The Tassen Museum

Well, I never thought I’d ever visit a museum dedicated to bags and purses, but that’s what we did after we’d been to Foam. My wife had been before on a solo trip to see our daughter earlier this year, had enjoyed it and said that I’d find it interesting. It’s on the Herengracht, just a short walk from Foam, so we made our way over there.

The museum was founded to display a private collection of bags owned by Hendrikje and Heinz Ivo. Originally it was in Amstelveen, a suburb south of Amsterdam, but moved to it’s present location in a rather grand 17th-century canal house that had previously been the residence of the Mayor of Amsterdam in 2007.

The collection is shown on the top two floors of the house with elegant tea rooms and temporary exhibitions on the first floor. So visitors start by climbing to the top floor and working their way down.

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Modern stained glass window in the ground floor ceiling

My wife was right, I did find it interesting and enjoyed the visit. It was really a social history revealed by showing how handbags and the like (including bags used by men) evolved since medieval times. Right back then, both women and men kept their money and odds and ends in a leather bag on their belt – the oldest item in thecollection is a sixteenth century men’s bag made of goat leather with a metal frame.

the oldest exhibit

Over time men started to keep their stuff in pockets in their clothing while women tended to keep their’s in bags, the design which evolved over the years. For a while chatelaines, a series of chains hanging from the belt with hooks to hold small purses, scissors, sewing equipment and other items were fashionable, and their were quite a few examples of these in the collection.

From the 17th century to the late 19th century, women used pockets too. But these were seperate from clothing. They were hung from the waist under clothing which had slits in them so the pockets could be reached. This is how Lucy Lockett could lose her pocket! These went out of fashion with the advent of high waisted dresses in the Georgian period, leading to the development of the handbag.

Men continued to use bags, of course (I have several myself!), but they tended to be for specialised purposes – and there were examples of these, including tobacco pouches, gamblers’ bags and doctor’s bags, in the collection.

I found the top floor, with the earlier items, the most interesting. The floor below had a large display of bags from the 20th century, including expensive examples by designers and bags previously owned by celebrities including Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor and Hilary Clinton. They even had one from a certain Prime Minister, whose name I can’t bring myself to mention.

It’s amazing how many different styles of bag there have been, some of them quite vulgar! A surprising range of materials have been used to make them too from bamboo, beads, feathers, perspex, bottle tops, plastic cables and the skins of various animals including crocodiles, stingrays, leopards, and armadillos. Some of the animal skin bags being particularly horrible in that they included heads, legs, tails and other body parts as decoration.

If I hadn’t been encouraged by my wife, I’d never had thought of visiting the museum. But I found it fascinating and worth taking the time out to have a look around even for those of us with no interest whatsoever in fashion for the insights into social history. .

Keswick Museums

The Tuesday morning of our holiday we went out on the lake. The offspring and Moss in a canoe, while I followed up on my Anglesey adventure by hiring a kayak – a “sit on” one this time as no “sit in” types were available. Photographs were difficult as we didn’t want to get our phones and cameras wet, but Mitch did manage to get a snap of Moss.

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After an enjoyable hour paddling on the water, we went back to the apartment to dry off, change and have a bite to eat. After that I went with J into Keswick for the afternoon. After looking around the shops for a while we headed over to the Keswick museum. It’s quite small, occupying only three rooms (not counting the reception / gift shop, but worth a visit. There’s a permanent collection – local fossils, geological samples, natural history, social and industrial history exhibits and objects reflecting life in Keswick and the Lake District. Old fashioned, but in a good way!

UntitledMy favourite exhibit was the large lithophone (a xylophone made of slate) which visitors could have a go at playing.

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There were also two temporary exhibitions – one devoted to female mountaineering in the Lake District and the other to the famous mountaineer, Chris Bonnington, who lives locally.

The other museum in Keswick is devoted to a product that used to be a mainstay of the local economy – the pencil.  We visited on the Wednesday, which had the worst weather of the holiday – it rained most of the day.

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Graphite was discovered down Borrowdale, near Seathwaite, way back in the 1500’s and a cottage industry of pencil making began in the area and this then evolved over time to with the UK’s first pencil factory being founded in Keswick in 1832. The Cumberland Pencil Factory was set up in 1916 and would have been a major employer in the town until it was relocated to more modern premises near Workington in 2008. The pencil museum is located on the site of the former factory, having moved there when the original site in the centre of the town was damaged during the devastating floods in December 2015. It reopened only last year at the new location.

