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This week’s Youth Forum again made me think about museums and what they can do, and how they should be, in a different way.

While looking at art from the First World War had at times been a sensory overload, this time we were trying to understand what it would be like to come to a museum without one specific sense fully intact. How to make museum exhibits more accessible for the partially sighted?

Having always gone to museums with my sight in (near enough) tip top condition, I and probably others tended to presume it was a pretty necessary requirement. If I had trouble seeing the paintings/sculptures/artefacts, then I don’t think I’d want to go. Because if seeing is believing, and I couldn’t see what I was supposed to be learning about, then surely I wouldn’t learn very much and would end up feeling quite left out, even though this obviously shouldn’t be the case.

And it doesn’t have to be! The paintings and sculptures that we looked up were a bit of a mix, ones that more well-known and some that were completely new. Among the ideas that we came up with, for example, involved the painting Bad News, by James Tissot, incorporating the playing of military marching music alongside the painting to evoke the solemnity and sorrow of leaving your family to go off and fight in another corner of the world.

Similarly, for Entrance to Cardiff Docks by Lionel Walden, lighting effects could imitate the lights of the port and the surrounding buildings, with sound effects of ships coming into port, water slapping against the quay, sailors shouting to each other. We could have smells to add to the experience (although maybe not the fish!). Instead of rough sailors accompanying Manet’s San Maggiore by Twilight, it would be the gentle, joyful peel of Italian church bells.

In front of a painting of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Thomas Apperly and Edward Hamilton by Pompeo Batoni there could be a table with the objects and chairs laid out exactly as they are in the picture, as if the subjects had just finished the sitting and left only a few moments ago. David Nash’s intriguing sculpture Multi-Cut Column could have smaller imitations made of it, that people could actually pass around and touch, something rarely allowed in any exhibit. 

I realise there would be some technical issues in making sure it wasn’t distracting or taking away from the other exhibits, and that maybe not all these ideas will actually become a finished product, but I hope that at least some of them do work out. Because who wouldn’t want to experience this? It might be a bit like theatre, the art being brought to life, stepping into the painting. While I’m definitely thankful I’m not visually impaired in any way, I’m also thankful I took the time to try and understand the experience of those who are. 
 

  • Our next Audio Description Tour will take place on 8 December and will be of our Natural History collections.

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.

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.

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?

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 (e.g. 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.

The re-interpretation of Oakdale Workmen’s Institute is supported by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme.

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 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!

Yr Oriel yn Siarad

Wrth i mi sefyll a myfyrio yng nghanol yr arddangosfa, tybiais i mi weld ffigwr yn sefyll tu ôl i’r cownter pren……yna wrth edrych ar y bolltiau a’r crysau gwlanen ar y silffoedd…bron â chlywn i leisiau dynion…gydag acenion amrywiol…teimlais fy hun fel pe bawn yn llithro’n llythrennol i’r gorffennol….mae’n wir mae distaw oedd y presennol…ond deuai bwrlwm siop brysur o’r gorffennol yn fyw i’m meddwl i……yn sydyn dychmygais gyda gwên ddrygionus bod siwtcês David Lewis yn neidio allan o’r casyn gwydr ac yn mynnu dweud ei stori am ei anturieithau cyffrous…….

Yn wir roedd fel petai congl arall o’r amgueddfa yn galw am y cyfle i fynegi ei hun a dweud ei stori mewn modd bywiog a dramatig.

Dyma stori siop draper Emlyn Davies!

Pwy oedd Emlyn Davies?

Dyn lleol o Gastell Newydd Emlyn a symudodd i Ddowlais, Merthyr Tydfil i weithio fel cynorthwy-ydd yn siop J.S.Davies Drapers. Ym 1898 agorodd ei siop ddefnydd ei hun.

Gwerthu gwlanen fyddai yn bennaf, a prynai’r mwyafrif o’i stoc o Felin Cambrian yn Drefach Felindre (sydd nawr yn gartref i’r Amgueddfa Wlân). Byddai David Lewis, perchennog y felin, yn teithio i’r cymoedd i gasglu archebion am wlanen, a’r defnydd yn cael ei gludo ar y tren i Ddowlais o stesion Henllan. Byddai’r gwlanen yn cael ei droi’n grysau a dillad isaf i weithwyr y pyllau glo a’r gweithfeydd haearn lleol.

Creu Sesiwn i Blant

Ychydig o fisoedd nôl, fe ddechreuais i weithio ar y syniad o greu sesiwn a gweithdy i blant ysgol yn yr amgueddfa wlân wedi selio ar yr hanes uchod, ac atgyfodi’r siop a chafodd ei ail greu yn yr amgueddfa yn 2013.

Mae’n hanfodol, i ddechre, i unrhyw hwylusydd neu actor mewn amgueddfa pan yn ceisio bywiogi darn o hanes i wneud ei waith ymchwil ei hun. Rhaid darllen y ffeithiau wrth gwrs, gwrando ar unrhyw dystiolaeth sydd ar gael yn yr archif, a chael gweld gwrthrychau priodol o’r casgliad - ond hefyd yn ychwanegol i hyn oll mae’n rhaid ymgolli eich hun yn llwyr yng nghefndir a chyfnod yr hanes yn gyffredinol.

Mae’n bwysig i ffurfio perthynas dda gyda’r curaduron, ac unrhyw arbennigwyr arall sydd yn gweithio I’r sefydliad, a thrwy’r unigolion hynny cael mynediad i lu o adnoddau defnyddiol arall i sicrhau bod y sesiwn neu weithdy yn un a sail hanesyddol gywir iddo.

Gweithio Gydag Atgofion

Y stop gyntaf i mi wrth droedio nol i orffennol y siop oedd i gysylltu a Mark Lucas, Curadur y Diwydiant Gwlân, a fi’n gyfrifol am gasglu’r hanes at ei gilydd.

Fe rhoddodd bentwr o ffeil i mi i ddechrau, yn cynnwys copi o fywgraffiad bywyd a hanes teulu Emlyn Davies a ysgrifennwyd gan ei wŷr Alan Owen: Emlyn Davies: The Life & Times Of a Dowlais Draper in the first Half Of The Twentieth Century.

Un o’r profiadau mwyaf cyffrous i mi yn y broses yma o adfywio hanes yw i gael cyfarfod mewn person a phobol sydd ynghlwm yn uniongyrchol â’r hanes. Diddorol oedd nodi bod Mark Lucas mewn cysylltiad rheolaidd a Alan Owen, a bod cyfle i mi gyfarfod ag ef i holi cwestiunau - mwy am hyn yn y blog nesa!