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Did you know that an exhibition of sculpture for the blind was held at National Museum Cardiff in 1980?

Neither did I until a colleague of mine mentioned it recently. Intrigued, I did some digging to find out more.

The exhibition was the first of its kind in the Museum. It brought together 10 sculptures of different materials and textures which blind and visually impaired visitors were invited to touch. Rodin's 'Illusions Fallen to Earth', and Frederic Leighton's 'Needless Alarm', which shows a nude female figure startled by a frog, were among the works on display.

To protect the works, a thin layer of burnished wax was applied and visitors wore gloves with the fingertips cut off to reduce the risk of damage from rings or watches. It would be interesting to know what conservators today would advise!

Rubber mats and carpets were used to help lead visitors to the plinths, and the Museum's Friends were on hand to guide visitors around and engage them in conversation about the works.

To complement the exhibition and add a multisensory dimension there was also a display of seasonal scented plants and spices from the Botany collection!

Even though this exhibition was held almost 40 years ago, it is interesting how little has changed. All of the challenges they faced back then – how to strike a balance between conservation and accessibility, how to help orientate visitors, and introducing a multi-sensory element – are ones we’ve been thinking about recently.

We haven’t got a new exhibition planned (although it’s something to think about for the future!), but we have been working with members of Cardiff Institute for the Blind on a series of audio description tours. These tours will be offered to blind and visually impaired visitors starting this October.

In 2017 St Fagans National History Museum will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute. The building was at the heart of Oakdale village community for 80 years until it closed in 1987 and then moved to St Fagans.

Exactly 100 years ago, on 3 July 1916, the work of building the Institute in Oakdale began when a ceremony was held to lay the first foundation stones. This type of ceremony is common when large public buildings are built to mark the beginning of the main construction phase. During the ceremony, a trowel is used to place the mortar where the foundation stone is laid and a trowel is then engraved to commemorate the ceremony.

Two foundation stones were laid at the ceremony for the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute in 1916, one on either side of the main entrance door. The stone on the left was laid by Harry Blount on behalf of the workmen of Oakdale Colliery and the stone on the right by Alfred S. Tallis representing the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, owners of the colliery.

Harry Blount was one of the original members of the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute Committee, formed in 1913. Their meeting place in the early years was in the ‘Huts’, the old barracks which once accommodated the workers of the Oakdale Colliery shafts. In the minutes of the Committee it notes that on 6 January 1914, Harry Blount proposed that they should ‘proceed with the new Institute at once’. At the same meeting Arthur Webb was appointed as the architect and within a month his sketch plan had been accepted by the Committee.

Alfred S Tallis, Managing Director of the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, was involved with the Institute from the beginning with the promise of a financial loan for the building work. He was also the main promoter of the idea of a model village at Oakdale for the company’s workforce with modern housing built in a rural area, away from the colliery. The work of building the new village began in 1909 and the first street, Syr Dafydd Avenue, was completed in 1913 and designed by the Institute’s architect, Arthur Webb, Tallis’s brother-in-law.

The minutes of the Committee briefly mentions the arrangements for the ceremony held on Monday 3 July 1916; there was to be a cold lunch at the Oakdale Hotel with the full Committee attending and the Oakdale Colliery Band were to play around the village half an hour before to advertise the event. The ceremony itself was at 5 o’clock and Sir Charles Edwards, M.P. was asked to attend and to speak.

The two foundation stones can still be seen either side of the Institute’s main door at St Fagans and the commemorative trowels from the ceremony are displayed on the wall of the Institute Committee Room. Both trowels were donated to the Museum in the months before the Institute re-opened at St Fagans in 1995, by Harry Blount’s grandson and by Alfred Tallis’s grand-daughters.

In 2017, the year of the centenary of Oakdale Workmen’s Institute, the Museum is planning to bring the building alive once again, to reflect its original purpose as a place for the community. We’ll be updating you on the project as we go so look out for #Oakdale100 news in the coming weeks and months.

Visual Audio Display Units (VADUs) still exist in the National Museum Cardiff galleries. We know, because with almost every finger touch on the touchscreen, it sends a little signal to the web server that includes a piece of information describing the last interaction (i.e. ‘please play the video’, ‘please display the menu list’). We record all those messages, firstly to make sure the kiosk is actually working day-to-day and secondly to find out which aspects are popular or not popular, knowledge that is useful to guide future kiosk development. 

Gallery Statistics (diagram)
Figure 1, a cartoon of kiosk development process - an attempt to show the separation from the web server, while maintaining rudimental communication from the gallery space (satellite to mothership).

Each message is sent as an AJAX call (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) from the kiosk, which is usually a standalone bundle of files running through a web browser (HTML, CSS & Javascript files). The main bulk of the kiosk development is carried out through our in-house web CMS (called Amgueddfa CMS) on a computer that mirrors the public web server, it’s only before the launch that all the necessary files are copied over to the computer in the exhibition space (wrapped up as an ‘App’), where it remains like a satellite away from its mothership (the web server). Beep beep, beep beep.