It may seem a little odd having a museum dedicated to such an ordinary object, but we found it interesting and spent over an hour looking round. The entry “ticket” is an actual Cumberland pencil.

Exhibits cover the history of the industry and the manufacturing process, starting with the mining of the graphite itself. There’s also displays of the different products produced by the company over the years, as well as various objects related to the manufacture, promotion and use of pencils, including one of the largest colour pencils in the world measuring almost 8 metres

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and miniature pencil sculptures.

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During WW2 the factory were commissioned by British Intelligence to create a special pencil with a hidden compass and maps. It was given to bomber pilots and sent to prisoners of war, the idea being that they could use them if shot down or trying to escape.

There were tables set out with the range of products manufactures by the company which visitors could use and try out. They specialise these days in high end products for artists with graphite products making up only a small proportion of their range. There was, of course, a shop where the products were on sale!

Definitely worth a visit for an hour or so on a rainy day in Keswick.

The National Museum of Finland

We visited the National Museum of Finland on the first full day of our recent stay in Helsinki – on the Sunday afternoon after we’d been to the Didrichsen Art Museum. It tells the story of Finland and its people, going right back to the pre-historic times and is definitely worth a visit to get an understanding of this relatively young nation.

The museum is in a distinctive Finnish National Romantic style building, designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen, directly opposite the Finlandia Hall, close to the city centre. The exterior is rather austere and influenced by medieval architecture but with some Art Nouveau / Jugendstil touches.

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Inside includes murals and other Finnish style Jugendstil features, particularly in the central hall and main staircase. It’s hard to do justice to the ceiling mural in the central entrance hall which depicts scenes from the Kalevala, the Finnish national myth.

There were some beautiful stained glass windows on the main staircase

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The first half of the museum concentrates on the history of Finland from the Middle Ages to the foundation of the independent Finnish State in 1917 (after the Russian Revolution). It’s what I would call a traditional type of museum with lots of artefacts presented in a relatively static way with limited interaction. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting and we learned quite a bit about the history of Finland when it was a colony of Sweden and then, later, a Russian Grand Duchy.

The Medieval room

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A recreated room from the 18th Century when Finland was a Swedish colony – the large white “cabinet” is a ceramic heater – needed in the depths of the Finnish winter!

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The throne used by the Tsar during his visit to Finland when it was under Russian Imperial influence

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The second half of the museum, covering the modern era from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day was very modern in style with lots of interactive and hands-on displays including this interactive panorama of Helsinki at the end of the Russian era

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and a “book” where the content was projected on to blank pages.

Nationalist feeling was growing in Finland at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century – which is reflected in the Jugenstil and National Romantic architecture so prevalent in Helsinki. After the fall of the Tsar, taking opportunity of the Bolshevik policy of  National Determination, Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. A Civil War followed between “Reds” and conservative “Whites”, the latter eventually being victorious.

At the beginning of WWII Finland was attacked by Soviet Russia leading to a bitter “Winter War” where the much smaller country defeated the Red Army, yet the Moscow Peace treaty ceded territory to Russia. There was a period of peace before war resumed in autumn 1941 when Russia was preoccupied with defending itself from the German invasion.  Power relations had changed and The USSR were now allied with Great Britain, which resulted in the latter declaring war on Finland on 6 December., and Finland was supported by, if not allied with, the Nazis. I felt that although much was made of the hardship and heroics of the Winter War (quite rightly), this aspect was rather glossed over.

After WWII Finland was in a difficult position with a long border with the USSR and and had to balance carefully between the big powers maintaining a neutral stance. Like the other Nordic countries it developed a strong welfare state which largely remains today despite some economic difficulties and the rise of the Nationalist right who are now in Government.

Last year was the Centenary of the founding of the Finnish state and the final exhibit in this part of the Museum was a film show with an image of a Finn from each year from 1917 until 2017 projected on a large screen. Visitors could control both the direction of the film (past to present or vice versa) and the speed.

As we were about to leave the museum we realised we’d missed a whole section devoted to prehistoric Finland, so we went to have a look. Again, it was an interesting exhibition, well presented in a modern way.

Given it’s position in the frozen north, early population was sparse and life would have been hard so no major civilisations developed like in more temperate environments. However there was some migration after the last Ice Age and a number of artefacts were displayed, such as weapons and jewellery.

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as well as displays and models about the environment and how people lived.

We enjoyed our visit to the Museum. There was more  to see and we could have spent longer there, but we were starting to feel tired so it was time to head back to our hotel for a rest and to get ready to go out for something to eat.

