Amgueddfa Blog: General

We invited some Big Pit Miner guides - Barry Stevenson, Richard Phillips and Len Howells - to share their memories of working underground.

These films include photos from the Cornwell Collection, and were originally made for the 'Bernd and Hilla Becher: Industrial Visions' exhibition, along with this guide to the workings of the headgear:

On 15 March we launch our new LGBTQ+ tours at National Museum Cardiff. The tours have been developed in partnership with Pride Cymru working with self-confessed Museum queerator Dan Vo and an amazing team of volunteers.

You may already have read Norena Shopland's blog about the Ladies of Llangollen, and Young Heritage Leader Jake’s post, Queer Snakes! There are so many more LGBTQ+ stories in our collection – stories that have been hidden in dusty museum closets for too long. Friends, it’s time for us to let them out!

To whet your appetite, here’s a quick glimpse at one of the works you might spot on the tour…

The Mower, by Sir William Hamo Thornycoft

The Mower is a bronze statuette on display in our Victorian Art gallery. It is about half a metre high and shows a topless young farmworker in a hat and navvy boots resting with his arm on his hip, holding a scythe. This sassy pose, known as contrapposto, was inspired by Donatello’s David - a work with its own queer story to tell.

The Mower was made by William Hamo Thornycroft, one of the most famous sculptors in Britain in the nineteenth century, and was given to the Museum in 1928 by Sir William Goscombe John. An earlier, life-size version is at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and is said to be the first significant free-standing sculpture showing a manual labourer made in Britain.

Thornycroft became fascinated with manual labourers and the working classes after being introduced to socialist ideas by his wife, Agatha Cox. He wrote ‘Every workman’s face I meet in the street interests me, and I feel sympathy with the hard-handed toilers & not with the lazy do nothing selfish ‘upper-ten.’ In The Mower, he presents the body of a young working-class man as though it's a classical hero or god – a brave move for the time.

Queering the Mower

With the rising interest in queer theory, many art historians have drawn attention to the queer in this sculpture. In an article by Michael Hatt the work is described as homoerotic, which he describes as that ambiguous space between the homosocial and homosexual.

One of the main factors is the artist’s relationship with Edmund Gosse, a writer and critic who helped establish Thornycroft’s reputation in the art world. Gosse was married with children, but his letters to Thornycroft give us a touching insight into their relationship.

He describes times they spent together basking in the sun in meadows and swimming naked in rivers; and they are filled with love poems and giddy declarations of affection. ‘Nature, the clouds, the grass, everything takes on new freshness and brightness now I have you to share the world with,’ he wrote. Gosse was so obsessed with Thornycroft that writer Lytton Strachey famously joked he wasn’t homosexual, but Hamo-sexual.

Gosse and Thornycroft were spending time together when the first inspiration for The Mower hit. They were sailing with a group of friends up the Thames when they spotted a real-life mower on the riverbank, resting. Thornycroft made a quick sketch, and the idea for the sculpture was born. A wax model sketch from 1882 is at the Tate.

The real-life mower they saw was wearing a shirt, but for his sculpture Thornycroft stripped him down. He explained to his wife that he wanted to ‘keep his hat on and carry his shirt’ and that a brace over his shoulder will help ‘take off the nude look’.

Brace or no brace, it’s difficult to hide the fact that this is a celebration of the male body designed for erotic appeal. Thornycroft used an Italian model, Orazio Cervi. Cervi was famous in Victorian Britain for his ‘perfectly proportioned physique’ (art historical speak for a hot bod!)

Later in the century, photographs of The Mower and other artworks were collected and exchanged in secret along with photographs of real life nudes, by a network of men mostly in London – a kind of queer subculture, although it wouldn’t have been understood in those terms back then.

This was dangerous ground. The second half of the nineteenth century saw what has been described as a ‘homosexual panic’, with rising anxieties around gender identity, sexuality and same-sex desire. Fanny and Stella, the artist Simeon Solomon and Oscar Wilde were among many who were hounded and publicly prosecuted for ‘indecent’ behaviour.

