Debtors Prison Tours

Work has now started on our forthcoming exhibition at York Castle Museum – ‘1914: When the World Changed Forever’ – which will open next year to coincide with the anniversary of the start of the First World War.

As part of the exhibition, what is currently the Debtors Prison will be transformed to reflect the sights, sounds and smells of life during the Great War.

York Castle Museum 1914 exhibition poster

Having been fascinated by seeing the redevelopment work at York Art Gallery, I am eagerly anticipating a similar hard-hat tour experience when York Museums Trust employees are allowed round on a special tour in November.

What’s even better is that visitors will also be given an exclusive peek behind the scenes on a limited series of tours to take place on Saturday 9 November 2013. There will be several time slots available, with no additional fee other than the cost of entry to the museum.

Enquire at front desk to book your place on what is sure to be a memorable and unique experience!

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Travel Money

I have been working on a display which takes that loose change from your pocket and turns it into something much bigger over the past few months. The Yorkshire Museum has been host to a ‘travel money’ display featuring modern coins left by visitors from around the world. I have blogged about it previously  but the basic idea was that we asked visitors for a coin from their home country, if they were from overseas, or for locals to leave a coin from their holidays. The idea being that by adding all of these coins onto a large world map we would emphasize York’s connections across the planet.

The response has been excellent with over 200 coins from 72 different countries/states added. If you would like to see the list of places that we had a coin from then there is a list at the bottom of this blog but we covered over a third of all of the countries in the world. The display was also very nicely covered by a couple of newspapers who took the excellent photograph you see below.

Andrew Woods, curator of numismatics, with a coin from Hong Kong at the Yorkshire Museum

Travel Money display, with curator thrown in for good measure. Image is copyright York Press

The display was also noticeable for the range of countries represented. I was surprised at the breadth of places that came to be represented on the map. Everywhere from Kazakhstan to Costa Rica, by way of Ghana and Fiji, was present. This all occurred within two months of the display being launched.


Travel Money display in its final state (click for larger image)

It is also noticeable that the distribution of the coins quite closely mirrors human settlement and economic development. This is (crudely) visible if you compare the coins on our map with the stunning NASA map of light pollution from earth. You see similar concentrations in Europe, the East coast of North America and much of the Asian sub-continent. This was never something we set out to consider but it highlights the ability of a simple object such as a coin to tell those really big stories.

world at night

Nasa image of the earth at night (click for larger image)

Finally, as the display has come down today it is only fair for me to say a big ‘Thank You!’ to all those who left us a coin. We, quite literally, could not have done it without you.


Coins from the following countries were present at the end of the display:

Canada, USA, Mexico, Cuba, Cayman Islands, East Caribbean States, Barbados, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Falkland Islands, Iceland, Ireland, UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, Malta, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Angola, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea, Macau, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Malaysia, India, Philippines, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius and the Maldives.

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The pop-up project

The pop-up project will be running alongside and in relation to the current Artist Rooms exhibition at St Mary’s church featuring American conceptual artist Bruce Nauman. The project will culminate with a week long pop-up exhibition showcasing six different artists, curated and managed by fifteen foundation year students from YorkCollege, in several locations, with various events and workshops throughout the city.

Bonnie, Charlotte and Gris in the Amnesty book shop

As part of the project I was offered a three month internship to further develop my arts practice in relation to the Nauman collection. Taking inspiration from the concepts, visual aesthetic and methods inherent in Nauman’s work I was to produce a piece or pieces that would then be exhibited in one or more of the alternative, pop-up exhibition spaces.

The nature of the project required two things of the work produced, the above mentioned connection to Nauman, for this I chose to focus on his ability to take language beyond the ‘first instance’ through a negotiation of unavoidable complex linguistic associations. Secondly, with the main pop-up location being the Amnesty bookshop on Goodramgate, it became equally important to consider the logistics of working in a non conventional space, a commercial space that unlike most pop-up exhibitions will continue to function as a shop throughout the duration of the exhibition.

pop-up galery students in the Yorkshire Museum stores

With the internship being the first of its kind available though Artist Rooms, it seems relevant to highlight the importance and value such a rare position provides. Offering an invaluable experience to any graduate artist through the opportunity not only to make work with a guaranteed exhibition at the end, but the space and time to do so and continuous support in terms of facilities, mentoring and technical advice from both YorkSt John’sUniversity and YMT.

