Amgueddfa Blog

Happy Pride Month!

We've got an introduction to 4 prominent LGBT-people from Welsh history for you.

This text was written by Young Heritage Leaders during last LGBTQ+ History Month; thank you to Norena Shopland for helping with our research and diolch to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their "Kick the Dust" support of our work with Young People.

This blog was written as part of our Hands on Heritage project.

Words by Holly

Images by Cecile

 

Gwen John

‘I should like to go and live somewhere where I meet nobody I know till I am so strong that people and things could not effect me beyond reason.’

Gwen was born on 22 June 1876 in Haverfordwest to Edward and Augusta John. Growing up, she had one older brother, a younger sister and a younger brother, the artist Augustus John. When their mother died young the family moved to Tenby, where Gwen’s education was placed in the hands of governesses. Her childhood years seemingly left little impression; she later said that nothing important happened to her before she turned 27.

Gwen is well-known for her affair with the sculptor Auguste Rodin, but she had sexual relationships with both men and women over the course of her life. Whilst attending he Slade School of Fine Art in London in the 1890s, she developed passionate feelings for an unknown woman, who ended up disposing herself of Gwen’s affections when she began a relationship with another man. Gwen threatened suicide if she did not break it off. This man eventually returned to his wife, but the love between Gwen the object of her passion had turned to hate.

In 1898 Gwen travelled with a group of friends to what was at the time the centre of artistic culture in the Western World: Paris. This period was a big influence on her art, at the end of which she painted her first self-portrait.

Throughout her life she challenged and defied convention. In 1902 she and a friend, Dorelia McNeil decided to walk to Rome to study there. They slept rough on the streets, and sang and painted in return for meals. If this seems daring now, at a time when women were usually chaperoned everywhere by older relatives it would have been totally unheard of. Gwen was also known for her intense focus on her work. She abhorred distractions and often preferred to work alone in her room, when she would become so absorbed she would forget to eat and rest. All this has contributed to Gwen’s reputation as being a bit of a loner, a hermit. Her surviving letters actually reveal that she enjoyed company, although it is difficult to escape the impression that, had Gwen lived today, she may have been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, or something like it.

Gwen met Rodin whilst in Paris again in 1904, and began an affair that lasted some 14 years. During this time, Gwen wrote around 2000 letters to Rodin, would organise her days around his visits, and would sometimes stand outside his house watching for him. Rodin frequently explored female sexuality in his work, and sketched Gwen with one of his assistants in erotic poses. Whilst Gwen was intrigued, she later told Rodin it was insignificant compared to being with him.

In later life Gwen converted to Catholicism. She also fell in love for the last time with an older woman called Véra Oumançoff, who became increasingly irritated with her obsessive attentions and was horrified by her sketching during Mass. In her last years she became increasingly isolated, and in 1939 left Paris carrying her will and burial instructions. When she died she was buried in an unmarked grave, and it was not until  over sixty years later, thanks to a 2015 TV documentary, that the final resting place of one of Wales’ greatest ever female artists was discovered.

‘It is difficult to express oneself in words for painters, isn’t it?’

 

 

Sarah Jane Rees//Cranogwen

‘It is a pretence in everybody, men and women alike, to try to be what they are not; and it is a loss for anybody not to be what they are.’

Sarah was born on 9th January 1839 in Llangrannog, Cardiganshire, the town from which she would later take inspiration for her bardic name. In her later autobiographical writings, she claims the birth of a girl was ‘much awaited for’ after two sons, and she was named after her paternal grandmother who lived with them. At 15 years old, Sarah started going her father out at sea. This was not in itself unusual for the time, but Sarah went on to attend schools in New Quay, Cardigan and eventually London, from which she returned with her Master’s Certificate in Navigation, allowing her to captain a vessel anywhere in the world if she chose.

