Amgueddfa Blog: Ymgysylltu â'r Gymuned

Today is National Autusm Day, a chance to spread awareness and increase acceptance of Autism. Here at Amgueddfa Cymru National Museums of Wales, we believe passionately in making our museums and galleries accessible to everyone, and more than that to creating welcoming, comfortable spaces for all. To that end, a couple of years ago, with the support of autistic volunteers and family members, the National Waterfront Museum created a 'chill-out-room', and began offering 'quiet hours' each month. Here, Ian Smith Senior Curator of Modern & Contemporary Industry at the Waterfront Museum explains how this special space came about.

“In October 2016 we had a staff training day in ‘Autism Awareness’. It opened our eyes to how they see the world and how we can support their needs. It showed us how even the simplest of environmental changes can affect a person with autism. Things like light and sound levels, the colour of walls and floors. In fact the general layout of a space which might be deliberately made stimulating and flashy might cause many autistic people to retreat within themselves.

It was around this time that we welcomed a new volunteer at the museum. Rhys, 17, has autism. His mother contacted us and asked if he could volunteer with us to help his confidence when meeting people and in a real work environment. Rhys helps to run an object handling session, usually with another volunteer or a member of staff, and he has taken to it really well. We have all noticed that he’s become more outgoing and will now hold conversations with total strangers.

With the growing awareness of autism the Museum decided to create an Autism Champion. Our staff member Suzanne, who has an autistic son, readily agreed to take up the challenge. She now attends meetings with our sister museums where issues and solutions around autism are discussed.

During our training session we discovered that some organisations have created ‘chill-out’ rooms. These are for anyone who is feeling stressed or disturbed to go to and relax and gather themselves together. These rooms are especially useful for autistic people. We put a small group together to look at creating a safe, quiet space somewhere in the Waterfront Museum. After considering options, we decided that a little used first aid room on the ground floor offered the best place.

Rhys came into his own. He offered us a number of suggestions on how we could change the space to make it autism friendly. These included making the light levels controllable and sound proofing the room so that gentle music or relaxing sounds could be played. Suzanne too came up with a number of ideas from her own experience of looking after her son. Additionally, a local special school, Pen-y-Bryn, with whom we had an established relationship also offered us their valuable expertise.

The room we’ve created is a very soothing space and we find it gets regular use by people with a range of needs, and is clearly much appreciated as shown by the comments in the visitor’s book:

“Fantastic resource! My daughter really needed this today – thank you!”

“Lovely place to get away from the hustle and bustle for a little one.”

“Lovely idea for people on the spectrum to come for quiet.”

“Really helped my son to have some time out.”

This has been a very big learning curve for most of us, but it has been made much easier by talking to people who have direct experience of autism. Their input as part of our team has been invaluable.”

The Museum is of course, closed right now, but for those of you interested, the times for our 'quiet hours' are posted on our events pages each month. We look forward to welcoming you all back in the coming months. 

My name is James and I just want to sketch out a typical day as a part of the Volunteer Book Project in St Fagans.

We’re a small group, one of many in the museum, that has been running for over a year. Our group was set up to raise funds for St Fagans’ grounds by selling second hand books.

Usually, we go into the museum once a week. Communication with one another is straightforward, using a Whatsapp group. Someone from the group will decide a day to go in, the rest of us will say yay or nay. It’s very flexible. More often or not, there are a bunch of us in at any time and over the past year have developed a good working bond and friendship with one another.

We have two locations where we sell our books in the museum, Y Gegin, the main cafe, and Gweithdy, the crafts’ cafe and we’re very excited, too, because we’ve just found out that a space in the Buttery Cafe, which will be opening soon, is going to be available to us to sell books. Also, every cafe has its own particular subject, so if you are in the museum, try and visit them all if you can.

Our job is to keep the supply of good quality books for sale on display. Our generous donations from visitors keep the volume of turn over very fast, which has brought in a high amount of collection money. So far we have raised £3,000 from the project and the money is set to be spent on arches with integral seating for the Rose Garden and also to plant some extra trees nearby.

After picking up the stacks of books from the reception area, and checking what gaps there are to fill in the cafe, we make our way over to our little store room (in Tŷ Gwyrdd), walking and chatting as we pass along the path under the trees. You’ll hear the rumbling of our crate a long way off.

Sorting through the books is always interesting because we receive quite a diverse range of subjects, from popular fiction to highly specialist topics. Whatever we pick up, we price them, discuss them, keeping a close eye on what is selling well and what isn’t. The whole process is quite stimulating. We’re pretty much in charge of the whole running of the books project. It’s nice that St Fagans shows that level of trust in its volunteers.

Once we have gathered enough books to fill the empty spaces in the shelves, we rumble on over to the cafes to get the books out on display. We like to keep a check on how well books sell. For instance, we will photograph the shelves before and after a shift and also make a little pencilled note of the month the book goes on display. This information helps us to tailor our selections as much as possible to the tastes of the many varied people who visit St Fagans. Also, a few of our members have started selling some of our rarer books on eBay, so that we can maximize the funds we collect to be spent on adding more beautiful features to the museum.

