Victoria AdamsBy Victoria Adams, Assistant Curator, with thanks to Dr Kevin McLoughlin

One sunny but blustery day, with some trepidation, I prepared to open the first of five large wooden packing-crates that National Museums Scotland had just acquired from a private donor. Nearly 18 months of negotiations had finally lead to a purchase aided by the Art Fund of over 500 objects relating to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, including propaganda posters, paper-cuts, paintings, magazines, copies of the Little Red Book; hand- and machine-embroidered textiles; ceramics and glassware include large figurative groups, vases and other vessels; and the contents of these five crates.

Propaganda poster

An example of one of the large propaganda posters. The text reads 東方紅 which means ‘the East is Red’, with the text below reading 毛主席是我們心中的紅太陽 or ‘Chairman Mao is the red sun in all our hearts’, a popular slogan of the era.

The fragile objects inside the crates had been created at the height of the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), in the famous porcelain-making city of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, south-east China. Transported hundreds of miles overland by boat, road, rail, and finally packhorse, they were stored for safety in a police station in the remote and mountainous area of Zhongdian in north-west Yunnan, part of the area now recognised as the inspiration for the literary Shangri-La. For an undetermined reason they were never distributed to their final destinations, and, for decades after the end of the Cultural Revolution, had been left forgotten and untouched until the building was destroyed in an earthquake in 1998. Rediscovered amongst the rubble, they were purchased by a collector, and were flown across continents to eventually end up with me in the museum’s quarantine room.

Some of this provenance I knew from the acquisition paperwork, but the most tangible evidence of their cultural origins was given by the original packaging inside the crates. Levering off the first crate’s lid, I found beneath crumpled brown paper a bamboo basket tied up with rope, crammed full of aged brown straw. Mixed in with the straw packaging were masonry fragments, presumably from the earthquake; also dried flower-heads; scraps of newspaper; faded Chinese characters written on ribbons; half a mouse skeleton; and what can best be described as floor sweepings. Placing the baskets side by side, I matched pairs that had altered their shape, probably during transit when they had moulded to the sides of a packhorse or pony. One had also evidently been dropped in a muddy puddle.

A typical basket, half-empty.

A typical basket, half-empty.

The worst basket, also showing evidence of being dropped in a muddy puddle.

The worst basket, also showing evidence of being dropped in a muddy puddle.

So what was inside these mysterious crates?! Delving into the straw (whilst wearing biohazard gloves and an industrial dust-mask) I excavated the first of over 100 small porcelain busts of Chairman Mao, or mini-Maos as I affectionately call them, untouched since they were packed during the early years of the Cultural Revolution.

The first Mao emerging.

The first Mao emerging.

Many Maos

Many Maos.

They are almost all identical, although there is slight variation in the thickness of porcelain, and the detail of the moulds as they gradually wore down during production. About eighteen centimetres high, they are of a consistently high quality, moulded from very fine white biscuit porcelain and coated with a matt smear glaze, which gives them a slight luminescence. Uneducated Chinese citizens were supposedly convinced that this was because each one embodied the spirit of Mao.

Two Maos vary in that one has a different plinth, and another is half-size. Otherwise they are all the same, depicting Mao in his eponymous jacket or Zhongshan suit, with his characteristic receding hairline and prominent mole on his chin. The plinth beneath has relief inscriptions reading: 毛主席万岁: ‘Long live Chairman Mao’.  Like all representations of Mao, they were produced with great care and respect. Any fault or flaw even during firing, or consequent deliberate or accidental destruction could be seen as counter-revolutionary, and the consequences for the maker could be very serious indeed, even fatal.

Along with our own British Queen, Chairman Mao is one of the most reproduced individuals in human history, represented literally billions of times in a wide range of media. During the Cultural Revolution printed material such as propaganda posters were produced in vast numbers, as were ceramic models including a variety of porcelain busts, like these examples. Officially sanctioned, they were created for distribution to official and public buildings throughout China, such as party secretaries, offices, remote schools, village police stations, etc.

