Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales

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On the weekend of the 17th and 18th of September, Cardiff celebrated Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday with The City of the Unexpected - a weekend extravaganza of theatre, performance, participatory events and storytelling.

National Museum Cardiff was just one of the venues across the city which transformed itself in honour of Dahl’s weird and wonderful world. We created a ‘Museum of the Unexpected’, with twenty-five strange surprises scattered throughout the galleries. From upside-down paintings to a dinosaur tea party, visitors got the chance to see the displays as never before.

photograph of an art gallery with one painting hung upside down

Just one of the 25 surprises to be discovered in our galleries

The sight of people exploring the exhibits in search of the next silly scenario was something to behold, and we got great feedback on social media with the #UnexpectedCity tag.

On Saturday, we played host to a huge theatrical performance in the Main Hall, complete with snowball fights, lots of dancing and an appearance by the elusive Mr Fox! Our family learning work placement trainees also ran one of their great music and art workshops, and there was even a chance for visitors to display their own work next to the masterpieces in our art galleries.

photograph of visitor artworks in frame in art gallery

Visitor artworks hanging in our art gallery

On Sunday, the museum hosted Roald Dahl readings by secret celebrities. Daniel Glyn read from ‘James and the Giant Peach’ in our Wriggle exhibition, while Johnny Ball attracted crowds to the Clore Discovery Centre for his rendition of ‘The BFG’. Those in the Reardon Smith Lecture theatre were treated to a double reading by Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell and actress/politician/children’s TV legend Floella Benjamin.

Check out the Storify story below to see more pictures and feedback from what was a magical weekend.

 

If all that has put you a Roald Dahl mood, why not visit Quentin Blake: Inside Stories, an exhibition on Dahl's most famous illustrator?

Before starting my degree in English Literature and History at Cardiff University in September 2015, I was conscious that employers look for experience as well as qualifications, especially in senior management roles in the heritage sector. Knowing this, I wanted to get some volunteering under my belt to enable me to get a head start in museum work and the heritage sector after I graduate; the Events Volunteer Work Placement at St Fagan’s National History Museum seemed the perfect opportunity to do this.

Over the past year, our role as the placement team was to come up with a way of recruiting volunteers for specific events, and we trialled our scheme at the St Fagan’s Food Festival on the 10th and 11th September 2016, to much success. We were also given experience working on the front of house with other museum employees, which was a great insight into how museums are run, and how important visitor relations are. Another placement volunteer and I also designed a tote bag for use by the events volunteers; the museum staff were so impressed that they hinted at working with us on something similar in the future, an opportunity that would not have existed without the work placement.

Doing the work placement has been hugely beneficial to me; I now have experience in both behind the scenes and on the face of the museums events and day to day running, and I have learnt how many different aspects and people it takes to pull off a big event like the Food Festival. Every team member is valued, down to every last volunteer. It has also taught me transferable skills such as teamwork, time management, and customer service.

One major advantage of the work placement is that it has opened many doors for me; having now volunteered for the National Museum Wales, I have gained an excellent contact and reference within the volunteer department. I am planning on continuing volunteering with the museum once the work placement is finished, and that is made a lot easier by my past experience on the placement.

As usual in this monthly blog post I’d like to share with you some of the objects that have recently been added to the industry and transport collections.

 

The first object this month is wooden plaque carved with a profile of Joseph Stalin. Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union from the mid 1920s right up until his death in 1953. The plaque was carved in situ on a pit prop at a west Glamorgan colliery in the 1930s. Later it was removed from the prop, presumably after it had been removed from underground. It was thankfully preserved by a worker who was a member of the Communist Party.

 

I have also included two images from the historic photography collections. The first is an underground view showing miners working on the coal seam at Penallta Colliery circa 1940. Metal props can be seen at the centre, with wooden props either side.

The second image shows a miner and pit pony at the pit prop dump at Blaencuffin Colliery in 1974.

 

The second object to enter the industry collections this month was an underground battery locomotive used at the Glamorgan Haematite Iron Ore Mine, or as it was locally known, Llanharry Iron Ore Mine. This was one of eight battery locomotives built in 1961 by Greenwood and Batley Ltd., of Leeds that was supplied to the mine.

