Vestiges: Crafting Connections through the Heritage of the Peak District
Written by Dr Melanie Giles
Vestiges worked with Sheffield Museum Trust’s Weston Park Museum to help enrich the cultural and creative content of their exhibition celebrating the life and work of Peak District antiquarian, Thomas Bateman. Collaborative discussion between the museum’s curators and the project team began with a joint lecture at the Derbyshire Archaeology Day 2022, to over 300 attendees. The final exhibition officially opened on the 27th May 2022 and will run until 15th January 2023. So far, it has been seen by over 31,170 visitors! Brought to Light: The Remarkable Bateman Collection showcases not just the museum’s own archaeological and anthropological collections but objects loaned from the Whitworth Gallery and John Rylands Research Institute.
Building on a previous SALC and Creative Manchester Cultural Engagement funded project, Stories of Discovery, project lead Dr Melanie Giles (dept. of CAHAE) brought poet Dr Abbi Flint and independent archaeologist and artist Dr Rose Ferraby into conversation with the museum curators. Their work now features as an integral part of the exhibition.
Abbi’s poem Flints articulates the awe that ancient lithics can provoke while accompanying the rare and sensitive display of an Early Bronze Age burial. In Cow Low Bowl, Abbi conjures the wonder of a complete glass vessel from an Anglo-Saxon burial which Bateman cherished so much it figured in the famous oil-painting portrait he commissioned of himself and his son.
Reading of Flints by Dr Abbi Flint
Reading of Cow Low Bowl by Dr Abbi Flint
Melanie’s poem Marvellous To Say took Bateman’s own words and refashioned them into a found poem about the wondrous survival of fragile leaves and beetle wing cases, from a burial on the upland peat.
Rose’s evocative landscape collages, Dark Peak and White Peak, now form an eye-catching centrepiece in the gallery, evoking the distinctive ecology, landform and monuments of the limestone and gritstone outcrops of the Peak District: England’s first national park. They prompt the audience to think about the inspiring power of the past, by placing artefacts, archival records, human remains and burial rites in creative conversation with each other. The curators felt that this supported a new, bold and creative approach, whilst enriching the research knowledge underpinning the exhibition.
The poems and artwork can also be found in the Vestiges collection. In addition, a specially commissioned film in the gallery features Melanie Giles on site at Five Wells chambered tomb, championing Bateman’s antiquarianism as a kind of ‘rescue’ archaeology. The project also partnered with University of Sheffield archaeologist Prof. Bob Johnston, whose student-led research was transformed into an interactive Geographic-Information-System Storymap, allowing virtual access to the sites and finds featured in the exhibition, thus democratising access to heritage in both rural and urban settings.
All of the partners took part in the public talk Brought to Light by the Spade – Archaeologists, Artists and Poets in Conversation, which also drew in Peak District National Park Archaeologist Anna Badcock, to reflect on the contemporary challenges of looking after this heritage and the legacy of Bateman’s work. Every attendee took away a free print copy of Vestiges and a set of postcards to celebrate the exhibition. Finally, a museum-based workshop, Marks and Traces – Poetry and Art Inspired by the Past, was delivered by Melanie, Abbi and Rose, inviting members of the public to try their own hand at poetic and artistic responses to the past. Personal tours for the workshop attendees encouraged footfall and directed creative engagement with gallery content, enabling participants to mobilise their heritage for creative inspiration.
Project duration: March – August 2022
Project lead: Dr Melanie Giles (Dept. of CAHAE, SALC, UoM)
- Lucy Cooper (exhibitions and display curator, Sheffield Museums Trust)
- Martha Jasko-Lawrence (curator of archaeology, Sheffield Museums Trust)
- Anna Badcock (cultural heritage team manager, Peak District National Park)
- Prof Bob Johnston (landscape archaeologist and professor of archaeology at The University of Sheffield)
- Dr Abbi Flint (independent artist – poetry)
- Dr Rose Ferraby (independent artist – collage and print works)
Audiences involved: Museum visitors of all ages, creative practitioners, city councillors, museum trust staff
“I didn’t imagine, when I contributed poems to the Stories of Discovery project, that my words would be included in Weston Park Museum’s fabulous Thomas Bateman exhibition. As an ’emerging’ poet it is such a privilege and joy to have my poem displayed alongside the artefacts that inspired my words.”
Abbi Flint, poet
“It’s fantastic to see my painted collages of ‘White Peak’ and ‘Dark Peak’ forming such a cohesive part of the exhibition at the Weston Park Museum. It’s rare for artwork to be used within archaeological exhibitions, and here the curators have drawn the creative work from Vestiges seamlessly into the narrative of the exhibition. It’s a pleasure to see the work reaching such a broad audience, and for it to be displayed like this, as well within the poetry book. The whole project has been a truly creative collaboration, and the exhibition has continued in this spirit.”
Rose Ferraby, artist
“It was such a pleasure to participate in the evening talk and discussion. It was chaired with eloquence, insight and generosity. Abbi read her poems beautifully and they made such a lovely impression on the room. Rose – spoke so well about the intersections of artistic and archaeological practice. It was inspiring stuff! I liked the way that we all identified ourselves as ‘archaeologists’ and yet our contributions took such different forms. Hopefully there are further opportunities for conversation and perhaps collaboration.”
Bob Johnston, academic landscape archaeologist, The University of Sheffield
“It was fantastic working with Mel, Abbi and Rose to weave art and poetry into the Brought to Light exhibition. Their work injected a creative spark into the story of Thomas Bateman, adding a thoughtful and beautiful dimension into the exhibition interpretation. The evening talk allowed visitors to expand on the thoughts and ideas raised by the Vestiges project, encouraging visitors to think beyond the ‘curiosities’ label often given to Victorian collections such as Bateman’s.”
Lucy Cooper, exhibitions & display curator, Sheffield Museums Trust
“We really welcomed the opportunity to enrich the exhibition with creative styles of interpretation and thereby enhance the experience for our visitors. It’s great that Bateman’s work continues to have impact.”
Martha Jasko-Lawrence, curator of archaeology, Sheffield Museums Trust
Funding source: SALC Social Responsibility Award