Despite the distances travelled, only two were damaged on arrival, thanks to the high quality of the porcelain and the protection offered by the bamboo baskets and their padding of straw. These baskets were literally a time-capsule from that era to this, complete with smells, textures and actual dirt from the past! Museum objects themselves are often seen as tangible evidence of history; it’s rare to also get ephemeral packaging so particular to a time and a place as rice-straw harvested during the Cultural Revolution. As I unpacked the baskets I mused on the vastly different life experiences of those who had packed them about 45 years ago, of the social and political upheaval, the strict restrictions around individuality, creativity and self-expression; the Chinese intellectuals banished to undertake hard labour in the countryside; and alongside some social improvements, the subsequent poverty and suffering of the Maoist era. I really couldn’t grumble about getting a bit hot and dusty unpacking heavy boxes in a museum store!

Cleaning the Maos.

Cleaning the Maos.

Still tightly packed but now in conservation-grade packing materials.

Still tightly packed but now in conservation-grade packing materials.

 

Safely rehomed in the store, awaiting further conservation treatment and repacking.

Safely rehomed in the store, awaiting further conservation treatment and repacking.

Having unpacked all five crates, my task (with the assistance of Conservation intern Becky Kaczkowski and Collections Care Assistant Katherine Mercer) was to superficially clean the Maos with a museum-vac, repack them with conservation-grade packaging, relocate them from quarantine to permanent storage, and label each one individually with a unique accession number. Principal Curator Dr Kevin McLoughlin has been creating bilingual accession records in Chinese and English for the collection management system, which will one day be available online. Cataloguing, conservation and research is still on-going, and we hope to display at least some of the collection in future gallery displays.

As a taster a larger porcelain figurative group entitled ‘Looking up to Mao’ will be on display in the New to the National Collections exhibition opening in mid-September.

logoA guest post by David Young, a member of Hamilton Classics

Join us this Sunday 21 September at The Wheels and Wings Show for a thrilling display of gravity-defying stunts with the amazing White Helmets, see classic cars and vintage vehicles, test your mountain bike skills and more at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, EH39 5LF

Book tickets here

David Young, a member of Hamilton Classics, explains how the motoring club came to be formed and what they’ll be getting up to at this year’s Wheels and Wings Show .

Yellow car image courtesy of Hamilton Classics

Blue vintage pick-up truck image courtesy of Hamilton Classics

I started going to classic car events with my next door neighbour in our two triumph Spitfires over 10 years ago.

It was the first Knockhill Speedfair show that I went to that put the idea of a club in my head. People were allowed to do a parade lap around the circuit if they were a club, so, along with some more friends who had classics, we formed Hamilton Classics.

I like to think the club gives a good insight into the joys and sometimes pitfalls of owning a classic. We are fortunate that our members tend to be “hands on”, tackling anything that is required. In fact, we have stripped, fixed, painted and got back on the road quite a few different cars over the years, not bad for a group of talented amateurs!

White car image courtesy of Hamilton Classics

White car image courtesy of Hamilton Classics

The club will have around 12 to 15 different cars on display at the Wheels and Wings Show at the National Museum of Flight this year. We always enjoy chatting with the public and answering questions about the cars. People are usually interested in finding out more, especially because we have several makes of car to talk about.

I personally enjoy the ownership of an older vehicle, it’s something you can tinker with at reasonable costs without the aid of computers – modern cars are all about electronics now. It’s a laugh when some of us go out for a run and we get smiles and waves from passers-by. I think lots of people remember a time in the past when they, or someone they knew, had one of our cars.

Yellow car image courtesy of Hamilton Classics

Yellow car image courtesy of Hamilton Classics

Please come along and have a chat on the day, or check out the club website (www.hamilton-classics.com) and pop along to any of our meetings – you will be made very welcome.

#WheelsandWings

car-logoA guest post by Julie Hollis, Club Secretary of Spinning Wheels Motor Club taking part in The Wheels and Wings Show, National Museum of Flight on 21 September 2014

Join us this Sunday 21 September at The Wheels and Wings Show for a thrilling display of gravity-defying stunts with the amazing White Helmets, see classic cars and vintage vehicles, test your mountain bike skills and more at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, EH39 5LF

Book tickets here

Spinning Wheels Motor Club will be in attendance at this year’s Wheels and Wings Show at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune on Sunday 21st September. Club Secretary, Julie Hollis, explains what the club is all about and how they’ll be contributing to making this year’s Wheels and Wings a great day out.

