Amgueddfa Blog

At the National Waterfront Museum our aim is to bring the story of Wales, its people and the industries that have shaped our nation to life for school pupils through hands-on, unique experiences. For the past 15 years we have been part of an innovative collaboration with experienced theatre company, Theatr na nÓg, Swansea Museum and Technocamps. It is a partnership like no other in Wales, if not the UK. It combines live theatre, local and national museum collections with Technocamps’ expertise.   

This year marks 80 years since the sinking of the Arandora Star, whose tragic, little-known story will be vividly brought to life for school pupils across Wales through Theatr na nÓg’s radio play. Sadly 805 people lost their lives, including Welsh Italians who were onboard, on their way to internment camps in Canada. This year’s play will focus on Lina, a young girl living in Swansea facing an uncertain future after Italy joins the War in 1940. Her father is taken from their little Swansea café and transported on the Arandora Star.

Normally at this time of year we would be busy getting the final detail of our workshops together, ready to welcome thousands of school children through the Museum doors but 2020 has been very different for us all. With Covid-19 and the lockdowns that followed, delivering our normal workshops seemed impossible. However, this has challenged us to be more creative and has pushed our small team to develop a digital workshop comprised of short films and teachers’ resource to complement the radio play, The Arandora Star, focusing on the story of technology and innovation during the Second World War. 

So in our online workshops, learners will meet Captain Edward Morgan of the Royal Navy who will guide them through some information about the sinking of the Arandora Star and discuss some innovative communication technology that was used during the Second World War. Alongside this we have developed a teacher's resource with activities and suggestions for further work, all of which supports the new Curriculum for Wales 2022.  

Just prior to lockdown we were able to run the first LGBTQ+ tours at the National Museum Cardiff which were created in partnership with Pride Cymru. As the doors unlock and visitors can start to return to the museum and also to mark and celebrate Pride Cymru 2020, I would like to share with you my favourite set of objects from the tours.

LGBTQ+ Tours
© Dan Vo @DanNouveau

An Encounter with May and Mary

Sleeve clasp made by May Morris (1862-1938)

When I first saw the exquisite silver sleeve clasps with a centrally suspended chrysoprase teardrop gemstone flanked by two apple-green orbs, I was utterly charmed. What rooted me to the spot and caused goosebumps to tickle my skin though was the name of the owner and the donor: Miss May Morris, given by Miss M. F. V. Lobb.

Echoing in my mind was a talk, The Great Wings of Silence, that I’d seen Dr Sean Curran deliver at an LGBT+ History Month event at the V&A museum on their relationship. Curran also wrote about May Morris (1862-1938) and Mary Frances Vivian Lobb (1879-1939) saying, “people like Mary Lobb and May Morris are part of a still barely visible queer heritage that can contribute to legitimising contemporary queer identities”.

I felt what I was seeing was evidence of their relationship. Though, as it turns out, there are two great collections that hold jewellery made by May and gifted by Mary, National Museum Cardiff and my ‘home collection’ of the V&A. Somewhat ironic! 

 

The Welsh Connection

The link between May and the V&A, I think, is easy to deduce: William Morris had significant influence in the early years of the V&A and after he died May, a respected artist in her own right, carried on his work teaching about good design principles and maintained a strong relationship with the museum. 

While the Morris family were proud of their Welsh ancestry, the question of how May’s jewellery ended up specifically at National Museum Cardiff involves a curious path that takes in sites from all across Wales, and certainly affirms the significant relationship between May and Mary.

May was a skilled jewellery maker and embroiderer and took charge of the embroidery department of her father’s renowned company Morris & Co. when she was 23. By the time Mary came into her life, May was living alone in the Morris family summer residence, Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswold.

Mary was from a Cornish farming family and during the First World War and as an early recruit to the Women’s Land Army she was involved in demonstrations showing how women could support the war efforts, even making the news with a headline “Cornish Woman Drives Steam Roller”!

At some point after the war, Mary joined May at Kelmscott Manor and the couple became a familiar sight, even attending local events together. Then, perhaps as it is for some now, not everyone was sure what to make of the relationship: Mary has been variously described as Morris’s close companion, housekeeper, cook, and even bodyguard!

