Exploring Lavenham

So, I’ve reached the end of my second term as a Masters student – and as always, I can’t believe how fast time is going.

The last few months have been very busy and exciting. As well as my course modules, I’ve completed placements at the York Army Museum and the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre (both of which I would highly recommend visiting) and I’ve also co-authored an article on virtual museums, which can be found here. Now there’s only one term and 20,000 words of dissertation left to go before I (hopefully) graduate!

I’ve spent the Easter holidays in Suffolk and it’s been great to see some countryside again and re-explore some of my favourite places. Last week, I visited Lavenham, one of England’s best preserved medieval wool towns. Lavenham flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries, becoming so prosperous that at one point the town paid more in taxation than cities like York. Of course, Lavenham’s other claim to fame is that scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were filmed here back in 2010.

Lavenham is filled with beautiful, crooked medieval buildings and it’s a great place to wander, take photographs and draw. I took the opportunity to practise my watercolours, as you can see below!

Lavenham Door 3

The Guildhall of Corpus Christi

Lavenham Door 2

The Little Hall

Swan Inn

The Swan Inn

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Is it really 2017 already? I’m not sure I believe it.

This year, one of my resolutions is to start blogging again. Between finishing off my degree and starting my masters, things have been pretty busy and my blog has been a bit neglected!

My first post of the year: here is a zine I created a few years ago as part of my Art Foundation – it illustrates a really lovely poem by JRR Tolkien, whose work I love.

All Woods Must Fail

Day Tripping Yorkshire: Rievaulx and Helmsley

It’s official – I’m back. I have made my return!

Yes, after finishing my undergraduate degree and taking a few weeks longer than was strictly necessary to recover, I’m in writing-mode once more… and whilst I absolutely loved my time at university (so much so that I’ve signed up to start a Masters course in September, eek!) it feels great to be able to spend time writing and reading and visiting sites just for the fun of it.

One of the weirdest parts of being a student is that you sometimes exist in a bit of a university bubble. When you spend all your time living and working on campus, only talking to other students, it almost feels like the outside world doesn’t exist. I’m always super excited to get out of the city and see more of Yorkshire, so when my family visited and suggested a trip to the very beautiful archaeological sites of Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle, I jumped at the opportunity.

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Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1132 with the arrival of the Cistercian monks in the north of England and went on to become one of the most renowned monastic centres of Britain. Although the community here was disbanded in 1538 as a result of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, there’s still a surprising amount of abbey left to explore.

Rievaulx also has a brand new exhibition which opened this year as part of a ‘£1.8 million investment project’ undertaken by English Heritage. I visited the old exhibition in 2013 when I started my degree, so I was pretty excited to see what had changed. It was nice – lots of calm colours and subtly illuminated artefacts – but I wasn’t massively impressed. To start with, all the information within the exhibition was communicated using written text. The one exception was a snazzy video, which looked beautiful but again only conveyed information through text that appeared on screen. Overall, it seemed as though everything was aimed at a very specific type of visitor, rather than being inclusive to all.

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The new exhibition centre, Rievaulx

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Snazzy-looking films… one of my museum weaknesses!

Whilst we were in the area, we also visited Helmsley Castle, which is very close by. Based on the view from the road, I wasn’t expecting very much, but more and more of the castle is revealed as you approach, walking up through defensive ditches towards the imposing double gatehouse.

It’s really interesting to see how the different functions of buildings like Helmsley Castle affect their design and development. I guess most of us would view the castle as a powerful defensive structure – but there is actually a lot of debate about the relative importance of the military, administrative and domestic functions of these buildings. Helmsley is a good example. As I’ve already mentioned, the castle has two gatehouses, one in front of the other, and anyone trying to attack the castle must (in theory) pass through both to get inside. However, the wall joining the two buildings together was actually a later addition, and any early attackers could simply bypass first gatehouse and walk straight up to the second – not particularly effective! But part of the castle’s power is derived from its imposing appearance, and gatehouses (even those that you can technically walk straight past) still look intimidating enough to put off most would-be attackers.

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Helmsley’s Outer Gatehouse

Still, if there’s power in building castles, there’s power in knocking them down too. The visitor’s first view of Helmsley Castle includes the main tower, which looks almost like it has been sliced in half. This was the work of Cromwell, who captured the castle during the English Civil Wars, first sending away the defenders and then destroying the tower – sending a clear message to anyone nearby about who was now in charge.

