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Kenilworth Castle

Since finishing my master’s degree, I’ve been visiting various castles around the UK. A few weeks ago my partner and I decided to venture to Kenilworth Castle. Located not too far from us, the ruins show five centuries of architectural development. It’s a gem in the center of England and was a joy to explore.

Exploring the ruins. Photo by Radu Costinescu

History

Founded in the 12th century around a Norman Great Tower, in the town of Kenilworth, the castle was developed by its various owners over hundreds of years. Kenilworth Castle was also the site of many historically important events. Enlarged by King John (1166 – 1216) at the beginning of the 13th century, a significant amount of money was spent on improving the castle’s water defences which were created by damming local streams. An outer bailey was also added, making it able to withstand attacks from both water and land. These defences were effective during the Siege of Kenilworth (1266) which lasted for six months and is documented as the longest siege in medieval English history.

The 14th century saw Kenilworth Castle fall into the hands of John of Gaunt (1340 – 1399), the fourth son of King Edward III (1312 -1377). He spent his time turning the castle into a palace, one of his most remarkable feats being the creation of the Great Hall.

It was later gifted to John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland in 1553 during the reign of Edward VI (1537 – 1553). He started making additions to Kenilworth but was executed later in the same year by Queen Mary I (1516 – 1558) for his involvement in a plot to place Lady Jane Grey (1537 – 1554) on the throne. Kenilworth was restored to his son Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (1532 – 1588) after the succession of Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603). Robert Dudley remained a favourite of the Queen and he spent much of his time renovating the castle, adding the gardens, in order to impress her. She visited four times, with her final visit in 1575 lasting for an impressive 19 days.

In 1588 Robert Dudley died without a legitimate heir but the castle did eventually pass to his illegitimate son of the same name. He arranged to sell Kenilworth to Henry, Prince of Wales (1594 – 1612) but, when he died before the purchase could be complete, his brother Charles, later King Charles I (1600 – 1649) bought it. It played a significant role in the English Civil War (1642 – 1649) as a Royalist stronghold and was used by King Charles I during the Battle of Edgehill in October 1942. However, on Royalist retreat the castle was garrisoned by Parliamentary forces and kept under their power until 1649. Parliament ordered the slighting of the castle in which segments of it were destroyed and other areas were turned into farmland.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the castle was still used as a farm but the ruins became popular as a tourist destination. The castle was taken over by English Heritage in 1984 and has been open to the public ever since.

The Castle

The ruins of Kenilworth are very impressive at first glance and give visitors the opportunity to explore the towers via several platforms which take its guests 18 meters up into the towers. Visitors can stand where Elizabeth I’s private rooms would have been whilst taking in breathtaking views of the countryside. There are also opportunities to explore the castle keep which was originally built in the 12th century and the Great Hall, built in the 14th Century by John of Gaunt.

The Elizabethan Garden

A view of the garden from the terrace. Photo by Radu Costinescu

The gardens have been recreated to resemble what they would have looked like during Queen Elizabeth I’s progress. In its center is the marble Atlas fountain, carved with scenes from the Roman poet Ovid’s (43BC – 17/18 AD) most well-known work ‘Metamorphoses’, surrounded by an array of flowers and herbs. It can be viewed, in all its splendour, from the terrace.

Exhibition

Located in Leicester’s Gatehouse is an exhibition exploring the relationship between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley. There are plenty of opportunities for interaction including a room for families to explore history through play. The Tudor stables also have a small retrospective exploring the castle’s history complete with sensory displays.

Leicester’s Gatehouse. Photo by Radu Costinescu.

Overall Experience

Kenilworth is a truly magnificent place and is a must see for those traveling through Kenilworth.

Basic Information

Website: Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden | English Heritage (english-heritage.org.uk)

Location: Castle Green, Kenilworth CV8 1NG

Ticket prices vary for off-peak and peak times and can be found on their website.

Opening Times: 10:00 – 16:00

Accessibility: The Great Hall, garden, and exhibitions are all accessible to those with limited mobility. However, the upper floors of Kenilworth Castle are only accessible via stairs. Assistance dogs are welcome. There are a variety of sensory options for those who are blind and visually impaired or deaf/hard of hearing. Please visit their access page to get a full list of facilities.