It was at the 1865 Eisteddford that Sarah was catapulted into the limelight, winning a major prize in the ‘song’ category for her poem ‘The Wedding Ring’. It depicts four working class wives reflecting on their marriages, and placed above other established male writers who were ‘disgusted,’ according to the local newspaper. This was just the beginning of her Eisteddford success, winning a prize at Chester the following year and taking the Bardic Chair (the first woman to do so) at the local Aberayron in 1873. It was around this time that Sarah suffered a great personal tragedy. Fanny Rees was a milliner’s daughter who, like Sarah, had published literary works and moved to London for her education. It was there that she had contracted Tuberculosis, and in 1874 she returned to Wales. It was not to her family home she went to, but that of Sarah, in whose arms she died, something that indicates ‘a requited affection stronger than friendship’ according to Sarah’s biographer. Sarah had clearly loved this woman deeply; it was 12 years before she could bring herself to go to Fanny’s grave to lay flowers.

The success of her writing enabled Sarah to leave her teaching profession. She published a book of poems under her bardic name Cranogwen, which she dedicated to her mother, and became the editor of the Welsh language women’s journal Y Frythones. She often used this position to give advice to her readers regarding marriage and the role of women, and tirelessly promoted women’s writing and education. When two women from Dolgellau asked her advice regarding the suitability of female preachers, Sarah replied in a typically firm fashion: ‘Everyone should preach the Gospel who feels a desire to do so, and can do so, and can get people to listen.’ Her life had never been defined by traditional gender roles, so she would be unlikely to give any other response. At this time, and indeed for most of life, she had been in a happy same sex relationship with Jane Thomas, to whom she addressed one of her most famous poems, ‘My Friend’: ‘I love you, my beloved Venus, my Ogwen.’ At the time Ogwen was the female subject of a popular love ballad. Sarah clearly puts herself in the role of the male lover, leaving no doubts about the nature of their relationship.

Despite her sexuality, Sarah was a committed Christian, seeing human love as being ‘beamed from the warmth of the divine breast.’ She was a frequent preacher, though she was often relegated to using the deacon’s pew due to her gender, and at 60 years old founded the South Wales Women’s Temperance Union, which by the time of her death had 140 branches across Wales. She died in 1916, aged 81. The Union set up a shelter for homeless women and girls in her memory in 1922, in recognition of her unending efforts to improve the lives of Welsh women.

‘Gender difference is nothing in the world.’

 

Jan Morris

‘I was three or perhaps four years old when I realised I have been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl…it is the earliest moment of my life.’

Jan was born James Humphrey Morris to a Welsh father and an English mother in Clevedon, Somerset, on 2nd October 1926. She was aware of being transgender from an early age, and remembers as a child at Catherine Choir School in Oxford praying to God to make her a girl. After graduating from Oxford University, she had a brief career as a soldier in the closing months of the Second World War. She became a well-known journalist, built on the back of breaking the news of Hillary and Norgay’s successful ascent of Everest on the day of the Queen’s coronation. When reporting on the Suez Crisis, she provided the first irrefutable proof of collusion between France and Israel in invading Egyptian territory.

But the feeling of being born into the wrong body remained. Whilst still living as James she had married; her wife Elizabeth knew from the beginning that she was transgender and has been a lifelong support. They went on to have five children, one of whom died in infancy. With her wife by her side, Jan began taking steps towards gender reassignment, though many tried to convince her that she needed to be cured, or that she was really homosexual. Having been referred to Charing Cross, she was told that she and Elizabeth would have to get divorced. Jan adamantly refused. Eventually, in 1972 in Morocco, ‘James’ underwent surgery and officially became Jan Morris. Two years later her landmark book Conundrum was published, one of the first autobiographies to discuss transgender issues and gender reassignment.

Whilst she acknowledges that the question of her gender overshadowed her work at first, she has gone on to write around 46 books, including the Pax Britannica trilogy. She does not see her surgery as having changed her writing, in fact, ‘it changed me far less than I thought it had.’ In the past, other feminists have criticised her for simplifying traits associated with gender, something she acknowledges, and now says her views have matured. In 2008 she and Elizabeth entered into a civil partnership in Pwllheli, close to where they now live.

Morris has now fully adopted Wales, or perhaps Wales has adopted her. After moving to Wales, she was adopted into the Gorsedd of Bards in 1993, which she sees as one of the proudest moments of her life. She considers herself a Welsh nationalist, although she accepted a CBE in 1999 out of respect. Her picture of Wales sometimes seems to border on the romanticised, the fantastical. Just before her reassignment surgery she spent the summer in North Wales, and would often visit a secluded lake: ‘There I would take my clothes off, and stand for a moment like a figure of mythology…I fell into the pool’s embrace, [and] sometimes I thought the fable might well end there, as it would in the best Welsh fairy tales.’

