This week has seen more demolition, more stories and especially more dust. The whole of the countryside is, of course, exceptionally dusty at the moment, and while we are busy in the pop-up cleaning ancient Athenaeum dust off some things, the builders are busy depositing more dust around the Museum itself.
One of the first things we did this week was to remove the last painting still in the museum entrance hall – the enormous view of the railway being built at Bishops Tawton, by local Royal Academician Frederick Richard Lee, which has been on loan since we did a big exhibition of local paintings in about 1997. For at least the last 10 years it has been on display on top of the beautiful black display cabinets in the entrance hall (which came from the old Brannam Pottery showroom in Litchdon Street).
So there were at least 10 years of dust on the frame, and some on the surface of the painting itself. Sam has now started cleaning the frame by gently puffing it with air and gathering the dust in a vacuum with gauze over the nozzle. It takes care, and experience, and we are lucky that Sam enjoys this kind of thing! For the painting itself, we are taking advice from conservators as to whether we can ever-so-gently blow the dust off that too, or whether we need to have it professionally dusted.
The Lee painting is really interesting, and we are planning a big exhibition including lots more of his work when we reopen the museum. There may be some new paintings to be discovered in private collections around North Devon, as he was a very prolific and popular artist. You can find out more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Richard_Lee
Meanwhile, outside the museum, work was continuing to clear the yard area for the extension. We have found a strange air vent, perhaps indicating there was a cellar at one time, though that doesn’t seem likely so close to the river.
The room above the carriage entrance (which used to be the newspaper archive back in the 1970s) has now gone completely, together with most of the chimney and all the yard walls. Hoardings are going up, and we have had our first visit from Pete, from South West Archaeology, who are carrying out a watching brief for us – his job is to watch any groundworks and record anything interesting that turns up. At the moment it is just the foundations of the 1960s yard wall that are going, but later on, when the foundation trenches are dug, there is the chance something interesting might appear. Pete can stop the work if necessary to make sure any archaeology is properly recorded and excavated.
Pete is the one on the left.
Most of the dust I am complaining about, however, appeared today (Friday) when the demolition crew started on the partitions in the old staff kitchen and toilet, which is to become the new Undersea World display.
The toilet itself disappeared earlier (its OK, we still have the public toilet to use).
For some reason everyone thought the partitions were studwork and plasterboard. All the galleries were screened off with polythene anyway, but it soon became apparent from the bangs and crashes directly underneath my office, that there was more than plasterboard involved!
Other things that I have been doing this week include sending out invitations for a 90th Birthday Dinner for Keith Abraham, one of the major benefactors of this project. Keith is the last surviving Mayor of the old Borough of Barnstaple (he was the last but one, just before local government reorganisation in 1973, but the very last one has sadly died). Keith ran a highly successful car parts business in Barnstaple for many years, and, through his charitable trust, has supported a wide range of local organisations, including the Barnstaple and Bideford Rugby Clubs, Cricket Club and the Gig Club. If you see the gig “Lady Freda” on the river, she is named after Keith’s late wife, and the gig “Nipper” is named after Keith himself.
I also went to the funeral of Sue Garwood, the Chair of Ilfracombe Museum Trust, who died very suddenly a couple of weeks ago at the age of just 69. Her energy, commitment and humanity will be sadly missed by all the museum community in north Devon. But it was great to see Ilfracombe Museum determined not to let her hard work in the last few year at the museum go to waste. I look forward to assisting their development plans in any way I can.
At the end of the week, despite all the dust and banging, it is great to see such progress being made, and you can really see just how big our extension is going to be now. This is the space we now have for the Undersea World:
And here is some of the dust that somehow migrated up the stairs! Let’s hope there won’t be any more!