Exhibitions, events and inspiration at The Wilson this winter – from Polly Robinson, Learning and Access Team Leader

The Wilson has a long history of delivering a full programme of activity for families – with drop-in arts and crafts planned for every school holiday, and with the monthly Arty Sunday.

But, content and timings for events and workshops for adults have always been more challenging to programme. With this in mind, throughout 2015, we have been offering a regular programme of adult events linked to the exhibitions or permanent collections – and so far these have included talks and lectures, practical workshops and special late night events.

The arrival of the high profile Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon exhibition has presented an exciting opportunity to create some inspiring new events aimed at adults. The exhibition explores a range of themes, including photography, film, fashion, and portraiture and the events that have been programmed touch upon as many of these themes as possible.

Talks and tours

Helen Trompeteler, co-curator of Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon. Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London.

Helen Trompeteler, co-curator of Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon. Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London.


Terence Pepper, Co-Curator of Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon. Image courtesy of Terence Pepper.

Afternoon lectures will go into detail about how Audrey Hepburn came to be viewed as a modern icon, and how specific photographers influenced this rise. Helen Trompeteler, co-curator of the exhibition, is speaking on 11th November about Hepburn’s rise to fame. On 25th November, Adrian Woodhouse, who has written a biography on Angus McBean, one of the most iconic photographers of the era, will deliver a talk about the special working relationship between Audrey Hepburn and Angus McBean.

The curator-led exhibition tour, with co-curator Terence Pepper, sold out in two days! To meet with this popular demand, Terence has kindly agreed to lead a second tour on 21st January 2016 – we advise advance booking as places are limited and Terence’s insights are fascinating.

Practical workshops

The range of themes presented in Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon has also allowed us to continue to build links with artists and craftspeople to deliver practical workshops. To allow people the best experience, we have approached experts in their field to lead the workshops. Denise Innes, Director of the British School of Millinery, is leading a Milliniery Workshop on Saturday 14th November where participants can make a headpiece or tiara. Denise’s work is truly stunning and her work has been featured in publications such as Vogue and Hello! We’re delighted to be able to offer the opportunity for people to come along and try their hand at making something truly unique – the type of headpiece that would be just right for a day at the races, or perhaps for a bride-to-be.

Headpiece by Denise Innes.

Headpiece by Denise Innes.

Inspired by ‘little black dresses’, particularly from the 1960s, we are very pleased to have Laura Rushton leading a two-day dressmaking course on 21st and 22nd November. Laura is a -stablished costume designer and has worked in the West End, at Shakespeare’s Globe, and on last year’s Britain’s Got Talent. Remember Cheltenham-born Lorraine Bowen who got David’s golden buzzer? Well, Laura made her live show costume – as well as many others. Laura will be teaching participants how to make a classic, and perfectly tailored, little black shift dress. Just in time for the festive party season!

We have also linked with experienced photographer and teacher, Martin Fry, to lead a full day photography workshop on Saturday January 23rd 2016. This will look in detail at the functions of a camera and teach you how to take better photographs, using the beautiful surroundings in Cheltenham as inspiration. This workshop will be great whether you are a bit rusty about all your camera settings, or even as an unusual Christmas gift for someone special.

All three of our practical workshops include admission to Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon, so you can start the day seeking inspiration with the portraiture and fashions displayed in the exhibition.

Special event

The Wilson is also hosting a special late night event on 26th November. We hope that Late Night Wilson events will become a regular feature in our events programme, and that they will offer people more opportunity to come and visit the gallery and museum after normal opening hours. On 26th November, we are open until 9pm – and will be offering lots of free activities for visitors: a drop-in portrait drawing workshop in the Friends Gallery, live demonstrations by members of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen in the Foyle Learning Centre, and a free screening of Roman Holiday, one of Audrey Hepburn’s most popular films, in the Space. Free tickets are available for Roman Holiday on a first-come, first-served basis, and spaces are limited. The Wilson Shop and The Wilson cafe will remain open, so the evening will be a wonderful opportunity to do a bit of shopping, a bit of socialising, some exhibition-viewing, some film-watching, and some drawing practice!

The Wilson at night. Image by Quintin Lake, 2013.

The Wilson at night. Image by Quintin Lake, 2013.

Tickets for all our events, and for Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon, are available in person at The Wilson, online at www.cheltenhamtownhall.org.uk, or by calling 01242 237 431. We look forward to seeing you at all our events!