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Museum Review: Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein

Back in 2021, I discovered that Bath would become home to Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein an immersive museum dedicated to exploring the life of the author, her links with Bath, and the influence of her novel. I finally managed to visit this year and it was well worth the wait.

Why Bath?

Whilst many associate Bath with the likes of Jane Austin (1775–1817), Bath was also the temporary home of Mary Shelley (1797–1851). Her affair with married romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) was at the height of its scandal when she made the excursion to Bath along with Percy. Her step sister Claire Clairmont (1798–1879), who was pregnant with poet Lord Byron’s child at the time, also stayed in Bath. Taking up lodgings above a print shop, Mary fleshed out the story she’d started on a stormy night in Switzerland whilst staying with poet Lord Byron (1788–1824). This would be published in 1818 as Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus and is widely hailed as the first science fiction novel.

Inside the Museum

Frankenstein’s Monster.

The first floor is dedicated to Mary Shelley’s early life and key influences on her novel such as galvanism. Further rooms look at the novel’s conception and publication, including the reactions of critics when they discovered that the creator of Frankenstein was in fact a woman since ‘Frankenstein’ was first published anonymously. Call it morbid curiosity but The Mourning Room, which explores Shelley’s relationship with death, is particularly fascinating and shows how it shaped her and future works.

The theatre Room holds an impressive, to-scale, model of Frankenstein’s Monster having been faithfully created according to the brief description offered in Mary Shelley’s book. The top floors are dedicated to the legacy of Frankenstein and its influence on popular culture, starting with the 1910 silent film directed by J Searle. Dawley. Of course, when people think of Frankenstein’s Monster they think of the version played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 film. This green-skinned creation with bolts coming out of its neck is the image immortalised in popular culture and, as the retrospective shows, has been used in various forms around the world.

There is also the opportunity to visit the basement an experience not for the faint-hearted. Additionally, groups may want to try Victor’s Lair an escape room, or The Body in a Suitcase Game.

Overall Experience

Each room has fun, interactive elements which encourages the use of multi-sensory learning. Whilst the venue still makes use of more traditional museum aspects, the use of audio and visual effects really works to immerse audiences into the world of Mary Shelley. I found many of the sound effects quite chilling at times. The staff were passionate about bringing this gothic and macabre world to life and gave us some good scares along the way! The museum is quite new so it will be great to see how it develops over the next few years. This is a must see for fans of Mary Shelley and I encourage those visiting the city to take a look!

If you would like to visit, please visit their website for more information.

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Peggy Guggenheim: Saviour of Modern Art.

For Women’s History Month, I thought I would write about somebody who was instrumental in preserving many works of modern art. I am by no means an expert on Peggy Guggenheim, but her name has cropped up in several books I’ve read about the birth of modern art and, in particular, Surrealism. What stood out to me was her passion for art and her friend’s creative pursuits. But, as this short piece will tell you, her patronage of key movements such as Surrealism, Cubism and Abstractionism changed the fate of many paintings.

Peggy Guggenheim (1926). Photo supplied by Luciano Vecchio.

On the 26th of August 1898, Peggy Guggenheim had the good fortune to be born into a wealthy family residing in New York. Her father Benjamin Guggenheim had, along with his brothers, procured their finances through the mining and smelting of metals. Her mother Florette was also no stranger to affluence as part of the Seligman family who had made their money in the world of investment.

Being born into a privileged position in society allowed Peggy Guggenheim to travel and collect vast amounts of art along the way, perhaps taking inspiration from her uncle Solomon R. Guggenheim. She moved to Paris in the 1920s where she became involved with the avant-garde artists living in Montparnasse and later married Max Ernst a prominent Surrealist.

Whilst in Paris she educated herself about various movements, gathering one of the largest and most significant collections in modern art. Her collection ranged from works by Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) to Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) to Yves Tanguy (1900–1955). In the years after the outbreak of the Second World War (1939–1945), she set up her first art gallery in London, Guggenheim Jeune. This was soon followed by her New York Gallery, Art of the Century. The establishment of both galleries created a platform for artists who were little known in England and the United States to exhibit their work.

