Amgueddfa Blog: Fforwm Ieuenctid

I actually visited the Mametz Wood exhibition twice. The first time was the official opening, but as I didn’t see anyone that I knew, I spent most of the time hovering at the back during the speeches and the opera recital (which sounded beautiful, but as I know nothing about opera it went over my head a bit), while feeling spectacularly under-dressed next to all the soldiers in their shiny, smart uniforms.

I enjoyed the exhibition itself very much. The work we had done in youth forum had provided helpful context which meant I could appreciate what I was seeing a whole lot more; the Christopher Williams painting was of course a highlight, as was the World War One stretcher and a pistol owned by Siegfried Sassoon, who had fought at the battle.

It was also great to see the work of the very talented Margaret Williams, who I hadn’t heard of before I joined the youth forum, showcased alongside her male counterparts. However, due to the fact that it was an opening, it was very crowded, and being too British to ask people to move slightly aside I missed some of the exhibits. 

I decided to go back a few days later, and this turned out to be a very good idea. This time, there were old music hall and war songs playing quietly in the background. Combined with the ghostly sketches of soldiers, surrounded by their old possessions, it really made you feel as though you had stepped back in time, which surely is a sign a museum has done its job.

It also seems to enhance the sense of the futility of it all. I was surrounded by images and descriptions communicating the brutality, violence and bloodshed, the enormous sacrifice, and in the end, this was all that was left. A pipe, some faded documents, the stretcher rather than the people it had carried, a few old songs, and a collective national sense of loss. It was hard not to feel emotional. All this suffering may have created beautiful art, but the suffering itself hadn’t been worth it at all. 

There was also a video screen showing an actor reading a section of In Parenthesis, originally by David Jones, now adapted for a new opera. Whether it was because of the skill of the actor (whose name escapes me) or all the things I’d just seen and felt, I found I didn’t need to put the headphones on to understand what he was trying to say. 

So, to conclude. War’s Hell: The Battle of Mametz Wood in Art is well worth a visit. And next time I get invited to an exhibition opening, go with a friend and make more of an effort than just jeans and a jumper.  

Exhibition review by Museum's Youth Forum.

As youth forum members we were able to help input our opinions into the design of the temporary exhibition and have been able to see it develop from a drawing on paper to a physical form. Today we have examined the exhibition and have evaluated the information and items displayed.

Amgueddfa Cymru has been tasked with commemorating the WW1 centenary. Personally, we believe that the exhibition is very interesting as it gives an insight into the medicinal history starting from Ancient Greece right up to the 21st century. We enjoyed the exhibition overall. The video grabbed our attention the most and we were able to see a visual aspect of medicinal practice with a humorous touch.

The exhibition has a number of different displays which hold valuable information about medicine and the different tools used to carry out medical procedures such as amputations. It contains a silent video in both Welsh and English that shows a few medical procedures from the Roman times. There are some replicas of medical items in the display case that have been used such as a Face Mask used in World War One to disguise facial wounds. 

There is also a small game on an iPad that tests your knowledge of the information in the exhibition. This together with the video has proved to be a success with the general public. Some reviews say that they liked “the doctor video” and a young person enjoyed it when the doctor was “cutting the leg off”.

 

By Joel Powell, Emma Jones and Hannah Sweetapple.

Guest blog by St Fagans Youth Forum members - Amy Gifford, Kate Gregory & Beth Ivey-Williams - live from Bryn Eryr!

Hello everyone. We’re the St Fagans Youth Forum and today (12 March) we’re helping to build an Iron Age bread oven at Bryn Eryr. Ian, the Museum’s Interpreter, has been busy researching traditional building methods and the history of bread ovens through time. In this blog, we’ll take you through part one of the process. So if you fancy building your own pizza oven for your garden at home, follow our guide below.

Step 1

Use wooden stakes to mix local ‘clom’ (clay), water and sand to a thick dough. Patience and perseverance essential! Some would say it’s quite therapeutic; a weird kind of stress buster!

Tip from Amy: “Go with your gut instinct. You’ll know when the dough is at the right consistency.”

Step 2

Mix dry sand with water. Use the mixture to build a dome (former) in the centre of the oven base. Ian pre-made the base out of clay and a flat stone. When building the dome, even out the sides for a rounded finish. Don’t use too much water.

Tip from Beth: “You’ll have to get your hands dirty, but it’s just like building a sand castle.”

Step 3

Build-up your dome to a rounded arch.

Tip from Kate: “Keep warm as you work. Your hands will get very cold as you sculpt the wet material.”

Step 4

Smooth off all the sand and cover your dome with strips of damp newspaper. This is a bit like papier mâché.

Step 5

Cover the dome with the clay mixture you prepared earlier in step 1. Let it set for two days.