Jan now rarely speaks about being transgender and does not join with LGBT activism, preferring to be seen first and foremost as a writer. Last year, at the age of 91, she published another book, Battleship Yamato. She has also written a book of allegories, to be published after her death.

“Looking back on my life, of course I had this feeling that I was in the wrong sex and I had to get out of it. But it didn’t occur to me then that the ultimate object might be to be both. And the next object is to be neither.”

 

Angus McBean

“Kings and queens, princesses sleeping or otherwise in ivory towers, or in enchanted castles with satins, furs and cloths of gold...and always happy endings.”

Angus was born on 8th June 1904 in Newbridge, Monmouthshire, in what seems like a far cry from London’s theatrical scene of the 1930s and 1940s that would make him one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century. His father, Clement, was a chartered surveyor. He was educated at Monmouth Grammar School and Newport Technical College, and in his late teenage years worked as a bank clerk. However, his childhood interest in the makeup of a visiting actress and the purchase of an early Kodak perhaps hinted at what was to come. After being introduced to amateur dramatics by an aunt, he began designing posters, costumes and masks for the first time.

His father died at 47 years old, having contracted TB when fighting in the trenches, and the family moved to London. Angus was briefly married during this time (1923-24) to Helena Wood, although given that Angus was a homosexual, it is unsurprising that they separated a year later with no children.

He began working at Liberty’s Department store in London, where he developed the eccentric style of dress that he became known for. After leaving Liberty’s he attracted the attention of society photographer Hugh Cecil, who took him on as an assistant and taught him about the art of photographic portraits. His first job as a theatre photographer was for The Happy Hypocrite at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1936, starring Ivor Novello. The intensely dramatic photographs that he produced were unlike anything seen before.

It was Angus who took photographs during the now lauded years of the late 1930s at the Old Vic, which saw Laurence Olivier’s first performances in Macbeth, Hamlet and Henry V. His other subjects included Vivien Leigh, who became a muse of his. It was Angus’ photograph that was sent to David Selznick, preparing to cast Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. He never photographed the Queen, reporting that he would have been ‘shaking with fear,’ and never moved into society photographs like his mentor Cecil, calling it all ‘a Bond Street Game I never played.’ He also became popular for his ability to retouch the photographs he took.

It was in 1942 that he was sentenced to four years in prison for homosexual practices. It might be expected that this would have meant the ruin of his life; he reportedly collapsed in the dock as his sentence was read out. However, the commissions were still there for accepting and Angus carried on much the same after his release. It was a similar case with his friend, the legendary actor John Gielgud who was arrested in 1953 for cruising for sex in a public toilet. He feared the disgrace would end his career, but the audience of his next performance gave him a standing ovation. This is probably reflective of how much more liberal the arts world was, then as now, compared with other sections of society. After his release, Angus also appeared as a witness at the trial of his friend and lover Quentin Crisp, who had been charged with soliciting.

Angus passed away in 1990. His photographs are now held by, among others, the Harvard Theatre Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Library, the National Portrait Gallery and the Shakespeare Library.

‘Put the camera into the hands of an artist and a very different kind of photography will emerge.’

In the first part of this blog I looked at the physicality and subject-matter of a small number of fans housed at St Fagans National Museum of History. In this second and final part of the blog, I would like to discuss some of the aesthetic objects 18th century fan shops, warehouses and stalls business displayed and sold. To conclude, I will briefly discuss the fan maker Martha Gamble (active before 1710 to after 1740).

Many fan shops sold prints and, equally, a great number of print shops sold fans. During the 1700s the status of prints increased as the market for prints which could be framed for display grew. The fan makers Sarah Ashton (active before 1750 to 1807) and George Wilson (active before 1770 to after 1801) sold a range of printed artwork, including stipple-engraved illustrated children’s maxims in Wilson’s case. Additionally, fan makers borrowed from the visual language of genre prints. The popular stock characters from the pictorial and literary trope of ‘Old Darby’ and ‘Old Joan’, visually relating to rural representations circulated in print by publishers like Bowles and Carver, were one common source of pictorial inspiration.

