Week Three – How time flies!

It’s very hard to believe that I am now well over halfway through my placement… I only have one week to go! My third week, however, has been varied and highly enjoyable.

Master of the Griselda Legend, Alexander the Great, c. 1494, oil and tempera on wood, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Alexander’s pose was a favourite amongst the kids! Image available here.
Jean-Françoise Detroy, Jason Taming the Bulls of Aeëtes, 1742, oil on canvas, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Image available here.

One activity that I particularly appreciated was observing a children’s workshop at the Barber Institute. A group of lovely kids from the nearby Blue Coat School were guided around the galleries and told stories of some of the myths and legends that appeared in the works. As they learnt about Apollo and Daphne, Alexander the Great, Hercules and Jason and the Argonauts, the storyteller encouraged the students to analyse the works and participate in re-enactments. After the gallery tour had finished we relocated to the workshop room, where the students used pipe cleaners and clay to make models of mythical or heroic figures. They had to think critically about what they had seen in the galleries and see whether they could translate their ideas into stable clay forms. Some of the results were a bit wobbly but I guess you could say that added to their charm! My own interest in galleries/museums was sparked when I visited Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria on a primary school trip, so I can only hope that similar inspiration happened during the workshop I observed.

Another interesting part of this week has been furthering my work on updating documentation for the Barber’s Greek coin collection. Although I came across coins frequently during my undergraduate degree, I know nothing of numismatics or its terminology. Add the fact that I don’t know ancient Greek to this equation and you can see that I’ve had a very steep learning curve indeed! Despite slow progress initially, I am becoming more familiar with terms used to describe features on the coins as well as faster at recognising mint marks and working my way through the transliteration of inscriptions. As I double-checked the information already included on the original record, I also contributed extra or omitted details in the hope that my added info will help someone distinguish the coin in question from another very similar one. Once it had been checked by Jonathan I transferred the information into an Excel spreadsheet, which will subsequently be uploaded to the University’s museum database Mimsy XG by IT staff. It’s a surprisingly complicated and long process but certainly a rewarding one; we’ve already picked up a number of errors and inconsistencies in the original documentation!

The Old Crown, Birmingham's oldest pub. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The Old Crown, Birmingham’s oldest pub. Photograph by Amy Walsh.

My fantastic week was capped off on Friday with a visit to local gallery Eastside Projects with the RCC team for the opening of the Birmingham Show exhibition. Situated in the up-and-coming cultural area of Digbeth, the exhibition is underpinned by three questions: ‘What is the art of Birmingham?’, ‘Is there an accent to Birmingham’s art making?’ and ‘How is Birmingham useful for the production of art?’. Not being from the area (or even this country!), I wasn’t able to puzzle out all of these answers, but I was certainly struck by a sense of humour that permeated many of the works. It was also great to see a piece by RCC’s artist in residence Antonio Roberts included in the exhibition. We finished up the night with dinner and drinks at the nearby Old Crown, the oldest pub in Birmingham (c. 1368!). This was the perfect introduction to Birmingham’s contemporary cultural scene and a lovely night out.