Bowes Museum trip

Posted on 4 July 2018

A CECS and CREMS joint trip report

Early in the morning of Friday, June 15, a group of intrepid early risers set off for (what we think was) the first joint day trip for CECS and CREMS postgraduate students, organised by The Cabinet of Curiosities. Students were joined by Dr Simon Ditchfield (CREMS), Dr Chloe Wigston Smith (CECS) and Brittany Scowcroft, the magnificent administrator for both CREMS and CECS.

Our destination was the Bowes Museum, Teesdale. The weather was on our side and the clouds seemed to clear as we approached the grand purpose-built museum to discover the ‘hidden jewels of Yorkshire’. With its impressive collection of paintings and decorative arts, the Bowes Museum (which looks like a stately country house) boasts a rich range of historical artefacts, offering up many gems to suit the various research interests of students and staff.

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Once the ancestral home of John Bowes, the museum’s façade sets the tone for the many treasures that are to be found inside

On arriving, we were first treated to a guided tour by Bernatte Petti, Assistant Curator of Fine Art, who gave us a history of the museum, focussing on its painting collection and the many highlights in the Spanish Gallery. Having studied one of the artists whose work is on display in the Bowes as a PhD student, Bernadette was able to offer us insight into using the collections from a researcher’s point of view. We then met Howard Coutts, Keeper of Ceramics, who lead us through the silver gallery and vast ceramics collections. He offered insights into the challenges of displaying these collections, as well as allowing us glimpses into how curators balance depth and access when choosing what to display.

We concluded the morning with a tour of the Library and Archive, perched at the very top of the building and graced with round windows that open to expansive views. Although we imagined our gaze might wander to the bucolic scenes on display, we were determined to return our thoughts to the museum itself to learn more about the personal writings of the Bowes family that detail their acquisitions, and to explore the enticing collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century periodicals, auction catalogues, and other rare materials.

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CECS MA students exploring the museum

After watching the demonstration of the Bowes’s famous eighteenth-century silver swan automaton, Dr Chloe Wigston Smith arranged for us to meet Curator of Fashion and Textiles, Joanna Hashagen. Joanna led us into the locked fashion galleries (normally closed to visitors, but not to us!), which she is preparing for the new exhibition ‘Catwalking’ on the fashion photographer Chris Moore. She showed us the study collection, including examples of lace and embroidery, as well as the museum’s permanent display of fashion through the ages. We enjoyed an insider’s view into the rewards and challenges of curating and displaying clothes and textiles.

The sun came out as we prepared to leave, brightening the vistas ahead and making us sad that we had to depart. With so much to explore, we will certainly be returning to this museum’s wonderful and worthwhile collection.