There is an extraordinary female fan maker whose work is represented at St Fagans. One of her fans is to be found in this collection, an Allegorical Fan (Untitled) painted with an image of (almost certainly) Queen Anne (1665-1714) and an inscription of ‘11 October 1743’ and the maker’s name ‘M. Gamble’. Although (Martha) Gamble created this fan a decade or so after Queen Anne’s death, images of the Queen were still widespread in the 1720s and 1730s. Gamble was a highly regarded female fan maker, who owned The Golden Fan in St Martin’s Court, St Martin’s Lane. Its reputation built upon Gamble’s renown for her use of the fan as a vehicle on which to present popular stories transposed from narrative print and painting series. Gamble sold copies of William Hogarth’s (1697-1764) A Harlot’s Progress, completed between 1732 and 1733, advertised in the Evening Post as ‘engraved from the Original prints of Mr. Hogarth; in which the characters are justly preserved and beautifully published’. A Harlot’s Progress was made by Giles King, who specialised in reproducing printed images made by the Dutchman Arnout van Aken, in alliance with Gamble. Examining these fans makes evident their intrinsic link to print work produced in the same period and helps us to understand and appreciate these fascinating objects better.

Continuing the international year of the periodic table of chemical elements, for May we have selected lead. Everyone knows that lead is heavy, or more correctly dense, but did you know how important it was to the Roman Empire?

Mad, bad and dangerous to use – lead in Roman times

In Roman times lead was used extensively throughout the Empire. The chemical symbol for lead is Pb which comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum, and is also the derivation of the word ‘plumbing’.

The extraction of lead ore is reasonably straightforward, and there was an abundant supply within the ever expanding empire. As well as being easy to find and one of the easiest metals to extract, lead is soft and malleable, has a relatively low melting point of 327.5°c (“low enough to melt in a camp fire”) and it is much denser and heavier than other common metals. It is also possible to cast it. This meant that it was widely produced and used for an enormous range of purposes from industrial to domestic.

The Romans were famous for their plumbing systems, and as lead pipes replaced older constructions made of stone and wood, ever more elaborate plumbing systems could be created. In 2011 during the excavation undertaken by Cardiff University of the Southern Canabae at Caerleon an example of a lead water pipe was excavated close to the amphitheatre. It has a diameter of 0.12m, is bulged in the middle where two lengths of pipe have been joined using a wiped joint, and there are remains of a round collar pierced by iron nails at one end (to the left in the image) where it was probably attached to a wooden tank or pipe. As can be seen, the main pipe has been tapped by a narrower pipe and they were presumably used to feed a fountain or water feature within the large courtyard building found alongside.

The malleable nature of lead, and its relatively low melting point also made it very useful for soldering and repair work, for architectural fittings and for lining containers. It was even used as a type of Rawlplug.  Its density made it ideal for weights and its abundance made it cheap enough to be used in a whole range of everyday objects, from a variety of containers, to lamps used to light Roman homes, luggage labels and stamps of all varieties. It was used in paint and in medicines and cosmetics and it was even used to sweeten and colour wine. Perhaps most important of all most ores of lead also contain a small quantity of silver and, in some instances the value of silver outweighed the value of lead. For an economy so dependent on silver this precious by-product was of great importance.

A perfect example of the everyday use of lead is the Roman lead bread stamp from Prysg Field in Caerleon (see the image on the right). Within the Fortress bread was baked in a communal oven and the bread stamps were used by each Company to clearly identify their bread ration for the day. The one in the photograph below was for the ‘Century of Quintinus’.

The simple lead lamp from Gelligaer near Caerphilly (shown on the right) illustrates a common form found on Roman sites – cheap and utilitarian. The main tray would have been filled with tallow (animal fat) and a wick would have extended to the raised area.

The wonderful curse tablet (shown on the right) found at Caerleon is the only such object so far recovered from Wales. It clearly illustrates the malleable and soft nature of the metal but also links to its cultural status as a ‘base’ metal. Scratched into the surface of the lead is a curse invoking the aid of the goddess Nemesis against a thief of a cloak and boots.