When May died in 1938 she bequeathed her personal effects and £12,000 to Mary, an amount larger than any she left to anyone else. She also secured the tenure of Kelmscott for the rest of Mary’s life, however, Mary tragically died five months later in 1939. In those short months, Mary arranged the donation of May’s jewellery as well as her own scrapbooks to the National Library of Wales.

The scrapbooks were not given much consideration and were broken up and scattered across various sections of the library. It was researcher Simon Evans who began slowly reassembling the collection, and as he did so started to realise the significance and how it helps paint a clearer picture of the relationship between May and Mary.

Rediscovered items include watercolour landscapes painted by May, which suggests the pair traveled extensively together across Wales with journeys including Cardigan, Gwynedd, Swansea, Talyllyn and Cader Idris (one of my favourite images of the couple is a photograph from the William Morris Gallery that shows them camping in the Welsh countryside).

 

The Queer Perspective

Sandwiched in the scrapbooks is also a cryptic note in a letter from May to Mary, "after posting letter, I just grasped the thread at the end of yours, and having grasped (how slow of me!) I will be most careful.” 

To contextualise, Evans also describes a postcard (at Kelmscott Manor), written on a trip in Wales, in which Mary asked someone back at the Manor to send Morris’s shawl which is in "our" bedroom, which seems to put to bed the rumour May and Mary shared a room. Further, writer and curator Jan Marsh concludes in her book Jane and May Morris by saying the relationship between May and Mary was, in contemporary terms, a lesbian one.

LGBTQ+ Tours
© Dan Vo @DanNouveau

Through the jewelry gifted to the National Museum Cardiff we have a small glimpse of two lives intertwined, an intimate relationship between May and Mary that was full of love, care, and concern for each other. Theirs is one story among many on the free volunteer-led LGBTQ+ tours, which will return in the future when it is safe to do so.

In the meantime, labels for 18 objects have now been written that help highlight works with an LGBTQ+ connection for visitors. Connected to the May and Mary is a stunning hair ornament, which resembles a tiara, formed by floral shapes studded with pearls, opals, and garnets with silver leaves, all meeting symmetrically in the middle of the head. 

There are landscapes and a self-portrait by Swansea born painter Cedric Morris and several portraits by the renowned Gwen John who hails from Haverfordwest, as well as a bust of her by lover Rodin. Other highlights include works by Francis Bacon, John Minton, Christopher Wood, and 'Brunette' - a ceramic bust of Hollywood star Greta Garbo by Susie Cooper.

It is also now possible to explore the museum’s queer collection online by searching for ‘LGBTQ’ in the Collections Online. This will allow you to see works like The Wounded Amazon by Conwy sculptor John Gibson, a painting of Fisher Boys by Methyr Tydfil born artist Penry Williams (Gibson and Williams lived together in Rome and are understood to be lovers), and a ceramic plate that features perhaps the most famous lesbian couple in history, the Ladies of Llangollen, who lived together at Plâs Newydd. 

It is a joy and a privilege to be able to share the rich history of Welsh queer culture in such a historic place. I'm pleased to say the tours and the related research are merely just getting started! There are so many more stories to be found and told, many that will take us down interesting intersectional paths too. So do stay tuned for more from the National Museum Cardiff and Pride Cymru volunteers. 

For now I wish you a happy Pride. However you’re celebrating it, I hope it’s with as much sparkle as May and Mary’s glamorous bling! 

LGBTQ+ tour leaders


Dan Vo is a freelance museum consultant who founded the V&A LGBTQ+ Tours and developed the Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd National Museum Cardiff LGBTQ+ Tours. He is currently the project manager and lead researcher of the Queer Heritage and Collections Nework, a subject specialist network supported by the Art Fund formed of a partnership between the National Trust, English Heritage, Historic England, Historic Royal Palaces and the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (University of Leicester).

Many industrial processes are inspired by nature, and can be seen as a mechanised extension of a traditional hand process using tools from the natural world. The Teasel Gig is one such invention. Here's a little about this extraordinary machine which is a mixture of the natural and man made.

Teasels were traditionally used to ‘comb’ the surface of damp woollen cloth by hand to

Teasel Gig

make it soft and fluffy. This process is called ‘raising the nap’.

