A student volunteer’s perspective on “The Observatory” – An art exhibition giving a new view of research at the University

Having finished the final submission of my degree at the beginning of May I was eager to distract myself from any impending results. Luckily, The Observatory: perspectives on landscape, society and spirit were looking for support in the run up to and during the week of the art exhibition and I readily volunteered with aid from Access 2 Internships’ Widening Participation fund.


A call-out to artists from the Arts and Culture team had been sent out earlier this year, inviting artists to submit works based on the University’s key research themes. From a large number of submitted works a selection was made by a panel of judges representing artists (Volkhardt Mueller), the City of Exeter (Val Wilson, Arts and Events Manager, Exeter City Council), the student community (Tristan Gatward – Vice President, Activities, University of Exeter Guild of Students) and the academic community (Professor Melissa Percival, Associate Professor – French, Art History and Visual Culture). The eventual selection showcased work from 40 South West artists which, after three rounds of careful and lengthy judging, I believe successfully reflected the diversity of research at the University.

“The Observatory” in the Forum, 11 – 18 June 2017.

“The Observatory”

“The Observatory”. Copyright: Elizabeth Dunne, Sara Henson Pelling, Georgina Towler (left to right).


















I invigilated The Observatory whilst it was on show in the Forum on the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus from the 11 – 18 June 2017 and noted that despite the lack of term time student numbers there was consistently someone interested in the exhibition. The other invigilators and I were tasked with encouraging these visitors to vote for their favourite piece. This was one of two awards, the other winning artwork having been chosen by the panel of judges.



  • Julia Hutton won the Judges’ award for BURNING LIGHT, The Passing Day (Morning), a burnt line drawing which emerged through a combined process of direct observation and research with the Met Office. The drawing captures the passage of sunlight over a given time through a process of direct drawing.  The work linked to the research theme of Climate Change and Sustainable Futures.

Julia Hutton’s “BURNING LIGHT, The Passing Day (Morning).” Copyright: the artist.

  • The Visitors’ Favourite award was won by Amy McCarthy for her stained glass piece A World Without, depicting members of the artist’s family and others on their journey on the SS St Louis in May 1939 fleeing Nazi Germany. The artwork invites the viewer to contemplate our shared history and to consider the simple fact that somewhere in every British family tree there is an immigrant or refugee.  The work linked to the research theme of Identities and Beliefs.

Amy McCarthy’s “A World Without.” Copyright: the artist.

As an Art History and Visual Culture student it was thrilling to work for a project that aimed to exemplify how art, research, artists and academics have continued to inform and inspire each other. During the exhibition week a series of associated public events were held, promoting the collaboration of art and research at the University and also its special collections and campus environment.



In particular, I was able to help run Creative Conversations which provided a space for artists and researchers to network in hopes of sparking new collaborations and ideas. Also, Think…Art, a family day of creativity and learning, which hosted arts activities and displays that linked to the University’s research themes allowed families to engage in artistic workshops based on a research theme. This was a very busy day as there were many people in the forum; the artists and researchers, the participating parents and children, plus the other volunteers helping keep the day running smoothly. Altogether, The Observatory exhibition week was a whirlwind of events, art and people. I am proud to say I helped make it all happen and was really pleased to hear such positive feedback and desire for more events like it in the future.

Double Elephant print workshop for Think…Art.

Art workshops in the Forum.

Painting butterfly greeting cards.











 Two new sculptures on Campus

This Spring has seen two new sculptures on the Streatham Campus.

The first is a specially-commissioned bronze bust of Baroness Floella Benjamin, who has recently completed her ten-year tenure as the University’s Chancellor.

Baroness Floella Benjamin by Luke Shepherd

Created by Devon-based artist Luke Shepherd, the sculpture is set at a height at which visitors can approach and touch the work.

The second sculpture is created from Kilkenny limestone and was made by sculptor Peter Randall-Page RA, who is an Honorary Graduate of the University.

By Another Ocean III by Peter Randall-Page RA

Peter has kindly loaned the work, By Another Ocean III to the University for all to enjoy.

Both of these sculptures now form part of the University’s Sculpture Walk and you can view all the sculptures in the walk and download a pdf Sculpture Walk map here.