Research has shown that the letters of the inscriptions at Caerleon were painted exclusively using a red pigment called litharge (PbO), also known as red lead. Traces of red can still be seen on a stone inscription found at the Amphitheatre in Caerleon (shown on the right).

The heavy quality of lead meant that the Romans used it to make weights or to weigh things down. A Mediterranean style anchor stock from a small cargo ship was found just off the coast of the Llyn Peninsula at Porth Felen, Aberdaron.

The Romans cast the lead they mined into ingots known as ‘pigs’. Originally the lead mines in Britain were under the direct control of the Roman Authorities but this responsibility was later handed over to trusted local agents who leased the lead mines out to local companies on payment of a levy. A Roman lead pig found at Carmel in Whitford shows the insignia of one such agent, Gaius Nipius Ascanius. Other examples found in Britain have marks such as “EX ARG” (Ex argentariis), indicating that it was from a lead-silver works, or Deceangl[icum] indicating it was lead from the Deceanglic (Flintshire) region.

Lead in Roman Wales

According to Pliny, lead “is extracted with great labour in Spain and throughout the Gallic provinces; but in Britannia it is found in the upper stratum of the earth, in such abundance, that a law has been spontaneously made, prohibiting any one from working more than a certain quantity of it.” (Natural History, Book 34, Chapter 49)

Lead was so important to the Romans that they started extracting the ore almost as soon as they arrived in Britain. The Mendip area around Charterhouse in modern day Somerset was an important area for lead mining and evidence shows that mining began here as early as AD49. Originally mining was under the control of the Army, and in the Mendip Hills at this time that was the Second Augustan Legion. Their experience in overseeing the extraction of lead mines may well have proved useful when the Legion transferred to their new headquarters in Caerleon in AD74/5.

The area around Draethen woods near Lower Machen, contained lead ore reasonably high in silver content, certainly comparable to the Mendips and higher than any other lead ores to be found in South Wales. Draethen is just 10 miles away from Caerleon, about the same distance from the Roman fort at Gelligaer and even closer to the fort at Caerphilly. In 1937 work on the construction of a new bypass in Lower Machen uncovered evidence of Roman occupation, including evidence of a working floor with layers of charcoal and numerous pieces of lead and lumps of lead ore.  Nash-Williams (Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1939) states that the early date of the pottery and coin finds suggest that Lower Machen “was certainly in Roman hands by the time of the completion of the Roman military conquest of South Wales in AD75, possibly before”. More recent discoveries of pottery also suggest an occupation period of c AD 70-100.

The 1965 exploration of ‘Roman Mine’ in Draethen throws more light on Roman lead mining in this area. In Roman times lead ore was extracted by laying wooden fires against the rock, heating the rock to a high temperature and then throwing cold water or vinegar onto it. This caused the rock to split into smaller pieces which could then be sorted by hand within the mine. The waste, known as ‘deads’, was packed into side chambers and empty crevices and the ore was brought to the surface on wooden trays or in leather sacks and wooden buckets. The evidence found within Roman Mine exactly matches this technique. Charcoal was found throughout the mine, even in the smaller tunnels, and the side chambers were filled with waste. The walls and roof of the tunnels were covered in a thick black patina caused by the production of an enormous amount of smoke. The creation of so much smoke also meant that the Romans had to sink shafts at regular intervals in order to create a through draft and the main passage of Roman Mine has many such outlets. No tools were found in Roman Mine but pick marks are frequent throughout the tunnels.

Who worked these mines? Nash-Williams (Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1939) presumes that the labourers who worked in Draethen were “slaves and convicts working under the supervision of a military guard, and the settlement would be under the control of an officer or government official.” It is likely that the lives of these miners were short and judging by the very small spaces of some of the worked areas within Roman mine it is possible that some of the labourers were children.

A detailed report on the lead mines in Draethen can be found here and more information about the objects found during the exploration of the mine can be found here.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) - Lead poisoning in Roman times

Lead, despite all its many useful qualities, is also toxic. When ingested or inhaled, lead enters the bloodstream and inhibits the production of haemoglobin which is needed by red cells to carry oxygen. When lead levels in the blood increase it has a devastating effects on the body, including irreversible neurological damage. Children are particularly vulnerable because their tissue is softer and their brains are still developing.