 

National Glass Centre

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Last Saturday, while we were up in Sunderland, we decided to visit the National Glass Centre at Monkwearmouth, just outside the city centre on the north bank of the River Wearon the site of a former shipyard.

Glass making was an important industry in Sunderland from 674 AD, reaching its height of production in the mid-19th century. But the industry declined in the latter decades of the 20th Century and with the last two remaining glass firms in Sunderland – Corning Glass Works and Arc International  closing in 2007.

The National Glass Centre, which is part of the University of Sunderland, builds on this heritage. It is

dedicated to continuing the legacy of glass making, supporting and nurturing new glassmaking talent through The University of Sunderland’s Glass and Ceramics Degree Programme and fostering an enthusiasm and understanding of the material through a rich and varied exhibitions and learning and participation programme. (National Glass Centre website)

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Although principally devoted to teaching, there’s a visitor centre which is one f the major tourist attractions in Sunderland.There’s a permanent exhibition about the history  of glassmaking in Sunderland, space for temporary exhibitions, glassblowing demonstrations and, as well as the obligatory cafe and shop. As well as teaching full time students, the Centre runs courses, family activities and “glassblowing experiences” for the general public.

It also produces specialist glass, some of which was used in the restoration of Windsor Castle and the Albert Memorial (Guardian)

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The building, designed by Gollifer Langston Architects,has a glass roof made of 6 cm thick glass, strong enough to support  the weight of up to 460 people who can stand on the glass and and look down into the centre below.

The building was designed to emerge from the land rather than imposing upon it. Upon entering on the first floor and looking at the building from the road access, all that is visible are the canopies, twin ventilation towers and chimneys of the factory. (Source)

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We watched a glass goblet being made during the glass blowing demonstartion when one of the two glassblowers gave a running commentary on the process

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These take place several times per day, but the glass blowers are working throughout the day and visitors are welcome to watch them.

There were two temporary exhibitions

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – New Works by Andrew Miller where the works were produced using glass “found objects” from charity shops

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and an exhibition of original works from the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, produced by their Artists in Residence.

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There were also some interesting contemporary pieces on sale in the shop, although they weren’t cheap. These are some of the pieces I particularly liked.

A handmade Venetian glass vase by Studio Salvadore

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Two of the three pieces by Yoshiko Okada

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The Galway Hooker

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The Galway Hooker is a traditional type of shallow bottomed boat that used to be widely used in the Bay of Galway for fishing and transporting goods. Their use inevitably died out by the late 20th Century, but there has been a revival since the 1980’s. Today they are mainly used for pleasure purposes and there’s an annual gathering, the Cruinniú na mBád , every summer. The above photograph was taken  of Hookers in Galway Bay by my friend V last summer.

There’s a very good exhibition about the Hooker in the Galway City Museum, a good place to visit on a drenching wet afternoon like when I arrived last Tuesday.

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The exhibition includes an actual Hooker the Máirtín Oliver, named after a former King of the Claddagh and the last person to have owned and sailed a working Hooker. It was made for the Museum by traditional craftsmen Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua and was installed, hanging dramatically in the atrium of the museum, in 2008.

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The displays explained the history of the Hooker with well designed displays including historic photographs and a 3D model of the Bay.

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The name “Hooker” derived from their use for hook and line fishing, although the Gallic speakers of the region never referred to the boats as such, using specific names for the four types of boat

  • The Bád Mór (big boats) 10.5 to 13.5 metres long
  • The Leathbhád (half boat) about 10 metres long
  • The Gleoiteog 7 to 9 metres long, and
  • The Púcán

But as the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Hunting of the Snark tells us

What i tell you three times is true

The Anglicised name has been repeated so often that it has stuck.

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Except for the Púcán, the boats had three sails – mainsail, foresail and jib – made from calico weatherproofed with a solution of tree bark or a mixture of tar and butter, giving them a distinctive dusky red or brown colour.

At one time the harbour in Galway would be filled with Hookers, but, alas, not today. However, I spied one, sails down, moored alongside the quay of the Long Walk.

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Motor Heritage Centre




Motor Heritage Centre, a set on Flickr.

On Wednesday this week I was down in the Midlands not far from Warwick and Stratford Upon Avon for a meeting that took place in the Conference facility at Motor Heritage Centre, Gaydon. After the meeting had finished we were able to take a look around their collection of classic British cars. I couldn’t spent too long doing this as I wanted to get on the motorway before traffic built up too much, but enjoyed my brief tour. I especially enjoyed seeing the old sports cars (Morgan, Triumph Spitfire, Lotus 7, E type Jaguar etc.), the collection of Jaguars and the cars from various films, including one of the DeLorean’s used in the Back to the Future films.