Art of the Century Gallery- Manhattan, New York

It’s interesting that, at the time, many of her contemporaries in the art world weren’t too interested in the art of the moment which included Surrealist, Cubist, and Abstract Art. The same could not be said for Peggy Guggenheim whose collection expanded to incorporate the works of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), and Georges Braque (1882- 1963).

Her patronage of these creatives is significant due to the fact that she saved many works of art from being lost from the pages of history. The rise of Nazism and its expansion into Europe saw the destruction of what had been deemed Degenerate Art. The term covered the majority of modernist works, including German-born painters such as Franz Marc who had given their lives in service of their country during the First World War (1914–1918). Peggy Guggenheim was all too aware of this growing threat and shipped her collection, which was located in Paris at the time, to New York under the guise of packed household goods. There she set up a community for artists to network.

The Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937 was held in Munich.

Peggy Guggenheim’s passion for art saved many paintings which have become significant in art historiography and also helped to maintain the livelihoods of creatives who had been deemed degenerate by the Nazi Regime.

In later life, she settled in Venice and continued to exhibit her vast collection to the public. Founded in 1951 and situated in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of the most popular attractions in Venice and can still be visited today.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton.

Peggy Guggenheim died in 1979 but the legacy she left behind lives on. Her collection continues to inspire and educate those who visit it. It’s safe to say that without her continued support, many of the artworks loved and admired by the public today would not have survived the Second World War.

This has been a very short introduction to Peggy Guggenheim and her significance to the History of Art. I hope that this small article encourages anybody reading this to explore her work further.

If you enjoyed my post and would like to keep up to date with my adventures, feel free to check out my Instagram.

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Reading Connects the World: My Top Four International Libraries

It’s no secret to anybody who has read my work before that, like the majority of bibliophiles, I adore libraries. Whilst visiting various cities and villages around the UK I have always taken the chance to visit their libraries, one of which I ended up working at. This desire to visit such public institutions hasn’t been limited to my time travelling around the UK and pre-pandemic I started planning trips abroad. Along with museums and art galleries, historical houses and theatres, libraries were present on my bucket list of things to see. Unfortunately, like many of you, my plans were derailed by the Coronavirus outbreak. Whilst my plans to visit such wonderful educational institutions have been put on hold, I’m choosing to remain optimistic about the next few years. Below I have listed the top five libraries that I would like to visit once we return to a new state of normal.

The Admont Library- Austria

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The Admont Library- Photo by Jorge Royan

Situated in the Benedictine Monastery of Admont Abbey is the world’s largest monastery library. Designed in 1764 and constructed by Josef Hueber (1715–1787), the building was completed in the late baroque style in 1776. It’s seven ceilings were painted by then 80-year-old Bartolomeo Altomonte (1694–1783) who specialised in large scale frescoes in 1775. These murals were painted to depict the close relationship between religion and the arts and sciences. Furthermore, Josef Stammel’s (1695–1765) limewood carvings ‘The Four Last Things’ situated at different points within the library mark a great distinction from the light an airy feel of the murals. In Christian theology they represent the last stages of a man’s life: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Amongst all of this impressive architecture is the library collection itself which holds 70,000 manuscripts in the Abbey’s 200,000 strong collection.

Want to know which other libraries made my list? Read the full article by clicking on this link.

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My Most Anticipated Exhibitions of 2021

Unfortunately, my plans to visit a variety of exhibitions last year had to be scrapped. Sadly, many museums had to either delay or completely discard some of the retrospectives that have taken years to plan and set up. The closure of museums, historic houses, and other cultural venues hasn’t been easy for the people employed by them or the public who continue to support them. Whilst things are still a bit rocky at the moment, I’m choosing to remain positive about the oncoming year and have even dared to book tickets to a few exhibitions. Below I have listed the ones I’m most excited for.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser -Victoria and Albert Museum

Open:  27 March 2021

This exhibition explores 157 years of Alice in Wonderland. The exhibition promises to take visitors on a journey through the story’s evolution. Whilst the original manuscript, inspired many during Lewis Carroll’s lifetime, his world has been reinvented and adapted by numerous artists who have taken inspiration from his world. From surrealists to fashion designers, this interactive showcase explores it all. Special features include a look at the life of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired the novels, and a chance to experience wonderland through virtual reality. With theatrical sets designed by Tom Piper, known for his stage designs at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and immersive environments (including a secret passageway) it should be a treat!

YaYoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms – Tate Modern, London

29 March 2021 – 27 March 2022

I have been obsessed with these mirror rooms for quite some time now. I believe that Kusama presents a unique vision of the world through her installations which are truly beautiful. The Tate will be hosting two of them. The first, Infinity Mirrored Room-Filled with the Brilliance of Life, was originally showcased at the Tate in 2012 as part of Kusama’s retrospective. The second, Chandelier of Grief (pictured above) will have visitors in for a spellbinding experience. For me, her installations challenge people’s perceptions of space, providing a brief window of escapism for those that feel closed in by the normality of the world.

For more information, click here.

AI: More than Human- World Museum, Liverpool

22 Jan 2021 – 20 June 2021

World Museums, Liverpool

This exhibition explores the relationship between humans and technology through an array of installations. Featuring commissioned work from artists, museum goers will be able to learn about the history of artificial intelligence. The display promises to give us a glimpse into the not-so-distant future as well as look into some of the debates surrounding the rising influence of technology.

Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein – Bath

Open: Spring 2021

Exterior of the museum. Photo by Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein

This one isn’t actually an exhibition, it’s an entire museum! I had heard whisperings of commemorating Mary Shelley’s stay in Bath when I was a student there but hadn’t realised, until doing a quick google search, that this museum had been in development. When people think of Bath, an idyllic Georgian city comes to mind with most thinking of famous residents such as Jane Austin or Beau Nash. Whilst the story of Mary Shelley’s time in Bath may be less well known, it is very significant. Of course the reason behind her excursion to Bath was due to her scandalous entanglement with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was during her time there that she was said to have written Frankenstein.  The unique sensory experience rightfully cements Mary Shelley’s place in Bath’s history. Expanding over four floors, Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein explores the life of Shelley and how the conception of her delightfully haunting novel came to be. It also documents the longevity of Frankenstein by showing how it has been re-imagined in different media. The website comes with a warning that this may not be suitable for children due to dimly lit areas and scenes of a disturbing nature. Clearly not for the faint hearted!

For more information, click here.

Looking forward…

Hopefully, this year will see things return back to a new state of normal with museums and heritage sights reopening to the public. I’m excited to start exploring these wonderful institutions again and I hope, dear reader, that you are too.

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The Importance of Libraries

Libraries have a unique and fundamental role within communities. Working as a Library Services Assistant at the best of times, let alone in a pandemic, means that I’m constantly reminded of this fact. As a reader of this blog, you’re probably aware of some of the more obvious aspects of libraries but, as the demand for more and more public services to justify their position in society has grown, libraries have adapted. Below, I have listed some of the more wide-ranging services that libraries offer to the public. To me, and many others, they have become essential to the wellbeing and growth of society

  • They give some of the most financially vulnerable in our society access to FREE resources. As well as books, many public libraries offer use of computers and access to the internet. Whilst printing can come at a charge libraries give children, that don’t have access to ICT facilities at home, the chance to print their homework off at no cost.
  • They encourage social interaction and combat loneliness, especially within older age groups. Even when the library was closed to the public, in the first lockdown, many of our regular users rang up simply to have a chat. I learned that for many of them, coming into the library and chatting to staff was the only social interaction they had on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, many libraries have a bookmobile service to deliver books to those in rural areas and volunteer initiatives to give housebound people access to library materials. These services have helped many people feel less isolated, especially during the pandemic.
  • Libraries can be designated ‘safe spaces’ for those that need it. A big part of creating these safe spaces is by promoting inclusivity. Whether it’s celebrating Black History Month or Pride, the library is designed to be accommodating to all.
  • The educational value of libraries is pretty obvious in the fact that they give free access to books, however many community libraries also offer opportunities for learning. These activities are usually not restricted to those of a certain age and are multigenerational.  From reading groups for children to classes for those that are less confident with using technology, libraries facilitate all kinds of accessible learning.

I could go on, but the list above demonstrates some of the essential services that libraries have to offer. I hope that they will encourage you, if you’re not already, to pay your local libraries a visit in support of the work they do.

