Amgueddfa Blog

In a matter of days the Carpenters' Fellowship will be at St Fagans ready to erect the timber frame that will sit within the great hall of Llys Llywelyn - our latest development. During the 12th and 13th centuries a small number of these high status aisled-halls were built, and by now an even smaller number survive. The best example is the Bishop's Palace in Hereford where a number of substantial oak posts survive, as well as an impressive semi-circular arch, or brace. For more information, visit:

https://museum.wales/stfagans/buildings/llys-llywellyn/

https://museum.wales/blog/2015-11-09/The-Bishops-Palace-Hereford/

The oak posts for our hall are 300mm (12") thick at their base, and taper towards their tops - as trees naturally do. However, they are easily dwarfed by the posts of another surviving aisled hall, that of Leicester Castle. These were 700mm (28") thick when it was built in 1151. Timbers of this magnitude, and especially those that formed the semi-circular arches have always been hard to come by. The use of such scarce building materials  strongly suggests the high status of the owners. Stone arcading (the term for a series of posts linked by arches) are still a common sight within churches and cathedrals, but wooden ones - like the ones soon to be seen at Llys Llywelyn, may have predated these, and could have been the originators of this style.

From Saturday 26th August The Carpenters' Fellowship will be at St Fagans demonstrating their craft, before begining to erect the timber frame. Why not come and see? For more information, visit:

https://museum.wales/stfagans/whatson/9511/Frame---Carpenters-Fellowship/

 

 

 

 

I am an artist, studying for an MA degree in contemporary design craft, specifically the sculptural potential of prosthetic limbs. My visit to the Mollusca collection occurred after I came across a blog about the interior structure of shells on the museum website, and I made the connection between the interior structure of shells and how 3-D printers work and correct form. On the blog there was a contact number for the Curator of Mollusca, so I contacted Harriet Wood, not knowing what to expect in response.

Photograph of cross-section of 3D printed cube, showing internal supporting structure
Internal structure of 3D printed object © Matthew Day 2017

Looking inside shells - shell sections

When I explained my work on prosthetics to Harriet, and the connections with the interior structure of shells and 3-D printing she seemed very excited and invited me to come down, and also offered to introduce me to the person who runs a photography lab who uses 3-D printing and scanning for the museum.

Going Behind the Scenes

I could not have imagined it could have gone as well as it did. I met Harriet at the information desk of the museum and we then headed behind-the-scenes, where the collection is kept. Walking around the museum to get out back was really nice and modern. It reminded me of an academic journal I read not long before my visit, from the International Journal of the Inclusive Museum: ‘How Digital Artist Engagement Can Function as an Open Innovation Model to Facilitate Audience Encounters with Museum Collections’ in the  by Sarah Younan and Haitham Eid. 

photo showing a large cabinet full of specimen drawers
Some of the archives at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

Behind the scenes at the museum was quite a special environment - generally the general public are not allowed access unless arranged. It was a great privilege to be walking through rooms and rooms full of shells that people over the years have discovered and appreciated for their beauty. What was really fascinating was how the shells had been cut so perfectly. The cut shells looked almost as if this was their natural state – the way they were cut blended in so well with the form of the shell. This is what I wanted to see.

Black and white photograph showing a selection of shell sections
Shell sections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

I was speechless when I saw these collections of shells – especially seeing that part we’re not supposed to see. It was really exciting to see interior structure revealed by the cut, as it added a whole new value to the shells. They really reminded me of work by the the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose work I really admire.

black and white photograph showing a single conical shell, cut to show its internal spiral structure
© Matthew Day 2017

We see shells all the time on beaches and they just fascinate me, especially the broken ones which reveal part of the interior. It’s a very imperfect break, very different to the quality of the shell which has been sliced purposely to reveal what is inside. A natural object sculpted by man: I feel that this is what I am drawn to.

3D Scanning: Art and Science

Before examining the shells myself, Harriet offered to take me down to see Jim Turner, where we ended up spending most of my visit because what he did was just very interesting. Jim works in a lab which uses a photography process called “z-Stacking” (or extended depth of field – EDF) which is used extensively in macro photography and photo microscopy.

Jim is also creating an archive of 3D scanned objects for the museum website, where people can interact with scanned objects using VR headsets - bringing a whole new experience to the museum.