 A Student’s Eye View of the New Kurt Jackson Exhibition…

Boscastle JMW Turner engraved by Edward Goodall 1825 reproduced courtesy of University of Exeter 4

Kurt Jackson Boscastle s morning sunlight after a nights heavy rain 2015 -1


















In order to avoid having to start the mountain of reading that was hanging over me last week, I decided to take a trip to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and see this Autumn’s exhibition, ‘Kurt Jackson: Revisiting Turner’s Tourism’. And I’m so glad I did.


The inspiration for the exhibition came from a series of engravings that were made from J.M.W Turner’s watercolours and sketches, produced while he toured the South-West in the 19th Century. Jackson decided to return to the locations that Turner visited, nearly 200 years later, in order to paint and record how these landscapes have changed. The Turner prints, that form part of the University of Exeter’s Fine Art collection, and the RAMM’s own archive, are hung up in the gallery alongside Kurt Jackson’s paintings so that you can see the similarities and differences.


Jackson’s dynamic paintings evoke a truly sensory experience. His use of collage (in fact, in one piece a few leaves fell onto the canvas while the paint was still wet and he decided to let them dry there) and the fierce brushwork, creates a tactile surface that you’re fingers are dying to explore. The works also include, in true Jackson style, a few words, or snippets of the painter’s interior monologue, that evoke the sounds and smells of the space around him while he was working on location. Standing in the gallery, I really felt transported for a moment, down to Boscastle cove, or onto the side of a road in Launceston.


The exhibition is running until the 4th December 2016 so I recommend you have a wander round if you’ve got a spare hour or simply want to procrastinate. And don’t worry if you’re a poor, struggling student like myself, who will have to think twice before buying anything over about £5, the exhibition is completely free!
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00am to 5:00pm.


To find out more about the exhibition: http://www.artsandcultureexeter.co.uk/event/1297/revisiting-turner-s-tourism/

Sarah Waite

Exeter: A Place in Time


Exeter Place in Time blog picSecrets from Exeter’s hidden past will be uncovered in a major new archaeology project.


Lead by experts from the University of Exeter, the latest technology will be applied to the collections at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) to reveal where the city’s food and ceramics came from during 1st to the 16th centuries. The four-year study will show the extent of trading networks throughout the period and Exeter’s changing role within the region.


Project leader Stephen Rippon, Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Exeter, said: “There was a huge amount of excavation in Exeter in the 1970s, due to big building projects at the time such as the Guildhall shopping centre. Now we have sophisticated techniques to analyse the findings from those digs. This will show the relationship that Exeter had with its local area, the South West and Europe. It will allow us to understand the economy in Exeter in the past, and what the Roman equivalent of what we describe now as our food miles were.”


Councillor Rachel Sutton, Lead Councillor for City Development, said “The city council is delighted to support this project as it will enable the important discoveries made by the council’s archaeologists in the 1970’s and 80’s to gain the wider recognition that they deserve, and the city’s pivotal role in the history of the South West, and its wider links abroad, to be more fully appreciated”


Councillor Rosie Denham, Lead Councillor for Economy and Culture, said “Using the latest scientific techniques, this project will add to the myriad stories that RAMM’s collections tell about Exeter: about its origins, history, people, natural history and place in the world. Ancient objects excavated decades ago then catalogued and stored at RAMM can now reveal details of the local economy through the millennia; details that were unimaginable when the objects were found. Ingenuity, skill and science are key to Exeter’s future prosperity. It is wonderful to also see them helping us understand our past.”


There were excavations on 89 sites within the city between 1970 and 1990. The remains analysed as part of the project will include those from Friernhay Street, behind Fore Street, from the Guildhall Centre in central Exeter, and Rack Street on the edge of the city.

Urbanisation in Britain

The relationship between town and country has played an important role in shaping British society for much of the past two millennia. Britain’s assimilation into the Roman world led to the creation of a network of towns as centres of administration, trade, industry and service provision although the decline of Roman Britain led to the disappearance of urban life in most areas. It was only from around the 10th century that true towns once again re-emerged, and they have been integral to British life ever since. This project will examine the fluctuating fortunes of the most important town in SW England – Exeter – and how it interacted with its local, regional and international hinterland.

