Archive for the ‘Florence Court’ Category

Questions of value

July 10, 2014
Leather fire bucket at Florence Court, Co Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an 'E' stand for 'Enniskillen', the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Leather fire bucket, at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an ‘E’ stand for ‘Enniskillen’, the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Yesterday I attended a conference organised by the Art Fund about the value of museums. There were a number of stimulating discussions about what kind of value museums have and how that value operates.

There seemed to be a consensus that museums should focus on what they are really good at: collecting, looking after, researching and making accessible interesting and beautiful things. It was commented that museums can have social and economic benefits too, but that those are best delivered through that core purpose.

Painted 'grotesque' decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Painted ‘grotesque’ decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

There were some fascinating and contrasting examples of ‘value’. At one end of the spectrum, Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, described the struggle to preserve a collection which is threatened with sale in order to plug the pensions deficit of the city. At the other end, Jack Persekian, director of the Palestinian Museum – as yet without a building and without a collection – showed examples of the objects cherished by individual Palestinians, objectively modest things which nevertheless have enormous subjective power.

This investigation of ‘value’ reminded me of the collections of the National Trust, where the modest can sometimes be just as significant as the fine. The leather bucket shown above was once simply an item of fire prevention at Florence Court. But the way it was made, its aged appearance and its connection to a particular place now give it an distinct aura, speaking to us on a number of different levels.

The charming conceit of painting the house owner’s initial on the bucket in vaguely classical tendrils links it to a long tradition of classicised floral decoration. The boudoir at Attingham, in the second image above, is another, particularly fine example of that tradition. And that boudoir, in turn, demonstrates how objects never exist in a vacuum, but always ‘speak’ to other objects within certain spaces and relationships.

So that leads me to propose that the value of museums, and of heritage more widely, resides in relationships: between objects, between objects and places and between objects and people.

The big house library in Ireland

June 3, 2011

Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s Libraries Curator, has just published The Big House Library in Ireland: Books in Ulster Country Houses.

Possibly the most romantic library anywhere: The Mussenden Temple, on the Downhill demesne, Co. Londonderry, where the Earl-Bishop of Bristol kept a collection of books in the 1780s. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

In 1850 there were about 2000 country houses in Ireland. By the end of the twentieth century only a few hundred of them remained intact and only a handful of those still had their collections of books. The National Trust looks after most of those that do survive.

Historical evidence: Bureau-bookcase in the Library at Springhill, Co. Londonderry, the house of the Conyngham family. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

In this richly illustrated book Mark charts the history of those houses and the families that inhabited them through the evidence found in their libraries.

Page from John Gerard's 'The Herball of General Historie of Plantes' (1633), showing the balsam mint, with a pressed leaf of the plant, at Springhill, Co. Londonderry. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Books can convey all sorts of stories, not just through their content, but also through their bookplates and ownership inscriptions, the handrwitten marginal notes and doodles and even the ocassional pressed flowers and other insertions.

Celtic-Revival-style binding of 'The Cabinet of Irish Literature' (1880) in the library at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The book is available through Amazon.


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