Opening with a preview event on the evening of Friday 25th October, the pop-up exhibition will also feature work by Poppy Whatmore and Yvonne Carmichael, whose pieces have been selected and curated by the YorkCollege students. I and Charlotte Salt have produced a collaborative installation with scheduled performances and a sound work. These will act to map an exploration of language as instruction, and ultimately physical action itself, inseparably interlinked within a chain of past and future instances in which language is activated through speech, action and the performative utterance.

Works by Hannah Savage and Chris House, both Fine Art graduates and guides at York At Mary’s, Has also been selected for the show.

Written by Bonnie Powell Current Graduate Artist Intern with YMT

 (Bonnie’s internship is running as a partnership between YorkSt JohnsUniversity and YMT. It has been made possible by the Art Fund through Artist Rooms.)

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The Connected Museum (beta)

If you are active in the museum world you must aware of the ever-increasing impact that digital technology is having on the way we work. If not you might be curious to learn a bit about it.

Like lots of museum organisations we at YMT have been wrestling with the opportunities and implications of the emerging landscape. As Agnes Alfandari from the Musee du Louvre posed the challenge recently, “The museum is now ubiquitous and polymorphic. It exists outside real space and is in front of audiences in a variety of forms. The rapid rise of digital allows it to invest into new territories, to be present at school, at home, in hospital or in prison.”

Agnes goes on to describe ‘the augmented museum’ as popular, permeable, malleable, iterative and brave. This ties in very closely with a concept we have been playing with at YMT, that of ‘the connected museum’. Other adjectives we use are inclusive, personalised, responsive, connecting and open.

Openness is key; particularly when it comes to data. People outside the museum world will probably be unaware of the struggles that we have been having around museum data. It has been a classic tussle between the Opportunities and Threats presented by new technology. The opportunities are clear but the concerns around quality control and loss of revenue are real too.

I’m glad to say that, for the most part, the more positive ‘let’s open it up and see what happens’ approach appears to be getting the upper hand.  Exciting projects like the Rijkstudio that allows you to download and re-use 130,000 high quality images and Europeana which gives access to 20 million objects from 1500 different institutions are leading the way. (If you’re interested there’s an excellent summary of the story by Mia Ridge).

But it’s a bit tricky, the concept of the augmented or connected museum, and we thought it would be interesting to try to visualise it. To do that we used a clever bit of software called Gephi (open source, naturally). This is the how the traditional view of YMT might be illustrated with Gephi (click to get a full-size version):


The relative sizes of the circle very roughly reflect the numbers of people involved and a thicker connecting line represents a stronger link between the connected groups of people.

Now if we loosen the definition of ‘York Museums Trust’ a bit and include some other closely related groups, such as visitors to our websites, we get:Connections-2

But if this is only part of the story, there are many other potential connections, e.g.:


I think this begins to give a sense of what the connected museum concept is all about. Perhaps an important aspect of the work of YMT and other museums from now on is managing and stimulating the connections between collections, knowledge and a whole complex network of interested groups and individuals.

This is of course, in the spirit of the connected museum, a work in progress. What do you think?


Related Content: On the Cusp of a Digital Revolution

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A Little Chat With: Yvonne Carmichael

The pop-up gallery project, Oct 26th-Nov 3rd, is an exhibition of art, language and performance that been curated by York College Arts Foundation Students. The exhibition will be taking place in a beautiful bookshop setting and beyond into a trail of secret spaces in York.

All work from the six exhibiting artists has been inspired by the work of Bruce Nauman, which is currently on display at St. Mary’s contemporary art gallery, Castlegate.

