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Eye to Eye with Thomas Bewick

Our latest blog comes from the Collection’s Team as they give us an insight into a temporary exhibition changeover, the first for new Trainees Emma and Steve.

After taking delivery of 5 interesting looking and fairly heavy crates last Friday, Monday morning signalled exhibition changeover time for the Collections Team.

Artist Les Bicknell had popped in to take down his work on Sunday, so as Monday dawned it was time for Emma and Steve (our two latest Heritage Documentation Trainees) to get to grips with installing their first temporary exhibition in Abbot’s Hall alongside our Curator, Lisa.

With smocks, sacks, breeches and more from the Museum collection to put away, the opportunity to use their new-found knowledge of the museum’s card index was put into action; objects were safely wrapped in tissue and returned to their original storage locations.

Next came the task of filling holes in the walls, rubbing down and painting over them, so that we would have a blank canvas to work from.

By Wednesday, we were ready to start filling that canvas!

We started by welcoming Jenny Portlock, a local wood engraver whose work uses some of the techniques that Bewick developed. Jenny’s work provides a modern-day contrast to Bewick’s work. Like Bewick, Jenny is inspired by the countryside around her, however, unlike Bewick, her work often takes on a dreamlike quality with an occasional touch of colour. I was particularly pleased to see that she’d included a couple of my favourites in her display – ‘Helter Skelter’ and an Edwardian style couple skating.

As we unpacked the crates, each Bewick engraving brought different ooh’s, aah’s and comments from those in the room – have you seen the lion? Look at the backgrounds! This one’s got a man being chased by a bull!

We planned our gallery layout, moving one work here and another there until we were happy, added a selection of tools, equipment and books to the cases, and made sure we had the right labels with the right images.

It seemed appropriate that the first image to go up should be a portrait of Bewick himself, along with a copy of his thumbprint underneath. Bewick sometimes used this as his signature – a fantastically personal mark that somehow brings the real man right into our gallery.

As we worked, curiosity seemed to get the better of some of our staff members and volunteers as they popped in to see what was going on. Exhibition changeover is quite exciting with many of our team not quite knowing what to expect next. This leads to some interesting comments and questions – why are the engravings so small? Have you seen the man doing a wee? How can we make these interesting to families? Has anyone got a magnifying glass?

Some staff even tried out the family resources, not realising we had a camera nearby…

As Friday afternoon arrived and the last few labels went onto the walls, the time came to tidy up and breathe a sigh of relief. The engravings were on the walls, the labels were in the right places and a celebratory cup of tea was on the cards!

“An Anecdotal Eye, the work of Thomas Bewick” runs from Saturday 26th October to Saturday 23rd February 2014 in Abbot’s Hall at the Museum. Why not pop over and take a look – don’t forget to bring your glasses and feel free to bring a magnifying glass! We hope you enjoy it.

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