Step 6

To be continued!

 

 

While I enjoy going to the Youth Forum very much, I have to say a once-in-a-lifetime experience was not what I was expecting when I turned up last week. But there we were, in the art conservation room, a few feet away from an original Van Gogh, out of its frame on the next table, having just come back from being loaned to an American museum. I could have actually touched it (and I was quite tempted, though of course I didn’t).

Now, I’m not exactly an art aficionado, as you can properly tell by the way I haven’t included the name of the painting because I don’t know it, but I have to say it was pretty amazing. 

However, the focus of the meeting was actually the imposing The Welsh at Mametz Wood by war artist Christopher Williams, which is going to be part of a new exhibition focusing on the First World War battle at Mametz in a few months time.

This is a battle where hundreds of men from the Welsh Division were killed in July 1916, and thousands more were injured, something that the painting certainly doesn’t shy away from. It’s big, bloody, and quite brutal. While war sketches of poppies blooming among the trenches and beleaguered soldiers limping through mud evoke the tragedy of the slaughter that took place, they arguably don’t capture the fighting itself, but the aftermath, the few moments of calm in a four-year storm.

Christopher Williams (1873-1934), Cyrch yr Adran Gymreig yng Nghoed Mametz,1916 © Amgueddfa Cymru

Williams’ painting does the opposite. The desperate struggle of the hand-to-hand slaughter was immediately obvious. It felt almost claustrophobic, the way the soldiers were almost piling on top of each other, climbing over their fallen comrades to try and take out the machine gunner. It was certainly a world away, as we discussed, from the posters bearing Lord Kitchener encouraging young men to enlist. We also talked about the way the painting is quite beautifully composed, almost in a Renaissance style.

It was hard to look at, but at the same time it was something you wanted to look at. 

After this, we went to the archives to look at some sketches made by Williams and other artists while at the trenches. I was about to get goosebumps for the second time that evening - one of them still had mud from the trenches staining the edges!

In any other context, 100-year-old mud probably wouldn’t have been very exciting, but this mud is so strongly linked in people’s minds with images of the First World War.

Think of the trenches, and you think of mud. People slept, ate and died surrounded by this mud; it seems to be inextricably bound up with the nightmare of having to live and fight in that environment, and made looking at the sketches even more powerful.

Another document we looked at was a sort of manual given to recruits of the Royal Welsh Division, containing poems, stories and pictures that the soldiers would have submitted themselves. It was touching to see one of the ways they would have injected moments of humour into their lives as soldiers, and also their own perspectives on their experiences. All in all, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this exhibition comes together, and learning more about Mametz, a part of the war I hadn’t even heard of until a couple of weeks ago. 

 

Holly Morgan Davies, 

National Museum Cardiff Youth Forum

 

 

In Britain it is estimated that we use 13 billion plastic bottles each year, whilst this has a serious environmental implication, this mass production also has implications for the museums of the future.

Take for example, St Fagans National History Museum, in 100 years’ time what will be on display in the house of 2016?

In our modern society we have come to accept mass produced items as an essential part of our lives. Whilst producing items in this way is cost effective and practical, its introduction has meant that some of these items which historically would have been aesthetically pleasing have lost their aesthetic appeal.

In my room I have chosen to display a collection of bottles manufactured years before I was even born. I am drawn to the beauty and manufacture of these objects, their vibrant colours and slight imperfections. In the past a bottle with a primary function to hold a certain liquid, manufactured of glass could last for years and have a wide array of applications within its lifetime.

Now however, when we buy a bottle of water or fizzy drink, it generally comes in a mass produced bottle made of plastic. Whilst these are very portable they are not generally viewed as being very aesthetically pleasing.

Whilst I may choose to display an old glass bottle, a plastic bottle produced in 2016 would not make it onto my shelf.

Returning to the question of the St Fagans of the future, will they choose to display a plastic water bottle on the kitchen table, the new model of smartphone by the bed or even an E-reader on the bookshelf? Mass production has removed the individuality and beauty from some objects which in the past were manufactured with care.

In the future our culture will be conveyed through the artefacts which we choose to treasure, for some that may be a collection of antiques curated throughout the years but for others it may consist of a collection of modern objects.

The museums of the future will have a very tough time conveying our diverse culture through the use of a select few objects.

The future is uncertain but the choices over what we individually choose to curate will shape the perceptions of our culture in the museum displays of the future.

 

Gracie Price,

Cardiff Museum Youth Forum

 

Sources:

Recycle-more. (2016). Top facts on recycling and the environment. Available: http://www.recycle-more.co.uk/pwpcontrol.php?pwpID=12809. Last accessed: 28th Jan 2016