It’s taken me a while to get round to writing a blog on the subject, but on June 3rd our wanderer returned! John Bell’s Slave Girl bronze has been jet-setting around the world as part of an exhibition called Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837-1901. She was originally produced as a stand against slavery, so a very important sculptural piece from that era.
After 12 months travelling, first to be displayed at the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut followed by a stint at the Tate Britain in London, Katie (our nickname for her, because who wants to be known as the slave girl?!) has finally taken up her usual spot on the main stairs, in a small recess that could have been make just for her.
The National Trust, as well as many other museums, uses Constantine (a company specialising in the transport of historic objects and art works) to bring Katie back. She was packed in a crate which was made especially for her, and supported carefully to ensure she wouldn’t move in transit.
The guys from Constantine are very experienced in handling historic objects which meant she was back up in her recess in no time at all, but not before we managed to get a few photos of her back (usually not visible due to the recess being only big enough to fit her base on to).
Once she was in position, her final protective packaging of acid free tissue paper covering her earrings, chain and face could be carefully removed.
The Dining Room Carpet has finally returned after its long stay at the textile conservation studio in Norfolk. I just wanted to quickly update you on the work that has gone into the carpet in the last couple of months with the conservation team.
The team developed a way to fill in the gaps where the carpet weave had completely worn away, which help to keep the carpet strong as well as being aesthetically more pleasing than the gaps were!
The yarns used to fill in these gaps were hand dyed to match in with the original colours of the carpet, bearing in mind that in its 140 or so years it has faded more noticeably near the bay window and less as you get further back in the room. This has meant that the team had to dye 129 samples and 58 final colours (up to the most recent report dated 9th March 2015).
The carpet is now partially unrolled and on view to the public and on Monday (when we’ll be closed to the public) the team who will produce our Eyemat will come to digitally photograph the restored carpet. The photograph is then printed onto a mat which will cover the carpet in the areas where visitors walk, helping to give a seamless view of the room as it was in Armstrong’s day.
Each year National Trust place’s run a raffle for which the money raised at that place is doubled by the National Trust and then goes towards a special project at that place. This year at Cragside we are raising money for the Bee Room. Andrew Sawyer, Property Curator at Cragside tells us more:
Lord and Lady Armstrong gave the job of designing their dream home to the architect Richard Norman Shaw. We plan to reopen the Bee Room, above the north arch of the house, to display his plans and ideas for Cragside. Help us make this room a showcase of the Armstrong – Shaw collaboration that created this extraordinary place.
Norman Shaw worked on Cragside over a fifteen year period and the house has a higgledy-piggledy appearance because of that. It is a house that evolved over time, constantly incorporating Lord Armstrong’s ideas and technology. Shaw was never given free rein at Cragside and it was collaboration with the owner Armstrong that results in this extraordinary creation.
The Bee Room has been chosen to tell this story as it gives the brilliant opportunity to look into the courtyard of the house to view the architecture from the windows. Its elevated position, straddling the north archway, gives a new perspective on the house and its design. The room will be flooded with natural light on both sides, revealing the brightness Cragside’s interiors would have had when the house was first built and lived in.
Copies of Norman Shaw’s detailed plans and intricate drawings will be displayed in the room, to show and tell, from his own hand how the house was designed. This work from a vanished hand tells us so much about the planned layers, dissecting the house into slices of development, some of which you see and some you don’t. Shaw’s letters home will surprise and delight the readers of today as they did the recipients of the past and reveal more about his visits here.
We want to build access platforms at the windows so everyone can take a peek into the courtyard and view the architecture of the buildings that surround it. The room will be designed as a place to sit and relax on the journey through the house. To see how the house was built and imagine how it all happened.
The days are really racing by now, it feels like we just got back after Christmas but that was three weeks ago now and we are almost at the point of beginning to open up the rooms and set up the displays ready for opening to visitors on February 14th.