Yvonne Carmichael’s artwork will be featured in the exhibition; she took a few minutes away from her craft to speak to us about her involvement in the event.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I am an artist and curator based in Bradford. After graduating from Leeds College of Art in 2006 I curated and facilitated various events and exhibition in empty shop units. I enjoy exhibiting in unusual and public spaces as well as working collaboratively. I am part of artist collective Black Dogs (

Tell us about your work…

I have just completed an MFA at University of Leeds and this provided me with a great excuse to develop my own practice as an artist. I focussed on working with video, photography and performance. One body of work made during the course is ‘Retail Aesthetics’ that explored commercial catalogue photography, shop displays and the movements of shoppers and shop assistants.

Poundlandisagirlsbestfriend by Yvonne Carmichael (3)






Poundland is a Girl’s Best Friend is a series of photographs depicting various useful objects purchased in the pound shop that I displayed using some of the rules that shape high-end retail visual merchandising (eg. products should be displayed in odd numbers with no more than three key colours used in displays etc). The photographs are also inspired by Hollywood dance choreographies (such as Diamonds are a Girls’ Best Friend). Another series of photographs entitled Ladies of Leisure is of women mimicking garden furniture from the ASDA outdoor living catalogue.

How did you become involved in the project…

Recently I was commissioned by Gallery II (Bradford) to do a project in my own home. For this I made a series of short videos using my phone called Chore-ography that looked at the choreography of different chores and everyday domestic objects. I exhibited these videos in my house as part of Saltaire Arts Trail and it was during this exhibition that Gaby Lees from the YMT learning team saw my work. She got in touch to see if I would be interested in exhibiting as part of the pop-up exhibition which I was excited about as I’m big fan of Bruce Nauman’s approach to making art. He lets the concept leads the work and isn’t afraid to experiment. I ran the Teenage Summer School in August at York St Mary’s in response to his work.

The foundation students from York College are curating the upcoming exhibition they will be selecting from my previous works I look forward to seeing how it all comes together!

For more information on the work of Yvonne Carmichael visit:

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A Little Chat With: Charlotte Salt

The pop-up gallery project, Oct 26th-Nov 3rd, is an exhibition of art, language and performance that been curated by York College Arts Foundation Students. The exhibition will be taking place in a beautiful bookshop setting and beyond into a trail of secret spaces in York.

All work from the six exhibiting artists has been inspired by the work of Bruce Nauman, which is currently on display at St. Mary’s contemporary art gallery, Castlegate.

We spoke with Charlotte Salt, who will be exhibiting her artwork as part of the pop-up gallery project.

Tell us about yourself…

Up until his death, my father was an artist and my mother still is. In fact, she was recently represented as AxisWeb artist of the month (July 2013). If you are interested you can click here to read more.

Coming form this kind of background means that, in a sense, I have always been involved in the ‘art-world’. As children, my siblings and I were actively encouraged to ‘make’ and express our ideas in a variety of mediums. So it comes as no surprise that I would follow my parents’ lead and attend art school at some stage in my life. 2010 was just the right time for me to pick up where I left off.
Having lived at various locations in this country (and abroad – Tasmania at age 5!) I am currently settled/based in the York area, where I studied Contemporary Fine Art at York St John University and will be graduating this year (2013) with a first class honors degree. Prior to attending York St John University, I taught and worked in various other jobs to support my practice, before embarking on the next future challenges.

Tell us about your art…

I describe myself as an artist and researcher, with a strong developing interest in curating and collaborative ways of working. My multidisciplinary practice currently focuses on the field of installation, occasionally delving into the performative. A recent example of my performance work would be the ‘Market of Hidden Labour’, a collaboration that took place in May this year, with artist Bonnie Powell.

We used a method within performative art, especially collaborative acts such as Gilbert and George and Abramavich and Ulay, whereby the artist(s), void of personal identity, become so absorbed in one another and the tasks undertaken that they create a barrier of inaccessibility that, in turn, mimics the isolation of aspects of the banal. We explored themes of everyday bureaucracy and its associations with critical social theory.