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Making Magic: The Importance of Music Venues.

The live music industry has been hit hard by the Coronavirus Pandemic and there are many small venues, crucial to giving talented musicians a platform to showcase their work, which sadly won’t recover financially from it. Such venues, dotted all over the UK, have facilitated and supported a growing cultural framework for years by introducing generations of people to new musical movements, artists, and more. Whilst I wish I could write about the contribution of every single venue in the UK, an impressive feat that would take most of my life to complete, I have instead settled on writing about three which I believe showcase both their importance to music history and to the growth of the live music industry today. I have given a short introduction to each below.

Moles Nightclub, Bath

Founded by Phil Andrews, who also happens to co-own the Jane Austen Museum, the club opened on New Year’s Eve in 1978. The venue was initially for folk and jazz artists. However with the arrival of disco, Moles had to modernise in order to keep up with the rapidly changing music scene. The range of music on offer at Moles soon grew to incorporate live rock music. By the late 1980’s Moles had established itself as a popular destination for touring musicians. Phil extended his club to include a recording studio which saw the likes of Elbow grace it’s doorway.

Now, Moles Nightclub has become a favourite for students with an array of varying music tastes. Whilst Cheesy Tuesday’s will accommodate anyone with a love for the noughties, Wednesday nights are now dedicated to rock and metal, for anyone with a taste for the heavier stuff. The club also has brilliant links with music students and upcoming bands. Moles provides a platform for new talent to showcase their creative portfolio, network, and grow. I myself have discovered many great artists through going to various events.

De Montfort Hall, Leicester

De Montfort Hall was built by the Corporation of Leicester and finished in 1913. The hall has had some notable guests over the years. In the 1960’s both The Beatles and Bob Dylan sold out the venue, an accomplishment that other artists such as The Rolling Stones were unable to achieve.  The hall was also a stop on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1973.

Nowadays De Montfort Hall is not only used to showcase live music. It has become a hub for opera, ballet, and religious festivals. Until recently, the grounds of De Montfort Hall hosted Simon Says Festival. Created in partnership with a few of Leicester’s independent music venues, the festival gave homegrown talent the opportunity to connect with wider audiences.

The Cavern Club, Liverpool

We all know where I’m going with this one. The venue is probably most well known for playing host to The Beatles, but I’m going to give a little run down of its history which begins before that. In 1957 the venue opened its doors for the first time. Named after the French club Le Caveau De La Huchette Alan Sytner, the club’s owner, wanted it to become a popular venue for Jazz music. His plan was pretty successful with many Jazz legends performing at the venue such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Marie Knight, and Big Bill Broonzy. They also hosted the Quarry Men Skiffle Group which both John Lennon and later Paul McCartney were members of. The 1960’s saw the takeover of Beat Music and the rise of The Beatles. Their first performance took place on the 9th of February 1961 albeit with a slightly different line up since the group were initially a quintet with Stuart Sutcliffe on Bass and Pete Best on Drums.  It was at one of their performances that Brian Epstein spotted them. He became their first manager and secured them their first record contract. However, when the band appeared in 1962, Sutcliffe and Best were no longer apart of the line-up with Ringo Starr making his first appearance on drums. Their last performance as a group took place on Sunday the 3rd of August 1963. After a short closure in 1966 the club was reopened by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The newly refurbished club had new renovations including a souvenir shop and café. The 1970’s saw the likes of Status Quo, Queen, and Suzi Quatro grace the venue.

Interior of the Cavern Club

The 1980’s saw The Cavern Club enter a very turbulent time. On the 9th of December 1980, Beatles fans all over the United Kingdom woke up to the news that John Lennon had been fatally shot. This saw the music venue become a site of mourning and remembrance for many local fans. The club also saw a series of redevelopments with the creation of a bar, restaurant, and shop. The 1990’s saw the venue change hand’s with Cavern City Tours becoming new owners of the club. The space continued to be a springboard for new talent well into the 2000’s. Today, the Cavern Club still promotes live music but also works as a heritage sight, paying homage to its long and varied history.

I have given a very brief overview of each venue above (I really didn’t do The Cavern Club justice!), but I hope that my summaries have given an idea of how they’ve been influential in helping music to thrive.

