Museum opens its Cabinet of Curiosities

Mike Helsby with one of his ceramic pieces that will be in the exhibition.
Mike Helsby with one of his ceramic pieces that will be in the exhibition.

CURIOUS artefacts have inspired an exhibition by a group of Warrington students.

Warrington Museum and Art Gallery opened its Cabinet of Curiosities to Fine Art students from Priestley College and asked them to create their own pieces.

Now the guest curators have put together an exhibition that will run for the next year alongside many of the unusual items in the collection.

“One of our aims at Culture Warrington is to support and nurture new and developing artistic talent in the region,” said Exhibitions and Services Manager Derek Dick.

“Working with the students has given them the opportunity to create new work inspired by some of the artefacts and also given us a real insight into how artists and young people view our collections. It has been a true partnership in all senses of the word.”

Students were allowed to let their imaginations run wild and use the materials of their choice. The results were suitably varied and include pieces made from glass, wood as well as digital art and even metal coins.

Among the young curators is Megan Bryce who took her inspiration from a travel writing kit.

The former Byrchall High School pupil said it made her wonder about the part it had played in history thanks to the notes, letters, poems or stories that might have been written with it.

She then thought of the letters her great grandparents, Walter and Olive Bryce, had written to one another during the First World War and was inspired to create a memory box.

“Some of the letters had been saved and passed down through the family and I feel fortunate to have been able to present them in my work,” she said.

Megan Bryce's piece is inspired by a writing kit and letters sent by her great grandparents.
Megan Bryce’s piece is inspired by a writing kit and letters sent by her great grandparents.

Taome Winter, who previously studied at Hope Academy, was captivated by a handbag in the museum’s collection and decided to explore what people carry in their bags and whether they are a reflection of personality.

“I went around members of the public and people who I know, photographing what is in their bags and building up work from that,” she said.

“My work is symbolic of an X-Ray exposing the hidden personal contents of the bags I photographed. I purely want to see people’s reactions to the contents – a reflection of today’s judgemental society.”

Hidden in the Cabinet of Curiosities are two feejee mermaids, a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish. However, it was some genuine taxidermy that appealed to several of the students.

Sian McMahon created a piece that consists of a magpie dressed as Robin Hood, a contemporary version of the character who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, while Mike Helsby was inspired by the museum’s tiger head, dodo and hare.

The former Birchwood High pupil has made ceramic versions of the taxidermy heads using the connection between the dodo and hare to Alice in Wonderland.

“My animal sculptures create a background for a set of video projections which portray the surreal world of Wonderland,” he said.

“I have aimed to capture the witty and eccentric characteristics from each character using quotes from scenes in the film.”

The students’ exhibition opens on May 15. A second exhibition called New Horizons opens the same day. It features a series of landscape paintings – hung frame-to-frame – with their horizon lines at the same height. There is also music composed by local schools around an Ostinato that reflects the idea of a horizon line in music.

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