Through the lack of identity and the removal of all boundaries between the actual and the theoretical, the self and the other, the perfomative and the real, the work we produced became as absurd and as distant as the reality of the content. Click here for more information.

I am a very ‘hands-on’ person when it comes to my artwork and am never happier than when in the studio creating. I mix everyday materials and objects I find with those I make in the studio to build up sculptural assemblages. Scouring scrap metal yards, junk and antique shops, even selecting offcuts of wood, I carefully choose my objects and materials, often keeping the design, but not the function.
An example of this is the work ‘Unpacking My Library – Peter Pan’:

The objects I am able to source ultimately have a huge impact on the meaning and readings that can be interpreted from the resolved work. In this respect my art operates as a mechanism that makes it possible to alter the spectator’s way of looking, bringing them closer in contemplation to what is presented before them. Piecing together clues from the objects, my arrangements are like a puzzle; the viewer’s subjective unravelling of the narrative enabling them to formulate their own understanding of the work.

I often consider in my work ways which a story can be told and re-told, memories inherited, experiences exchanged and new discourses developed, to explore connections that can be made between objects, site and the ways in which the viewer’s participation is often inherent to their understanding of the work.

I also want to further explore notions of unavoidable associations that can be formed in relation to the objects and materials, which I use in my artworks, objects of function for example, and to question how we can reinvent these items as art objects. Such found objects and materials have the ability to carry with them narrative and some form of representation of the everyday encounter. Is it something that draws on collective memory to form an understanding (allegory) and yet also relies on memory (associative) due to the transient, impermanent nature of the production process and thus the work produced.

How did you come to be a part of the project?

I initially heard about the project through an email, which was sent out to graduates by the University. I was determined from the start that I wanted to be involved as it sounded like a great opportunity to keep producing work and further develop my art practice. I thrive on being involved in collaborative work, and the way new ideas can be generated, so much more seems achievable that way. I am also keen to produce new site-responsive artworks and continue my education with a dedication to promoting emerging, contemporary art. I am particularly excited about producing artwork in response to the exhibited artwork by Bruce Nauman at St Mary’s Church. Being involved in a project such as this enables me to work alongside creative professionals, gaining knowledge and experience vital to furthering my career as an artist, in addition to learning the logistics of running pop-up events.

What do you find inspirational about Bruce Nauman’s work and how have you been influenced by it?

Through studies on my degree, I have gained a broader knowledge of contemporary art. When researching installation art, I became aware and interested in his work. I was fascinated by how Nauman’s installations could prompt the viewer to explore an awareness of their own presence in relation to the objects that were presented to them, suggesting relationships between the work and the viewer. This further led on to the artwork I produced in 2011 entitled ‘Headroom’, which was heavily influenced by researching Nauman’s work, in particular Green Light Corridor where Nauman created situations which are physically or intellectually disorienting, forcing viewers to confront their own experiential thresholds.

Headroom by Charlotte Salt

Sculpture to me is like a language, which I feel most at home communicating in. It enables me to express my ideas in a holistic way. I want the viewer to experience the work from various perspectives and to connect in different ways with the diverse range of elements, dependant on many factors, for instance: their mood; culture; and personal life experiences. Being in the space, walking around the structure, in close proximity as though in a room, or some uncanny stage set of my mind and reality, the viewer may stay a while to contemplate what they are witness to. The smaller details, which I have developed in my work, for example the hair and porcelain balanced in the circular orifices (door knob holes) of my most recent work, You Decide To Stay A While, draw the viewer closer to inspect the work (please see attached images and or link to website:

I am interested in the creative processes that occur when an artwork is being made and then viewed. On the one hand, the decisions I make on every aspect of the artwork are thought out and deeply considered, found and invented, particularly with the materials and forms that hint towards functional environments in which we live and work, whilst also appreciating the space left for the viewer to indulge in their own thoughts and experiences. In this sense the creativity is a two-way process: the artist in the production of the artwork, in turn enabling the viewer to be creative in interpreting the artwork.