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To All The Theatres I’ve Loved Before….

It’s been a difficult year for the arts. The Coronavirus pandemic put the plans of theatres on hold. For many this has had dire financial consequences with some having to close their doors for good. Leicester has been hit worse than most places with the extended local lockdown curbing any plans for rehabilitation. For many, the theatres of Leicester City are a safe space, a place to learn and to explore their passions. In this article I will explore how some of the theatres have contributed to the community and why their survival is crucial for artists living in the Midlands.

The Little Theatre

The home of Leicester Drama Society, the theatre is run mostly by volunteers. Having provided entertainment for the past ninety years, the venue has a lot of history. Running twelve shows a year, hosting a youth theatre programme, and being a part of the annual Leicester Comedy Festival is impressive, especially when you consider the fact that the theatre self-sufficient when it comes to financing their shows. The venue provides a space for budding actors, directors, and writers to showcase their talent as well as providing workshops for those interested in the technical aspects of theatre. Sadly, they are unable to offer these services due to the pandemic which also means that they can’t raise substantial funding to continue their work.

If you would like to donate, click here.

The Y Theatre

Theatre is always more than just theatre, but this venue in particular has worked hard to engage the local community by providing opportunities for people from all walks of life. The theatre itself is part of the Y charity, the leading organisation on providing safe spaces for homeless children and adults. Their National Lottery funded project Y Heritage, a collaboration between themselves and multiple organisations across the city, has worked to help engage young people in heritage projects. Not only has this worked to help people gain new skills, it has also aided the preservation of key cultural spaces by integrating them into the lives of the next generation. The theatre is an extension of this, offering a variety of workshops for young creatives. For example, the Y Theatre hosts Rough Draft scratch nights in which budding artists can showcase their work and get feedback from their audience. Furthermore, I have seen first-hand how the work of this charity has changed people’s lives and this work must continue. If you would like to find out more about what they do, click here.

The Haymarket Theatre (1973-2007) (2017-2020)

One of my earliest memories of theatre is seeing a production of the Wizard of Oz on a trip with my primary school at the Haymarket Theatre. Whilst the theatre, located on the upper levels of the Haymarket shopping centre, may not seem all too impressive it has a very colourful history. Initially operated by the Leicester Theatre Trust, the venue saw productions of Oliver! (1977), Me and My Girl ( 1984), and Madame Butterfly (1989). These productions saw the likes of Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins (yes, you read that right) visit the town. When the Curve theatre was built, the Leicester Theatre Trust moved to their new venue and the Haymarket remained closed for ten years. In 2017 the Haymarket Consortium took over management of the theatre which re-opened its doors. Whilst they had many successful shows, the prolonged closure of the theatre due to the coronavirus pandemic meant that they went into liquidation and have now closed permanently.

The Curve

I was fortunate enough to see what ended up being the last performance of The Phantom of the Opera touring production for a while. The Curve’s initial creation caused a stir within the local community, its design coming under harsh criticism by being described as no less than an eye-sore. But in the passing years, love for the theatre has grown. They have also provided many opportunities for the community to participate and learn with them. As well as hosting the Curve Young Company and Curve Community Company, they also run Curve Connect a free membership scheme open to creatives who want to network. Furthermore, they also started the Pleasance Partnership in which they work with Midlands based artists to help develop their work for its debut at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information about the theatre, please click here.

Food for Thought…

I hope that giving a small introduction to these four theatres has given an insight into their importance to the community. The work they do is vital for the local community. I hope that reading about some of the things they do, other than putting on great productions, has convinced you to explore and support some of the artistic institutions that your local town has to offer.

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Art History

My Museum Wishlist

brown wooden framed painting on a wall
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

This months post offers a little information about some of the museums that I had hoped to be visiting this year. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, I’m going to have to wait a little longer. Whilst I wait, I thought it would be nice to give a miniscule introduction to my top five cultural spaces and discuss why they are important to me.

  1. The Franz Marc Museum – Bavaria, Germany

Set up in 1986, the Franz Marc Museum is dedicated to the life and work of one of Bavaria’s most influential 20th century artists. Supported by the Friends of Franz Marc Museum Association, the museum owns over 2000 artworks by Franz Marc and members of the expressionist group The Blue Rider. The museum also holds personal writing from the artist. The exhibitions have been designed to explore Franz Marc’s life and work, as well as his influence on contemporary artists.

