Wiltshire Museum’s new exhibition raises lots of laughs - and some serious thoughts

Written by Tony ('I laughed out loud') Millett on .


Jane Williams with her Leasingstede Museum security badge (Photo: Wiltshire Museum)Jane Williams with her Leasingstede Museum security badge (Photo: Wiltshire Museum)The sound of laughter is not heard too often in the exhibition rooms at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.  But artist Jane Williams' Fibs and Fibulae exhibition at the museum is certainly changing that.

This is a touring exhibition from the Leasingstede Museum - which is a small village museum with its chairman (Lady Alphyn), treasurer, secretary and a long-serving gallery attendant.  Or is it?

Try the labels on some of the exhibits: Mould Foxer (Veritas Brand), Runner Blade, Settle Scorer (with replaced blade), Root Master and the Seventeen Counter. 

The latter has a label: "A curious measuring device, not only with 17 slots which expose sections of the sliding rod, but with coloured chain links in groups of 17."  

Could the Seventeen Counter, perhaps, predate the 10-base or decimal and the 12-base (as in twelve pennies to the shilling) systems of counting?

Do a bit of Googling and you will find that 'leasing' is Old English for 'lying', and 'stede' meant 'place'  - so this museum is in the 'Place of Deception'.  And it's all a deception - it's an art installation that aims to entertain and raise a few pertinent questions.  Like all good spoofs it has a more serious message.

Marlborough News Online asked Jane Williams why she dreamt up the Leasingstede Museum: "There was a double reason really.  You go to a museum and you see stuff that's incredibly valuable and rare...yet it doesn't look so - it looks very ordinary and mundane.  I was intrigued by that."

"It looks worthless - so why not put something of no value in the cases yet treat it as though it is priceless?"

"I also wanted to draw attention to the importance of little, backwater museums - many of these are closing due to lack of visitors and funding.  So while affectionately sending them up, I'm saying 'Please support them'."

The Beaker The Beaker I did not quite believe Jane when she said that 'initially there was no humour in it'.  Take the 2,000 year-old 'Beaker'  - surely a piece de resistance in any museum?  

"Most unusually", says its label, "it was found intact and has not required restoration."  Humph!   The label continues explaining that the square hole at the top would have made it difficult to drink out of "...but there's a hole for a straw."

I won't spoil the fun by describing more exhibits.  Though it is tempting to tell the secret of the 'Tribasket'.  And it is said that one visitor believed the story about the lion that ate a hole in the Dandelion Shield.

Reactions in the visitors' book after the first week give a good idea of the exhibition's success:  "Ha Ha - well done!", "Love it" "This is fun", "I'm hooked - totally believable" , "A convincing spoof - it took me ages to realise the fact, as it is so imaginative..."  And yes, I really laughed out loud.

The Dandelion ShieldThe Dandelion ShieldThat there is a more serious side to the exhibition - a questioning of what exhibits mean once they are behind glass - becomes clear from this reaction: "Cause for thought (from an ex-curator.)"

A truly wonderful installation by artist Jane Williams who made all the artefacts on display.  And hats off to the Wiltshire Museum for supporting this gentle dig at its own world of museum displays.

The exhibition is at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes until 10 April.  On some days you may find Jane Williams at the Museum - acting out her role as Leasingstede Museum's Gallery Attendant.

But she will certainly be at the Museum on Saturday, 12 March for a special Young Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society event: "What's in MY Museum". Jane will be encouraging people to think about what they would put in their own museum.  All that and model making too.  10.15am to 12.15pm - booking essential - tickets £4.

And every museum needs its hoard of ancient coins...And every museum needs its hoard of ancient coins...