All change in the Paper Store – from Kirsty Hartsiotis, Curator of Decorative Arts and Designated Collection

The Collections Team is currently preparing for a change over in our archive gallery, the Paper Store. We’re making some small tweaks to the existing display because the nature of the material, works in ink, pencil and watercolour on paper, is such that the pieces can only be on display for a short time. Some are more vulnerable than others, and those we change every six months. The new displays will include a new selection of work by Edward Adrian Wilson, including watercolours done during his time in the Antarctic…and you can now follow penguin feet from our newly installed bronze sculpture in the foyer, Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby, upstairs to the Paper Store.

The other change, the one I’ve been working on, is a new display of books, More than Mere Drawing, from our collection of private press books of the late 19th and early 20th century from the Emery Walker Library.

I’m very excited about this display, as it is on a subject close to my heart – book illustration. When I became the Curator of Decorative Arts at the art gallery and museum back in 2008, I was so thrilled to be working with objects and images by artists and makers I’d admired since I was a teenager – such as artist Edward Burne Jones, William Morris’s great friend, and the man who illustrated of most the books of Morris’s Kelmscott Press (106 illustrations in all over six years!). Burne Jones features in this display; the illustration from Morris’s fantasy novel, The Wood Beyond the World is an extremely delicate work by him. It is a wood engraving, as are all the illustrations in the display. However, unlike lots of the Arts and Crafts illustrators at that time, Burne Jones didn’t draw and cut on the wood himself; instead he worked with Robert Catterson Smith, a well thought of illustrator and maker in his own right.

[1] Detail of illustration by Edward Burne Jones from The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris, Kelmscott Press, 1894.

[1] Detail of illustration by Edward Burne Jones from The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris, Kelmscott Press, 1894.

Other illustrators featured include Charles Ricketts, Walter Crane and Lucien Pissarro.

[2] Detail of illuminated initial by Charles Ricketts from The Book of Thel, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience by William Blake, Vale Press, 1897.

[2] Detail of illuminated initial by Charles Ricketts from The Book of Thel, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience by William Blake, Vale Press, 1897.

[3] Detail of illustration by Walter Crane from The History of Reynard the Fox by FS Ellis, 1894.

[3] Detail of illustration by Walter Crane from The History of Reynard the Fox by FS Ellis, 1894.

[4] Detail of illustration by Lucien Pissaro from Songs by Ben Jonson, Eragny Press, 1906.

[4] Detail of illustration by Lucien Pissaro from Songs by Ben Jonson, Eragny Press, 1906.

So, how do we go about choosing items for a display? This can often be a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Collections displays aren’t like big blockbuster exhibitions, which can, and do, pull in loans from all over the world to tell a particular story. For the archival displays, it’s Cheltenham Borough Council’s collections which inform what stories we can tell. We wish to showcase our wonderful collections and the Paper Store, with its low light levels and bespoke cabinets, gives us the opportunity to show objects that are otherwise rarely seen.

My first task, then, was to go through the inventory, admirably digitised by one of our wonderful Collections Volunteers, and ascertain what we had. Emery Walker, the collector and printer whose collection we hold, was more interested in type than pictures. His own books, from the Doves Press, are absolutely pure and plain, using only occasional pieces of calligraphy for decoration. Beautiful – but austere. So, for the first time since we reopened, I was really pleased to have the chance to use another collection alongside the Emery Walker Library – that of Max Burroughs, a teacher and restorer who was one of the first to revive interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement in the second half of the 20th century. From his collections come a number of CR Ashbee’s Essex House Press books, and my personal favourite, The Sea King’s Daughter by Amy Mark, with illustrations by the Birmingham artist Bernard Sleigh.

[5] Illustration by Bernard Sleigh from The Sea King’s Daughter and Other Poems by Amy Mark, Birmingham Guild of Handicraft Ltd., 1895.

[5] Illustration by Bernard Sleigh from The Sea King’s Daughter and Other Poems by Amy Mark, Birmingham Guild of Handicraft Ltd., 1895.

The new display in the Paper Store will open on Saturday 21 November.
Both the Friends gallery and the Paper Store will be shut for 2 weeks from Monday 9 November while we install the new display and the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition.
Look out for any blogs about that process! In the meantime, this week is the last chance to see the existing display on Emery Walker’s work as a printer, Emery Walker: Tradition and Technology, which closes on Sunday 8 November.