I understood what he was doing immediately from my own work. He explained the process and I understood the technicalities. It was a real pleasure to speak to someone who is using 3-D scanning in a different way to me. Jim is using 3D scanning in a way that was described within academic texts I had read - and even though he wasn’t doing anything creative with shells, he was still putting the objects into a context where people could interact with them using digital technology such as VR headsets, and on the web via sketchfab.

'Like being on a beach...'

When we got back to the Mollusca Collection I was able to take my own time and was under no pressure - so I got to have a good look and explored the shells. It was like being on a beach spending hours of exploring all wonderful natural objects.

black and white photograph showing a single conical shell, cut to show its internal spiral structure
© Matthew Day 2017

This visit had an amazing impact on my MA project - and I cannot thank Harriet and Jim enough for their time. This visit also gave me the confidence to approach other museums, such as Worcester Medical Museum, where I worked with a prosthetic socket from their collection. I 3D scanned the socket and, with the inspiration from Harriet’s collection of Mollusca, I created a selection of Sculptural Prosthetic sockets, drawing inspiration from the internal structures of shells, and illustrating sections of the shells that I was most drawn to. 

'A sculpture in its own right': my collection of sculptural prosthetics

Side by side photographs showing a sculptural prosthetic sock and a shell section. The prosthetic is shaped to emulate the internal structure of the shell.
Prototype conceptual prosthetic sock sculpture inspired by National Museum Cardiff's Mollusca collection © Matthew Day 2017

photo showing a black sculptural prosthetic socket with a yellow decoration
Prototype prosthetic sock sculpture inspired by National Museum Cardiff's Mollusca collection © Matthew Day 2017
photo showing a grey sculptural prosthetic socket with a yellow decoration
3D printed, fabric dyed prosthetic sculptural socket, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

photograph showing prosthetic socket with a large yellow decoration shaped like a round shell
3D printed, fabric dyed prosthetic sculptural socket, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

 

What’s next?

My MA is now reaching a climax, and I am starting the final major project module after the summer, which I am very excited about.

For the final part of my studies, I want to take all that I have explored and incorporated into my research to date, and use it to create a concept prosthetic limb which would be wearable, but also a sculpture in its own right – work which is now on track.

3D illustration of a design for a prosthetic leg, with decorations inspired by the internal structure of shells
Concept design of prosthetic sculptural leg, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

I aim to create a really spectacular prosthetic limb using 3D printing, further incorporating the shell-inspired aesthetics you see in this blog.

More of my work can be found on my website: Matthew Day Sculpture

 

The next step in my search for Hetty Edwards, was to contact Minny Street Welsh Congregational Church in Cardiff.  Beth Jones, General Secretary of Minny Street Church, couldn’t have been more helpful.  The church had information about both Gwenfron and Hetty, of which Beth very kindly sent me copies.

The most interesting information came from a personal appreciation written by the Reverend Mair Griffiths which appeared in Yr Aelod, Cylchgrawn Eglwys Minny Street, Rhif 38, Hydref 1992.  According to Reverend Griffiths, Hetty had been working in the National Library of Wales for a number of years before she came to the National Museum as Librarian.  When appointed Hetty was the youngest Specialist Librarian in the land [Great Britain]. 

Hetty’s faith was very important to her.  She became a member of Minny Street Church in 1931, when she moved to Cardiff from Aberystwyth.  She taught in Sunday school and was church secretary from 1945-55 and joint secretary from 1956-9.  Hetty was made Deaconess in 1943 and holds the title of the First Deaconess in the Congregationalist Church.

Reverend Griffiths also wrote that Hetty expected a high standard in everything, both of herself and those who collaborated with her. 

‘Dim ond y gorau oedd yn digon da’, ‘Only the best was good enough’.

Hetty and Gwenfron were very close throughout their lives. Hetty was very grateful to Gwenfron’s family in Coedpoeth who had adopted her when, at the age of nine, Hetty lost her parents. 

