Saturday, 28 April 2012

A day with the antiquities

The Natural History Museum
exuberant column top to go

 My friend Mary and I spent a day in Oxford visiting both the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums. Quite a stretch for the legs but worth it for the simple restocking of inspirations.
We took sketch books, but I find that the brain refuses to engage meaningfully, and instead is busy absorbing things randomly.
Firstly, let's just celebrate the Natural History Museum and home of the Pitt Rivers collection. Stand back and applaud the creative literalism of mid nineteenth century architecture. You can find out all about it here, paid for mainly by public subscription,

what you see today is what was created before funds ran out and interest waned. I LOVE this building and interior, it tells, quite lyrically, of the excitement and energy surrounding the quest for knowledge, anywhere your hand touches a stone ballustrade there is a beautiful curl of carved leaf or bud by James or John O'Shea, those on the stair worn shiny and nearly off by a million hands.
mongoose eating beetle... of course.
What's not to love about the cast iron columns, each topped with a collage of plant life picked out in gold and each one different. The stone columns carved with fruits and animals, insects... I love that the stone masons worked from live samples brought up from the botanical collections... each column in the central hall smoothly carved from a different marble or stone from the British Isles.
OK, enough, visit yourself and enjoy.
Pass quickly by the collections of dinosaur bones and impaled lepidoptera to a small door in the far wall, to enter the Pitt Rivers museum. This I love too, rows of tall glass sided mahogany cabinets stuffed to the gunnels with, well, stuff.

Each cabinet is themed on an aspect of life, the contents brought together from all over the world to show how humanity addressed that aspect, a kind of collective divergence. It is lit gloomy, a little enervating as you really don't know if you will turn a corner and be confronted with a collection of shrunken heads, shoes, weaving looms, pots, talismans, or objects not instantly identifiable, causing you to peer closer to read the inked labels.
It is the ultimate manifestation of all small boy's need to 'collect' indulged to the n'th degree.
Both here and at the Ashmolean, I was fascinated by the personal items, the every day objects that become talismans and votives, the small treasures that may not be precious of material, but imbued with meaning for the owner, and mysterious now to us, the inquiring observers.
I now want a metal thingy with little dangling fish and fruit and a key and a miniature tambourine, how utterly eclectically Steampunk is that!!!

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