Contemporary writing makes it clear that Romans were aware of the dangerous effects of lead and knew it could lead to insanity and death.

Pliny, in his Natural Histories, wrote about the noxious fumes that emanated from lead furnaces. Vitruvius in De Architectura suggests the use of earthen pipes to convey water because “that conveyed in lead must be injurious to the human system.” He goes on to note that “This may be verified by observing the workers in lead, who are of a pallid colour; for in casting lead, the fumes from it fixing on the different members, and daily burning them, destroy the vigour of the blood; water should therefore on no account be conducted in leaden pipes if we are desirous that it should be wholesome.” Celsus in De Medicina urges the use of rain water, conveyed through earthen pipes into a covered cistern.

However, although some advised against its use it was such a commonly used and important metal that it was almost impossible to manage without it. The vast majority of Romans probably remained unaware of the dangers and continued to use it in their everyday lives.

The study of lead levels in individuals from the Romano-British period is enabling researchers to gain a greater understanding of normal levels for different regions, and allows a growing degree of confidence in the identification of immigrants into an area.  In complementary isotope studies the remains of the man found in the coffin at Caerleon showed lead concentrations of 4 parts per million (ppm), preserved in his teeth, which is typical of someone from the local area at this period.

Lead pollution in Ancient times.

The Romans’ extensive use of lead gives us a fascinating insight into the ups and downs of Roman history. In 2018 analysis of cores taken from Greenland’s ice sheet by the Norwegian Institute of Air Research showed that environmental pollution is not just a modern phenomenon. Pollution from lead mines can be traced in the layers of ice and clearly show the pollution left behind in ancient times. The researchers were able to use their measurements of lead pollution to track major historical events and trends. A clear pattern emerges where lead pollution drops during times of war, as fighting disrupts lead production. It then increases during periods of stability and prosperity.  Lead pollution rose dramatically from the end of the Roman Republic and through the first 200 years of the Roman Empire, the Pax Romana. The measurements also starkly show the fall of this great Empire. The Antonine Plague struck in AD 165, a devastating pandemic that historians think was either smallpox or measles. Almost five million people died over the 15 years that the plague raged in the Empire, and whilst the Empire continued after the plague came to an end its economy never recovered. This is clearly shown in the low levels of lead in the ice layers during the years of the Plague and the centuries following it. The high lead emissions of the Pax Romana end at exactly the same time as the plague struck and do not reach those same levels again for more than 500 years.

More information about this fascinating research can be found here.

The museum’s geology collections contain many examples of lead ores from Wales and around the world including lead sulphide, or galena, the main ore of lead. Post-1845 (when official records started being kept) in excess of 1.2 Million tons of lead concentrate was produced from Welsh mines, but with a history of mining dating back to at least Roman times that figure should be considerably greater.

Natural weathering and oxidation of lead ores results in the formation of some beautifully coloured minerals. A few examples are illustrated here. It should also be noted that not all lead-bearing minerals are toxic – certain compounds containing lead are very stable. Experiments have shown that polluted mine dumps containing lead can be stabilised by oxidising some of the lead into phosphates such as pyromorphite or plumbogummite.

How does the day of an Explore Volunteer begin? Setting up the trolley!

As already mentioned in the previous article, Explore Volunteers can use three different trolleys; one for each gallery. Every trolley presents several items which visitors can touch and feel. Basically the trolley is like a stall so it is really important to find a nice position for each item on it. The following video shows how usually my colleague Ben and I set the art trolley and which objects we use to engage visitors.

The items on the trolley are divided into two groups; on the left there are some examples of different kinds of art, and on the right there are some activities.

People cannot touch the artworks in the museum so our task as Explore Volunteers is to give visitors the opportunity to touch examples of artwork on the trolley. We have three different kinds of sculptures: a bronze one, much heavier than you would think, a wax one, and two wooden sculptures – there is usually a little wooden mushroom as well – which show the process of making a wooden sculpture; from the natural object to the artwork. Other examples of artwork include a small decorated pottery shard and a square panel painted with acrylic colors. There are also some instruments that an artist usually uses to work: a palette and a mahl stick; used to rest the hand and to make straight lines.

