The Art Sheds: Enhancing the Visitor Experience

Art Sheds Collections, Art Sheds History, Art Sheds Teachers, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth, Visitor Interaction

The Visitor Services Team is an integral part of the day to day running and maintenance of the Victoria Gallery & Museum and part of their job is to maintain exhibitions, particularly ones with interactive elements.  The Art Sheds is a prime example of an exhibition that requires regular maintenance by the team to ensure that it always looks good for visitors.  Visitor Services Team member Vicky recalls some of the tasks the team had to consider when looking after this exhibition.

kimartsheds

A panoramic picture of the Art Sheds, taken by the Visitor Services Team’s Duty Manager Kim

“From the very beginning we were briefed by artist Susan Forsyth and our curator Moira Lindsay on what our role would be in helping to maintain the Art Sheds exhibition.  As it is an interactive exhibit there are a number of things that would need to be taken care of on a daily or weekly basis.

“Members of our team were invited to briefing meetings with the curatorial and technical staff so that we could give our opinion on what issues we thought might arise from a visitor’s perspective.  As these are actual sheds, they are raised off the ground slightly, so we had to find a way to ensure that visitors with mobility issues would be able to use the sheds.  To solve this issue we purchased a small ramp.  We also quickly discovered that although the sheds are child-friendly they are not pram-friendly due to the small size of the interior and the plinths used to display the statues and the vase so we created a sign with instructions for parents visiting with babies and smaller children.

ink pots

The Ink Pots for the Nudes Shed

“We regularly replenished the ink in the inkwells and ensured that pencils were always available.   We were given a metal embosser so that we could mark the thick cartridge paper supplied in the Art Sheds with a logo and replaced the paper levels regularly. The watercolour paint trays required regular cleaning and visitor art was collected and displayed on regular rotation in our reception area.  Co-ordinating requests for workshop places and setting up trestle tables and seating for tours and talks was also our responsibility.

embosser

The metal embosser supplied by Susan to create ‘watermarked’ Art Sheds paper

“One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was taking pictures of visitors receiving the medals that Susan Forsyth designed for those who participated in the exhibition.  They were so popular and the looks on the faces of the children especially when they were presented with a medal was really heart-warming, they were so excited and proud of themselves!

Visitorswithmedals

Two happy Art Sheds artists with their creations and their limited edition medals, designed by Susan Forsyth!

“We also took regular general photos and posted images and news on our social media pages to encourage visitors to come and try out the Art Sheds. We liaised with the Liverpool Biennial team who helped us by cross posting and re-tweeting messages, and we even received a mention in the Liverpool Echo, which we were thrilled with.

Echo

Our mention as one of the Liverpool Echo’s top ‘Biennial Picks’!

“So many people commented on how pretty and fun the Art Sheds were, and how in particular the exhibition had made their children excited about art. Lots of people also commented on how they enjoyed hearing about the history of the Art Sheds whilst on our weekly free drop-in guided tours (every Tuesday and Thursday at 12.30pm), imagining them sitting out on our Quad over 100 years ago from the view out of the window and how seeing the art in Gallery 7 by artists such as Augustus John really made the sheds’ history ‘come alive’.

donkeyeasel

Donkey Easels – what a great name!

“I also remember us all being tickled when three large boxes arrived marked ‘DONKEY EASEL’ in big letters and then the penny dropping when the boxes were opened containing the clever little easels with the flip up tops and the benches attached for the visitors to sit on when creating their art.  And last, but by no means least, I loved it when Susan asked us to help to put together this blog to accompany the exhibition, which we hope you have enjoyed reading as much as we have enjoyed writing it.  The Art Sheds exhibition has been so much fun, so informative and we have loved taking care of it.”

The Art Sheds exhibition closes this weekend, Saturday October 25th 2014.

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Spotlight on Gallery 7: John Herbert MacNair – ‘Ysighlu’ (1895)

Art Sheds Collections, Art Sheds History, Art Sheds Teachers, Susan Forsyth

In Gallery 7, you can see a selection of artworks from the collections of the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  Susan Forsyth has hand-picked some of her favourite pieces, including pieces which she considers reflect the time and spirit of the Art Sheds and the professors and artists who taught there. Here, Susan looks at one of those artworks in depth.

Ysighlu - John Herbet McNair

“As a gilder, I was immediately drawn to this striking image.  The contrasting blue tones and delicate execution of the female form is very striking.  When the work first appeared in the Aesthetic movements iconic ‘Yellow Book’, which at that time was edited by Audrey Beardsley, it carried MacNair’s subtitle, ‘The very shadows in the cave worshipped her.  The little waves threw themselves at her feet. And kissed them’.

“MacNair came from a wealthy Scottish family and initially trained as an architect though he went on to make and design glass, metalwork furniture, jewellery, textiles as well as 2-D posters and wallpapers.  In the same year as ‘Ysighlu’ was made MacNair showed work at the inaugural art Nouveau Salon in Paris.

