Amgueddfa Blog

Explore the collections at National Museum Cardiff with our team of volunteers! In this video you will learn more about trilobites with our volunteer Macy.

A large part of our work in the Art Department at Amgueddfa Cymru is researching and working on new acquisitions for the collection. Even with the Museum closed for much of the last 18 months, activity has continued behind the scenes on developing our collections.

With the Museum reopening, we thought we would put together a small group of these new acquisitions in Gallery 11 at National Museum Cardiff that we hope you will enjoy. There is an eclectic mix of work; from Welsh artists, artists working in Wales and some leading national and international figures of modern and contemporary art.

New acquisitions

An individual acquisition can sometimes take months or even years to complete, with a great deal of work going into research and fundraising. We are incredibly grateful to artists and individuals who often donate work to us, and also to Trusts and Foundations who help us to buy pieces – and in particular the Derek Williams Trust. So, while some of the new works that are on display in have arrived at the Museum over the past few months, many have been worked on by curators for 2-3 years in some cases.

Also, what is currently on show is actually a small fraction of what has been collected over the last year or two. The development of the Art Collection has been an ongoing, century long project – one that never stops and is key to the Amgueddfa Cymru collections more generally remaining relevant and dynamic. That said, there is a great deal more to do in terms of what our collection says about Wales in the 21st century as the National Collection of today is also an important artistic and historic resource for future generations.

Below is some information on each of the new works on display. But what better way to appreciate them than by coming to the Museum and seeing them in person!

The organic and the systemic

A black and brown, curved vase

Magdalene Odundo, Asymmetric I, 2016, terracotta
Purchased with support from Art Fund and the Derek Williams Trust
© Magdalene Odundo

Magdalene Odundo’s impressive terracotta vessel Asymmetric I has a strong anthropomorphic character. It seems to allude to a pregnant female body and promise new life. Odundo draws on African traditions to emphasise the power of pots to heal.

In contrast to Odundo’s organic making style, David Saunders, in works like Black Transformation (1973-74, oil on canvas), relies on logical and mathematical processes to produce a systematic method of creating work.

 

Shaped by life experiences

A mixed media piece of art mounted on the wall

Gareth Griffith, Bertorelli, 2019, mixed media
© Gareth Griffith

A strong theme of this display is the way that artists draw on their own experiences, either their own life histories or in response to the landscapes and histories of Wales. Gareth Griffith’s Bertorelli recalls his childhood memory of a double portrait in the Bertorelli ice cream parlour in Caernarfon. He later purchased the portrait and reworked it into this piece.

 

 

Exploring the landscape

Mary Lloyd Jones
Pwerdy Ceunant (2019)

Mary Lloyd Jones’s abstract paintings explore the landscape as a place of memory, culture, and identity. Ysgwrn (2018) is named after the farm where poet Hedd Wyn (1887-1917) grew up prior to being killed in the First World War, while the place names and calligraphic signs in Pwerdy Ceunant (2019) allude to Coelbren y Beirdd, the alphabet that Iolo Morganwg invented and claimed was that of the ancient bards.

 

 

Urban and industrial Wales

Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Preparation Plants, 1966-1974 (gelatin silver prints)

Urban and industrial Wales are an equal source of artistic inspiration. In Winter Night with Angharad no.7 (2006, oil and plaster on board), Roger Cecil (born into a mining family from Abertillery) draws parallels between the landscape and the human body. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Preparation Plants, 1966-1974 (gelatin silver prints) is one of their typologies, a grid of nine photographs of a single type of industrial structure that was once a familiar feature of the industrial ecosystem of the south Wales Valleys.

André Stitt’s Municipal Wall Relief for a Housing Complex in a Parallel Universe (2015-16; oil, acrylic and enamel on wood panels) also looks back to what now seems a bygone age, capturing the modernist optimism of post-war architecture and town-planning.

 

Plan your visit

These artworks are now on display for the first time in the art galleries in National Museum Cardiff. Access to the museum is free, but you will need to pre-book a free ticket in advance. Please see our Plan Your Visit page for more information.

 

With thanks

Amgueddfa Cymru is grateful to Mary Lloyd Jones, David Saunders, the estate of Roger Cecil, Art Fund, the Derek Williams Trust and the Henry Moore Foundation for their generosity in making these acquisitions possible.

In March 2020, museums across the world started to capture stories and collect objects relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. At Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales, we launched a digital questionnaire in May 2020 as a first step towards creating a national Covid collection to be archived at St Fagans National Museum of History. This method of collecting information through questionnaires is rooted in the Museum’s history, dating back to 1937.

We soon realised that the continuity in collecting methods of the past also offered an opportunity to revisit some of the early questionnaire responses and to inspire new collecting initiatives in post-Covid Wales. To enable this work, we applied for funding to the Museums Association Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund which allowed us to start on a 12-month project to digitise the historic questionnaires and experiment with new models of collecting through engaging with communities.

We began the project from September 2020, at a time when Covid restrictions had started to ease. The first task was to digitise the hundreds of pages of responses from the historic questionnaires and answer books.

