Amgueddfa Blog: Tŷ Gwyrdd

Move over Alexa, Ada the pianola’s back!

‘Alexa, play me a song by the Beatles! Alexa what about something by One Direction! Alexa, play something classical! Beethoven or Mozart. Alexa, Alexa, Alexa you are the must have gadget of the 21st century - but Alexa you don't always get it right?!

This is where I Ada, the Pianola comes in. Let’s travel back over a hundred years in time from 2019 to 1919 when I was in my heyday and see how I performed. I am, the first truly musical piano-playing device in the world. Listen to my specifications. They are quite impressive if I say so myself. I was designed and first made by Edwin Scott Votey in his workshop in Detroit in 1895. So even one hundred years ago I had already been around for nearly twenty five years.

‘What can you do?’ I hear you ask.

Well I can play any number of tunes you request…. Music hall songs, Christmas carols, nocturnes by Chopin to name but a few, and I make no mistakes! I do need a human to work the pedals and load the music scrolls. My sound is generated by the pianolist's feet, and controlled in pitch by a perforated music roll. When my pedals are pressed, I send air up through holes in a roll of paper to press my keys and hey presto I am in action. Sit back and enjoy my performance. With my help, anyone can make music.

‘So you don’t operate alone? ‘you ask.

Well neither do you Alexa, as far as I can see. You need wi-fi, monthly fees, speakers and human instructors.

I was around throughout the 20th century. But will you still be operating in 2119? Who remembers music cassettes and floppy disks now?

Who can tell? Who knows? But I think I am ageless. I can go on for ever.

Want to check me out for yourself?

If so, you will find me in the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute on the top floor in the grand ballroom. Pop in on a Wednesday morning and my volunteers Cheryl and Marie will show you the works. Before too long you too will be singing my praises.

My name is Brian and I live in Talbot Green. When I was in school I used to do gardening in Y Pant. In the winter I used to help my dad in the garden.

I worked in Remploy in Tonyrefail for ten years starting in 1974. We used to do all sorts of jobs. Then I did four years in Llantrisant, and twenty five years in Porth. On Fridays we finished early and went to the pub for lunch. I retired in 2013. I have the opening plaque from when Remploy opened in Porth in 1988. The building has been demolished.

Since I retired I have done a computer course and a photography course. I have also done pottery and pop art, and I have a big collection of paintings that I have done.

I came to the Take Charge coffee morning in August 2018 and found out about the chance to help at The Secret Garden at St Fagans National Museum of History. That’s when I decided to start gardening again. I’ve learned about teamwork, we work here in a team.

I enjoy doing it, I feel happy. I look forward to coming out and abought especially. I feel tired after, but good tired. My favourite job is raking. I’ve learnt that I enjoy volunteering.


The Secret Garden is maintain and developed by Innovate Trust whose main work is to support people with learning disabilities, mental health issues and people with physical impairments.

 

A few months ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I was invited to work at Amgueddfa Cymru as an artist in residence and asked to organise a project to celebrate 10 years of the volunteer programme. The project has consisted of a series of creative workshops with volunteers at sites across the country, which have fed into the creation of a celebratory artwork.

My name’s Robin Bonar-Law, I’m a self-taught artist and graphic design graduate of Falmouth University. From the time of my graduation up until my residency, I have been working in the catering industry so my artistic outlet has been primarily restricted to latte art. The creative industries are incredibly competitive and coming from a low-income family I have often felt stifled by a lack of social mobility. I take portrait commissions and enter competitions when I can but over the coming years, I would like to make the rewarding leap into self-employment by becoming a freelance mural artist.

Early this year I applied to an artist opportunity based at St Fagan’s. After a thoroughly exciting interview process, I was asked to join the team and given an open brief, ‘Create an artwork that is inspired by the volunteers and showcases the amazing contribution they have given to the museum. The process should also include a series of creative workshops with volunteers.’ With over 900 volunteers this year alone this was no small task, nonetheless, overflowing with unbounded enthusiasm and a sense of freedom (from the coffee shop) I got to work planning.

The project is split into two main components; the workshops and the final artwork. I love drawing and wanted to run a series of ‘mark-making’ workshops that help re-introduce the volunteers to the idea of drawing as something that’s fun and relaxing. By normalising and simplifying drawing through a series of games and activities, I hoped to make it less daunting and something relaxing that they may enjoy doing brief moments of spare time.