“John MacNair was a gifted artist and designer. However the closure of the Art Sheds and a subsequent family bankruptcy proved to be downward turning point in MacNair’s career.  In 1911 exhibition of his and Francis Macdonald’s paintings were exhibited for the last time.  Tragically McNair died in obscurity in 1955.”

Spotlight on Gallery 7: Edward Lear – ‘Assouan’ (1848-49)

Art Sheds Collections, Susan Forsyth

In Gallery 7, you can see a selection of artworks from the collections of the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  Susan Forsyth has hand-picked some of her favourite pieces, including works which she considers compliment and/or represent the grandeur and importance of the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s collections. Here, Susan looks at one of those artworks in depth.

Assouan - Edward Lear

Assouan – Edward Lear

Though best known as a writer Lear was a naturally talented draftsman drawing birds for the Zoological Society.  His first publication was not as a writer but a serious ornithological book illustrating the parrot family.

‘The Owl & the Pussycat’, written in 1867 for the children of one of his patrons, is full of the joy and carelessness of childhood.  It is one of my favourite poems and the achievement is all the more astonishing when we consider that it’s author was the youngest of 21 children and his a childhood marred by epilepsy, poverty and what Lear himself called ‘the morbids’.

Lear travelled widely in Greece, Egypt, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and eventually settled down to live on the Italian Riviera. This peaceful watercolour of an Egyptian coastline from 1848-49 was one of the first paintings I selected for the exhibition. Lear usually drew the scenes from life and worked them into watercolour paintings later in the studio.

Though Edward Lear did struggle with personal relationships and unrequited love affairs and spurned marriage proposals his professional life as a writer, draftsman and painter was a story of complete triumph over oppressive circumstances and makes the childhood poem all the more poignant.

Spotlight on Gallery 7: Joseph Mallord William Turner – ‘The Old Mill, Ambleside’ (1798)

Art Sheds Collections, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth

In Gallery 7, you can see a selection of artworks from the collections of the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  Susan Forsyth has hand-picked some of her favourite pieces, including works which she considers compliment and/or represent the grandeur and importance of the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s collections. Here, Susan looks at one of those artworks in depth.

The Old Mill, Ambleside, by J.M.W. Turner

The Old Mill, Ambleside, by J.M.W. Turner

“I grew up with a print of Turner’s exquisite late painting, ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ (1839) and I telling my students that in my opinion the first Impressionist painter was the son of an English wig-maker.

“Though the ‘painter of light’ lived in interesting times he focused his considerable genius on recording the land and sea instead of recording the more profitable events of history. A precocious talent, Turner’s watercolour of Lambeth Palace was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer show in 1790, when he was only 15 years old. Turner spent several years copying classical plaster busts similar to those we have in the current Art Sheds exhibition and developing the drawing and watercolour painting skills.

“The Museum has several impressive Turners but I chose this small, apparently unassuming watercolour as it is firstly less well-known and secondly has a link to the north of England. It was painted when Turner was still a relatively young, age 23. He had been befriended by a wealthy and cultured historian Walter Fawkes. The young Turner visited the kindly patron at his home in Otley, North Yorkshire and painted many local scenes on his many long walks in the inspiring scenery. To this day Farnley Hall in Wharfedale has several hundred of Turner’s early works.

“This small unassuming painting can tell us a lot about how Turner born and brought up in London’s busy Covent Garden became the foremost landscape painter of his, or any, century.”

The Art Sheds exhibition for the Liverpool Biennial 2014 runs at the Victoria Gallery & Museum until Saturday 25th October.

Spotlight on Gallery 7: Harold Chalton Bradshaw ‘Perspective view scheme for inspiring Riverfront of Liverpool’, c.1913

Art Sheds Collections, Art Sheds Teachers, Susan Forsyth

In Gallery 7, you can see a selection of artworks from the collections of the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  Susan Forsyth has hand-picked some of her favourite pieces, including pieces which she considers reflect the time and spirit of the Art Sheds and the professors and artists who taught there. Here, Susan looks at one of those artworks in depth.

“The architect Harold Bradshaw trained at the University just after the Art Shed period. Unlike contemporary technical drawings or CAD files this lyrical and beautiful watercolour from 1913 depicts Bradshaw’s ideas for the development of the Liverpool waterfront. It is one of the largest pieces in Gallery 7 and reminds me of one of Turner’s dreamy watercolours of Venice. I can’t help but wonder what the waterfront in Liverpool may have looked like if a hundred years ago Bradshaw’s ambitious and coherent plan had been adopted by the city.

Inspiring River Front, Liverpool - H. C. Bradshaw

“Bradshaw’s work hangs above a wonderful map of Liverpool.  I chose to include this initially because it’s a local piece and because the scale is pretty bonkers – it’s about 9 foot long and very narrow.  It could be over 150 years old, but the city is still enormous and the river is shown teeming with both steam-powered vessels and sailing boats. I think these pieces complement each other beautifully and I’m delighted to be able to include them both in the show.”

