During this project I have been struck by the paradox of collecting facts/memories for hundreds of years then locking them away to preserve them. However, as the museum owns a large number of extremely old documents the only way to keep them safe is to keep them off site at the Somerset Archives Offices - it's a a quandary for any museum.
Memory and its preservation has long since been a source of fascination in my work. To me, there seems huge links between the preservation of historical documents and our own process of remembering and forgetting. . I have explored this further with the kind help of Winscombe Art Group who agreed to take part in a workshop about memory.
I led the group through a number of warming up exercises then I asked them to draw something from their childhood. I did warn the group that this can be quite a frustrating task as the hand does not want to cooperate fully with the minds eye but they were all extremely helpful and committed to the task 100%.
When I hold workshops like this I like to ask the artists to discuss their work with me, as I feel the process helps them to unlock their memories further and the group kindly agreed to let me record their memories to share with you. We also allowed perspective to be bent a little and colour to only be used if it was remembered, not guessed.
The film that follows is only the memories of one of the group members. However, I have chosen this recording as you can hear frustration several times in the speakers voice when she tries to place her memories on the page. Interestingly if the memories had been recorded at the time of their creation it would, of course, have been much easier to capture a likeness, as in the case of the Axbridge Manuscripts. So the images have diminished over time and, as the number of people who share them reduces, access to them also diminishes - brain or paper, its a container of amazing things!
One of the difficulties with the Museum is accessibility, both physically, as the Museum has very narrow stairs and uneven floors and practically, as the documents need to be stored away to preserve them. One of my main objectives for this project was to address these issues which is the main reason for creating this website so we can share the Museum and it's artefacts with a much wider audience.
I have now started working with John Page to make a series of recordings which will increase engagement to the collection, and are really easy to listen to. All the recordings can be found under the resources tab and I am hoping you will find them as enjoyable as I do.
Press on the orange button and give it a second to start.
Just a note: you will need an up to date browser to hear the recordings.
On Saturday Margaret Micklewright and I were in Axbridge Square to share some of the ways people have written throughout history.
I am extremely lucky that Axbridge hosts a very popular Farmer's Market on the first Saturday of each month. This means that I can meet with lots of different visitors and share Axbridge Museum with them while letting them have a go at some of the interesting things we have been doing.
We were joined by John Page and Elizabeth Friend(Axbridge Archeological Society) so I had to make sure I was getting the historical facts correct. However, along with all of the fabulous people who came and had a go we also met a couple of very interesting people who may be able to work with the Museum in the future to bring new exciting exhibitions.
Last Saturday was the first of the community engagement activities I have planned for this project. I was exceptionally lucky to be joined by local Somerset artist Margaret Micklewright who was on hand to share her vast experience of working with inks.
I met Margaret a couple of years ago and have been lucky enough to work with her a couple of times. Margaret is a painter who has extensive experience of working with ink and teaches privately, with local art groups and children as part of her practice which was really valuable to the project. Unfortunately, Margaret has a bit of a hated of having photos taken so I had to catch her unawares (apologies for the photo Margaret). However, as fellow cake lovers we enjoyed the market enormously and managed to sample quite a bit of the delicious treats on offer as well as having a very productive day meeting and working with many of the visitors.
Margaret currently has work on display at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath and at the Artists Gallery, in Wedmore or you can see more on her website
Although I am keen to blog about my progress on the project sometimes I overhear visitors talking and it reminds me to take time to enjoy my beautiful surroundings.
This is a place that never fails to surprise its visitors. One of the discussions overheard today was that 'People come to look at King John's Hunting Lodge just as much as they come to see the museum exhibits.' Of course that it absolutely true and I cannot tell you the amount of visitors who have been taken aback at the amazing structure and admonished themselves for not visiting sooner. So today's photos are just so you can appreciate the building.
John very kindly invited me to look at some of the old manuscripts he had collected from the Taunton Records Office last week, which was a real treat.
There are many beautiful scripts to look at but one had a series of fine drawings illustrating the text. However, try as I might I couldn't work out what the strange plant, shown above was. As usual John was full of information and told me that the document was a Royal Charter issued by Queen Mary and King Philip II. The strange plant is a pomegranate which was used to illustrate King Phillip II links to Spain.
All of this got me thinking about some of the research I have been doing into ink making. Historically pomegranate was used to make ink for manuscripts, I believe the British Museum has several examples. However, I would think pomegranate was hard to come by so whether any of the Axbridge Museum documents are made using pomegranate ink, I am afraid I do not know. But, I did think that in honour of King Phillip of Spain sending his charter to Axbridge I should try making a batch, and see how it compares to the more traditional inks - I will let you know how that goes.
I spent most of yesterday making various forms of ink which was really rewarding, I have always enjoyed making my own artist materials, it's a good way to really understand the media you are working with and it gives me thinking time to develop the project.
Unfortunately the afternoon did not go so well as, after curing a selection of feathers, I tried cutting the quill pens, which was tricky. However, the final disaster was trying to write with them, they were too weak - and my dogs kept stealing them!
Whilst doing a bit of research, to discover where I was going wrong, I found the quote below, which I think sums up perfectly my thoughts every time I look at the museum's manuscripts.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."
[Carl Sagan. Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)]”
I was extremely lucky to be invited to attend the leavers ceremony at the Town Hall. John had requested a number of the Museum's manuscripts from the Archives Office and they were available for the children to see (and me to photograph).
Seeing the documents close up has really made me focus upon how they were created and to that end I have started a number of experiments of the making of oak gall ink, lamp black ink and walnut ink, details of which I will post in the tutorials section soon.
The work created for the Muse project will remain in the Museum until 31st October and can be seen from 1pm-4pm daily.
Andrea Oke is a Somerset based artist who is fascinated by human behaviour and its links to memory. For more information please to to my website