Amgueddfa Blog: Collections & Research

In September 2021 I was given the chance to work with the Llangorse Textile as part of my master’s degree placement at the museum. The Textile, is dated to the 10th century, made from linen and silk, and is embroidered with fine motifs; however it was discovered charred and waterlogged after the crannog in which it was found had been destroyed by fire. It is very delicate and vulnerable to harm owing to the fire damage. For more information on the Llangorse Textile, please see the list at the end of the article.

The project I was set was to create new mounts for the undecorated pieces of the textile that aren’t on display, so they can be stored safely. They had been previously stored on boards with specially cut out depressions and covered with mesh and film to protect them. In the years since, the fragments had shifted slightly and so I was charged with making new mounts to keep the fragments safe.

Preparing the new mounts (Photo: L. Mumford)

The new mounting method had already been devised by the conservators at the museum (and used to display the decorated pieces of the Textile in the Gweithdy Gallery at St Fagans) by the time I arrived. Following this method, I cut out pieces of board to fit the shape of each textile fragment so they could be slotted together like a jigsaw puzzle. This was an important part of the process because this method of mounting allows the pieces to be moved around and reinterpreted.

The board was covered in specially dyed jersey fabric which has a slight knap that holds the textile fragments to the surface without the need for sewing to secure it, as this would damage its fragile structure. This was then trimmed, and a calico backing sewn down to neaten it.

Transferring the Textile onto it's new mounts (Photo: L. Mumford)

After the mounts were made, then came the daunting part – transferring over the pieces of textile from their old mount to their new ones! I consulted the original conservation notes to ensure loose pieces were located in the correct position; a tricky exercise as the Textile is an almost uniform black colour owing to the charring. Instead, the direction of the warp and weft of the small pieces, as well as their shapes were used to position them correctly. This was the part of the process that took the longest and required the most scrutiny!

Empty mount with stitched in label (Photo: E. Durrant)

All museum objects have assigned numbers, so that they are easily identifiable and therefore the next task was to create labels for the Textile. Because the pieces are so fragile, I created small tags and sewed them to the calico backing of the mounts so they can easily be tucked away when being stored or displayed but can also be accessible in the event they need to be consulted. This means that the tags won’t drag across the surface of the Textile. For added security in case the tags got lost, I also wrote the numbers on the calico backing.

Finally, it was time to think storage. As the problem with the old storage method was slippage, that was the main factor that needed to be addressed. The nap of the jersey halted movement to a degree, but it wasn’t enough. Therefore, I packed an archival box with foam and pinned around the freshly mounted textile pieces; the heads of the pins holding the mounts in place. The foam will help to reduce shock and by placing pins around the pieces I have ensured that they can’t move within the box.

A completed box of newly mounted Textile pieces (Photo: E. Durrant)

It was a thrilling opportunity to be able to work on such a unique piece of Welsh heritage and I would like to thank all the museum conservation staff for being so welcoming and sharing the wealth of their knowledge.

Further Reading/References:

Amgueddfa Cymru. 2007. The Llan-gors textile: an early medieval masterpiece. Available at: https://museum.wales/articles/1344/The-Llan-gors-textile-an-early-medieval-masterpiece/ [Accessed 4 January 2022]

Lane, A. and Redknap, M. 2019. Llangorse Crannog: The excavation of an early medieval royal site in the kingdom of Brycheiniog. Oxford: Oxbow Books

The past year and a half have certainly been a challenging time for the whole world: the Covid-19 pandemic, the social injustice highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, a climate crisis that feels increasingly apocalyptic. At a time like this, you may well wonder whether art is just an indulgence.

For my colleagues and me at Amgueddfa Cymru, the knowledge that art is important to our well-being and a powerful way to explore and express ideas has been reinforced by our Celf ar y Cyd projects, developed to share the arts across Wales in response to the current health crisis. We have been bringing art into hospitals to support NHS staff and patients during the pandemic, and set up an online magazine Cynfas as a new platform for creative and critical responses to Amgueddfa Cymru’s art collection.

Many of the artworks we have used for these projects were acquired by Amgueddfa Cymru with the support of the charity Art Fund (artfund.org). Art Fund has been helping the Museum acquire works for Wales’s national art collection since 1928 and been a key supporter throughout the period of lockdown as we have continued to work on developing the collection. Here are just a few examples.

Brown and black asymmetric terracotta vase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magdalene Odundo, Asymmetric I, 2016, terracotta
Purchased with support from Art Fund and the Derek Williams Trust
© Magdalene Odundo

For Magdalene Odundo, her pots convey a universal human language. Asymmetric I has a strong anthropomorphic character, seemingly alluding to a pregnant female body and promising new life. Drawing on African traditions, she emphasises the power of pots to heal and to commemorate those who have died, making this vessel an eloquent object for the times we are living through.

front of house with two windows covered in branches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henri le Sidaner, The House (La Maison), not dated, oil on panel
Bequeathed by Daphne Llewellin of Usk with Art Fund support

One feature of the pandemic has been the comfort people have derived from nature and from living in the moment. Three small late-19th-century French paintings bequeathed through Art Fund are good examples of how artists have been particularly good at this. In The House, Henri Le Sidaner creates the sense of a quiet moment of reflection. We can imagine the artist quickly dabbing paint across his small panel to capture the light reflected off the windows and door of this vine-covered house.

A view of a beach with figures sitting on the sand and cloudy sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Delance, Beach with Seated Figures (La côte déserte), 1900, oil on panel
Bequeathed by Daphne Llewellin of Usk with Art Fund support

a painting of a green hill with brown trees and green leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Delance, View from a Hill, Sannois, Seine-et-Oise, 1890s, oil on panel
Bequeathed by Daphne Llewellin of Usk with Art Fund support

In Paul Delance’s Beach with Seated Figures (La côte déserte), we can sense the artist working briskly on a windy beach on the French Atlantic coast to record a bracing seaside excursion with friends. His View from a Hill, Sannois, Seine-et-Oise is another very personal work, thought to have been painted after the death of his wife in 1892 and showing him turning to art and to nature as sources of comfort.

landscape painting of a boat on Padarn Lake with Dolbadarn Castle and Snowdonia mountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Sandby, Llanberis Lake, Castle Dol Badern and the Great Mountain Snowdon, about 1771, bodycolour on paper.  Purchased with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and a bequest from Mary Cashmore. Image © Sotheby’s

The landscape of Wales has long been a source of inspiration and pleasure. This is what Paul Sandby found in 1771, when he toured north Wales in the company of the young landowner and art patron Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn. His charming series of 21 views of this journey shows how the pioneering tourists delighted in discovering this dramatic land. One highlight was the outing by boat to Dolbadarn Castle, in the shadow of Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon.

9 black and white photographs of industrial structures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Preparation Plants, 1966-1974, gelatin silver prints
Purchased with support from Art Fund and the Henry Moore Foundation
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

The industrial heritage of Wales has also provided artists with rich subject matter. German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher were best known for their typologies, photographs of a single type of industrial structure organised into grids. Preparation Plants, 1966-1974 comprises nine photographs taken by the Bechers during visits to Britain between 1966 and 1974, including the south Wales collieries of Penallta, Fern Hill, Brittanic and Tower. Now that this whole industrial ecosystem of the Valleys has disappeared, these images feel like a kind of memorial.

art installation in a gallery with pink and yellow walls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Boghiguian, A meteor fell from the sky, 2018, mixed-media installation
Purchased with support from Art Fund and the Derek Williams Trust
Courtesy the artist.

When Cairo-based artist Anna Boghiguian was invited to participate in the Artes Mundi 8 exhibition at National Museum Cardiff, she also immersed herself in the history of Welsh industry. Her installation A meteor fell from the sky creates links between Port Talbot’s Tata Steelworks and the company’s steelworks in India, focusing on the steel workers and their struggle for their rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015, three-channel video installation
Acquired jointly with Towner Eastbourne with support from Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), the Derek Williams Trust, The Search Foundation through the Contemporary Art Society, and Towner Collection Development Fund
© Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery

John Akomfrah’s video installation Vertigo Sea is a powerful reflection on humanity’s abuse of the sea, from the slave trade and modern migration to destruction of the marine environment. It couldn’t be a more relevant work for our times and is on show at National Museum Cardiff in the exhibition The Rules of Art?

 

Andrew Renton
Keeper of Art

From my recent musings you may have deduced that my research is centred around a beautiful group of marine bristleworms, which are given the name shovel head worms. Most people will be unfamiliar with shovel head worms, but they may have come across other marine bristleworms such as ragworms and lugworms used as bait by sea fisherman (the latter also being responsible for the casts of sand you see on sandy beaches), or the ornamental feather duster worms that people often keep in aquaria.

King Ragworm (photo by T. Darbyshire)

Lugworm casts and lugworm (photos by K. Mortimer and A. Mackie)

Feather Duster/Fan Worm, Sabella pavonina. Ornamental feather duster worms are often found in aquaria (photo T. Darbyshire)

 

Shovel head worms get their name from their spade shaped heads used for digging in soft sands and muds. They are found all around the world, generally in shallow seas. There are over 70 species known worldwide, but large gaps in our knowledge exist. One such area is the waters around Africa.

 

Back in 2013 I was approached by colleagues from the University Museum of Bergen to collaborate on investigations into shovel head worms off Western Africa. Investigations have shown us that there are at least 20 different species of shovel head worms in these waters, many of which are new to science. Since then we have been working hard to describe the new species, and the first of a series of papers has just been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. This paper describes five new species of shovel head worms, present from Morocco to Angola.

Shovel head worm, Magelona mackiei named after Andrew Mackie, Honorary Research Fellow at Amgueddfa Cymru

One of the new species is named after Honorary Research Fellow at Amgueddfa Cymru Andrew Mackie (Magelona mackiei), another is named after zoologist and oceanographer Dr Fridtjof Nansen (Magelona nanseni), and a third is named after the Gulf of Guinea (Magelona guineensis) where the species was collected. The remaining two species are named for unique features of the animals: Picta from the Latin for painted, as this species carries distinct colouration (Magelona picta) and fasciata, meaning band, referring to the distinct stripy pattern along the length of the worm (Magelona fasciata)! 

Shovel head worm, Magelona picta, named for its ‘painted’ body

So, why is it important to study marine bristleworms and to describe new species? Marine bristleworms are a major constituent of the animals that live in and on the seabed. As such they are an important food source for many other animals, they are the ‘gardeners of the ocean’ and do similar vital ecological roles that earthworms do on land. They can also tell us a lot about the health and well-being of our oceans. Monitoring how well oceans are doing, depends on accurate identification of the species that live there. Sadly, for many regions even basic knowledge of what species are present is lacking. That’s where we step in to describe the diversity of life and produce identification guides for those who monitor how the seabed may change through pressures like climate change, fishing and dredging etc.

So, what have worms from western Africa got to do with Wales I hear you ask? Research on species outside of Welsh waters is vital to understand the species we have within them. In order to recognise a species new to science in Wales, or indeed and invasive species (which could have huge ramifications for native species) scientists need to have knowledge of species across the globe. This is particularly important given the changing climate and the increased transportation of species around the globe by human activities. We know very little about the distribution ranges of many marine bristleworms, but studies like this give us baseline information from which we can monitor changes as we move forward. Whilst several of the species in this investigation were found in very restricted regions, we have discovered that the European species Magelona alleni, a species first described in Plymouth back in 1958, and a common species here in Welsh waters is found all the way to the Gulf of Guinea, and it isn’t the only one either! We also know that several other species present in Welsh waters are present also off Western Africa, this will be covered in subsequent papers. Whilst we do not know how much the distribution ranges of species may have already been impacted by human activity, this is an important step in enabling the monitoring and protection of our seabed habitats here in Wales. 

Shovel head worm, Magelona fasciata, named for its stripy bands

‘Who’s who in Magelona’ is a question I have asked myself for the 20 years or more that I have worked with marine bristleworms, but are we closer to knowing the answer?

 

Marine bristleworms, as the name suggests, are a group of worms that are predominately found in our seas and oceans. They are related to earthworms and leeches and can make up to 50-80% of the animals that live in the seabed. 

Collecting marine bristleworms at Berwick-upon-Tweed

I am a taxonomist, and as such, part of my role is to discover new species that have never been seen before, which I then get to name and describe, so other scientists can identify the newly discovered species. I may also rediscover new things about species we have long known about. Although people may not know much about marine bristleworms they are vital to the health of our seas, so understanding what species we have and where they live is an important part of protecting our oceans.

Drawing marine bristleworms down the microscope using a Camera Lucida which helps us "trace" what we see

Magelonids, or shovel head worms to give their common name, are a beautiful group of worms, whose spade-shaped heads are used for digging in sands and muds at the bottom of the sea. Of course, I may be biased in thinking they are beautiful, having spent over two decades studying them, I shall let you decide! They are unusual, even amongst bristleworms, and it is for this reason that we have often had trouble relating them to other marine bristleworm groups, or even understanding how they are related to one another.  As part of my job, I have discovered and named species from around the world, including species from Europe. I am currently investigating up to 20 new species off West Africa, and the similarities they share with those here in Wales, but that is a story for another day!

Shovel head worms

A plate taken from the journal article 'Who’s who in Magelona’ 

We cannot understand the natural world without first understanding how life on earth is related to one another. With this in mind, we have been looking at shovel head worms and the relationships between them. We have been working with colleagues in the USA and Brazil to answer this question, looking at different characteristics, for example, the size and proportions of the head and body, whether they have pigment patterns or whether they are known to build tubes. Due to the number of different characters and the numbers of species studied it has taken a long time to process the results. However, the results have just been published in the journal PeerJ, so we can share with others our findings. If you want to read more about ‘Who’s who in Magelona’ then the article can be downloaded here from their web-site.

 

 

A large part of our work in the Art Department at Amgueddfa Cymru is researching and working on new acquisitions for the collection. Even with the Museum closed for much of the last 18 months, activity has continued behind the scenes on developing our collections.

With the Museum reopening, we thought we would put together a small group of these new acquisitions in Gallery 11 at National Museum Cardiff that we hope you will enjoy. There is an eclectic mix of work; from Welsh artists, artists working in Wales and some leading national and international figures of modern and contemporary art.

New acquisitions

An individual acquisition can sometimes take months or even years to complete, with a great deal of work going into research and fundraising. We are incredibly grateful to artists and individuals who often donate work to us, and also to Trusts and Foundations who help us to buy pieces – and in particular the Derek Williams Trust. So, while some of the new works that are on display in have arrived at the Museum over the past few months, many have been worked on by curators for 2-3 years in some cases.

Also, what is currently on show is actually a small fraction of what has been collected over the last year or two. The development of the Art Collection has been an ongoing, century long project – one that never stops and is key to the Amgueddfa Cymru collections more generally remaining relevant and dynamic. That said, there is a great deal more to do in terms of what our collection says about Wales in the 21st century as the National Collection of today is also an important artistic and historic resource for future generations.

Below is some information on each of the new works on display. But what better way to appreciate them than by coming to the Museum and seeing them in person!

The organic and the systemic

A black and brown, curved vase

Magdalene Odundo, Asymmetric I, 2016, terracotta
Purchased with support from Art Fund and the Derek Williams Trust
© Magdalene Odundo

Magdalene Odundo’s impressive terracotta vessel Asymmetric I has a strong anthropomorphic character. It seems to allude to a pregnant female body and promise new life. Odundo draws on African traditions to emphasise the power of pots to heal.

In contrast to Odundo’s organic making style, David Saunders, in works like Black Transformation (1973-74, oil on canvas), relies on logical and mathematical processes to produce a systematic method of creating work.

 

Shaped by life experiences

A mixed media piece of art mounted on the wall

Gareth Griffith, Bertorelli, 2019, mixed media
© Gareth Griffith

A strong theme of this display is the way that artists draw on their own experiences, either their own life histories or in response to the landscapes and histories of Wales. Gareth Griffith’s Bertorelli recalls his childhood memory of a double portrait in the Bertorelli ice cream parlour in Caernarfon. He later purchased the portrait and reworked it into this piece.

 

 

Exploring the landscape

Mary Lloyd Jones
Pwerdy Ceunant (2019)

Mary Lloyd Jones’s abstract paintings explore the landscape as a place of memory, culture, and identity. Ysgwrn (2018) is named after the farm where poet Hedd Wyn (1887-1917) grew up prior to being killed in the First World War, while the place names and calligraphic signs in Pwerdy Ceunant (2019) allude to Coelbren y Beirdd, the alphabet that Iolo Morganwg invented and claimed was that of the ancient bards.

 

 

Urban and industrial Wales

Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Preparation Plants, 1966-1974 (gelatin silver prints)

Urban and industrial Wales are an equal source of artistic inspiration. In Winter Night with Angharad no.7 (2006, oil and plaster on board), Roger Cecil (born into a mining family from Abertillery) draws parallels between the landscape and the human body. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Preparation Plants, 1966-1974 (gelatin silver prints) is one of their typologies, a grid of nine photographs of a single type of industrial structure that was once a familiar feature of the industrial ecosystem of the south Wales Valleys.

André Stitt’s Municipal Wall Relief for a Housing Complex in a Parallel Universe (2015-16; oil, acrylic and enamel on wood panels) also looks back to what now seems a bygone age, capturing the modernist optimism of post-war architecture and town-planning.

 

Plan your visit

These artworks are now on display for the first time in the art galleries in National Museum Cardiff. Access to the museum is free, but you will need to pre-book a free ticket in advance. Please see our Plan Your Visit page for more information.

 

With thanks

Amgueddfa Cymru is grateful to Mary Lloyd Jones, David Saunders, the estate of Roger Cecil, Art Fund, the Derek Williams Trust and the Henry Moore Foundation for their generosity in making these acquisitions possible.