Down t’pit

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On the way back from the Hepworth in Wakefield the other Saturday we stopped off at the National Coal Mining Museum for England at the former Caphouse Colliery at Overton. We’d seen signs for the museum many times when visiting the Hepworth and the nearby Yorkshire Sculpture Park and had intended to pay a visit for quite a while. Although there are no pits left open in Lancashire these days (and not many in Britain as a whole – and we all know who was responsible for that) at one time Wigan was the capital of a major coalfield and quite a few generations from my Mother’s side of the family were employed as miners or were otherwise connected with the mining industry.

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Entry to the museum, and car parking, is free. On arrival you pay £2 per person and are given a “check” token like miners used to hand in before they went down the shaft so there was a check on who was underground. You can give the check in after the visit and reclaim your money, but I guess most visitors do what we did and keep the check as a souvenir and leave the money as a donation.

Although it’s interesting to explore the pit head buildings, the highlight of the visit is the guided tour underground. All the guides are ex-miners and as well as explaining the history of mining have their own tales of what it was like to work down the pit.

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Before you go down, you queue up to collect your helmet and lamp and hand in anything that could present a risk of explosion – that included anything with a battery such as mobile phones, cameras and car key fobs. One of the many hazards in a coal mine is “fire damp” – a mixture of explosive gases, the main one being methane.

After a quick briefing we were shown the “furnace shaft”. This shaft, 140 metres deep, was sunk during the early days of mining on the site. A fire was lit at the bottom of the shaft and as the hot gases rose cooler air was drawn into the mine through the lift shaft, providing ventilation. Not such a good idea, though – lighting a fire where there might be explosive gases!

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The shaft is now covered by a special, toughened glass, and brave visitors can stand looking right down into the abyss below their feet.

Then it was into the lift which descended down to the bottom of the mine – but at a much slower speed than would have been the case when the pit was producing coal.

The underground tour normally takes around an hour and fifteen minutes. Ours took a little longer as about half our group was French, and the guide made special efforts to make sure they all understood what he had to say, translation for the French children be provided by the adults. No photos, of course – our cameras and phones had been left on the surface.

Walking round a circular route, there were displays that illustrated the ways coal was mined in Britain, starting in pre-Victorian times when whole family groups, including young children, men and women, would work together underground in unbelievable bad conditions. Most of the time in the dark as candles had to be bought by the miners from the owners and were expensive.

We gradually worked our way through the centuries, eventually reaching the late 20th Century where we there were examples of the machinery used to cut through the coal, excavate the tunnels and roadways and prop up the ceiling.

Although we were able to walk around the mine, only occasionally dipping heads to avoid a bump, when it was a working pit the ceiling height would have been determined by the height of the seam – rarely more than 3 feet. The miners would have had to crawl where we could walk. And it would have been tremendously noisy and dusty and there was an ever present risk of exposure to toxic and explosive gases. Most miners would have developed occupational disease – noise induced deafness and respiratory disease including silicosis and lung cancer from exposure to the dust. And the work itself present risks from falls, explosions and entanglement in machinery.

Returning to the surface, we spent an hour exploring the pit buildings, including the winding house

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where we were able to see the engine and that at one time would have been used to pull the lift up and down the shaft

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and the pit head baths where the miners would have changed and showers before returning home after their shift

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It might seem hard to believe, but these were a relatively late innovation, mine owners being too mean to provide them. They were often paid for by the miners themselves or by charitable organisations. And in some pits they were only installed after the nationalisation of the mines in 1945.

There were also pit ponies

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and a locomotive to look at

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and exhibitions about miners, their lives and communities, and mining equipment.

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Time ran out before we were able to explore the whole site, and it would be worth paying another visit in the not too distant future.

It wasn’t pleasant being a miner – even in the 20th Century. But it was work. And the the nature of the industry and the type of work meant that miners needed to develop strong ties with their workmates. They relied on each other to stay alive. And strong, close knit communities consequently developed. Sadly, all this is gone. Although we’re still sitting on top of a lot of coal, it is expensive to mine and although coal is still burned to produce power in the UK today it’s cheap foreign coal that’s easier to extract that’s used. It is a “dirty” means of producing electricity, but the passing of a once great industry and the destruction of the communities, was done in one swoop  without a thought for the people who relied on it and their futures. Many of them still haven’t recovered .