Spinning Wheels Motor Club

Above: Image courtesy of Spinning Wheels Motor Club

The Spinning Wheels Motor Club is a small, but friendly group of motoring enthusiasts based along the Scottish/English border.

Spinning Wheels Motor Club

Above: Image courtesy of Spinning Wheels Motor Club

We are not a one-marque or classic club, instead we pride ourselves on having members owning quite an eclectic range of vehicles (with two, three and four wheels) – as our display at Wheels and Wings will show! Besides attending static shows such as this, SWMC also organises social events, such as treasure hunts, road runs, picnic runs and barbecues.

Spinning Wheels Motor Club

Above: Image courtesy of Spinning Wheels Motor Club

#WheelsandWings

A guest post by David Gardiner, Laid Back Bikes, who will be taking part in the The Wheels and Wings Show on Sunday 21 September 2014.

Join us this Sunday 21 September at The Wheels and Wings Show for a thrilling display of gravity-defying stunts with the amazing White Helmets, see classic cars and vintage vehicles, test your mountain bike skills and more at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, EH39 5LF

Book tickets here

Laid Back Bikes sells specialist bikes, tandems and trikes not generally found in mainstream bike shops. We represent small manufacturers based in Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Most machines are made to order and take from three weeks to three months to deliver.

We started Laid Back in 2005 with the idea of just doing tours with three bikes acquired from the Ligfietswinkel shop in Amsterdam.

Laid Back Bikes at Wheels and WIngs in 2013

Laid Back Bikes at The Wheels and Wngs Show in 2013.

Nine years later we have expanded to have our own showroom on Marchmont Crescent, Edinburgh run by myself and my wife Irene. Most days are spent doing quotations on the web, packing and unpacking boxes and doing pre-booked test rides. We still do guided tours to order and this lets people see how comfortable our bikes and trikes are. Tours vary from 10 to 25  miles and generally go to Portobello or Cramond.

Laid Back Bikes at Wheels and Wings 2013

Laid Back Bikes at The Wheels and Wings in 2013.

Apart from the ‘laid back’ bikes and trikes we also offer tandems and Dutch ‘bakfiets’. (These are longer load carrying bikes that can carry children and shopping. Some have electric assist).

Laid Back Bikes at Wheels and Wings 2013

Laid Back Bikes at The Wheels and Wings 2013.

The Wheels and Wings Show gives us an opportunity to let people see and try a test circuit on our ‘laid back’ machines.  It’s also an opportunity for us to answer any technical questions and concerns people have about riding these on the road. This is our third year at Wheels and Wings and our fourth at East Fortune.

For us Wheels and Wings is our principal public event of the year and lets people of all interests share and understand a bit more about using human power as a means of going places. Recumbent bike riding is quite unlike upright cycling and if you haven’t tried it yet, Wheels and Wings is your ideal chance!

#WheelsandWings

Sarah WordenBy Sarah Worden, Senior Curator, African Collections

Supported by an Art Fund Jonathan Ruffer curatorial award and National Museums Scotland, this April I returned to Blantyre in Malawi to continue work on a collecting and research project for the World Cultures African collections, working with Emmanuel Mwale from Museums of Malawi  (MoM).  The fieldwork had two strands: to collect the Malawian cloth known as chitenje (pl. kitenje), for the museum and to gain a greater understanding of the cultural significance of this cloth in Malawi today.

A chitenje is a length of patterned cotton cloth worn around the waist as a wrapper by many women every day in Malawi. Whilst this cloth is produced in a wide range of patterns and colours, my focus was on a range of cloths commissioned by the political parties and churches, which is distributed free (political) and  sold to the public (church), and worn as an expression of support and unity.

Kitenje

Kitenje.

Political cloth

There is a high level of interest in national politics amongst the general public in Malawi. With the General Election planned for 20 May 2014, there was significant activity in the run up to the election with rallies, campaigns and newspaper, television and radio coverage from all the main political parties in Malawi. Political cloth is distributed during campaign rallies as an incentive for party support.

Meetings at political party headquarters in Blantyre were arranged for all the main parties who will be contesting the election: People’s Party (PP), who are currently head of government; People’s Progressive Movement (PPM); Malawi Congress Party (MCP); Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF). One of the highlights was an invitation to the Malawi Congress Party (Southern Party) headquarters in Blantyre to record the local women’s groups dancing and singing competition, to decide who would be representing the party at the election campaign launch in the capital Lilongwe. We collected donations of cloth from all the above.

