

Volunteers – Working with collections

Helping give access to collections

21115_1Collections Access is a new, exciting strand of volunteering projects working with collections.  These activities help the museum make better use of stored material and make them more available to greater numbers of people.

The Head of Collections and Programming Andrew Mackay tells us a little more about the background to the projects:

“Tullie House has outstanding collections – we know because we are regularly told by this by external experts. There is very little point in having such important collections if we do not share them, so Tullie House has made a commitment to making the collections more accessible and we are delighted that we are able to work together to develop a range of collections based projects with a dedicated team of volunteers.

The ideal arrangement sees projects being developed that benefit both the museum and our volunteers. The volunteer provides time, enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment in exchange for hopefully developing their own skills and understanding by working closely on the collections with specialist museum staff. The collections become more accessible (and therefore more usable) by being catalogued, photographed, better stored and researched.

An ongoing project is undertaking an inventory of all of the archaeology stored at Shaddon Mill. This essential work allows the museum to better understand what it has in store (which in turn can help with exhibitions, research and engagement activities) and it also provides key information which will help assess future storage requirements.

We are therefore very grateful to the volunteer workforce for being so committed to helping make our collections more accessible. Without this invaluable help the level of engagement activity we can deliver by using the collections at Tullie would be so much harder to achieve.” 

191015 (5)Over the last few months two further projects have begun.  The Costume Collections Audit is a project to condition check and ensure correct data for every single item in the costume store.  The team has also been involved in preparing the costume for the Pages From History exhibition opening on 14 November which we’re all excited to be sharing with visitors.

Secondly, the First World War project is bringing together documentation, images and research for the major Carlisle at War exhibition opening in autumn 2016.  We’ve already found some telling and often poignant images of many different people involved in the war effort, not just service personnel.  These images give me (and hopefully other non-specialists too) a different and locally-focused perspective on this tumultuous period of history.

Kirsty, a volunteer on both projects says:

“It’s given me a real insight in the work behind the scenes of the museum that you don’t get as a visitor.  It’s great experience too for helping me get a job in museums after my Masters degree.”

kirsty31115 (2)Not only is Kirsty benefiting from this experience but she is helping Tullie maintain the collections for future generations.

If you’ve been inspired and we’d be delighted to welcome you to the team .  If would like to get more involved with these projects or volunteering then please visit the volunteering page.  Here you can sign up to our mailing list that lets you know about all projects first, more information about our existing projects and how to join the team.  We’d love to welcome you.

 

Claire, Volunteer Co-ordinator

Volunteers – Exhibitions Summer Placement

After many registrations were received to be the Summer Exhibitions Placement volunteer, we were delighted that Vanessa decided to join us. Here are her reflections on her completed placement.

Me hard at work

Me hard at work

In August I moved back to Carlisle after recently graduating with a degree in History of Art. Keen to get some hands-on experience within a museum/art gallery environment, I applied for the Summer Placement internship advertised on the Tullie House website. Meeting with Amy, the Exhibitions Programming Manager, I was happy to learn that the placement was very flexible; it could fit around my other commitments and could even be suited to my own particular interests (being the art and costume departments in particular.) The placement began a few weeks later and took place over two days- one would be focused on costume research with the exhibitions team, and the other day would be spent carrying out the costume audit alongside a team of volunteers.

The costume research was mostly computer-based and enabled me to utilise the skills I gained during my degree in a practical way. It involved studying the phases and major developments in fashion over the past two hundred years, and then cross-referencing these with the items in the museum’s costume collection in order to create a shortlist of clothes, shoes and accessories that best demonstrated these developments for an upcoming exhibition.

I was able to work independently and continuously on the same project so I was able to really get stuck-in, meeting regularly with Amy and the exhibitions team to ensure that I was on the right track.

Inside the costume store

Inside the costume store

 

The costume audit, on the other hand, has exposed me to an entirely new set of skills that are invaluable to my CV, from handling museum items to creating new records on the internal database, not to mention getting to paw through wonderful items of clothing that at times date all the way back to the eighteenth century!

Sophie assessing the 1920s shoes

We are currently going through the costume store box by box, inspecting the contents, ensuring they are recorded properly and are packaged so that they will be preserved for years to come. This is an ongoing project and one that I have continued to be a part of, as each week I build upon my costume knowledge and gain experience in a range of everyday tasks involved working behind the scenes in an art gallery and museum.

1900 hat with full taxidermied bird

1900 hat with full taxidermied bird

 

Kirsty in the cotsume store

Kirsty in the costume store

I would certainly recommend the Summer Placement to anyone else that has graduated and is looking to gain practical experience within the arts sector, especially as Amy and her team were so accommodating in fitting me in, and there is so much scope for what you can get involved in depending on your interests.

You did an amazing job and you’re an asset to the team.  Thank you for all your hard work!  Claire

%d bloggers like this: