Amgueddfa Blog: Collections & Research

What's all this dinosaur havoc going on around Cardiff City Centre?

Who (or what?!) damaged our newly erected statue of Thomas H Thomas and is causing mayhem on the streets of Cardiff?!

If you spot any monstrous goings-on or dino-mischief around Cardiff then please let us know over on Twitter using the hashtag #DinoOnTheLoose.

This is an unfolding story - updates will be brought to you as we become aware of them.

Follow the story: #DinoOnTheLoose

Whether you love L. S. Lowry, Lucian Freud or Richard Long, you know that when you visit Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales you can always see outstanding examples of international modern and contemporary art. What you might not know is that a significant part of that collection is here thanks to The Derek Williams Trust, which lends Amgueddfa Cymru over 260 of its most important works of twentieth and twenty-first century art.

This week sees the launch of The Derek Williams Trust website, a fantastic resource for anyone interested in exploring this collection. The site will enable you to search for art works and artists, and discover more about the Trust and its work with Amgueddfa Cymru.

Derek Williams was a Cardiff-based chartered surveyor and art lover, who had a particular interest in mid-twentieth century British art. He collected a large number of works by John Piper and Ceri Richards, which were supported with works by major figures such as Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, David Jones, Ivon Hitchens and Josef Herman. Following Williams’ death in 1984, his collection and the residue of his estate were left in trust. Since that time, The Derek Williams Trust has undertaken the care, enhancement and public display of the collection, and in turn lends the collection to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. The generous support of Trust has transformed the Museum’s collection of twentieth century art and parallels the great bequests of French Impressionist art made by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies a generation earlier.

Since 1992, The Derek Williams Trust has also been working with Amgueddfa Cymru to build its own collection of modern and contemporary art, and recent purchases include work by Howard Hodgkin, George Shaw, Anthony Caro and Clare Woods. The Trust also provides financial support for Museum purchases, and funds the biennial Artes Mundi Derek Williams Trust Purchase Award – recent recipients include Tanja Bruguera, Ragnar Kjartansson and Bedwyr Williams.

For the latest news from The Derek Williams Trust collection, why not follow us on Instagram and Twitter?

 

The first dinosaur footprints found anywhere in Europe

One sunny evening in September 1878, Welsh artist and naturalist Thomas Henry Thomas was wandering around the small village of Nottage, just outside Porthcawl. The rays of the setting sun were shining across a large slab of rock placed on the edge of the churchyard. The local villagers told him that the five strange markings on the rock were the footprints of the devil as he strode across the slab. The rock had lain between the church and the village pub for years, and was a local curiosity.

Thomas was a well-educated man, born in Pontypool in 1839, and had studied Art at the Royal Academy, before returning to Wales. He was a key member of the Cardiff Naturalists Society, and a well-respected artist as well. On discovering the footprints, illuminated by the setting sun in the churchyard, he was struck by the similarity between these markings and newly found dinosaur footprints in North America. He quickly sketched the prints and informed various local geologists. John Storrie, curator of the Cardiff Museum, visited the site and made a cast of the trackway.

The President of the Cardiff Naturalists Society was Colonel Turbervill, who arranged for the rock to be brought to the Cardiff Museum for safe-keeping.

Thomas H. Thomas wrote a short paper, in January 1879, describing the footprints and also his attempts at Bristol Zoo, to persuade a suspicious Emu to walk across modelling clay, for comparison! He described the footprints as "Tridactyl Uniserial Ichnolites", but left it to Professor W Sollas of Bristol University to publish a formal description, with the name Brontozoum thomasi. We now know that these footprints were made 220 million years ago by a medium-sized meat-eating dinosaur, similar to Megalosaurus which evolved later.

The original footprint slab was around 6' 6" long and 5' 6" wide, and about 6 inches thick, although excess rock was later removed to make it easier to handle and display. When the collections of the old Cardiff Museum were transferred to the new National Museum of Wales in 1907, the footprints were one of its most important acquisitions. Currently the fossil is on display in the Evolution of Wales gallery, as befitting the first dinosaur footprints found anywhere in Europe.

Wales has an important place in the evolutionary history of dinosaurs; not only this early set of footprints, but also another major trackway site near the town of Barry, which is one of the most significant sites of its age in Europe. The rocks of this area were laid down around 220 million years ago, at a time when Wales was a low-lying desert, similar to those in the Arabian Gulf today, and dinosaurs had just evolved. Over the next 20 million years, the sea-level rose and the deserts disappeared underwater. However the dinosaurs living on higher ground continued to diversify into different species, one of which was Dracoraptor, the small theropod dinosaur found near to Penarth in 2014, and now on display at the National Museum Cardiff.

Retired gentleman at the MG Car owners Ball 1967 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
Retired gentleman at the MG Car owners Ball, 1967. G.B. SCOTLAND, Edinburgh. © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is the recipient of an exceptional gift from Magnum photographer David Hurn. Of Welsh descent, Hurn lives and works in Wales and is one of Britain’s most influential documentary photographers. Now, his home country will benefit from his collection of photographs.

David Hurn’s gift is made up of two collections: approximately 1500 of his own photographs that span his sixty-year career as a documentary photographer; and approximately 700 photographs from his private collection which he has compiled throughout the course of his career. Speaking of his gift, Hurn notes, 

“My earliest visual/cultural memories are visiting the museum when I must have been four or five. I remember the naughty statue - Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ - and cases full of stuff that people had donated. Well now I have the chance to repay, something of mine will be there forever, I feel very privileged.”

A definitive edit of a life's work

Over the last two years, Hurn has been selecting photographs from his archive to create a definitive edit of his life’s work.

The collection of approximately 1500 new prints includes work made in Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Arizona, California and New York. It includes some of Hurn’s most celebrated photographs, such as Queen Charlotte’s BallBarbarella and Grosvenor Square.

However, it is his carefully observed photographs of his home country of Wales that are the focus of the collection. Following his generous gift, National Museum Wales is now the institution with the largest holdings of Hurn’s work worldwide.

The Promenade at Tenby 1974 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
G.B. WALES. Tenby. The promenade at the elegant seaside town of Tenby, South Wales. 1974 © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

A Collection of Swaps

In addition to his own photographs, the Museum is also acquiring approximately 700 photographs from Hurn’s private collection, which he has amassed over the past sixty years.

Throughout the course of his career, Hurn has swapped photographs with fellow photographers, including many of his Magnum colleagues.

In doing so, he has assembled a significant and diverse collection, which includes leading 20th and 21st century photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold, Sergio Larrain, Bill Brandt, Martine Franck, Bruce Davidson and Martin Parr, through to emerging photographers such as Bieke Depoorter, Clementine Schneidermann and Diana Markosian.

A selection of works from Hurn’s private collection will be on display for the first time at National Museum Cardiff from 30th September 2017, in Swaps: Photographs from the David Hurn Collection of Photography, an exhibition that launches the Museum’s new gallery dedicated to photography. 

Photography Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

National Museum Wales’ existing photography collections are uniquely inter-disciplinary and span subjects including Art, Social and Industrial History and the Natural Sciences.

Importantly it includes some of the earliest photographs taken in Wales by pioneering photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his family. The addition of Hurn’s exceptional donation will transform the Museum’s photography collections and raise the profile of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales as an important centre for photography in the UK. 

Sun City Outdoor group fitness in Sun City Arizona 1980 Copyright David Hurn Magnum Photos
USA. Arizona. Sun City. Outdoor group fitness early in the morning in the retirement Sun City. Ages range from 60 to a 94 year old who had run a 50 secs hundred meters in the Senior Olympics. The sense of fun and community was very infectious. 1980 © David Hurn/MAGNUM PHOTOS

The exhibition at National Museum Cardiff follows an earlier presentation of Hurn’s collection at Photo London, the international photography event held annually at Somerset House in London. Curated by Martin Parr and David Hurn, the Photo London exhibition, David Hurn’s Swaps marks the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos.

 

For the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Show in Cardiff this year, we decided to build on previous experience of creating real botanical windows. We wanted something that would form an eye-catching backdrop to the collections on display within Amgueddfa Cymru's woodland-themed marquee.

The botanical windows began in 2015 with our Museum in a House exhibit for the Made in Roath festival. We wanted a display that would reflect aspects of our Museum work as well as to represent the herbarium itself. We pressed plants following the standard method for creating herbarium specimens as shown below. In this way, plant specimens last for hundreds of years on conservation grade card and out of light in herbarium cupboards.

Method for pressing plants for long-term storage in the botany collections:

  1. Select a plant showing as many characters as possible – fruit, flowers, roots.
  2. Place between blotting paper, arranging the plant at the same time, to limit the amount of overlapping material.
  3. Place in a plant press and tie as tightly as possible.
  4. Place in a drier between 20 and 30oC.
  5. Change the blotting paper initially every day, and then less often until the plants are completely dry. This will take about a week.
  6. Attach plant to conservation-grade card (for example made from cotton) using small strips of adhesive cotton tape. Place the tape strips strategically on the plant’s stems and leaves to hold it safely on the card. This technique allows for some flexing of the card without damage to the plant and for easy removal of the plant from the card for study.
  7. Store out of light in an environment with humidity between 40 and 60 RH.

After pressing, we attached the plants to large sheets of tracing paper using small pieces of transparent tape strips (rather than the conservation grade materials we would normally use for the botany collections). The tracing paper was then wrapped carefully for transport to the site of the exhibit and then taped to sunny windows in the living room.

For the RHS Flower Show in 2016, we built on the initial idea but had the added complication of having to create our own windows to install in the marquee. We had nine 80 x 60 cm sheets of 2mm thick acrylic cut, with holes drilled into each of the corners for hanging. We attached the plants to these sheets using small transparent tape strips. Once at the Flower Show, we attached strong metal rings to the corner of each panel and hung the panels from the cross bars of the marquee by looping fishing line (the type strong enough to catch a 60lb fish!) through the metal rings. The only worry now was whether the ranges of temperature and humidity in the marquee would be too much for the transparent tape and we would arrive the next day to find the plants on the floor! We certainly would never subject pressed specimens from the collection to this environment. We were relieved to find that the panels held well the whole weekend – and with much praise from visitors.

In 2017, we planned to recreate the botanical windows for the Flower Show, but with a slight twist. We had a woodland theme, so we chose Welsh trees for each panel: Oak, Beech, Hazel, Hawthorn, Holly, Scots Pine, Yew and Lime. To make the display really stand out, we printed a silhouette of the tree with its Welsh, English and scientific name onto transparent material for the backdrop. We taped the transparencies onto the acrylic and then taped the pressed plants onto the transparencies as before. Unfortunately, this year was particularly warm weather – the transparent tape holding the pressed plants did not last as long on some of the panels, so remedial work had to be carried out to keep the display looking good.

 

Read about the RHS Flower Show in 2017:

 

Find out more on our Made in RoathMuseum in a House’ installation in 2015 and the RHS Flower Show in 2016