The Art Sheds exhibition runs at the Victoria Gallery & Museum until October 25th 2014.

Curator’s View: Moira Lindsay on the Art Sheds

Art Sheds Collections, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth

Moira Lindsay is the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s Art Curator.  Together with Susan Forsyth they discussed Susan’s original proposal for ‘The Victoria Art School: the smallest art school in the world’.  On Susan’s first visit to us Moira explained the history of our collections and the University’s School of Applied Art and Architecture. Here Moira recaps the process of developing the idea of the Victoria Art School into the Art Sheds and choosing the accompanying artwork.

“We were sitting in my office which overlooks the quadrangle and I mentioned the Art Sheds (pointing out the quad through my window, as this is where they used to sit.) Susan was really taken with the art sheds and keen to respond to the history of the site and went on to develop her proposal to devise Susan Forsyth: Art Sheds.

The original Art Sheds

The original Art Sheds

“Over the next week or so Susan and I talked about our exhibition and I sent her more information on the sheds, the artists and related works from our collection. We then scheduled visits to the stores so that Susan could get a really good feel for the scope of the collections, which are fairly – and wonderfully – eclectic. For Susan it was crucial to see the objects in the flesh, so she patiently spent many hours with us in the stores. Susan was so thorough I think she probably knows more about some parts of the collections than I do!

“What I was most excited about was Susan’s interest in items that perhaps are overlooked, or not the obvious ‘star’ items. We went through as much as we could looking at original objects in the stores, discussing them, and then Susan created her first list of objects that she wanted to display. This list was of course then refined as Susan thought about how the selection of works related to the shed sculptures and her themes.

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

“One of my favourite objects is the Gregson sampler. We have six samplers in the Gregson collection, all made by girls in the Gregson family, one of them is dedicated to a sibling that died at 2 years old. Susan knew in advance about the samplers but when she saw them she was really moved by their history. Working daily in a collection we sometimes forget how amazing it is to have access to these things. It was a delight to work with Susan and I am so pleased that she chose to use our collections in her installation. Looking at historic collections with an artist brings a fresh perspective and hearing what inspires artists is insightful and often unexpected.”

The Art Sheds exhibition for the Liverpool Biennial 2014 runs at the Victoria Gallery & Museum until 25th October.

The Artist’s Apprentice: Jade Ryan on Art Sheds

Art Sheds Collections, Susan Forsyth

Jade Ryan is the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s current Collections Apprentice. She works closely with our Art Curator Moira Lindsay, assisting with exhibitions, keeping the inventories and database up to date and attends exhibition meetings at which she is asked for her input and opinion.  Here, Jade discusses her involvement with the Art Sheds and Susan Forsyth, plus how working at the Victoria Gallery & Museum on an exhibition such as this would assist her in gaining her NVQ Level 3 certificate in Cultural Venue Operations.

Jade in the 'Still Life' shed

Jade in the ‘Still Life’ shed

“As the Collections / Documentation Assistant Apprentice I do a lot of inventories and database work and this is one of the reasons I got involved with the Susan Forsyth Art Sheds exhibition. I was already contributing as the plans for the exhibition are going to be included in my decision making module of my NVQ which runs alongside my apprenticeship, but I also have a good knowledge of parts of the collections due to my inventories which would prove useful for Susan.

“One of the main factors about this exhibition is that Susan would be working with our collections.  When it came to looking in the stores, Susan noticed a Solander Box out on the table.  A Solander Box is a special archival-quality box (non-acidic and won’t damage the works of art) that we keep our works on paper that are not framed in.  Our boxes include things such as prints, sketches, watercolours and even occasionally acrylic works.

Jade with a selection of the accompanying artwork, which she helped to choose

Jade with a selection of the accompanying artwork, which she helped to choose

“When Susan started to have a look through she found The Wilton Diptych.  She instantly fell in love and insisted it had to go on display.  It’s now in Gallery 7 with the other works she picked. I got out all the inventories of the boxes I had done and went through them with Moira the art curator so that Susan had a selection of pieces that, in our opinion, suited her taste to choose from.

“This, along with going through the framed works in our stores is how Susan made her choices.  It was a great experience working with Susan and really fun!  Seeing her excitement as she went through the works and her struggle to cut the list down to what is on display now was inspiring.

“Unfortunately I missed the installation due to having my tonsils removed, but I came back to a complete exhibition.  It was amazing to see, especially after helping at the very start of the process.

“It is really rewarding when I am encouraged to be so involved in different stages of different exhibitions.  I hope to use all of my notes and inventories for this exhibition, plus a personal thank you card from Susan and this very article as witness and personal statements as everything I do at the Victoria Gallery & Museum is classed as evidence and support towards me gaining my NVQ Level 3 qualification in Cultural Venue Operations.”