A typical day lasts around three hours. At the end we all sign out at the reception desk with a satisfying feeling that there are a fresh load of low-priced and good quality books out for sale. It’s a rewarding role and we always feel appreciated by the museum for our work. There is a sense of belonging here and it’s really opened my eyes to new things.

On 15 March we launch our new LGBTQ+ tours at National Museum Cardiff. The tours have been developed in partnership with Pride Cymru working with self-confessed Museum queerator Dan Vo and an amazing team of volunteers.

You may already have read Norena Shopland's blog about the Ladies of Llangollen, and Young Heritage Leader Jake’s post, Queer Snakes! There are so many more LGBTQ+ stories in our collection – stories that have been hidden in dusty museum closets for too long. Friends, it’s time for us to let them out!

To whet your appetite, here’s a quick glimpse at one of the works you might spot on the tour…

The Mower, by Sir William Hamo Thornycoft

The Mower is a bronze statuette on display in our Victorian Art gallery. It is about half a metre high and shows a topless young farmworker in a hat and navvy boots resting with his arm on his hip, holding a scythe. This sassy pose, known as contrapposto, was inspired by Donatello’s David - a work with its own queer story to tell.

The Mower was made by William Hamo Thornycroft, one of the most famous sculptors in Britain in the nineteenth century, and was given to the Museum in 1928 by Sir William Goscombe John. An earlier, life-size version is at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and is said to be the first significant free-standing sculpture showing a manual labourer made in Britain.

Thornycroft became fascinated with manual labourers and the working classes after being introduced to socialist ideas by his wife, Agatha Cox. He wrote ‘Every workman’s face I meet in the street interests me, and I feel sympathy with the hard-handed toilers & not with the lazy do nothing selfish ‘upper-ten.’ In The Mower, he presents the body of a young working-class man as though it's a classical hero or god – a brave move for the time.

Queering the Mower

With the rising interest in queer theory, many art historians have drawn attention to the queer in this sculpture. In an article by Michael Hatt the work is described as homoerotic, which he describes as that ambiguous space between the homosocial and homosexual.

One of the main factors is the artist’s relationship with Edmund Gosse, a writer and critic who helped establish Thornycroft’s reputation in the art world. Gosse was married with children, but his letters to Thornycroft give us a touching insight into their relationship.

He describes times they spent together basking in the sun in meadows and swimming naked in rivers; and they are filled with love poems and giddy declarations of affection. ‘Nature, the clouds, the grass, everything takes on new freshness and brightness now I have you to share the world with,’ he wrote. Gosse was so obsessed with Thornycroft that writer Lytton Strachey famously joked he wasn’t homosexual, but Hamo-sexual.

Gosse and Thornycroft were spending time together when the first inspiration for The Mower hit. They were sailing with a group of friends up the Thames when they spotted a real-life mower on the riverbank, resting. Thornycroft made a quick sketch, and the idea for the sculpture was born. A wax model sketch from 1882 is at the Tate.

The real-life mower they saw was wearing a shirt, but for his sculpture Thornycroft stripped him down. He explained to his wife that he wanted to ‘keep his hat on and carry his shirt’ and that a brace over his shoulder will help ‘take off the nude look’.

Brace or no brace, it’s difficult to hide the fact that this is a celebration of the male body designed for erotic appeal. Thornycroft used an Italian model, Orazio Cervi. Cervi was famous in Victorian Britain for his ‘perfectly proportioned physique’ (art historical speak for a hot bod!)

Later in the century, photographs of The Mower and other artworks were collected and exchanged in secret along with photographs of real life nudes, by a network of men mostly in London – a kind of queer subculture, although it wouldn’t have been understood in those terms back then.

This was dangerous ground. The second half of the nineteenth century saw what has been described as a ‘homosexual panic’, with rising anxieties around gender identity, sexuality and same-sex desire. Fanny and Stella, the artist Simeon Solomon and Oscar Wilde were among many who were hounded and publicly prosecuted for ‘indecent’ behaviour.

These tensions showed up in the art world too. Many of the artists associated with the Aesthetic and Decadent movements in particular were under scrutiny for producing works that were described as ‘effeminate’, ‘degenerate’ or ‘decadent’. But works like The Mower suggest that art might have provided a safer space for playing out private desires in a public arena at this time.

 

Book your place on our free volunteer-led LGBTQ+ tours here, and keep an eye on our website and social media for future dates!  

 

Yn ystod 2019, treuliom amser yn datblygu rhaglen sgiliau San Ffagan gan gydweithio â phartneriaid a chymunedau i greu cyfleoedd ar gyfer addysg oedolion a datblygu sgiliau, fel rhan o waith menter Cyfuno a Deddf Llesiant Cenedlaethau'r Dyfodol. I nodi lansiad adran newydd ar ein gwefan addysg ar gyfer Addysg Gymunedol dyma ddiweddariad ar yr hyn sydd wedi'i gyflawni hyd yn hyn, a beth sydd i ddod yn 2020.