What are your future plans/aspirations?

I intend to continue to work as an artist and develop my individual practice in addition to working collaboratively as a co-founder member of SALT+POWELL (along with Bonnie Powell).

Salt+Powell is an artist-led collective, established in 2013, based in York. One of our ambitions is to support a unit of emerging artists and provide them with exhibitions shortly after graduating. In the long term, we aim to develop a network with the focus on connecting emerging, York-based artists with a wider demographic, opening up the possibilities for dialogue between other artist-led spaces. We aim to establish a platform for the production of exhibitions, the exchanging of ideas, networking and future collaborations.

This project came into being when, in our final year of studies, Bonnie Powell and I applied for the Spotlight proof of concept funding grant from Creative Business at York St John University. We were frustrated with York’s lack of opportunities for Fine Art students on leaving the Universities, and wanted to provide something we all really wanted, exhibition/project/event space and the all important, affordable studios! As a result of our application, we were awarded funds to help support the idea. We have recently seccured a new venue in York and are planning a programme of events, so watch this space, more information coming soon….

To find out more visit:

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Yorkshire Gold

Visitors to the Yorkshire Museum will have seen two Iron Age torcs (rings) on display. Adam Parker wrote about them recently and noted how we are trying to raise the £30,000 to keep them in the region. In his blog Adam, wrote about how rare Gold is in the region during the Iron Age. This is something that is very obvious when we look at where Iron Age coins are found.

Gold Iron Age Coin

Gold Iron Age Coin

In the period before the arrival of the Romans, Britain used a precious metal coinage.  The coins are quite unfamiliar to us today as they very seldom have a king, or queen’s, head on them. They also do not normally have any writing on them. More common are fairly stylised depictions of animals. In the image above, you may be able to see a horse with a triangular pointy nose on the left of the coin.

Map of Iron-Age tribes producing coins (C) Chris Rudd (

Map of Iron-Age tribes producing coins © Chris Rudd

The coins were usually made of gold or silver and they are quite large, some weigh up more than 5 grams! However, the coins were not produced by a national king but were instead made by many of the smaller tribes who existed at the time. You can see all of the different kingdoms in the map above. This map also makes it clear that coinage was not produced north of the Humber. This is likely to reflect a lack of gold in northern areas.

Map of Iron Coins on Portable Antiquities scheme database

Map of Iron Coins on Portable Antiquities Scheme database

You can see the shortage of gold when the places that coins are found are shown on a map. This map plots all of the data on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database which records finds made by members of the public across all of England. Again it is notable that the finds of gold Iron Age coins are largely restricted to the south and east. This is also reflected in York Museums Trust’s collection as we have only a very small number of Iron Age coins. The majority come from a single hoard, found in the East Riding and are visible as a part of our After the Ice exhibition. (A sneak peek is visible on the York Press’ website).

In sum, the torcs really are very unusual. That amount of gold was quite exceptional in this region at the time. So, if you are looking to see something truly special, please come to the Yorkshire Museum and take a look and, while you are at it, pop up to the top floor and see a very unusual coin hoard at the same time!

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The Great YMT Bake Off

Who doesn’t love cake? And what better way to eat cake than to raise money for charity at the same time? Here at our offices on the Shambles, York Museums Trust employees have been baking culinary creations in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care to coincide with their annual coffee morning on Friday 27 September.

Our office staff did us proud with everything from classic coconut tarts and fairy buns, to carrot cake and banana flapjacks. We also held a Shambles Bake Off, with our Director of People and Facilities, Joan Mudd, being crowned the winner with her devil’s food cake…

Chocolate cake for charity bake sale 

As one misquoted queen once said, let them eat cake!