A penguin is on its way to The Wilson – from Ann-Rachael Harwood, Curator Human History

Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby for The Wilson - pre-patination

Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby for The Wilson – pre-patination


Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby for The Wilson - during patination at Pangolin Editions

Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby for The Wilson – during patination at Pangolin Editions

“What did you do today?” I was asked as I arrived home.  The answer: “I watched someone patinating a penguin!”

As a curator, I have enormous privileges – one being to look after the Wilson Family collection, including the extraordinary images that Edward Adrian Wilson made of Antarctic wildlife – including studies of emperor penguins.  Recently, the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum Development Trust commissioned a life-size bronze sculpture of an emperor penguin to welcome visitors at The Wilson; the sculpture is generously funded by the Development Trust along with the Friends of The Wilson.  I spent my morning peering at this penguin.

Along with local press, and Margaret Austen and Graham Lockwood from the Development Trust, I arrived at the foundry – Pangolin Editions near Stroud – on a bright, cold autumn day to watch the start of the penguin’s patination process.  We were welcomed by Sally and Jane from Pangolin Editions, and joined by Nick Bibby, the important sculptor of the work.

It was seriously cold, and felt like we could have been in the Antarctic. I should have worn more insulating clothes, or more layers, and had warm visions of Edward Adrian Wilson’s fur suit on display back in The Wilson. But even my very cold feet somehow added to the sense of occasion. No drum roll, but as we all gathered in the foundry yard, we were directed to look at a set of closed shutters, guarded either side by two Lyn Chadwick sculptures.  One of the red-suited foundry team tugged on the chain, and as he moved hand over hand to draw them up, I watched with fascination as gradually a golden image appeared, finally revealing itself as the life size emperor penguin perched on a wooden plinth.  He gleamed and glimmered in the bright sunlight.

In fact it was so bright, the press had trouble taking their photos, so the foundry workmen obligingly lifted penguin up, hands under his chin and feet, and carefully placed him on a trolley to wheel him across the yard to stand beside a sculpture of a giant hand.  A much less dramatic location, but it did enable better photographs, and then back he trundled to the workshop for the second job of the day.

With everyone ready and watching,  Paul Smith, the patinator,  donned his protective suit, a space-age apparel with mask and hose and filters to protect him from noxious fumes, and set to work. First he warmed the penguin. Torch in one hand, flame bright against the bronze, he heated a small area of the metal whilst in his other hand, wielding a bush loaded with chemical. You clearly need good coordination for this job! With meticulous care and attention, Paul brushed the penguin’s body, inch by inch, concentrating on the job in hand, oblivious of his fascinated audience. Gradually, I could see the bronze changing colour, becoming duller and more textured, the first treatment of several to achieve the appearance envisaged by Nick.

Sadly, we all dragged ourselves away to return to the real world of our normal jobs – it really did feel as if I had been exported to another continent just for a couple of hours.  Now, I await the delivery of the penguin to The Wilson in a few days.

Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby will be welcoming visitors in the foyer of The Wilson from 22 October 2015 – come and meet him!

Insight to an install – from Richard Statham, Collections & Engagement Manager

For the days before ARTIST ROOMS Bill Viola opening at The Wilson, the window blinds in the top floor gallery were opened up to enable the install of the new exhibition featuring work by internationally-celebrated video artist, Bill Viola. So, for a few days, the gallery was filled with sunlight before the blinds were drawn again to soften the light levels. In the middle of the gallery now stands an enclosed space in which three video pieces by Viola – Catherine’s Room, Four Hands and Surrender – are on show. Other work I’ve seen by Bill Viola has been an unforgettable experience, with the sense of being transported out of time, being enclosed by darkness and of having space to meditate on life’s elemental issues; we’re incredibly excited at The Wilson to be showing these three works owned jointly by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland.

ARTIST ROOMS Bill Viola poster

Install 11am-1 ARTIST ROOMS Bill Viola install - 1

The install was complex, with the construction of the enclosed viewing area right in the centre of the gallery space, and it was all hands on deck as we’ve got a whole season of great exhibitions ahead all through autumn and winter.

The Cheltenham Illustration Awards exhibition in partnership with the University of Gloucestershire opened on 3rd October – the same day as ARTIST ROOMS Bill Viola –-  and features submissions from all over the world by students, emerging, and established illustrators on the intriguing theme of ‘Tales of the City’.