Addysg Gymunedol a Datblygu Sgiliau:

Rydyn ni wedi cydweithio â sefydliadau megis The Wallich, Hafal, Crisis ac Oasis Cardiff i greu sesiynau blas ar sgiliau. Mae gweithdai trin lledr a chopr wedi ysgogi pobl i ddwyn ysbrydoliaeth o gasgliadau'r Amgueddfa, a'i blethu â'u profiadau diwylliannol eu hunain ym mhob sesiwn. 

Dyma nhw'n rhannu eu profiadau gyda ni, gan gynnwys y detholiad canlynol o uchafbwyntiau:

"Cyfareddol, diddorol, gwerth chweil."

"Doeddwn i byth wedi trin lledr o'r blaen, felly roedd e'n ddiddorol ac ymlaciol."

Hyd yn hyn mae 243 o bobl wedi cymryd rhan mewn sesiynau rhwng Ebrill a Rhagfyr 2019, ac mae rhagor ar y gweill ar gyfer 2020.

Partneriaethau Widening Access:

Rydyn ni wedi cydweithio â sefydliadau megis adran Widening Access Prifysgol Fetropolitan Caerdydd er mwyn dod â rhaglenni addysg hygyrch i'r Amgueddfa, gan ddefnyddio ein casgliadau i ehangu ac ychwanegu gwerth i'r potensial dysgu. Yn 2019, cynhaliwyd dau gwrs ysgrifennu creadigol a chwrs therapi ategol yn Sain Ffagan. Mae cwrs therapi ategol arall yn cael ei gynnal ar hyn o bryd, ac mae cyrsiau pellach ar y gweill eleni.

Detholiad o adborth dysgwyr:

"Mae'r cwrs wedi cynyddu fy hyder a dangos i fi lle ydw i am wella."

"Wedi mwynhau'r cwrs yn fawr, tiwtora da ac awyrgylch cefnogol."

Sgiliau iaith:

Mae creu cyfleon i bobl ddysgu a datblygu eu sgiliau iaith yn rhan bwysig o'r rhaglen datblygu sgiliau. Yn 2019, adeiladodd Sain Ffagan ar ei phartneriaeth ag Ysgol y Gymraeg Prifysgol Caerdydd a ddarparodd gwrs Mynediad 1 20 wythnos (Ionawr i Orffennaf 2019). Aeth nifer o'r dysgwyr ymlaen i gofrestru ar gyfer y Cwrs Mynediad 2 a ddechreuodd ym mis Medi 2019. Dechreuodd cwrs Mynediad 1 newydd ym mis Ionawr.

Mae dysgwyr ESOL yn elwa o adnoddau dysgu ESOL Sain Ffagan, a ddatblygwyd ar y cyd â Choleg Caerdydd a'r Fro (CAVC), gan gynnig yr Amgueddfa fel lleoliad croesawgar i ddysgu, rhannu diwylliant a datblygu eu gwybodaeth a dealltwriaeth o dreftadaeth ddiwylliannol Cymru. Mae grwpiau wedi ymweld o golegau megis CAVC a’r adnoddau yn cael eu lawrlwytho yn rheolaidd o wefan yr Amgueddfa - cyfanswm o 174 weithiau rhwng Mai a Rhagfyr 2019.

Eleni rydym yn dathlu'r llwyddiant hwn ac yn gobeithio ei ddatblygu ymhellach drwy lansio ardal newydd ar ein gwefan ar gyfer Addysg Gymunedol. Ewch i'n gwefan i ddysgu rhagor am sut i gymryd rhan a threfnu ymweliad.

Diolch i bob cyfrannwr, y sefydliadau partner a'r tîm yn Sain Ffagan am bob llwyddiant hyd yn hyn.

Hello humans! Uri Guide Dog here. I haven't written my dog blog for some time but that does not mean I haven't been visiting my favourite museums. In fact I have been to several special exhibitions at National Museum Cardiff.

One of them was full of live snakes in glass cages as well as skeletons and pieces of art from the museum's collection. Mum got a chance to take part in a special audio described handling session with the live snakes – yikes – but I took the opportunity to take one of the lovely members of staff for a little walk around the block and a bit of fresh air. Apparently the snakes wrapped themselves around mum’s arms and I don't think that was very sensible, but I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it!

We also attended the David Nash exhibition which was very interesting, particularly seeing the humans using some very doggy techniques when investigating the large chunks of wood scattered all around the large rooms. The group had special permission from the artist to touch some of the sculptures but they also stooped and sniffed as the wood all had different smells. I was a bit confused why there appeared to be full-size trees in the middle of the museum! Mum kept me well away in case I mistook them for indoor dog facilities.

We have visited St Fagans a couple of times too, including a tour of the farm and the animals. We saw some sheep being sheared which didn't look very comfortable to be honest, and I was a bit wary when mum tried to pet a cow.

I am looking forward to the next Audio Description tour on 12 December when we get to officially meet Dippy the dinosaur!

For more information on Audio Description tours at National Museum Cardiff, call (029) 2057 3240.