The earliest questionnaire was published by the Museum in December 1937 and sent out to 493 respondents across Wales. This may have been inspired by the Mass Observation project of 1937 recording the everyday lives of people across Britain. Launched in a decade largely defined by economic hardship and unemployment, the ‘Questionnaire of Folk Culture’ asked participants to provide information about a variety of subjects such as the domestic, public and cultural life of their local area. It also encouraged people to send photographs and drawings and to become regular informants to assist with developing a collection which formed the basis for the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans, established in 1948. After that. questionnaires and ‘answer books’ were regularly used by the Museum as a form of capturing information on a range of subjects, up until the 1980s.

After the first batch of questionnaires had been digitised, we made a call-out to volunteer organizations in various parts of Wales, inviting people to transcribe the handwritten responses. By this time (December 2020), Wales was in yet another lockdown and it seemed a good time as any for the Museum to offer e-volunteering roles as part of its programme for the first time. We recruited eleven volunteers, all Welsh-speakers or leaners as the material was mostly in Welsh. The digitised images were sent directly to each volunteer to be transcribed and where possible, the volunteers received material of interest to their locality. We met over Zoom and Teams to discuss the work and to share experiences. To date, the volunteers have contributed at least 180 hours of their time and we are extremely grateful to them for their input. The transcribed material will eventually be seen alongside the digitised questionnaire responses through the museum’s online collections database.

The next stage of the project involved creating a new Covid questionnaire for 2021. As Wales had been through a fire-break, lockdown and mass-vaccination programme we felt that there was a lot of information we still needed to capture that wasn’t included in the 2020 questionnaire. This time though we wanted to consult with our community partners first to help us with co-producing the questions so that we could be more inclusive. With the help of our partners, our aim is to try and reach those communities that may have not taken part in the 2020 questionnaire and who have been particularly affected by the pandemic.

With the launch of the 2021 Collecting Covid questionnaire in June, we are now trying to get as many people to take part so that everyone’s voices are captured and recorded as part of a ‘national memory’ for Wales. We also hope to engage with local history societies from some of the areas that responded to the Museum’s original call to action, to invite them to research some of the local stories. What we hope to achieve through this project is a blueprint for future collecting and engagement by learning from the collecting methods of the past enabling agile, rapid and responsive collecting for the future.

Amgueddfa Cymru is home to almost 1,400 paintings and drawings by Augustus John (1878-1961). A prolific portraitist, John painted many notable figures such as the poet and writer Dylan Thomas and the musician Guilhermina Suggia. He also made frequent sketches – in both pencil and oil paint – of unnamed people he encountered in everyday life. One such work in our collection has recently had its sitter identified thanks to the crowd-sourced resource Art Detective, where art lovers and experts can discuss artworks in public UK collections.

The work in question depicts a distinctive looking woman with cropped hair and a full fringe, sporting an inquisitive expression on her face. While the model’s dress and lower body is loosely sketched out, her face is richly detailed, suggesting that she was known to the artist.

A discussion about this painting was launched on Art Detective after Dr. Margot Schwass wrote in to share her research into Greville Texidor (1902-1964) and her belief that this is the “lost” Augustus John portrait of the author and world traveler. Schwass comments that: “When I chanced across an image of the portrait in the Amgueddfa Cymru collection, I knew straight away that it was Greville”. This prompted a lively and well-researched discussion among other Art Detective users, leading to our curatorial team being utterly convinced that this is in fact a portrait of Texidor, who, it was uncovered, worked as John’s secretary in the early 1920s.

We would like to thank Dr. Schwass for contributing her research and helping us learn more about this work in our collection. Her 2019 book All the Juicy Pastures is the first to tell the story of Texidor's extraordinary life.

You can read more about Art UK’s Art Detective Network here.

If you ask a primary school child what they did that day in school, they’ll often enthuse most about what they did at play time.  Play time is the time they get to decide what happens. They choose the games, the toys, even the players, within the safe parameters given them. And within these parameters, they are learning. Learning how to move and what they are capable of physically. Learning how to act socially, through sharing and caring. Learning how to deal with emotions when the game doesn’t always go their way. Playtime is vital.

And the learning starts long before school. Toddler Time is one of my favourite regular events that the museum runs. It’s a chance for parents to bring their little ones for some supervised play in a quiet, safe environment. We’re just there to assist, play a little, and give exhausted parents an extra pair of eyes on their little ones. The best part is that we get to use the resources the learning team has and put together a different themed experience every time.

If it’s jungle day, we set out the room with jungle themed soft play decorations.  Soft logs for toddlers to climb over, green fluffy rugs to crawl over. We can then bring out the animals: the tigers, the monkeys, the elephants. Children can play with them, making their own stories and adding their own sounds and movements. Even if a child isn’t talking yet, copying sounds and movements helps them learn.

Its not just movement and sound that children love. Touch is vital for early learning. Young children love to explore items with their hands, or even their mouths, so our toy boxes are filled with simple, easily cleaned blocks for them to examine. We have many thematic sensory boxes, filled with soft fake fur, rough leathery fabric, and all sorts of wonderful textures for the little ones to touch and feel.

When the children are played out, it’s time for a story. We have a huge collection of beautiful children’s books, related to our themes, which can be performed in a lively or calm manner, using audience interaction or not. The one thing we’ve learned is how to read a room.

While things are different at the moment, with certain parts of the museum still closed, we’ve managed to put together lots of online resourcese for the little ones. We’ve got stories, arts and crafts activities and lots of silly movement and rhyme in both Welsh and English to keep you going until we fully reopen.