There’s also an exhibition at Helmsley, although it probably could use an investment project of its own… but while the exhibition needed updating, it was still more interactive and inclusive than the one at Rievaulx. Unfortunately, I think studying archaeology has wrecked my chances of ever visiting a museum again without over-analysing its exhibition display techniques. Thanks very much, New Museum Theory!

Still, both Helmsley Castle and Rievaulx Abbey are such beautiful sites that I think they’re worth visiting just for the atmosphere. You can’t beat day trips, after all.

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Reconstructions and People

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Zdenek Burian, ‘Encampment of late Palaeolithic hunters’

According to the Oxford Dictionary, archaeology is ‘the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains’. Archaeology is about people – but when it comes to reconstructions, including people in our depictions of the past creates a whole list of problems. Continue reading

Problems of Reconstruction

Reconstructions are very common in archaeology. Many people will be familiar with them – think about the history books you read in school, for example. They would probably have included reconstruction drawings, artists’ attempts to depict what the past looked like.

Still, reconstructions can be at times a bit controversial and if not used properly, they can be very problematic. Even the word ‘reconstruction’ is misleading. After all, we can’t ‘reconstruct’ the past exactly as it was… these images are just ideas or theories about what the past was like. It’s a topic that’s particularly interesting to me, and one that I want to focus my next few posts on. Continue reading

Drawing = Seeing?

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King’s Manor, York

 

It’s been a while, guys… turns out third year is pretty busy, who knew?

But my Visual Media essay is now out of the way, so I get to make a happy return to blogging. Since writing about the Bar Convent, I’ve been looking a bit more closely at my surroundings as I walk through York. One building in particular that I spend a lot of time in is King’s Manor. This building houses the University of York’s archaeology department, and is situated on Exhibition Square, between the Museum Gardens and the Art Gallery. It was one of the reasons I originally chose to come to York – what archaeology student doesn’t want to study in a Grade I listed medieval building?

The drawing above shows the main entrance into King’s Manor. It’s a bit of a work in progress, but will demonstrate a few of the points I’ve been thinking about recently. Continue reading

Hopperstad Stave Church

Hopperstad Stave Church, Norway

After looking back at my last posts, I’ve decided that my blog needs a few more pictures – especially given that one of my original blog aims was to improve my illustration! So here’s a start…

This drawing shows Hopperstad Stave Church, Vik, Norway. This is believed to be one of the oldest stave churches, probably built around 1130/1140. Unfortunately, a lot of these buildings have now been lost, and Hopperstad itself came pretty close to being destroyed after suffering several of periods of neglect. The Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments purchased and restored the building in 1880.

An Introduction

Here it is, my first blog post – hopefully the first of many! Blogging has been on my ‘to do’ list for a while now, so I’m pretty excited (and nervous) to be setting up ‘Drawn into the Past’. Here, I will be writing about my experiences as an archaeology student, focusing on my main research interest: the presentation of the past through visual media.

In particular, I have always been interested in archaeological illustration, which combines my love of art and the past. However, I have only recently started thinking in depth about the significance and power of images. My third year special topic, Visual Media in Archaeology, has made me realise that the way in which we represent the past can have a big impact, whether we intend it to or not.

It also made me reflect back on some of my own illustration work and the messages that I might have been conveying through it… One example that came to mind was a series of drawings that I produced a few years ago in preparation for an undergraduate exhibition on the Mesolithic. The final images I produced followed the perspective of a dog as it guided the audience through representations of the Mesolithic world. As a first year whose theoretical knowledge was slightly lacking, I believed that the images I’d created were only informing my audience about dog domestication in prehistory – but I didn’t consider what I was also saying about gender roles in Mesolithic societies, as I sketched my prehistoric dog sitting with a woman and her baby in their camp, or accompanying a man as he completed ritual activities and hunted in the forest. Changing these illustrations is going to be one of the first projects I hope to tackle on this blog!

So archaeological representation proved to be slightly more problematic than I’d initially imagined. But why does this issue not have wider recognition among archaeologists?

It’s with this question in mind that I have set up ‘Drawn into the Past’, through which I want to investigate further how images are made and used within archaeology. Hopefully, I will be able to improve my own practice as an aspiring illustrator along the way!