The Development of Exeter

Exeter began in the Conquest period (c.AD55) as a Roman legionary fortress, and following its abandonment (c.AD75) it was transformed into a town (civitas capital) serving the local region of Dumnonia. Unlike many other lowland areas, Dumnonia was slow to adopt aspects of Roman life, there being very few villas and other forms of Roman influence in the countryside. As such, this project will use Exeter as an example of the development of urbanism at the fringes of Romanised Britain. Although large parts of the town appear to have been abandoned in the early medieval period, a thread of continuity is indicated by radiocarbon-dated burials from the Cathedral Close. Urban life in Exeter resumed around the 10th century, and the town continued to flourish throughout the medieval period when it established extensive trading connections with Atlantic Europe, once again demonstrating a model of urbanism that was different from the centres of power to the east.

Why Exeter?

Exeter’s archaeological importance is two-fold: firstly, it is representative of urbanism in western Britain, well away from the political, social and economic centre of London; and secondly, there have been particularly extensive excavations the results of which have only partly been published. The Exeter: A Place in Time project therefore aims to produce the first ever synthesis of the archaeology of Exeter and undertake a series of themed research strands, based upon scientific analyses of previously excavated assemblages (animal bones, pottery, and metallurgical debris) that shed light on how the city developed and interacted with its hinterland.

The Project

Exeter: A Place in Time is a collaboration between the Universities of Exeter and Reading; English Heritage through their Centre for Archaeology and funding for Cotswold Archaeology; and Exeter City Council who run the City’s Historic Environment Record and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.

The findings

The project includes radiocarbon and dendrochronological dating and metallurgical analysis of objects in RAMM’s collections and researching unpublished excavation notes. The findings will be presented in two books, academic conferences and a public presentation. They will also enhance RAMM’s Making History gallery, its online Time Trail, and the Historic Environment Record.


Image: Project leader Professor Stephen Rippon with Curator Tom Cadbury in RAMM’s Making History gallery.

 An artistic collaboration showcased

The exhibition ‘We Construct’ documents the collaboration between the University’s Graduate School of Education, Spacex Gallery and Ladysmith Junior School in Exeter.


All three have worked together over the last five years to engage children – along with teachers and parents – with the work of contemporary artists in order to widen their horizons and inspire their own art making and creativity.


The exhibition documents the project in text and images and showcases some of the artwork produced.


Come along and see the exhibition which runs daily from 8 am – 8pm until 21 March on the mezzanine floor of the University’s Forum building.  Entry is free.

We Construct blog pic 2We Construct blog pic 1



 The Magic Lantern – creating images to shock and delight

On Saturday just after my Spiller & Tait Coffee I went along to the Gothic Magic Lantern Show organised by the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum on Campus. The show was given by Mervyn Heard, one of the country’s foremost lanternists.

melvyn heard and his magic lantern blog


The lantern itself was a wonderful feat of engineering from a bygone age – with polished wood box, a slot at the front to hold the lantern slide plates and two extending brass tubes protruding from the front. Before electricity, lanterns were lit by candles and later “limelight”, created through a very dangerous process of heating a piece of limestone in burning gas until it became incandescent and gave off a very strong light.  The lantern on Saturday was thankfully lit by electricity! It projected very effectively images from glass slides measuring about 10 cm in height onto a large screen.




Mervyn Heard took us through a range of fascinating slides which at one time would have shocked and enthralled audiences, in a time before the cinema, after which people became used to seeing moving images on screen. Figures in slides appeared to ‘move’ –  and images of landscapes changed from night to day – this effect was created by the lanternist carefully moving one slide behind another.


Older slides were intricately hand-painted, but later slides might be photographic images, either black and white or black and white with tinted colours.


Storytelling was also a huge part of the lanternist’s  art – through the pictures projected from the lantern and artful storytelling, wonderful and shocking tales would come to life.  Mervyn explained that in fact, the magic lantern could be said to be more akin to theatre than cinema, as the success of the images to move the audience depended on the storytelling and acting skills of the lanternist.


The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum has a huge collection of lantern slides, some of which are on display in the Museum on the Streatham Campus.  Others can be seen in digital format on the Museum’s website.

Lantern slide depicting a Tiger, courtesy Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

Lantern slide depicting a Tiger, courtesy Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

 Being Human festival showcases Humanities Research at Exeter

We’re nearly half way through the wonderful series of events being organised by the Humanities Department of the University of Exeter as part of the national Being Human Festival which is designed to engage the public with Humanities research.

singing the past newsletter


All the events are free and cover diverse subjects.