The Teasel Gig machine was invented to make this process faster and more efficient. The teasel gig contains 3000 prickly teasels in an iron frame and is powered by electricity. The cloth is passed over the teasels, giving it a more even, fluffy finish.

The Teasel Gig is a curious mix of the natural and man-made. It combined the hand processes of the past with precision engineering – the future of the textile industry

Teasel Gig with Teasels at The National Wool Museum, Drefach Felindre

A ‘Teasel Man’ travelled from mill to mill renewing the teasels in the gigs. It was a very skilled job as the teasel heads had to be carefully arranged to ensure the cloth was finished evenly. Most of the teasels came from specialist gardens in Somerset

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales would like to congratulate the 4,463 pupils from across the UK who achieved Super Scientist recognition for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2019-2020.

A big congratulations to you all! Thank you for working so hard planting, observing, measuring and recording, you really are Super Scientists!

Many thanks to The Edina Trust for funding this project.

Super Scientists 2020

Enillwyr / Winners

Cymru / Wales: Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Tonyrefail

Gogledd Iwerddon / Northern Ireland: Holy Cross Girls' Primary School

Lloegr / England: St Michael's CE Aided Primary School

Yr Alban / Scotland: Gavinburn Primary School

 

Yn Ail / Runners up

Cymru / Wales: Bryncoch CiW Primary School

Gogledd Iwerddon / Northern Ireland: Greenhaw Primary School

Lloegr / England: King's Meadow Academy

Yr Alban / Scotland: Penpont Primary School

 

Clod Uchel / Highly Commended

Cymru / Wales:

St Paul's CiW Primary

St. Julian's Primary

St. Robert's Catholic Primary

Ysgol Gymraeg Caerffili

Gogledd Iwerddon / Northern Ireland:

Steelstown Primary School

Lloegr / England:

Arkholme C of E Primary School

Bursar Primary Academy

Clifton Primary School

Ossett Flushdyke Junior and Infant School

St Austins Catholic Primary School

Stoneferry Primary School

Woodfield Primary

Yr Alban / Scotland:

Dalbeattie Primary School

St Fergus' Primary School

St John Ogilvie Primary School

 

Cydnabyddiaeth arbennig / Special Recognition

Cymru / Wales:

Blaendulais Primary School

Bro Pedr

Broad Haven

Carreghofa C P School

Darran Park Primary

Evenlode Primary

Ferryside V.C.P School

Gaer Primary School

Henllys C/W Primary

Litchard Primary School

Llanedeyrn Primary School

Llanharan Primary School

Pil Primary School

Sofrydd Primary School

St Athan Primary

St Joseph's Cathedral Primary School

Tonyrefail Community School

Ysgol Deganwy

Ysgol Gymraeg Dewi Sant

Ysgol Llwyn yr Eos

Ysgol San Sior

Lloegr / England:

Canon Peter Hall Primary School

Fieldhead Primary Academy

Fleet Wood Lane Primary School

Hudson Road Primary School

Oldfleet Primary School

Stanford in the Vale Primary School

Yr Alban / Scotland:

Carnbroe Primary School

Earlston Primary School

Greenburn School

Lawefield Primary School

Sanquhar Primary School

St Mungo Primary

Whatriggs Primary School

 

Gwyddonwyr Gwych / Super Scientists

Cymru / Wales:

Dyffryn Cledlyn

Aberdare Park Primary School

Albert Primary School

Blaengwrach Primary

Garth primary School

Georgetown Primary

Hendredenny Park Primary

High Cross Primary School

Llangan Primary School

Maesgwyn Special School

NPTC Newtown College

St. Michael's RC Primary

Ty Isaf Infants School

White Rose Primary School

Y Berllan Deg

Ysgol Craig yr Wylfa

Ysgol Ysbyty Ifan

Gogledd Iwerddon / Northern Ireland:

Auchencairn Primary School

John Paul II Primary School

Newbuildings Primary School

Saint Patrick's Primary School

St Anne's Primary School

St Paul's Primary and Nursery School

Lloegr / England:

Adelaide Primary School

Bardney CofE Primary School

Castleford Park Junior Academy

Chorley St James CE Primary

Dunstall Hill Primary School

Garstang St Thomas C.E. Primary

Gonerby Hill Foot C E Primary School

North Road Primary School

Sandal Magna Community Academy

St Helen's C of E Primary School

St Michael's Church of England Aided Primary School

St Peter's Catholic Primary School

Yr Alban / Scotland:

Cummertrees Primary School

Drummore Primary School

Gelston Primary School

Glenluce Primary School

Gordon Primary School

Laurieknowe Primary School

Locharbriggs Primary School

Loreburn Primary School

New Abbey Primary School

Newmains Primary School

Our Lady of Peace Primary School

Saint Anthony's Primary School

Sheuchan Primary School

Wormit Primary School

St Peter's Primary School

We'll be celebrating the re-opening of the National Waterfront Museum after more than four months in verse, with a specially commissioned poem about life in lockdown, woven through by your words. This week, we're launching a campaign to get our visitors, fans, and community to contribute words and phrases for what will become a poetic legacy of these unprecedented times for the city and surrounding area.

All being well, on 28th August, we'll be unlocking the museum's doors and look forward to welcoming you all back, albeit on a pre-booked, ticketed (free ticket) entry basis, to manage numbers and maintain social distancing measures.

2020 marks the National Waterfront Museum’s 15th anniversary. When it opened in October 2005, it was to the words of a poem by the then National Poet of Wales, Gwyneth Lewis. So, for the unlocking of the doors this August, we want to conjure words, rhythms and rhymes once more, this time with your help!

Datgloi ~ Unlock will be a poetic celebration of the unlocking of our doors. We're asking the community of Swansea, our visitors and fans to let us know two things, each in 280 characters, which is the length of a tweet:

  • Describe your experience of lockdown (ANSWER IN 280 characters or less)
  • Why are you looking forward to the re-opening of the National Waterfront Museum? (ANSWER IN 280 characters or less)

Those wishing to get involved and submit their thoughts and words are invited to do so via the museum’s Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/waterfrontmuseum 

or by Tweeting @the_waterfront and using #DatgloiUnlock

or by emailing us on DatgloiUnlock@museumwales.ac.uk

Through this project, our aim is to gather a sense of the lock-down experience for the people of Swansea and the region, and to understand what re-opening the museum will mean for you. The commissioned poets, Aneirin Karadog and Natalie Ann Holborow will then take these statements and craft them into two poems, one in Welsh, the other in English.

Speaking about the project, the Head of the National Waterfront Museum, Steph Mastoris said:

“Over the coming weeks, we’ll be engaging our local audiences and followers through social media and asking them to share a phrase or two about lockdown and what they’re most looking forward to seeing / doing when our museum reopens. Our commissioned poets will then use these words and phrases as the basis and inspiration for their poems, so that they reflect the experiences of our community during lockdown, and celebrate the unlocking of our museum, which over the past 15 years has found it’s place at the heart of the city’s community.”

The poets commissioned for this project both have strong connections with the Swansea area. 

Aneirin Karadog who will compose the Welsh language poem for Datgloi ~ Unlock

Aneirin Karadog is a poet, broadcaster, performer and linguist. He was brought up in Llanrwst before moving to Pontardawe in the 1980s

He graduated from New College, Oxford University, with a degree in French and Spanish. His mother is Breton and his father is Welsh; he can speak Welsh, English, Breton, French and Spanish fluently.

Aneirin is a familiar face on S4C, and a chaired bard of the National Eisteddfod (2016). He composes poetry on a range of metres from syncopatic rap to the ancient and fiendishly difficult Welsh language form, cynghanedd, and his work has been published widely.

Natalie Ann Holborow who will create the English language poem for Datgloi ~ Unlock

Natalie Ann Holborow is proud to be from Dylan Thomas’ hometown.

She is the multi award-winning Welsh writer whose debut collection, 'And Suddenly You Find Yourself' (Parthian, 2017) was listed as one of Wales Arts Review's 'Best of 2017' and was launched at the International Kolkata Literary Festival. She is a finalist for the Cursed Murphy International Spoken Word award and her second collection, 'Small', will be published by Parthian in 2020.

We're grateful to Literature Wales who advised and helped us set up this project. The poems will be unveiled at the opening of the National Waterfront Museum, planned for 28 August.

The National Museum of Wales is currently collecting reflections and memories of Covid 2020. Find out more about our Collecting Covid: Wales 2020 project here: www.museum.wales/collecting-covid/