This museum is on my wish list because, as shown in some of my earlier blog posts, I have a lot of love for German Expressionism. However, Franz Marc’s use of colour symbolism and exploration of the natural world really make his work stand out for me. 

Franz Marc Museum
The Franz Marc Museum

2.  Schirn Kunsthalle- Frankfurt, Germany

Since it’s opening in 1986, the exhibition space has hosted renowned displays of artwork from the likes of Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, and Edvard Munch. It’s collaborations with museums from all over the world, such as the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and the Tate Gallery (UK), helped to put it on the map. Since it’s opening, the space had seen more than 200 exhibitions.

I actually discovered this exhibition hall through Instagram. Forced to close due to Covid-19 the contents of one of their exhibitions was translated into an accessible online format.  Fantastic Women explored the contribution of 34 women from around the globe to the Surrealist movement. Through this online exhibition I discovered artists such as Alice Rahon, and Leonor Fini. I’m excited to see what the exhibition hall has planned for the future!

Schirn_Art_Museum_In_Frankfurt_&_Ruins_I
The Schirn Art Museum

3.  Hansa Tonstudio – Berlin, Germany

Located in the historic Meistersaal concert hall in Berlin, the Hansa studios were created by brothers Peter and Thomas Meisel in the 1970’s. Whilst not technically a museum, the recording studio was important in the cultivation of post-punk and synth-pop genres. It attracted many iconic musicians such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Depeche Mode. The studio was also located 150 meters from the Berlin wall giving it the name ‘Hansa by the wall’.

The studio is still in use but is open to the public at certain times of the year. Taking a tour of the place would be a dream come true!

4. Peggy Guggenheim Museum- Venice, Italy

The story of how this museum came to be is fascinating. Peggy Guggenheim, an American socialite and niece of businessman and art collector Solomon R. Guggenheim, accumulated vast amounts of modern art during her lifetime. She became involved with the avant-garde artists living in Montparnasse, allowing Man-Rey to photograph her, and later marrying Max Ernst a prominent Surrealist. She supported her friends talent by purchasing artworks in the years leading up to the Second World War. After 1945 she focused heavily on Surrealist art, purchasing as many paintings as she could.  In 1951 she started exhibiting her collection on a seasonal basis in her home. This was later become the site for the museum. She continuously added to her expansive collection until her death in 1979. After this, the museum passed to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation which opened the doors of the museum permanently in 1980. The current collection boasts work from Italian Futurists, Cubists, Expressionists, and more!

I discovered this museum through reading various books about Surrealism. Peggy Guggenheim’s name crept up quite a few times and her dedication to supporting her friends piqued my interest. The collection she created is very impressive, featuring a number of artists that I’ve researched over the years. For me, this is a must see.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton

5. Salvador Dalí Theatre and Museum- Figueres, Catalonia

The creation of the museum, dedicated to the towns most famous painter, was designed by Dalí himself with construction beginning in 1968. Built on the site of the previous Municipal Theatre, which was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, it holds the largest single collection of artworks by the painter. Alongside them is the Dalí jewel exhibition which holds thirty-seven precious gems designed by him. Additionally, the museum itself is an exhibition and is considered to be the last great work of Dalí, one of the most notable things being the anthropomorphic Mae West room which replicates the starlets face when you view it from a certain position. The theatre also became the final resting place of Dalí who is buried in a crypt below the stage.

Like many people, my love for Surrealism started with Salvador Dalí and broadened from there. Whilst my interests are now more inclined towards exploring women in Surrealism, Dalí’s work was essential in gaining an understanding some of the principles of the art movement.

Conclusions

Like the majority of people, plans have been put on hold due to Covid-19. I wrote this to cheer myself up and inspire myself to persevere with my life goals. I hope that this post gives a little bit of happiness to those who read it and that the subject interests you enough to explore more!