This photograph is an aerial view showing the mine and tips. The image is taken from the Tempest Collection.

 

Finally this month, we have acquired a brass time check from Chislet Colliery North Pit, Kent. The 'D' on the check denotes the ride down the pit - A, B, C, and D. The donor was a Welsh man who went to work in Kent.

You can see more examples from the check collection here.

 

Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
Follow us on Twitter - @IndustryACNMW

We met in the museum’s car park, not quite knowing what to expect.  Our 50+ Group had been asked if we fancied cataloguing more than a thousand books from the library at the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute as part of the re-interpretation of the building and all four of us had been intrigued by the request.

Sioned greeted us with a warm welcome and we were taken to the library in the ‘new’ building to meet Richard, the librarian.  And so began five extremely enjoyable Thursdays.

The books had been packed into boxes and our task was to fill the spreadsheets with name, author and publication date.  We noted the condition of the book and if it had come from another library or institute (eg. Nantymoel or Aberkenfig).

Delving into each box, not knowing what we might discover was like plunging into a box of chocolates.   Mining and engineering books were obviously very popular in Lewis Merthyr Library – were they borrowed by young men keen to further their careers?  There were many books on mathematics, science and architecture – all well-used according to the date stamps on page three.  And then there were novels by popular authors like Jane Austen, Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens – read and enjoyed in a time before television and computers.  A few books, with risqué titles, were obviously well-thumbed and our work stopped as we contemplated why they appeared to be more popular than ‘Advanced Algebra’ or ‘Modern Mechanics’.

It was a fascinating insight into a random selection of books, some dating back to the 1870s, and we are so grateful to the Museum for including us in this work.  Richard was on hand to answer questions and solve mysteries – why did so many Welsh preachers write books about themselves?  Who bought them?  And who decided to write ‘The Life of the White Ant’ (and did anyone ever read it)?

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our five days ‘work’, have learnt new skills, met lovely people and, also, become better acquainted after visiting all of the eateries in the museum for lunch.  If there’s any more volunteering on offer – please put our names on this list.

My name is Arnie. I am an eight and a half year old Labrador retriever cross and I am a dog with a job. I am a guide to my human, the one called ‘Mum’.

We have been partners for seven years and she has very poor vision. Although she can see colour and shape, she has no depth vision and lives in a blurry world. My role is to keep her safe, stopping her from bumping into things and causing chaos.

This has been particularly important on our trips to one of our favourite places, National Museum Cardiff. Mum loves art and history, and we have been invited to help develop their audio tours for visually impaired people like Mum.

My role during these tours hasn’t just been to keep Mum safe but also to protect the priceless antiquities, beautiful paintings and fragile exhibits from the awkward accident-prone one!

During these audio tours the museum guides describe in detail, to visually impaired visitors, their surroundings and interesting objects around them.

They also had sighted guides to help guide visually impaired people round the museum safely. Sighted guides are humans that do what I do: indicate steps, avoid objects and keep the visually impaired person safe. I think this makes a lot of sense because if they are anything like Mum they may need a little supervising.

One of the tours took us through the Evolution of Wales galleries. Our guide explained that each time the floor surface changed, it represented a movement forward in time in the story of the Earth. I took my time and stopped and tapped Mum's knee with my nose, so she knew to lift her feet and be aware of the changes in the surfaces.

I worked hard to ignore the giant bones, hanging in shapes of strange creatures, all over the place. I am sure they would have been very tasty, but I was in harness and at work!

The only part I was greatly concerned by was the terrible giant hairy creature that made a noise and moved, I tried to walk straight past and guide Mum safely out, but everyone stopped and stood to listen to one of the human guides talk about woolly mammoths and changing landscapes….? I had my eye firmly fixed on a quick exit!

Arnie Guide Dog

PS If other Guide Dogs want to take their owners on a pawsome Museum adventure, you can book a place on their audio description tours by phoning (029) 2057 3240. Woofing great!