Malawi Congress Party female dance groups practise for campaign rally performance (3 April 2014)

Malawi Congress Party female dance groups practise for campaign rally performance, 3 April 2014.

Church cloth

In Malawi a very high proportion of the population regularly attend church and a large range of cloths are commissioned by the churches. These can range from celebrations for the inauguration of a new church building to commemorating a saint’s day; from new appointments of the clergy to annual church festivals including gospel singing. These are sold to members of the church to generate income for church funds.

During meetings and visits to a number of the local churches including Blantyre Synod Church Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP); Seventh Day Adventist Church, Soche; Anglican Church Diocese Headquarters and Catholic Cathedral in nearby Limbe, it was clear that the church women are very active in the design of the cloths and emphasised the central role of church cloth in the expression of women’s community identity. This was very evident from the groups of women seen about, wearing the same designs, clearly and proudly identifying them with their local church.

A group of women in Blantyre town centre wearing different cloths of the Evangelical Church of Malawi, 1 April 2014

A group of women in Blantyre town centre wearing different cloths of the Evangelical Church of Malawi, 1 April 2014.

Production

The most challenging element of the fieldwork plan, and one I most wanted to achieve, was organising an appointment to meet with the designers of these cloths, which are produced at the DWS Mapeto factory in Blantyre. After several attempts, a brief thirty minute visit was agreed, limited due to the high work load of the design studio and timed to the minute!

However, the visit resulted in an extremely valuable overview of the process of design from original customer’s sketch to finished full scale design, which is then passed to the machine engravers to produce the design plates for printing. A particular highlight was a quick look through the design catalogues which document each new numbered design. The designers gave us insights into the difference in working practice pre and post computer technology. This radically altered the design process and the number of staff in the office, which dropped from twenty to just four.

A page of the cloth design catalogue, each pattern given a unique design number, at DWS Mapeto Factory, Blantyre, 4 April 2014

A page of the cloth design catalogue, each pattern given a unique design number, at DWS Mapeto Factory, Blantyre, 4 April 2014.

Fashion Design and Chitenje

The church and political cloth are sub-sets of the more decorative and widely used multi-coloured kitenje made and worn in Malawi. Whilst most are worn as a wrapper or tailored into a skirt and blouse outfit, they have also provided inspiration for Malawian fashion designers with an eye for the individual.

I read about Eva Gertrude Kapanda in an online newspaper article and went in search to talk to her about how the chitenje cloths inspired her work. I located her in her small studio shop premises in Blantyre, which is bursting with creations, from original one-off dress designs to bags, shoes and earrings from the second-hand European clothing market in Blantyre, which Eva reinvents or recycles by covering with brightly patterned chitenje.  Like others I met she was very interested and enthusiastic to hear about this research.  This was a great ending to a fascinating visit and I returned to National Museums Scotland with a number of originals from her studio to add a further contemporary dimension to the study and to the museum collection.

Eva Gertrude Kapanda chitenje designs, Blantyre, April 2014

Eva Gertrude Kapanda chitenje designs, Blantyre, April 2014.

A guest post by Lisa Edwards, Gallery 37, Impact Arts

Gallery 37 is Impact Arts‘ creative arts programme that celebrates young people and their achievements. Each year Gallery 37 runs during the summer holidays and culminates in a performance as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A presentation and exhibition takes place in the  Auditorium and Event Space, Learning Centre, Level 2, National Museum of Scotland on Friday 8 August at 1pm. Find out more here.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

This is Impact Arts’ third year of collaboration with National Museums Scotland. It is also, incidentally, the company’s twentieth anniversary, which we are quite excited about. We run Gallery 37, a creative arts programme which encourages young people to learn new skills and develop existing ones.  For those at risk of disengaging with mainstream education, the programme aims to support them back into education or positive engagement by building confidence, raising self-esteem, encouraging team-work and providing one-to-one support. This year’s project has so far seen almost 60 young people, aged between 14 and 19, pass through National Museum of Scotland’s doors. Some remain with us for a few days; however the majority are full time participants – four days a week for four weeks. It is a big commitment to make during the summer holidays, but clearly one that grabs the imagination.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

This year we are offering workshops in animation, visual art, music and performance. We are now at the half way stage. In the first week we offered taster workshops so that our participants could select the group that best suited their interests and ambitions. This led on to establishing discreet groups and building a strong dynamic. We also began the process of group collaboration to ensure that everyone could feel part of a larger project. In week two we moved on to skills development and encouraging creativity. We are now beginning to create material which will feature in our final event. So, what is it all about?