The first 9 days we are open is the Northumbrian school half term week. We open the property for free during that week, but as it’s so early we only open the ground floor of the house. While our visitors get to see some of the most historically important rooms like the Library and Dining Room, we will be beavering away upstairs getting the last rooms uncovered and set up.
This season we aim to have new children’s trails for each school holiday period as well as a varying range of family learning activities, to encourage families to return to Cragside numerous times over the year and experience the estate through the seasons.
The whole house will be open from February 24th. During term time we run school visits up to 1pm at which point the house opens to the public, but during school holidays and weekends the house opens from 11am. To check our opening times for the specific date you’d like to visit, please visit our website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside/opening-times/
We’ve been back at Cragside after our Christmas break since Monday of this week, so I thought maybe now would be a good time to look ahead at what we have planned for 2015.
The headline news will of course be the return of the Dining Room carpet from the textile conservation studio in Norfolk. We expect the carpet to return around the end of March, although it will not be unrolled any earlier than April 20th, after the school Easter holidays.
We are also having a new drugget made for the Dining Room (a drugget is the carpet that visitors walk on, which sits on top of the original carpet) which will involve the newly conserved carpet being photographed and the image printed on a room sized mat. This will mean that although visitors won’t be able to walk on the original, they will at least see all the work that has gone into conserving it.
When the company who will do the photography can fit us in will also have an effect on how soon the room can be completely reinstated. I’ll keep you updated as we know more details of this.
We will also get the Slave Girl back from her trip to America and London where she was loaned to take part in an exhibition on Victorian sculpture. We expect her to return in May to take up her usual position on the main stairs.
The property raffle last season raised almost £12,000 to put towards light control. We hope to have these new measures in early on in the season to improve the visitor enjoyment as well as the conservation of the collection.
I can’t think of any other planned works for 2015, although there will no doubt be some unplanned ones as we go through the year!
You may remember a post earlier in the year about the conservation work which was about to take place on the Dining Room carpet. If you missed it then you can check it out HERE.
The carpet has now been at the Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk for almost 10 months and as we’ve recently been down to see it being worked on and get a progress report, it seemed a good time to update you all on the work that has taken place so far and what is still left to do.
- The first task for the conservation team at the textile studio was a through clean. The carpet had been extensively vacuumed front and back before it left Cragside, but a deeper wet clean and “tamping” (a process of agitation which loosens dirt caught deep within the pile) was needed. The team took time lapse images of this work being carried out which we hope to be able to share on the blog soon.
- Old adhesive repairs made with shellac and latex have been removed.
- conservation work has begun on the pile to catch in loose threads and make good any poor quality previous attempts at filling in the most worn sections. Where any previous repairs are unobtrusive and not causing any undue stress on the original carpet, the conservators have recommended that they be left. Initially it was expected that the carpet would require 10-15 different colours of yarn to be hand-dyed to match the carpet. The studio have now dyed yarns in more than 70 colours to suit the way the carpet has faded in different areas!
- The underside of the carpet is having a new linen tape (about 4 inches wide) to stabilise the edges.
We are still hoping to have the carpet back at the end of March, although the full reinstatement of the room may not be for some weeks after that depending on our opening hours over the school holidays around then.
In the middle of the 2014 season we loaned out a bronze sculpture by John Bell which we know as the Slave Girl. She was loaned to the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut for an exhibition titled Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901.
Martina Droth, Curator of Sculpture for the YCBA said “One of the reasons we were so eager to borrow this work is because we wanted to juxtapose it with a related statue, the Greek Slave by Hiram Powers – this is an extremely famous American work which was shown at the Great Exhibition 1851. John Bell’s statue appears to have been made as a direct response to the Greek Slave, commenting directly on the American slave trade, a subject that Hiram Powers evokes but does not explicitly address.”
While Hiram Powers’ statue is very familiar in America, John Bell’s Slave Girl (or American Slave as is apparently her official title) is virtually unknown and forces the exhibition’s audience to reconsider the Greek Slave.
The sculpture has now completed her time at YCBA but will travel with the exhibition to the Tate Britain in London, before finally returning to Cragside mid-2015.