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 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 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...
Marlborough and Around Through Time by Stanley C Jenkins and Angela Long (Amberley Publishing, 2015) £14.99
Here's a very new book - a slim volume ideal for the Christmas stocking. But an ideal stocking filler for which member of the family?
Published this month - along with nine other new titles - it comes in Amberley Publishing's vast series of illustrated books about British towns and locations. The series has around 400 titles and between them they have sold half a million copies. And they are about to start an Irish series too.
The Amberley formula is to compare and contrast old photographs (mainly in this case old and atmospheric postcards) with new photographs and a dash of explanatory text that always includes a few good tales.
In Marlborough and Around Through Time the new photographs were taken this August and September - when Marlborough in Bloom was in full colour. They capture, in passing, the weeks when the Bollywood Indian restaurant became, briefly, the Jyoti - a time before The Crown's Inn sign changed into the much more arresting Piano Lounge sign - and just another day when Dormy House was damaged by an HGV truck.
Many of the old photographs are really interesting - some are dated from 'around 1912'. One of Kingsbury Street includes the inn sign of The Bell and Shoulder - though it was surely known as The Bell and Shoulder of Mutton, which, unless I am mistaken, closed in 1919.
Its landlord at the time of the photograph was Frederick Pile. Was he the same Frederick Pile who is listed (discovered after a bit of Googling) as a five-year-old 'Scholar' living in Preshute in 1871? Answers on a postcard - please.
The one trouble with this formula is that 'before' and 'after' pictures often look very alike. Perhaps that's part of the point: evidence of successful conservation decisions keeping town and country from modern blight.
The 'Around' part of this book is fairly large - one third of the book's pages are devoted to Avebury. And it's a take on Avebury that will fascinate tourists - concentrating on Third Age Avebury with several pages featuring the visit in 1993 by Tibetan Lama Gangchen and 'Avebury Henge - the role of the Druid.'
Indeed the book is dedicated to 'Tim Sebastion Woodman (1948-2007), Arch-Druid of Wiltshire, asnd Donna Brooke (1965-2015), Arch-Druidess of the Glastonbury Order of Druids.'
There is a very sad 2015 photograph of what used to be Charles Perry's hotel in Avebury. It looks as though it is deteriorating very quickly - and may soon become a 'before' photograph.
There is a good section on the College and another on Marlborough's connection to and severance from the rail network. And there are two surprising pages on Yatesbury at war.
But there is nothing in this book on one of the main features of the area: Savernake Forest which has a history all of its own. And from a marketing point of view, a couple of pages on Wolf Hall and why it's no longer there would have been good.
So whose stocking will it best fit into? A grandparent or perhaps an aunt visiting from Australia. Actually, it should find its way into stockings belonging to anyone who is interested in Marlborough and its past.
The Choi-Fox DuoOn a cold November night these two young musicians provided us with a feast of lovely music: Harry Nowakowski-Fox (piano) and Judith Choi-Castro (violin) - who perform and record as the Choi-Fox Duo.
The first half of this recital in the was devoted entirely to piano works played by Harry. He began with JS Bach’s Partita No2 in C Minor, very well known to the St Peter's Church audience. The work begins with an opening sinfonia, which has three very different sections. We were treated to a very formal almost solemn grave section, which gives way to a lovely gentle andante before finishing with a two-part fugue in which Harry showed a thorough mastery of Bach’s familiar counterpart.
Then follow a series of dance movements, all very varied in speed and in mood. However it is in the last two movements, the rondeaux and finally the capriccio, where all the excitement lies. Technically demanding, Harry sailed through these movements at a cracking tempo, the notes just pouring from his finger tips.
The Chopin Barcarolle in F Sharp Major which followed is a very different piece. A barcarolle is based on the rhythm and mood of the ‘barcarola’, a song sung by Venetian gondoliers, and a source of inspiration to many nineteenth century composers. This one is lovely.
Harry articulated the rippling arpeggios which were reminiscent of sunlight on the waters of the Grand Canal, and poured much expression into the main theme, which is unmistakably Italian in its form.
The great Piano Sonata no 21 in C major, the ‘Waldstein’, was a complete contrast. Here is one of Beethoven’s finest piano works. Two thunderous outer movements are separated by a short and reflective adagio. Harry played with huge confidence, mastering the bravado that this work demands, but, at the same time, highlighting the moments of quiet contemplation found therein.
The second half saw Harry back at the piano to accompany Judith in two well-established works for piano and violin duo. The first of these was Beethoven’s wonderful Violin Sonata in F Major which, thanks to its sunny and joyous character has been known as the ‘Spring’ sonata.
Its ‘uncomplicated’ light-heartedness makes a good contrast with the powerful Waldstein which had preceded it. You can’t help but smile from the first moment of this work. Judith gave us a very personal rendering, highlighting the sometimes very intimate ‘conversation’ between the violin and the piano. This was joy both to watch and to hear.
The concert finished with a violin sonata in F Major written in 1838 by a young and buoyant Mendelssohn. It is more complex than the Beethoven, and requires more attention from both the performer and the listener. There are serene moments where the elegant melodies are reminiscent of the Songs Without Words. These were played with great eloquence. However, it is the ‘dash for the finish’, the assai vivace, with its long and breathless passages of joyous fast notes passed from one instrument to the other that was memorable.