Last week I went to see ‘Singing the Past’ ; a fascinating performance given by Dr Freyja Cox Jensen, a researcher in Early Modern History at the University of Exeter.


Along with her brother Dr Oskar Cox Jensen, Research Fellow at King’s she performed a series of ballads from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Ballad sheets were an early way of spreading stories in musical form, ballad sheets being sold in their thousands, on topics such as notorious crimes, famous leaders and lost love.


The performance was given in the recently-refurbished tudor house The Walronds in Cullompton, which helped to create just the right setting for the historical ballads.


If you would like to attend some of the wonderful events still to come as part of the Being Human Festival, check them out on the Arts & Culture website or click on the list here.

 Take a trip to Faerie Land…

We’ve just been to see a new exhibition located in the Forum building on the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus.

Poly-Olbion 2

The Faerie Land is inspired by the poet Michael Drayton’s 17th century epic topographical poem of England and Wales, Poly-Olbion, accompanied by a series of maps created by William Hole.


This magical exhibition explores the relationship between landscape and British identity and how Drayton’s evocation of history and folklore ripples through our lives today.











The Faerie Land exhibition is the result of a collaborative effort between researchers in the University’s English Department, led by Professor Andrew McRae, Professor of Renaissance Studies, and Flash of Splendour, an arts education organisation who has been working with six South West special educational needs and disability (SEND) schools to create a fantastical display of art work.


Cartographic artist Stephen Walter and painter David McInnes have also responded to the project and juxtaposed contemporary work with the original 17th century imagery, providing the opportunity to view Hole’s maps up-close for the first time.


The exhibition will be running from the 7th October to the 20th November 2015 so make sure you don’t miss out.


For more event information go to: http://www.artsandcultureexeter.co.uk/event/1003/the-faerie-land/

 Object Stories: The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum’s new YouTube Channel

The University of Exeter’s Bill Douglas Cinema Museum has launched its YouTube Channel with four short films made using the Museum’s collections.


Under the umbrella title of “Object Stories”, Academics in Film Studies at The University of Exeter talk about how they use artefacts in The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for their research.


The films were made by student filmmaker Mini Warren and were funded by the University’s Research and Knowledge Transfer department to share the scholarship undertaken at the University with the wider world.


The museum is of course a unique resource to Exeter, is free and open to the public, and its holdings demonstrate the importance of moving image culture on society. – See more at: http://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/bdc-museum-on-youtube-object-stories/#sthash.I6IbzBkD.dpuf


Below is an example of one of the new YouTube films. It features Dr Joe Kember discussing the museum’s extensive magic lantern collection, particularly the slides and lectures produced by campaigning and religious groups such as the temperance movement. Dr Kember has recently won an award as part of a European consortium to the JPI Heritage scheme with a project called ‘A Million Pictures: Magic Lantern Slide Heritage as Artefacts in the Common European History of Learning.’ He is also co-authoring a book on popular entertainment in the South West in 2017 entitled Picture Going: Visual and Optical Shows 1820-1914.


Image 2 restoration for blogImage 1 restorationclose up of frameOne of the University’s largest paintings, ‘The Four Corners of the World’ is currently being restored and cleaned.  The painting with a canvas of around 210 x 345 cm in dimension unframed, is an 18th century copy of a Rubens painting, ‘The Four Continents’, the original being painted in 1615.


The painting has already been taken out of its framed and glued, using a special removable glue, onto a strong new canvas which will enable it to be re-stretched on its frame.  Cleaning of the artwork is now underway and then decisions will be made about what areas of the painting might need to be re-touched before it is then varnished.


The restorers have discovered that the frame is very special in that it is hand-carved, rather than being decorated with a cast plaster design.  It is probable that the frame was originally made for another painting, as there is evidence that the painting’s canvas has been enlarged to fit it.


It is hoped that the cleaned and restored painting will be re-hung in the University in early July 2015.


Click here to see an image of the original Rubens ‘The Four Continents’ by Rubens, on which this painting is based. It represents the four continents of Europe, Asia, America and Africa –  Australia had not yet been discovered in 1615.