Hetty died on the 29th August, 1991.  She was 86 years old.  A thanksgiving service was held at Minny Street Church on the 5th September 1991.  Both Hetty and her sister Gwenfron had been residents at Woodlands Nursing Home, where they had both died peacefully within days of each other.  Their ashes were buried in Coedpoeth Public Cemetery after a thanksgiving service for their life and works.  Why Coedpoeth? Because this was where both Hetty and Gwenfron were born and raised. Together in life and death.

Now I have a better idea of Hetty the person, my next challenge is to find out more on her career. Hetty is proving to be a very interesting woman.  What will my search bring next?

This is one of our fabulous, weird and wonderful stores at St Fagans National Museum of History. It’s chockablock full of objects. We’re still collecting new things, but we have to be very selective in what we take in. We just don’t have the space!

Store at St Fagans National Museum of History

You can come across all sorts of things in a social history store like this one, from grandfather clocks to prosthetic limbs.

When a colleague of mine first went into this store and was told to ‘mind the mantrap’ she thought it was a joke. It turns out there really was a mantrap lurking at the end of a dark corridor!

For a long time I’ve known that the majority of museum collections are hidden away in storage, that what you see in galleries is only a small portion, but I had no idea to what extent until I started working here.

Of the 5 million objects we have across seven museums ranging from vintage motorcars, moon rock, world famous paintings, Iron Age slave chains, to a public urinal. How many objects are on display?

Only 0.2% of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ collections are on display.

So if there is a specific object you want to see at any of our museums, check that it’s on display first, and if it’s not, you can always make an appointment to view it. Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we have had funding so we can enhance records and add images for you to view in Collections Online which will be up and running in the autumn. Keep an eye out for behind the scenes store tours with the curators and conservators who look after our collections, these can be really enlightening!

We’re looking after the collections, on your behalf. We hope you enjoy exploring them as much as we do.

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Last week I wrote about some of the rare books in the Museum Library for the Day of Archaeology blog. One of those books was Mona Antiqua Restaurata: an Archaeological Discourse on the Antiquities, Natural and Historical, of the Isle of Anglesey, the Antient Seat of the British Druids.

 

Because the Eisteddfod begins in Anglesey this weekend, it seems fitting to take a closer look at the book. The author of Mona Antiqua Restaurata was the Reverend Henry Rowlands (1655–1723) of Llanidan on Anglesey. Rowlands never travelled far from home, but instead spent his time investigating the stone circles, cromlechs, and other prehistoric remains on Anglesey, leading him to conclude that Anglesey (or Mona) was the ancient centre of Druidic worship.

 

His work opens with a geographical account of the island, before giving an account of the history of the place, and its people. His findings were much stronger in terms of his field observations, than in his conclusions, many of which now, we know to be factual incorrect. However, his book did much to popularise interest in Druid culture, and may travellers followed in his footsteps to explore the artefacts of Anglesey for themselves, and his accurate drawings of the various ancient monuments still hold merit.

 

We have three copies of Mona Antiqua Restaurata in the Library at National Museum Cardiff. Two of the copies are versions of the first edition, published posthumously in Dublin in 1723, while the third copy is of the second, revised edition, issued in London in 1766. That version was edited by Dr Henry Owen (1716 - 1795).

 

Dr Owen, originally from Dolgellau and a member of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, had a special interest in Welsh antiquities, and made a number of revisions to the book, one of which was the slight changes in appearance of the Druid. He removed the sandals, making the Druid barefoot, and he also added a book to the hand that was holding the oak leaves.

 

A similar illustration was produced in Stonehenge, a temple restor’d to the British Druids by William Stukeley (1687 - 1765), which was first published in 1740, just 17 years later than Mona Antiqua Restaurata. Although the Library doesn’t hold a copy of the first edition, we do have a copy that was produced in 1838, which depicts his Druid in a very similar manner, although instead of holding oak leaves, he is standing under an oak tree, and he has the addition of a small axe at his belt.

 

Perhaps both authors based their images on an even earlier depiction, that of Aylett Sammes (c.1636 - 1679), whose Britannia Antiqua illustrata: or, the antiquities of ancient Britain was published in 1676. From the copy we hold in the Library, we can see that his Druid has the flowing beard and hooded robes of both Rowlands and Stukeley’s versions, and his stance and the way he is holding his staff are also similar. However, there doesn’t seem to be any references to the significance of oaks in the illustration by Sammes.