PLEASE NOTE THAT DUE TO A FIRE THIS EXHIBITION WILL BE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
While the debate around Old Flo continues in Tower Hamlets, its nice to see a collection of local government art that isn’t being sold off go on display at the Cuming Museum in Southwark.
Until Saturday 31 August the “Birds, Beasts and Beyond” exhibition will be displaying ceramics from the Arts and Crafts movement by the Martin brothers (Wallace, Walter, Charles and Edwin), whose saltglaze stonewear ceramics inspired by nature (the grotesque as well as the beautiful) have become renowned and collectable today.
It was at Olney Street, close to the Cuming Museum, that Robert Wallace Martin had his first studio in the 1860s and the exhibition looks at a range of ceramic pieces by him and his brothers as well as other Arts and Crafts artists including John Ruskin and Walter Crane.
At the opening of the exhibition this week Councillor Veronica Ward talked of the need for Southwark Council’s responsibilities to be wider than just essential services and how it is the arts that make Southwark a special place to be; the Cuming Museum excels at putting this into practice.
I was not familiar with the Martin brother’s work before visiting the exhibition, just as before I became involved in their previous exhibition on Charles Dickens I had no idea how influential his short stay in the borough had been on his subsequent literary work. Recently, a ‘Dog and Pot’ sign was unveiled in Southwark in commemoration of Charles Dickens, while the original (which Dickens recalled walking past on his way to work in a factory as a 12 year old boy) can be found in the Cuming Museum, illustrating how its collections resonate directly with Southwark’s important literary and artistic heritage.
I understand the economic pressures behind selling off government or museum artwork to raise money, especially as the value of a place’s cultural heritage is more than can be embodied in any one piece. But to dispose of a piece of art is not something that should be done for short term gain, when the residual effect of that transaction could resonate for years to come.
Art and museums have an opportunity to present new stories about a place for its inhabitants to engage with, while also presenting itself to the outside world. This exhibition at the Cuming Museum shows how artwork that hasn’t been on display for a hundred years can tell stories about the borough that teach, entertain and inspire; it would be a shame if in a hundred years time they were unable to tell the full story of the borough in the same way and I hope the Council continues to take responsibilty to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Where to find it:
Old Walworth Town Hall
151 Walworth Road