These tensions showed up in the art world too. Many of the artists associated with the Aesthetic and Decadent movements in particular were under scrutiny for producing works that were described as ‘effeminate’, ‘degenerate’ or ‘decadent’. But works like The Mower suggest that art might have provided a safer space for playing out private desires in a public arena at this time.

 

Book your place on our free volunteer-led LGBTQ+ tours here, and keep an eye on our website and social media for future dates!  

 

Skull of Dippy the dinosaur

Hi folks, Dippy here!

I’ve been having a wonderful time at National Museum Cardiff, everyone is so friendly and I have been the centre of attention at some very exciting events. With far too many stories to fit into one blog, here are my top five highlights from my time spent in Cardiff.

 

1) Dysgu Cymraeg | Learning Welsh

I arrived in Cardiff an absolute beginner, but thanks to the lovely Museum staff I quickly picked up the language. With plenty of opportunities to practice my Welsh with visitors, I have been writing bilingual tweets from my account @DippyOnTour.

2) Dippy-Themed Events

When I heard I would be sharing the grand hall with events such as silent discos and yoga I was worried I might get in the way. In fact I have become the star of the show and even attended my first Welsh wedding!

 

The happy couple

The happy couple

© Sadie Osborne Photography, sadie-osborne.squarespace.com

                                                                                                    

3) Exploring Nature

My mission on this UK tour is to encourage people to explore nature on their doorstep. That’s not a difficult task in Cardiff, which boasts more green space per person than any other major UK city. I have had a marvellous time discovering new parks every day! Check out my website for tips on exploring nature in your local area.

4) My New Friend

I didn’t know there were other dinosaurs in Wales, but I was soon introduced to Dracoraptor, a dinosaur discovered only a few miles away from Cardiff. At first I was jealous of Dracoraptor’s rather interesting name, which means ‘dragon thief’. However, once we got to know each other we quickly became friends.

Model of Dracoraptor

Model of Dracoraptor

© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

5) YOU!

By far the best thing about being in Cardiff has been all the amazing people I have met. I’m here until 26 January so please keep visiting and sharing your selfies using #DippyArDaith and #DippyOnTour.

Crowds around Dippy the dinosaur

 

“Lewis! Don’t touch anything and keep quiet!”

Those were the words of my history teacher, Mr Davies, as the bus from Cynffig Comprehensive School pulled up outside National Museum Cardiff in the autumn of 1966.

Fifty three years later, and since my appointment as President Amgueddfa Cymru earlier this year, I have heeded Mr Davies’s advice, as I have spent my time meeting and listening to the wonderful teams of people, staff and volunteers, around our eight sites, and hearing from our trustees, patrons, sponsors, government ministers and civil servants and to some of the millions of our visitors.

The overwhelming impact made upon me over these past six months is one of extraordinary passion and dedication to the work of Amgueddfa Cymru by everyone I have met. And everyone, quite rightly, is so proud of the remarkable achievements of Amgueddfa Cymru, especially with St Fagans matching the 2005 success of Big Pit by winning the Museum of the Year 2019 Award.

Nearly 1.9 million people visited our seven museums in the Amgueddfa Cymru family in this past year. Without doubt our national museums truly belong to the people of Wales, and thanks to the Welsh Government they are all free to visit.

Moreover, the support of our patrons, foundations and sponsors has allowed us to create a rich mix of events and exhibitions and to purchase a wide range of wonderous new things to display.

We are totally committed to the principles of cultural democracy and social inclusion which enables us as to engage with as many people as we possibly can from each and every corner of Wales. Working in partnership with as many diverse communities as possible, particularly those who are disadvantaged, to make a positive difference to the wellbeing of Wales and to secure our future for generations to come, underpinned by robust and considered research is our compass.

