Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Redevelopment Postponed

Logo bmagBirmingham City Council are proposing to reschedule their modernisation works on the Council House complex until after the Commonwealth Games in 2022. This will mean that Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery will no longer be closing in late 2019.

This does not change Birmingham Museums Trust’s ambitions to redevelop the museum. The team will continue to plan the new displays and public facilities so that work can begin onsite sometime after 2022.

Birmingham Museums Trust will keep you updated on their plans, so please click here to keep an eye on the news page on their website.
Please click here to read their statement about the postponed redevelopment.

John Grayson – Closing Celebration with Artist Talk

Closing Celebration with Artist Talk 
Thursday 17 January 2019 | 6pm – 8pm | The Vittoria Gallery Lecture Theatre

The Vittoria Gallery have invited members of the Friends to join their Closing Celebration with Artist Talk for Enamel | Substrate, a solo exhibition by John Grayson, crafts maker, academic and researcher.

Enamel | Substrate is the culmination of John’s practice-based PhD investigating the [lost] craftsmanship employed in the 18th South Staffordshire enamel trade. The trade made objects for the person and the home such animal-shaped snuff boxes, Rococo and Neo-Classical styled candlesticks and Medieval armour shaped mustard pots, from paper thin copper foil coated with enamel. John’s past craft practice identified a knowledge gap in the literature with regard to the manufacture of the fundamentally important copper substructure of these objects.

The exhibition encapsulates the research method, the journey of enquiry and its findings. It presents:

  • examples of the method of analysis of museum objects – analytical drawing, photographs and video – that reveal hitherto unknown construction;
  • samples from contemporary craft making – material experiments, sketch-books and John’s contemporary craftwork – that formed the method to both investigate, understand, and demonstrate the creative value of the 18th century craft processes;
  • objects replicated to test construction hypothesis – examples of an 18th century candle snuffer, a bird-shaped bonbonnière and a candlestick – which, for the first time, reveal the complex and ingenious construction of the copper substrate previously hidden under the enamel.

The exhibition will be of interest to historians, museum and heritage professionals, and contemporary crafts makers alike.

Click here to book a ticket for the artist’s talk from 6pm until 6.30pm, and then the Private View and celebration in the Vittoria Street Gallery between 6.30-8pm.

Enamel | Substrate has been co-curated with Ruthin Craft Gallery and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The research has only been possible through access to the museum enamel collections of Wolverhampton Arts and Culture; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum of London; The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library, Preston; and Birmingham Museums Trust: and the generous support of Birmingham City University through a STEAM Doctoral Training Grant.

Ancient Civilisations Week at BMAG

Ancient Civilisations Week will be brought back to life around Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery between Saturday 17th and Saturday 24th of November. Discover a wealth of artefacts from our collection that have helped shape our knowledge of people that lived thousands of years ago in the very earliest cities and societies.

On Saturday 18th November, between 12noon and 3pm, there will be two talks and a film screening – see details below:

Saturday 18th November, 12-12.30pm
Gas Hall Meeting Room
‘Jewels, Graves and Scholars: Illustrating the Royal Tombs of Ur’

Join Helene Maloigne for a fascinating talk as part of Ancient Civilisations Week . The Royal Tombs of the ancient city of Ur (southern Iraq) produced some of the most visually and technically striking objects of archaeological discovery. Comparable to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavations (1922 –1934) not only added significantly to our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia but captivated all levels of interwar society with their evocation of Biblical Ur of the Chaldees.

While the objects from the Royal Tombs are now in the National Museum of Iraq, the British Museum and the Penn Museum (Philadelphia) the original drawings from the excavation by the American illustrator Marie-Louise Baker were donated to Birmingham Museums by Sir Leonard in the 1950s.

This talk will explore the history of the excavation, archaeological illustration and how Woolley used the images in his scholarly and popular publications. Click here for more information on the BMAG website.

Saturday 18th November, 1-3pm
Gas Hall Meeting Room
‘Talk & Film Screening: Letters from Baghdad’

As part of Ancient Civilisations Week, BMAG pleased to be screening ‘Letters from Baghdad’ with a 20 minute introduction talk by Dr Zena Kamash.

‘Letters from Baghdad’ is a documentary about Gertrude Bell, the most powerful woman in the British Empire in her day who shaped the destiny of Iraq after WWI in ways that still reverberate today. Click here for more information on the BMAG website.