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Shining a Torc on the Iron Age

Two Iron Age gold torcs are temporarily on display together in the Yorkshire Museum. Found in Townton, near Tadcaster, in 2010 and 2011 they represent a fascinating insight into York’s pre-Roman history – one that we have little information about. Gold torcs are exceptionally rare in Iron Age Britain. Gold coins are known elsewhere in the South of Britain (in the Midlands, East and South coastal regions) but are also particularly rare in North Yorkshire.


Townton’s Gold Torcs

Image © Kippa Matthews

We are forced to conclude that gold generally, in our county, is a material of exceptionally high rarity. Having not just one, but two, objects off such rarity on display in an absolute privilege. One was acquired successfully by York Museums Trust in 2012 for a value of £25,000, and the newer one is valued at £30,000. Half of the funding for the latter torc has been generously supplied by a local charitable foundation but YMT needs to raise the remaining money to acquire it.

For the original news article and details on donations in person, via phone or online, please click here.

The first torc is a single long strip of gold, bent in half and then twisted tightly together around. It is a simple and effective display of wealth. The torc we are aiming to acquire, and which is currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum, is a much more delicate four-band interlace. Whilst it looks like a chain it is quite rigid and would have rested on the arm of a Yorkshire inhabitant over 2,000 years ago. Slight differences in colour between the two are as a result of variations in the alloys of precious metals used in each, and were likely a deliberate aesthetic choice. Both contain gold, silver and copper.

If we are successful in our fundraising campaign, the torcs will join our collection of important Iron Age remain from the region: glass jewellery from chariot burials in Arras (near Market Weighton), a brightly enamelled sword blade from Rudston, a horned God figurine from Aldborough and the gruesome skull from Stanwick.

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Architectural paint research at York Art Gallery

With our enabling project complete and the building stripped back to the bare bones, we’ve taken this opportunity to commission paint sample analysis to look some of the historic decorating schemes at York Art Gallery, firstly as a historic record, and secondly to help inform some of our decisions about the redecoration when we reopen in 2015.

We enlisted the help of Crick Smith, from the University of Lincoln who undertake conservation, restoration and research of historic buildings and artefacts and have worked on exciting projects at St Pancras Hotel in London and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester.  We identified several public areas of the building to sample, including the front doors, entrance hall, stairwell and the front north wing of the building which had housed York City Archives but will become our new café when we reopen.

Paul Croft from Crick Smith undertook the research and found that there had been at least 13 decorative schemes, the earliest dating from 1879 when the building opened for the Second Fine Art and Industrial exhibition, with a redecoration approximately every 10 years.

The samples reveal that when the building opened in 1879 the entrance hall had a typical Victorian colour scheme, with a deep red lead paint on the inside of the front entrance doors, probably a heavy wallpaper on the walls of the entrance foyer, a reddish brown varnished skirting and stone coloured distemper on the frieze and cornice.

Surprisingly, our feature red wall at the bottom of the stairs (where the Simon Periton was displayed – see below) isn’t too far from the original colour scheme!

Simon Periton

The stairwell originally had a red skirting, red walls and a dark green distemper on the stairwell and landing frieze. Although the stair balustrades were dark grey lead (they remain grey today as below) the scrolls on the stair tread sides were picked out in mid blue.

The staircase as it was prior to closure with grey walls:


Disappointingly, the fronts of the entrance doors have been fully stripped relatively recently, giving no evidence of the earliest colours of the front doors. The entrance doors were green prior to current black painted doors.

York Art Gallery

However, the inside of the doors did provide evidence back to the original scheme and the sample here shows the different colours used since 1879.

Paint Sample 1

The front of the north wing of the building (which was the York City Archives), where our new café will be, was originally a dark brown lead with varnish, was then dark brown, pale green, off white, pale grey, pale blue, orange/ cream (and this wasn’t even in the 1970’s, it was c. 1990!) and most recently a bright yellow as you can see below.

Paint Sample 2

Paint sample 3

The report offers a fascinating insight into the historic decorative schemes at the gallery, and will provide a useful guide as we think about redecoration for our reopening in 2015.

Written by Laura Turner, Curator of Art

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