 

 

Categories
History of Art

LGBTQ+ History: Trevor Thomas

A cultural gem sits in the heart of Leicester. Behind the closed doors of New Walk Museum, opened in 1849, sits one of the most extensive collections of German Expressionist Art in the country. Boasting artists such as Franz Marc (1880-1916), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Conrad Felixmüller (1897-1977). The permanent exhibition details the progression of German Expressionism, looking at the impact of two groups in particular: The Blue Rider (1911-1914) and The Bridge (1905-1911). Its creation can be attributed to many curators, collectors, and civilians who have cultivated and expanded the collection over the museum’s long history. However, in this piece I will be highlighting the work of one man in particular who’s story is important to both the history of Leicester and the LGBTQ+ community.

Trevor Thomas was significant in founding the start of what would become one of the largest collections of German Expressionist Art in the UK. Born in Gwent, South Wales in 1907 Thomas was appointed as the youngest keeper at the Liverpool Museum in 1931, heading the department of Ethnology and Shipping. An artist himself, he became passionate about making museum collections more accessible to various audiences. His desire for innovation lead him to New York where he could see the latest advances in exhibition design. He was greatly influenced by two exhibitions, the first being Bauhaus 1919-1928, which showed the latest in artistic thinking from Germany, at the museum of Modern Art and then second being Art in our Time: 10th Anniversary Exhibition. After exploring both of these exhibitions Trevor Thomas would have a lifelong love of Modern European Art which would come into play during his career at New Walk Museum.

When he was appointed Curator of New Walk Museum in 1940, he set about improving the accessibility of the museum. Whilst his plans for an exhibition were put on hold due to air raids, he created a programme of events and activities to keep moral up amongst the public. In 1943 he worked with the Polish Airforce of Great Britain in organising an exhibition of Contemporary Polish Art, allowing the public to access the kind of European Art he’d seen on his earlier trip to New York. His passion for art led him to form a friendship with Tekla Hess and her son Hans, both of whom had fled Germany during the rise of Fascism in the 1930’s. The Hess family business had been destroyed and much of their art collections lost. However, they had successfully smuggled some of their extensive collection out of the country, some works finding their way to Leicester along with the Hess family. Their friendship soon led to plans for an exhibition of European Art which was to be supported by the Free German League of Culture an Anti-Nazi organisation. Some of the works which were exhibited included The Mask by Emil Nolde and The Red Woman by Franz Marc, both of which were purchased by Trevor Thomas. He was also gifted with Max Pechstein’s View from My Window by Tekla Hans in recognition of the kindness he had shown himself and his mother. These paintings still form the basis of the collection housed at New Walk Museum today.  

Unfortunately, the career of Trevor Thomas as curator of New Walk Museum came to an abrupt halt in 1946 when he was charged with a public indecency offence. During this time, homosexuality was viewed as a criminal offence under British law. When the case went to court, he was told to plead guilty in order to avoid questions over his sexuality. After being find and bound over to keep the peace, meaning that he could not commit the offence again without risk of going to prison, he lost his job as curator of New Walk Museum and was denied access to his pension. This injustice did not stop Trevor Thomas from pursuing a career in museums. After his career ended in Leicester, he went on to work for UNESCO. During his time there he made significant contributions to improving education in the arts on an international level. In 1956 he moved to America and became a History of Art professor at Buffalo University. He worked for the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and ran a counselling service. Despite all of his achievements, Trevor Thomas’ role in founding the German Expressionist Collection at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery faded from local history, his work becoming overlooked. In more recent years, work has been done to restore his reputation with former museum director Patrick Boylan inviting him back to the museum as a guest of honour in 1985. Since then a cluster of curators and artists have worked to restore his place in history. A recent exhibition at the gallery Dissent and Displacement highlights Trevor Thomas as key to the founding of the expressionist gallery. His work was pivotal to the formation of the German Expressionist Collection and forms an important segment of Leicester’s local history as well as it’s LGBTQ+ history.

Unfortunately, Trevor Thomas’s persecution and erasure from history is not an isolated case. Many important LGBTQ+ figures in history have been overlooked. It’s important that we highlight these stories and work to restore the reputations of those who have been lost.

For further reading you can visit the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery website which has an extensive range of information on Trevor Thomas, the Hess Family, and the collection as a whole. This article by Pink News is also very interesting and delves deeper into the history of Anti-LGBTQ+ laws.