Our commitment to play our part in addressing the climate change emergency, based upon our special scientific insight, is critical to us all. And our horizons stretch beyond Wales. We are determined to make a dynamic contribution to Wales across the world, playing our part in creating a prosperous country for all.

As someone who is a beneficiary of Wales’s post-war vision of education being a right, not a privilege, and a son of parents who both left school at fourteen years of age, Amgueddfa Cymru’s commitment to learning is simply breath taking. Over two hundred thousand school children and students visited our museums in 2018/19. We are the largest learning provider outside of the classroom in Wales – this is outstanding.

Without doubt, Mr Davies would be mightily impressed with Amgueddfa Cymru today, and with our goal to remove as many barriers as possible, so that even more people immerse themselves in our inspirational galleries and spaces which ignite the imagination, it is creativity which will touch the hearts and minds of all.

We are now embarking on a 10-year plan to take our museums to even greater heights, welcome even more visitors, involve even more people, and be bold in our ambition to inspire people and change lives. Our desire to celebrate the very best of Welsh endeavour across a spectrum of disciplines inspires us all! I look forward to seeing what the new decade brings to Amgueddfa Cymru.

Merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year to you all!

Roger Lewis

President, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

 

One of the things I love about working at National Museum Cardiff (apart from the wonderful collections and exhibitions of course!) is taking a wander in the Museum gift shop. At the moment I am spoilt for choice as there is an extra shop for the Dippy exhibition filled with dino delights!

I’ve had a look at the goodies on offer at the moment, so sit back, relax and enjoy my top seven gift ideas.

 

1) Meet the Artists 3D Paper Folding Figures (£8.50)

 

These are so cute and fun, what an interesting stocking filler!

It’s the gift that keeps on giving as you have the fun of crafting your own mini artist and then can enjoy your handiwork.

 

 

 

 

 

2) Dippy: the tale of a museum icon (£6.99)

 

 

A really interesting little book, perfect for any dinosaur fan!

https://museum.wales/shop/item/3397/Dippy-the-tale-of-a-museum-icon/

 

 

 

 

3) Materia Rica Flower Necklace and Earrings (£28 and £20)

 

 

This earring and necklace set caught my eye because I’ve never seen anything like it.

I love the floral theme and the colours really stand out.

 

 

 

 

4) Fruits of Nature Original Remedies Bath Essence (£14.99)

 

A bath is the perfect way to relax after a busy day and to keep warm in this cold weather.

Whether you’d like to treat yourself or a friend, you can’t go wrong with a bit of bubble bath!

 

 

 

 

 

5) T-Rex Travel Mug (£8.99)

 

 

Do your bit for the environment and give the gift of this eco-friendly dinosaur-themed travel mug.

https://museum.wales/shop/item/3372/T-Rex-Travel-Mug/

 

 

 

 

 

 

6) Make Your Own Pteranodon (£12.99)

 

 

Another crafty option for someone creative, you get to assemble this fun automaton and can paint it any colour you like!

https://museum.wales/shop/item/3371/Make-Your-Own-Pteranodon-Wooden-Automata-Series-/

 

 

 

 

7) Special Edition ‘Martin Parr in Wales’ Set (£300)

Bear with me, but if you have a little money to spare this is a fantastic gift for someone who loves photography! This is a unique opportunity to own a signed, limited edition print by one of the most influential photographers around - snap this up before they sell out! 

https://museum.wales/shop/item/3391/Martin-Parr-in-Wales---Special-edition/

And if you love the idea but don’t have as much spare, you can pick up the book ‘Martin Parr in Wales’ for just £19.99: https://museum.wales/shop/item/3367/Martin-Parr-in-Wales/

 

 

So that’s my top seven from National Museum Cardiff, though there are many more gift ideas to be found in our shops across Amguedddfa Cymru. Please do check out our online shop too: https://museum.wales/shop/

Nadolig Llawen! | Merry Christmas!