Saying a fond farewell to Dippy

‘Dippy on Tour’ has impressed visitors to BMAG since the exhibition opened on 26th May. Visitors have been flocking to BMAG to see Dippy – current visitor numbers are currently just over 240,000!

However, the exhibition is now, sadly, coming to an end. Dippy will be having a Farewell Party on Sunday 9th September. Click here for more information and do make sure that you pop in to see the Natural History Museum’s famous Diplodocus before he leaves Birmingham to continue his adventure at Ulster Museum in Belfast!

The Friends are very proud to have supported ‘Dippy on Tour’ by funding the conservation work which was carried out on Birmingham’s Bird Collections, to enable them to be displayed alongside Dippy during the exhibition.



‘Dippy on Tour’

We wanted to thank the team at Birmingham Museums for our dinosaur ‘thank you’ card!

We are very proud to have supported ‘Dippy on Tour’. He, and Birmingham’s Bird Collections, look superb – and they have certainly been attracting lots of visitors!

‘Weeping Angels’: Interpreting the symbolism of the Victorian cemetery

A Talk by David Moore, 16 January 2018
Review by Jim Wells

David Moore – Photo by Joanna Packwood

It is not often that you meet a fellow enthusiast for the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris – but more of that later. Having recently joined the Friends, this was my first experience of a Friends’ evening talk, and so I was not sure what to expect and approached the evening with a degree of trepidation and excitement.

The event had been so popular that it had to be moved to the Birmingham and Midland Institute (BMI) in order to accommodate everyone, so clearly the topic was of significant interest. The evening started off with a very convivial glass of wine and pizza before we sat down to listen to David’s presentation. It was reassuring to see so many people there and interested in the topic, as my experience to date had been that expressing an interest in cemeteries at a social occasion can be taken in the wrong way and lead to isolation!

Wine and pizza before the talk – Photo by Joanna Packwood

David’s background is public and social history and, as he explained, the way societies deal with burial tells you an awful lot about that society, its culture and its beliefs. Before focusing on the Victorian period we had a good summary of burial practices from the Neolithic period, through the Middle Ages and up to the eighteenth century. The concept of ‘Memento Mori’, artistic or symbolic reminders of mortality as used in burials, was central to David’s talk which was beautifully illustrated throughout with a range of pictures. Suddenly all those symbols that you have seen in fourteenth century tombs, Cathedrals or Victorian cemeteries start to make sense.

We will come back to an explanation of some of the symbols after a short digression. By the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, a combination of population growth and urban expansion meant church cemeteries were getting extremely overcrowded. Our own St Phillip’s has an estimated 80,000 burials alone, hence the high level of the ground; it does makes you think twice about eating your sandwiches there. St Martin’s had expanded into Park Street to ease matters, which is currently being excavated in preparation for HS2. The solution to this overcrowding was the concept of the garden cemetery, which brings us back to Père Lachaise in Paris and our own Key Hill (Non Conformist) and Warstone (Anglican) cemeteries in Birmingham. On a spring afternoon in Paris there is nothing better than setting off for a stroll round Père Lachaise. Maps are for sale as you go in, with a guide to all the famous people buried there. Much visited is Jim Morrison (The Doors) who will be familiar to those readers of a certain generation. In Parisian culture it is seen as quite a normal and respectable activity to while away an afternoon viewing all the tombstones, many of which are architectural masterpieces in their own right, and enjoying the beautiful gardens. Closer to home, David recommended Key Hill and Warstone in the Jewellery Quarter, a short hop on the tram, both of which give an insight into Victorian Birmingham and the significant families that shaped our city.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris – photo by David Moore
The audience – Photo by Joanna Packwood

David concluded with a detailed explanation of the key symbols used in the Victorian period and further recommendations for visits. The evening finished with a lively question and answer session, as the presentation had stimulated much interest amongst the audience. We all left the event better informed and with a greater understanding for a leisurely walk around Père Lachaise, or closer to home in the Jewellery Quarter.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris – photo by David Moore

Recommendations for visits:
St Michael’s, Lichfield
Key Hill and Warstone cemeteries, Birmingham
Père Lachaise, Paris
St Mary’s, Moseley

A selection of symbols:
Angels are a seen as a symbol of spirituality. They guard the tomb and are thought to be messengers between God and man.
Cornucopia symbolises an abundant and fruitful life.
Cherubs are angelic and signify innocence.
Dogs represent loyalty, fidelity and vigilance when used on tombs.
Lily of the Valley represents purity, innocence and virginity.