Volunteering blog

As well as allowing me to teach the volunteers new drawing techniques the workshops served as a time for the volunteers to teach me about their roles and experiences at the museum. From the beginning of the project, I have wanted to create an authentic artwork that represents the true collaborative spirit of the volunteer workforce and the best way to do that is to meet them and get their personal input. Visiting the sites and talking to members of staff was another valuable resource.

I have met such a large number of enthusiastic and happy volunteers, they are all equally passionate and have truly enriched my experience. The workshops have been far more rewarding than I could ever have expected, I hope the volunteers enjoyed them as much as I did.

My favourite part of any project like this is the final, hands-on crafting of a design, but there’s no point rushing into it without a strong design process as a foundation. Alongside the workshops, I started amassing a large pool of research to help shape the direction of the artwork. I gathered inspiration from celebratory imagery such as friendly society banners, religious artworks, Flags, political/social murals etc. I also furthered my knowledge of Welsh craft and traditions by meeting with curators, visiting volunteers outside of workshops and making use of the information on display to the public. I wanted to create a final piece with mulitple layers of complexity; representing the wildly diverse range of roles, having that celebratory feel and being reminiscent of the traditional craft that imbues each site.

I am in the final stages of the design process and putting the finishing touches to my artwork. Once complete, the modular, hanging banner inspired artwork will be transformed into a majestic, megalithic and meaningful mural adorning the walls of Tŷ Gwyrdd (the new volunteer hub) and made into a digital print for each of the 7 museums around Wales. It will also be made into tote bags and given to each of the volunteers. From the very beginning, I have wanted to create a purposeful artwork that rejuvenates and enriches the volunteer spaces, fostering an environment that helps individuals find a sense of well-being, pride and identity. I can’t wait to show you all the finished product.

I am incredibly grateful for the museum and all the staff that have given me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Robin's placement was funded by the Hands on Heritage youth project at Amgueddfa Cymru, which is supported through the National Lottery Heritage Funds ‘Kick the Dust’

 

Last week, as part of Give and Gain Day 2014, we had 50 volunteers from the Lloyds Banking Group helping with a number of projects here at St Fagans. Some helped with the Gardening Department, some helped the Historic Buildings Unit while some assisted with a project alongside the Alzheimer’s Society. Myself and Bernice had the help of 11 volunteers to build a dead hedge in the woodlands near the bird hide.

We had been planning on building a dead hedge in near the bird hide for a while, for a number of reasons. A dead hedge would act as a screen for approaching the bird hide, meaning that birds on the feeders would be less likely to be scared by the approaching visitors. A dead hedge also acts as a wildlife corridor, giving cover to a wide variety of wildlife as they move through the woodlands. Visitors had also begun cutting through the woodland, and one section of the dead hedge was to act as a deterrent meaning visitors would be more likely to stick to the paths.

The first task of the day was the sharpening of the fence posts. The posts are needed for structure and need to be driven firmly into the ground. Creating the sharp end obviously makes this much easier. After creating pilot holes, the poles were then driven into the ground using a sledge hammer. Once the posts were in place, we could then begin to assemble the dead hedge.

A dead hedge is built up of dead woodland material. Over the past couple of weeks I have been asking the gardeners and farmers here to help by collecting any trimmings and off cuts and delivering these to the bird hide for use in this project. Everyone was incredibly helpful, and we ended up with a vast pile of material… or so I thought. Dead hedging takes a lot of material, so along with some of the volunteers I headed into the woods to do a bit of clearing to gain more material.

After lunch, we headed up into the woods near the site of Bryn Eryr, the Iron Age farmstead currently being built. This area has previously been cleared so there was a lot of cut material for us to collect. This was loaded into a trailer and taken over to the bird hide. The afternoon finished with us using this material to finish the dead hedge. As an artistic final touch, we used some lime cuttings to add extra height and a certain je ne sais quois to the finished hedge.

As these pictures show, the day was a huge success! The weather could not have been better and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. The 2 sections of dead hedge we wanted to build got done, and I’ve already earmarked some projects for future volunteers! The amount of work done in a day was incredible, it would have taken me and Bernice a lot longer to do without the help of the volunteers. A huge thank you to everyone who helped us and the other projects too!

Last weekend was RSPB’s annual Big Garden Bird Watch, the world’s largest bird survey! On Saturday I joined in the fun by making fat ball birdfeeders with some of the visitors to the museum. Inspired by the Big Garden Bird Watch, I spent a little time this week in the bird hide at St Fagans. Here are a few photos of what I saw…

Did you take part? What birds you see in your garden? Remember to report your findings to the RSPB - Big Garden Bird Watch

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