On 9th November, we’ll be delighted to be opening Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon straight from its sell-out run at the National Portrait Gallery in London and featuring portraits of one of the world’s most photographed women – by some of the leading photographers of the twentieth-century:  Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Douglas Kirkland, Norman Parkinson and Angus McBean. The exhibition also includes photographs on loan from the personal collections of Hepburn’s sons, Luca Dotti and Sean Hepburn-Ferrer, along with a pair of Hepburn’s own ballet pumps, original programmes from productions she performed in, and a collection of vintage magazine covers she was featured on.

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon poster

Then, on 21st November, The Wilson will be hosting the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015, the UK’s largest and longest-running annual open exhibition programmes. The work is across an amazing mix of styles – figurative and abstract, traditional and conceptual and the exhibition will include all the prize-winning entries.

So, as the days grow shorter and darker we’re looking forward to The Wilson being full of life; alongside these amazing exhibitions there’s a busy programme of events all through the autumn and winter, including a late-night opening on 26th November which will include the showing of Roman Holiday – the film which made Audrey Hepburn famous, The Big Draw – a free event which was very popular with children and families last year, and  a Christmas Crafts workshop for those already planning ahead to December. It’s one of our busiest seasons since re-opening – a full summary of everything on display and all events can be downloaded here.

And we’re back…

During the redevelopment of our fantastic building, members of The Wilson’s team kept a fascinating diary of the logistics involved in packing up a museum and gallery, redeveloping it, and putting everything back out on display again. The posts detailing this enormous undertaking can be read below.

Meanwhile, now we have been up and running for some time, we will begin posting new articles from across the whole team at The Wilson. Keep checking back for posts from our collections team, exhibitions team, customer and visitor services teams and more.

Chester Walk entrance, The Wilson, 2015

Chester Walk entrance, The Wilson, 2015

Clarence Street window graphics, The Wilson, Oct 2015

Clarence Street window graphics, The Wilson, Oct 2015

Day 17

3 May

My first day back at work for 10 days and of course, more packing! Carolin, a German intern joined us today for 8 weeks. She was surprised at the stairs; she doesn’t think her friends back home will believe she’s got fit in a museum. I know the feeling, even after 10 days away, I am puffing a bit.

Mary Greensted, the former Arts & Crafts curator kindly came to give us a hand today, so the 3 of us ventured into the very top of building number 51 to start to pack the larger social history pieces. I have used no 51 to store collections from the world of work, so we were confronted with shop fittings, tools, farming equipment, fire extinguishers, signs and vacuum cleaners. All shapes and sizes but heart-sinkingly large.

Slades, the former shoe shop in the Promenade, provided several items to delight; shoe lasts, art deco style door handles, and a beautifully carved wooden crown from one of the display cases. Also a stool for the customers to rest their feet on for fittings.

Sheila and Sylvia from the front of house joined us later, they packed engineering models of the Gloster Meteor – the first jet engine craft, designed and made in Cheltenham by Frank Whittle. Then on to teasels, carders, bale hooks, skewers and weights from the woollen industry. I didn’t realise we had the weights; they should be on display they are important pieces. So a note for the future.

Day 16

23 April

The first human chain …This was to move the herbaria collection, boxes filled with pressed and dried flowers, and leaves and mosses, from the top floor of Gibraltar House to the galleries.

Each box contains crisp paper sheets, with the dried plant material neatly fixed to it with paper strips, and annotated in fine small handwriting. A wiff of times gone by exudes from the pages, as almost all of the collection is old now, some dates back to Victorian and Edwardian amateur botanists. Edward Wilson, the Antarctic explorer, and his father Edward Thomas Wilson, put some of the collection together, plants from the hills around Cheltenham, some no longer in existence.

So, after sundry emails, recruiting a team of staff to help, and the obligatory health and safety talk, we walked the course, leaving someone behind at their post every few yards. So I passed boxes to smiley Sheila, and she passed them to Sylvia, Sylvia to Paul, Paul to Annik, Annik to Chris…. Chris to Bruce who was wielding the trolley. We passed a camera down for fun, taking photos on the way. Paul fitted up music so we passed the parcel to a musical refrain.

At the other end, Bruce brought the trolley of boxes from the lift to Helen, and Kirsty to stack away. Each box was counted out by me, and counted in again at the other end, in true Brian Hanoran fashion. A fun and successful operation.