Played with youthful bravado, this was a worthy end to the concert. Perhaps, though, Saint Peter’s church is not an ideal acoustic for the violin and there were times when the balance between the two instruments was not good, and the quiet intimacy of the instrument was drowned out by the piano. Nevertheless this concert was recognised by many as one of the very best in these recent series of recitals by young musicians.
Silbury at Night - David InshawThe Wessex Places exhibition at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes is precisely the right space for new works by four artists David Inshaw, Ray Ward, Robert Pountney and David Gunning. Many of the works are for sale - mostly as artist's prints.
They all bring into the museum archaeological survivors that will never find a place in a museum. They are, of course, too big. But close by the gallery you can see artefects found in or near these larger sites - work of extreme delicacy to contrast with some of these massive avchievements.
They are also monuments from our distant past that need the context of their landscapes - ancient and modern. And depiction of landscape has long been a cherished and characteristic feature of British art.
Central to these artists is the Wessex inheritance of megaliths: Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill and, last but by no means least, the Marlborough Mound which is now known to be 'Silbury's Little Sister.'
David Inshaw is the well local known artist who first came to the public's attention in 1973 with his painting The Badminton Game - now in The Tate Gallery. He came to Devizes in 1971 and formed a group of artists which became known as The Brotherhood of Ruralists. He left the Group in 1983 and after some years in the Welsh borders, he returned to Devizes in 1995.
He works mainly on large oils, etchings and drawings. In this exhibition David Inshaw is showing some startling views of Silbury.
His etching Silbury Sunrise is a representation of the mound and a rising sun that verges on the abstract. It is almost as though it comes from a field notebook - hurriedly capturing the essence of the view complete with a jotted tree framing the right side of the view. Regrettably it is not for sale.
The etching Silbury at Night, which appears on the poster for the exhibition, is rich with atmosphere. The semi-darkened moon looks as though Inshaw may have captured an eclipse in progress. And the familiar Silbury outline contrasts dramatically with the natural shapes of nearby trees.
Ray Ward has lived in Wiltshire for thirty years. He graduated in fine art from Trent Polytechnic in 1983 and has supported his artistic life with a series of jobs - including work as an art technician at Marlborough College. And his work for this exhibition gives us several new and often surprising glimpses of the Marlborough Mound - on College property and now known to be the same age as Silbury Hill.
Marlborough Mount - Ray WardRay Ward works in in a variety of disciplines including drawing, painting and performance: "Last year I was asked to do some drawings for a book about Silbury Hill and thereafter the hill and its counterpart in Marlborough have infiltrated my thinking and have become markers not merely in the landscape but also in my personal history."
"The feeling that that they've always been there while everything around them has changed gives these mysterious man-made structures an occasionally comic but always prescient mystique."
One of Ray Ward's computer drawings printed onto archival rice paper shows the Marlborough Mound standing alone with bits of the College's Norwood Hall and Chapel peeping in from the side - trying their best to impose something a bit more modern on the tree-covered mound.
His Silbury Hill 009 shows the ancient man-made mound in the foreground against a broad, even rolling, Wiltshire landscape. It shows with great ease the extraordinary scale of this 'Hill'.
If you thought you had seen Silbury Hill from just about every angle, in every weather, under every possible sky, from both sides of the A4 and from Avebury itself, you will get a very pleasant surprise from Ward's Silbury Hill 160 (Behind the trees.) A very different view - with gentle colours of nearby vegetation.
Robert Pountney concentrates on the landscapes of Dorset. But in this exhibition he has a wonderfully evocative charcoal drawing of Avebury. It features one standing stone dwarfed by heavy, rolling clouds of the kind that might well have frightened or at the very least worried the men and women who built Avebury.
"The predominant use of chiaroscuro in my drawings is intended to help dramatise the relationship between past and present, the seen and the unseen in prehistoric landscapes..."
As if to prove his point we have his charcoal drawing of Rawlsbury Camp under a starlit sky. The camp is on a promontory of Bulbarrow Hill just west of Blandford Forum. Not much of the five acre Iron Age fort is left, but seeing its rounded remains under the same star light as its Iron Age defenders saw it, does bring out that relationship between past and present.
David Gunning is represented by some of his depictions of Stonehenge and many other megaliths. Throughout his life, Stonehenge, Avebury and other major Wiltshire sites, have captivated and fascinated him: "This new set of work reflects my continued passion and admiration for the megalithic builders who have left us such a magical heritage to reflect upon."
One of Gunning's really eye-catching works is Many Megaliths an imposing assemblage of sixty small etchings lined up on a giclee print in four ranks showing megaliths from all over the British Isles. They come in so many different shapes and landscapes that you begin to wonder how the ancients' skills were spread around.
Another of his works is a small etching Silbury Hill, Avebury - dated June 2015. This is a narrow picture putting Silbury into its present day agricultural landscape with a post and wire fence in front of the ancient structure.
Wessex Places: the exhibition is open until 2 January 2016. The Museum is open: Monday - Saturday 10-5, Sundays and Bank Holidays 12-4. But it will close for Christmas from December 20-28.
Top row: Left - David Inshaw with the curator and his Silbury Sunrise. Right - Ray Ward with one of his views of the Marlborough Mound. Bottom row: Left - David Gunning. Right - Robert Pountney with his charcoal drawing of Avebury. [Photo courtesy Wiltshire Museum]