This year’s Kids in Museums Takeover Day in Penzance created art and curated the collection at Penlee House Gallery
As part of Kids in Museums Takeover Day 2019, a group of nine Year 7 students from Mounts Bay Academy curated a new exhibition, Spirit of Penlee, at Penlee House Gallery in Penzance, Cornwall.
Over 60 students visited Penlee House Gallery over the autumn and produced artworks in response to the gallery’s wide ranging collections for the Kids in Museums Takeover Day, which is when museums, galleries, historic homes, archives and heritage sites invite young people in to take over jobs normally done by adults.
more like this
The young people worked with artist Emma Saffy Wilson, whose organic practice uses the raw materials of soil and mould, to produce a series of artworks for display in the museum.
The Takeover Day group also delved into the gallery’s eclectic collection to select objects to display alongside their works of art.
Penlee House was originally a Victorian home built in 1865 by the wealthy Penzance miller and merchant, John Richards Branwell who also purchased the surrounding parkland. The Estate was bought by public subscription in 1946 and opened as the District Museum in 1949.
Today the collection it houses encompasses the historic collections of Penzance Town Council, Cornwall Council and Newlyn Art Gallery and the students were able to draw inspiration from a range of subject areas including natural history, archaeology, social history photography, and decorative and fine arts.
The students were also interested in exploring the lives of the Branwell family who lived at the house through the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and one of the first choices to come out of the store room was the ‘Branwell chair’, an old and much-used rocker full of character, which sat next to the groups’ artworks.
“We wanted to include this in the exhibition because it was from Penlee House when the Branwell Family lived there, before it was a gallery,” said one of the students. “We wanted to display it with a hat and coat to make it look like someone had just been sitting in it.”
The Branwell family lived in the house well into the twentieth century and although the museum has been refurbished twice since opening in 1949, care has been taken to preserve the feel of the original genteel Victorian home.
Another object reflecting the eclecticism of the collection and the house’s Victorian surroundings was a diver’s helmet, which caught the eye of one of the young curators who said: “I liked the diver’s helmet because I think it had a nice old feel about it. Also it makes you think about what it would be like to wear it and the difference between a diver’s helmet these days and back then.”
The helmet was placed in a display case in the exhibition next to the full diver’s suit.
The group also explored the extensive photographic collection at Penlee and several old photographs made it into the exhibition. Alongside vintage shots of the house’s interior and the Branwell family was a shot of the old natural history collection in 1900 when amongst the skins, bones, a stuffed pelican, ostrich and an alligator was a lobster in a case. This commonplace Cornish object inspired one of the student’s artworks, a lobster in monoprint with a light watercolour wash.
Other favourites included a selection of taxidermy birds and animals, examples of pottery, social history objects including vintage packing cases and a sewing machine, rainbow glassware from the decorative arts collection and even an everyday cup and saucer, which served both as inspiration for an artwork and also as an object in its own right.
For more on Takeover Day see the Kids in Museums website: kidsinmuseums.org.uk/what-we-do/takeover-day/
The display can be seen as part of a range of community curated gallery exhibitions, Penzance Selects, running until January 4 2020.
Penlee House Gallery and Museum
Penlee House is the only Cornish public gallery specialising in the Newlyn School artists (c.1880 - c.1940) including Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes, Walter Langley, Harold Harvey and Laura Knight. Set in an elegant Victorian house and park, Penlee House also covers West Cornwall's archaeology and social history, and offers an…