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

As in past projects the main idea is to draw inspiration from the magnificent surroundings of the Museum and its various galleries and exhibits. Tutors have set their groups tasks which involve them in museum tours. In a variety of ways they are challenged to observe and imagine the world, culture and lives of the peoples showcased across the galleries. What can these exhibits tell us about our past and how do curators go about informing and engaging their audience? From this approach the theme for 2014 emerged.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

Work by Gallery 37, Edinburgh in 1,000 years time for Impact Arts 2014.

We asked our participants to consider what life in Edinburgh 2014 would look like to people in the future – one thousand years in the future to be precise. What would remain of our contemporary city? What would be exhibited and what would it tell a future generation about the world in which we live today? What stories would be told? How would we be valued and judged? What would be our remembered achievements and failures? Effectively, they are invited to cast themselves in the role of a curator. To select material and to fashion the tools that will enable them to create a coherent exhibition. A big task, but we like to aim high and so do our young artists.

The fruits of their labours will be showcased in the auditorium and event suite on Friday 8 August at 1 pm. We look forward to seeing you there.

Airshow-Digital-ad_leaderboard

A guest post by Norm Webster, Flight Display Director for Scotland’s National Airshow at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune that took place on Saturday 26 July 2014.

Take a look at some of the fantastic images on the air display and on the ground activity that were taken of Scotland’s National Airshow in our Flickr Group and check back on the Airshow here for announcements of our 2015 show.

Once again I’ve got to my final Airshow blog  post without losing too much hair or going noticeably greyer (not possible, I hear people say).

From an organiser’s point of view, the flying display went extremely well As you may have noticed, I had to substitute the T6 Texan for the Skyraider at very short notice due to serviceability issues, and the Bronco had problems starting so missed his first slot . . . but other than that, and a small re-programming issue later in the afternoon, the display ‘ran on rails’, as they say.

OV 10 Bronco at Scotland's National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 © Tom Sunley

OV 10 Bronco at Scotland’s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014 © Tom Sunley

We were certainly lucky with the weather this year, and I do hope that nobody is suffering from a lack of sunscreen.  It was certainly a tad tropical in the control cabin, surrounded by all that glass.

Avro Lancaster from RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Scotland's National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014. © Spencer Harbar

Avro Lancaster from RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Scotland’s National Airshow on Saturday 26 July 2014. © Spencer Harbar Photography

Highlights for me were the Lancaster, which looked and sounded magnificent as it flew down the display line belly on to the crowd, and the Bronco/T6 flypasts.  The RAF Red Arrows were their usual impeccable selves and, with Red 10 providing the commentary, made up a fantastic first half of the display.

Trying out the RAF Red Arrows Hawkjet at Scotland's National Airshow on 26 July 2014.

Trying out the RAF Red Arrows Hawkjet at Scotland’s National Airshow on 26 July 2014.

The Breitling Wingwalkers were as popular as ever, and having them on site early in the day to meet the audience and sign pictures and prints was a great bonus.  Their display was the usual elegant and spectacular affair, providing us with our own private fog bank – their smoke took a while to clear and resulted in a worried query from on high asking if we were going to lose the rest of the display due to the fog!

Meeting the Breitling Wingwalkers

Meeting the Breitling Wingwalkers

The Typhoon provided a fitting finale, and the sight of the reheat glowing through the cloud as the aircraft spiralled up to 10,000ft will stay as a lasting memory of Airshow 2014. So, that’s it for another year, at least until we start planning again in September!  The event just seems to go from strength to strength and it’s a pleasure to work with everyone.  So it just remains for me to say thank you to you all for reading my scribbles over the past few months, and to remind you that we’ll be back next year for, hopefully, an at least equally-successful Scottish National Airshow 2015.

Norm Webster

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 149 other followers