At the art trolley visitors can ask for paper and a pencil to draw. If I may say so the best artwork we receive is from our visitors; they can use our filters to view paintings from a different perspective– I suggest to read the previous article written by Ben about them – and they can play Guess the Artist with us, a funny card game which gives you some clues to guess which artist is on each card.

Some people may think that these trolleys are just for young visitors, but everybody is welcome and they can help provide visitors with a unique experience at the National Museum.

 

Video music credit: "Cottages" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

 

Recently, we’ve been privileged to accept a fabulous new accession into our collection.  It is a set of three silk garments which belonged to Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet, who lived between 1749 and 1789.  He owned vast areas of land in Wales, was active in politics and was a great patron of the arts.  You can find out more about him here:

Image of painting of Watkin Williams-Wynn from our 'Collections Online'
Small pastel portrait from the museum's collections

As part of Sir Watkin’s lavish lifestyle came an opulent wardrobe.  The garments we have acquired are a matching set of waistcoat and breeches made from grey silk, woven with silver metal thread, silk embroidery and metal thread trim,

F2019.21.1 waistcoat Watkin Williams-Wynn

F2019.21.1 waistcoat, detail of buttons, embroidery and metal thread weave

F2019.21.2 breeches Watkin Williams-Wynn

F2019.21.2 breeches, metal trim

F2019.21.2 breeches, button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

as well as an embroidered waistcoat of flamboyantly pink satin. 

F2019.21.3 pink waistcoat Watkin Williams-Wynn

 All three items have passed through the Textile Conservation Studio over the last few weeks to record the garments’ construction, materials, and condition, before packing them up to go into storage.  The grey set of waistcoat and breeches were in remarkably good condition, but I was worried about the embroidery on the pink waistcoat.  The embroidery consists of undulating bands of white net which covers small florets made of paper.  The bands run down both sides of the centre front and across the lower edge as well as across the pocket flaps.  Other embroidery features are foliage and blossoms made from chenille thread and mauve ribbon-worked rosette flower heads. 


The white net is made from silk which has been coated with a stiffening agent.  This stiffening agent has made the net brittle and the yarns have cracked in many places resulting in areas of loss and loose areas.  Those loose remains of the net were vulnerable to snagging and abrasion and I was afraid that further pieces would break off and become lost.  Equally, the paper flowers that lay underneath and were formerly protected by the net were now exposed and also at risk of damage or loss through accidentally brushing against them.  As it was, a number of petals had pulled away from the stitches that held them in place and had curled up and become creased and distorted, with several petals and some entire flowers becoming lost. 


To protect the fragile areas I decided to apply an overlay of very fine white Nylon net.  This net does not disturb the aesthetics of the embroidery while at the same time providing protection to the vulnerable net and paper underneath.  Before I could start, however, I had to humidify the paper petals to re-shape them and arrange them in their correct position. For this, I dampened the paper with deionised water applied with a fine paint brush.  Once it was wet, the paper was pliable and creases could be removed.  To apply the net overlay I stitched it in place with small running stitches using a thin white silk organzine thread.  I used a curved needle as the garment had to remain flat on the table (to avoid unnecessary movement).  It’s only now that it has been conserved that the waistcoat is strong enough to go into storage.

F2019.21.3 pink waistcoat vulnerable areas before conservation

F2019.21.3 pink waistcoat, detail of applying net overlay using silk thread

F2019.21.3 pink waistcoat after application of net overlay - now protected and safe for storage

There was something else that was interesting about the waistcoat: The rear panel is made from tabby woven cotton fabric and the lower section is made of cream silk.  As it is now, the seam allowances are facing outwards and raw edges are visible.  It is not unusual that areas of the garment that aren’t on view are made from less expensive materials and that the stitching might not be as carefully executed as on the visible areas, however, the current configuration and some indication of previous stitch holes suggests that the waistcoat would have had an outer back panel and what is visible currently, is simply the back section of the lining.  There is therefore a strong indication that the waistcoat may have been altered and the original back getting lost in the process.

F2019.21.3  pink waistcoat, back panel