Patterns of Frequency

A single recorded kiosk command is not particularly exciting by itself but when there are greater numbers, patterns emerge. For instance, if we record each time a video is started on the kiosk we get a round number to how many people were interested in the subject matter of the video (information gathered before they had seen the video). If we also record when people stop playing the video we can start to distinguish patterns in their viewing behaviour. Judging by the average video length played the majority of the visitors saw less than 39% of the total video length, with the longest average being three minutes 17 seconds. Of course, there were also lots of visitors who watch the videos until the end; as you can tell by the 'happy-tail' patterns formed by visitors reaching the film credits at the end of the film (figure 2).  

Figure 3 shows all video stop points for five videos presented as scatter plots against the video length in minutes.
Figure 2 shows all video stop points for five videos presented as scatter plots against the video length in minutes. Judging by the average video length played, which is shown in green - the majority of the visitors saw less than 39% of the total video length, with the longest average being three minutes 17 seconds. Of course, the there were also lots of visitors who watch the videos until the end (as you can see by the 'happy-tail' patterns formed as they reach the film credits at the end of the video), but on the whole I wouldn't recommending placing feature length films on kiosks.

Figure 3 shows the raw data stored on a database table on the web server.
Figure 2 shows the raw data stored within a database table on the web server.

Overview of the Numbers

I signed-off my last blog with a promise of data relating to the Wi-Fi audio tour during the Chalkie Davies exhibition last year, which I’m including below. To placing the Wi-Fi statistics within the gallery space, I’ve also gathered data from the four large screen kiosks in the exhibition against the monthly visitor figures.

It is immediately clear that the four large kiosks were very popular - they contained a great deal of curated content which included a composite NME magazine, Chalkie Davies film, Youth Forum audio interviews, a comments section and What’s On calendar. I can imagine the relative attraction and easy access of the kiosks goes a long way to explain the comparatively lower figures of the Wi-Fi audio tour, but let us not be downbeat - the feedback received from the visitor survey about the Wi-Fi was positive. 

  • 93% of survey monkey results either felt they ‘learnt a lot about the exhibition’ or ‘it improved their experience as a visitor’ - it must be noted that the number of people who filled in the survey and used the Wi-Fi audio tour was extremely low compared to the overall gallery visitor figures (12 / 42,000), but the survey morsel is still very positive.    

However, I would be cautious in suggesting an Wi-Fi audio tour for short-run exhibitions, mainly due to the diminished numbers compared to the insitu kiosks - the Wi-Fi audio tour could gain popularity following a less exhibition-specific avenue (e.g. providing audio descriptions for the top ten popular objects), which would allow the audio catalog to be built gradually and remain available all year around throughout the museum.

Future Beeps

To conclude, we have been collecting kiosk statistics since 2011. The storage method may change, we could additionally store the data on Google servers via Google Analytics, but however the beeps are stored the way visitor interact with museum kiosks will continue to guide the future kiosk development. 

 

Table showing all the touchscreen events for the Chalkie Davies exhibition with visitor figures for the gallery:

Large touch screen x 4

 
 

Language

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

Video (film plays)

 

1717

1085

1735

2833

352

7722

Chalkie Interview

EN

1280

1044

1362

1953

338

5977

Chalkie Interview

CY

124

123

164

237

38

686

NME magazine

EN

1209

961

1205

1841

355

5571

NME magazine

CY

60

56

72

148

17

353

NME Next Page

 

1974

2119

2099

2324

530

9046

NME Previous Page

 

1303

1025

1098

1666

463

5555

NME Zoom Photograph

 

985

681

909

1317

430

4322

Music Memories

EN

1409

1076

1464

2311

378

6638

Music Memories

CY

71

60

95

138

17

381

Music Audio (track plays)

 

1766

1583

1806

2410

486

8051

Comments

EN

881

702

840

1383

230

4036

Comments

CY

71

54

78

105

11

319

Comments submitted

 

124

131

168

260

30

713

What's On

EN

783

684

847

1335

241

3890

What's On

CY

55

50

63

126

12

306

Totals

 

12509

10409

12907

18721

3465

63,566

 

Wi-Fi Audio Tour

Using their own mobile devices

 
 

Language

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

Audio (plays)

EN

316

212

262

394

124

1308

Audio (plays)

CY

10

3

4

4

1

22

Totals

 

326

215

266

398

125

1,330

 

Number Gallery Visitors

 

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

 

Totals

 

9108

7107

10688

14130

1961

42,994

 

Our new Iron Age farmstead, Bryn Eryr, holds a recent story as well as the fantastic histories connected to it. Over the last few years over 2,000 volunteers have been working quietly at St Fagans Museum building it from the ground up. Our volunteers, with our staff, have debarked the wood for the walls and roof, built the clay walls, grown the spelt for the thatch and have even thatched the roof. It has truly been built from the ground up by the volunteers!

You may think we have finished, but that’s only half the story; since the building has been completed many volunteers have been helping us decorate the inside: our Youth Forum have recently helped us build an Iron Age bread oven, staff from across different departments have helped us build a loom, and over 1,000 visitors have helped us make string out of stinging nettles. Our current project involves volunteers from The Wallich who are helping us to create a garden that will grow vegetables and herbs that we can use in school workshops and events.

Our old Celtic Village was a favourite for many of our visitors and we hope that Bryn Eryr will become a favourite too! So the next time you come and visit the Museum just remember that the history of Bryn Eryr also holds a recent story that involves over 2,000 people donating their time to help tell the history of the Iron Age!

Bryn Eryr wouldn’t be possible without our volunteers and so in the spirit of Volunteers’ Week we wanted to say Diolch - Thank You to all 2,000 of you!

(Bryn Eryr is currently open during weekends and school holidays and for school groups)

Yr wythnos hon, mae amgueddfeydd ledled y wlad yn dathlu ac yn hyrwyddo cyfraniad arbennig eu gwirfoddolwyr. Yma yn Sain Ffagan, mae ‘cymuned’ o wirfoddolwyr yn chwarae rhan bwysig yng ngweithgarwch yr Amgueddfa. Gallwch weld eu gwaith ar draws y safle – o’r gerddi i’r adeiladau hanesyddol. Canrif yn ôl – yn ystod y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf – roedd gwirfoddolwyr yn gadael eu hôl ar Sain Ffagan o dan amgylchiadau pur wahanol.

Yn ystod y Rhyfel, sefydlwyd bron i 18,000 o elusennau newydd ym Mhrydain ac fe welwyd ymgyrchu gwirfoddol ar raddfa heb ei debyg o'r blaen. Ynghyd ag Urdd San Ioan, roedd y Groes Goch Brydeinig yn ganolog i'r ymgyrch hon. Yn 1909, daeth y ddwy elusen ynghyd i sefydlu cynllun y Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), gyda'r bwriad o roi hyfforddiant meddygol i wirfoddolwyr a'u paratoi i wasanaethu gartref a thramor mewn cyfnodau o ryfel. Yn ôl ystadegau'r Groes Goch, erbyn diwedd y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf roedd 90,000 o bobl wedi cymryd rhan yn y cynllun - yn eu plith Elizabeth Radcliffe o bentref Sain Ffagan.

Yn ferch i ofalwr capel y pentref, roedd Elizabeth a’i theulu yn denantiaid i’r Arglwydd Plymouth o Gastell Sain Ffagan. Ganwyd chwech o blant i William a Catherine Radcliffe – pedwar mab (William, Thomas, Robert a Taliesin) a dwy ferch (Elizabeth a Mary). Cyn y Rhyfel, bu Elizabeth yn gofalu am blant James Howell – un o berchnogion y siop enwog yng Nghaerdydd. Ond erbyn 1916, roedd hi nôl yn Sain Ffagan ac yn gwirfoddoli fel nyrs VAD yn yr ysbyty ategol a agorwyd ar dir y Castell ym Mawrth y flwyddyn honno. Ar y pryd, roedd hi’n ddi-briod ac yn 28 mlwydd oed.

Roedd y rhan fwyaf o nyrsys Ysbyty Sain Ffagan yn wirfoddolwyr lleol – menywod o’r pentref, yn anad dim, a oedd wedi derbyn hyfforddiant sylfaenol gan y Groes Goch. Dim ond 70 o wlâu a dwy ward oedd yn yr ysbyty, felly milwyr ag anafiadau ysgafn oedd yn cael eu trin yno. Roedd gofyn i’r gwirfoddolwyr wisgo iwnifform swyddogol y mudiad, sef ffrog las a ffedog wen gyda chroes goch wedi ei phwytho ar y frest. Mae llyfrau cyfrifon Ystâd Plymouth yn cynnwys sawl cyfaniad ariannol at gostau prynu gwisgoedd i staff yr ysbyty. Mae’n debyg fod siop J. Howell & Co. ymhlith y cyflenwyr.

Yn ffodus iawn, mae gwisg Elizabeth Radcliffe o’r cyfnod hwn wedi goroesi, ynghyd â llun ohoni yn ei lifrai. Rhoddwyd ei ffedog a'i llewys i gasgliad yr Amgueddfa yn 1978, ac yn ddiweddar cawsom ragor o wybodaeth amdani a’i brodyr gan aelodau’r teulu. O’r pedwar brawd aeth i’r ffrynt, dim ond un ohonynt – Taliesin – ddaeth adref i Sain Ffagan yn fyw. Mae enwau William, Thomas a Robert Radcliffe i’w canfod ar gofeb rhyfel y pentref, ynghyd ag Archer Windsor-Clive - mab ieuengaf yr Arglwydd Plymouth - a laddwyd ym Mrwydr Mons. Mae’n amhosibl i ni amgyffred â mawredd y golled i Elizabeth a’i rhieni – un teulu ymysg y miliynau a rwygwyd gan erchyllterau’r Rhyfel Mawr.

Os hoffech ddarganfod mwy am waith y Groes Goch yn ystod y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf, mae adnoddau gwych ar wefan y mudiad, gan gynnwys rhestr o'r holl ysbytai ymadfer a agorwyd ym Mhrydain. Mae llu o wrthrychau a delweddau perthnasol yn y casgliad yma yn Sain Ffagan hefyd. Ewch draw i'r catalog digidol i ddarganfod mwy.