On 12 May the Museums Association visited Cornwall for the annual Members Meeting in the South West. I’d like to extend my appreciation to MA colleagues for making the long journey from London but also emphasise the importance of such visits to show it is a fully inclusive and diverse-led organisation that is interested in views from everywhere.
Big debates and discussions in the museum sector tend to happen in big cities. It’s good for them to happen in large rural regions like Cornwall too. Cornwall and the South West suffer from a lack of representation and voice in national organisations and perhaps we are not good at sharing our great work and good practice outside our local areas.
As MA Rep for the South West, I’d like to help, in whatever small way I can, to change that so the region becomes another default place to look to where great ideas are put into practice, particularly from small and tiny museums.
Share your case-studies
The Museums Association is always looking for great case-studies and stories, invitations for review and features. Museums in the South West should be better represented in the case-studies of the MA’s flagship policy Museums Change Lives. Please consider submitting one. If you don’t know how, get in touch and I’ll help.
I wrote this short essay for a hypothetical radio programme when I applied to the BBC Radio 3/AHRC New Generation Thinkers competition in December 2010. I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a finalist out of over 1000 applicants and attend a thought-provoking workshop. Although I did not make the final ten I wanted to share the work I prepared for the competition here. Next I will post my idea for a radio series on the history of copper.
A visit to the Leach Pottery, St Ives, Cornwall, May 2009
Enlightened design: Leach Pottery Standard Ware mug and Turmeric/Grape Virginia Creeper silk dupion by Clarissa Hulse
My morning breaks will never be the same again. The small steel teaspoon chimes, rather than clinks, as I stir together frothy milk and velveteen coffee in my new Leach Pottery cup. As I stare longingly at the ever-decreasing swirls I remember my visit to the Leach Pottery Studio and Museum in St Ives, Cornwall. The burnished yellow ochre glaze, the exquisite lip and the pleasing weight of the finely turned stoneware has placed 90 years of British studio pottery into my hands.
An unpromising walk from the centre of town brings you to an equally unpromising house at Higher Stennack. But don’t be discouraged. Venture in and you too will become students of the two most significant pioneers of artist pottery: Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada. The pair established the pottery in 1920 after they met while Leach was an apprentice potter in Japan. As you step quietly around the recently restored studio and galleries, around the climbing kiln and along the delicate wooden platforms you can’t fail to become absorbed in the ideals of functional beauty that Leach spent so many years learning and teaching. The early decades of studio pottery in Britain embodied a marriage of philosophy and thought from east and west.
While wandering around the galleries you begin to learn how to read the pots. They were not just exquisite to look at. Leach created objects that were statements against the shallow conceits of many fine art ceramics. Now I could begin to understand what he meant by the standard forms of unity, spontaneity and simplicity (explained in “A Potter’s Book,” 1940). There is enlightenment in simple design, colour, texture and shape. This museum is dedicated to keeping this philosophy alive and so who could resist bringing some of it back home?
I thought about using Past Thinking as the place for exhibition and book reviews on museumy subjects that interest me, but instead I would like to contribute to content creation on Creative Spaces (National Museums Online Learning Project) particularly when the reviews related to items in the nine museum collections it hosts.
Please note: For some reason my paragraphing is not preserved and so the Byzantium review might be a little hard-going. If you happen to read it and would prefer to read it in a more sensible format, please leave a comment here, or on Creative Spaces.