Amgueddfa Blog: Museums, Exhibitions and Events

Our new exhibition, “Agatha Christie: A Life in Photographs,” shows rarely-seen photographs, letters and personal belongings from the most widely published author of all time. But did you know that the Queen of Crime had strong connections to Wales?

Agatha’s only child, Rosalind, married a Welsh man called Hubert Prichard. They lived at a house called Pwllywrach, just outside the village of Colwinston, Vale of Glamorgan. Their son Mathew was brought up there. As a doting grandmother, Agatha visited regularly to see her daughter and only grandchild and became very fond of Wales. There is a family photograph album in the exhibition with a picture of Agatha at Pwllywrach. There’s also an album showing the press cuttings about her daughter’s marriage in the show.

Wales also featured in Agatha’s writing. In 1967, she published “Endless Night” – a story set on a road outside Cardiff and inspired by a local legend. A first edition and a notebook of her ideas for the story are both in the exhibition, as well as her typewriter.

The exhibition has been kindly supported by the Colwinston Trust, named after the village where Agatha’s daughter lived. Established in 1995, the Trust distributes grants to UK Registered Charities working in the areas of opera, music and the visual arts. Funding is primarily directed towards the support of activity that benefits Wales. The Trust’s main income is royalties from the London production of “The Mousetrap,” the murder mystery written by Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie: A Life in Photgraphs, is on display until 3 September 2017 and admission is free.

 

 

People have been hoarding objects for thousands of years.

People still do it today, but its origins lie in prehistory. This was very common in the Bronze Age (around 3000 years ago) when people collected items, such as weapons and tools, and buried them in pits and ditches. 

Hoards may contain only three or four objects, or up to fifty or more. The largest Bronze Age hoard currently known in Britain contains over 6500 objects! Many hoards have been found in Wales recently and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru. This greatly adds to our understanding of prehistoric Wales.

Most recently, the Trevethin hoard from Torfaen has caught media attention, containing three axes and two spearheads. Other hoards have recently been found in the Vale of Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire, and Monmouthshire.

Buried objects include swords, spears, axes, and ingots of raw metal. Sometimes these objects were buried complete and pristine, while others were deliberately broken, burnt and bent before being put in the ground.

Many questions surround this practice.

Why were so many objects buried?

Why were some objects broken, while others were left intact?

Were hoards for religious purposes (e.g. as an offering)? Or did they act as stores of raw material that were lost?

It’s unlikely we will ever truly know the answers to these questions, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. However, archaeologists can speculate based on how and where the hoard was buried and by comparing it to known historical periods in which hoarding was also practiced.

For instance, many hoards in Roman and Medieval times were deposited for safe keeping, during times of unrest. Meanwhile, objects deposited on hilltops or in rivers may have been symbolic markers within the landscape.

We can also think about what people do with objects today.

Some people collect objects for a hobby, such as stamps, coins, or shot glasses. Sometimes it’s for a specific purpose, such as preserving heritage – museums are an excellent example of this.

Similarly, items might be destroyed or discarded for a variety of reasons, such as eliminating a memory, commemorating the death of a friend or family, or simply as waste. Of course we can’t forget that sometimes objects might simply be lost.

Whatever the reason, hoarding formed an important tradition in Bronze Age Wales. With every new discovery, archaeologists get one step closer to understanding prehistoric ideas and values.

The Trevethin hoard is one of several hoards that was responsibly reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru. It is now proudly on display at Pontypool Museum where it can be enjoyed by all members of the public. It was acquired with funding from the Saving Treasures: Telling Stories Project. More details on how the hoard was investigated, as well as a conversation with the finder, Gareth Wileman, can be found here.

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

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.