Ten objects, twenty stories, as previously unseen treasures go on display across the country in First Time Out
6 June to 31 July
Ten previously hidden objects, weird, wonderful and beautiful by turn, go on display in First Time Out (6 June – 31 July), a unique collaboration which sees ten museums and galleries each exhibit an artefact from their archives which has never been seen before. But in a twist, ten stories become twenty as artefacts are switched between partnered venues mid-way through the project, with fresh interpretations provided by the new hosts.
Participants are the Horniman Museum and Gardens, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Natural History Museum, London, the Science Museum and Wellcome Collection who are twinned with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Lightbox (Woking), Peterborough Museum, Discovery Museum (Newcastle) and Waddesdon Manor, respectively.
From an exquisite Rothschild Meissen dish to a macabre bone guillotine carved by prisoners during the Napoleonic wars, the rarest of Darwin’s publications to the Fool’s bauble prop from a landmark performance of King Lear, the objects are as varied and surprising as the stories they tell. First Time Out brings out treasures from behind the scenes and moves them between London and the regions, giving each a chance to speak to different audiences and find new meanings. For some, this may be the only time they are ever seen by visitors.
Objects being displayed by RBG Kew and partner organisation The Lightbox:
Charles Darwin’s rarest work, Letters on Geology, Privately printed; Cambridge, 1835, displayed with corresponding original letter
Christopher Mills, Head of Library, Art and Archives, Kew, says,
'Twenty Four years before his most famous work, On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin published his first book, Letters on Geology. During his voyage on HMS Beagle Darwin wrote to Professor John Stevens Henslow, his mentor at Cambridge. This book is composed of extracts from his letters. Fewer than one hundred copies were printed.
Darwin recounts what he saw in South America that ultimately led to him formulating his “species theory.” He would spend the next five decades continuing to investigate nature’s secrets. This modest book started one of the most important pieces of thinking in the nineteenth century.
The original letters are now in the Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The letter here, written at Monte Video, corresponds to the page the book is open at. Comparing them you can see only a small part of the letter was published.
This is the first time that this book has ever been on display outside of Kew’s Library and it has never been displayed with the original letter beside it.'
The Lightbox, Woking, say,
'It is very exciting to see Darwin’s original handwriting from Monte Video and read about his observations of the natural world. The detail of the animals and fossils are observed and reading the letter we get a sense of his literary skills in describing the scenery.
Darwin conjures up a pictorial image worthy of Turner and shows that he had a very creative side that enjoyed nature for its own worth rather than the detailed analysis we usually associate with his writing.
It also gives us an insight into Darwin as an ordinary individual. Unimpressed with the coastline of Patagonia he writes, ‘an enormous brackish river – is enough to make any naturalist groan’.
Letters on Geology gives us a real insight into the man and conjures up for us the wonder but also the boredom experienced on his lengthy voyage of discovery.'
Stone sculpture by Eric Gill, Torso - Woman (1913)
The Lightbox, Woking, say,
'The Lightbox gallery & museum manages and displays The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art. The collection is growing, with key acquisitions made by the owner, Chris Ingram. The collection features Britain’s most significant artists of the twentieth century and can be seen through changing displays at The Lightbox.
Torso – Woman is a significant new sculptural addition to the collection because of its historic and artistic importance. Made soon after Gill began direct carving of stone figures and around the time of converting to Catholicism, the sculpture highlights Gill’s mastery of linear expression and is evidence of Gill’s interest in medieval religious art, Egyptian, Greek and Indian sculpture.
The Lightbox is delighted to be showing Torso – Woman for the first time as well as lending the piece for others to enjoy at the Marianne North Gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.'
Christopher Mills, Head of Library, Art and Archives, Kew, says,
'I saw this sculpture, in the Ingram Collection at The Lightbox, and knew immediately this is what Kew should borrow and that we had to display it in the Marianne North Gallery. The thoughts it raised in me were:
Work of simple elegance achieved by great technical skill.
Exciting - an unknown piece, made for Gill’s own pleasure, like Miss North having no thought her pictures would one day be seen by thousands of people.
The work is modern but also recalls the carvings of prehistoric goddess figures.
Like North, Gill’s work invoked strong reactions and both are enduring in their appeal.
It celebrates beauty and purity.
It is anonymous. Like many of the women who have contributed to Kew becoming great.
It would be a thought provoking intruder, a complete contrast and the only thing in the gallery not made by North.
Interesting coincidence: Eric Gill was born in the same year (1882) that the Marianne North Gallery opened to the public and Charles Darwin, originator of the First Time Out object we have exchanged with The Lightbox, died.
If you would like to tell us what this work on its First Time Out means to you, please do.'
Other objects on display across various venues
Horniman Museum and Gardens: Ceremonial mask of Dzunuḵ̓wa or “Wild woman of the woods” from the Northwest Coast of Canada (c. 1900) - displayed in collaboration with U'mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay, British Columbia
Royal Shakespeare Company: Fool’s bauble, a prop for the RSC Production of King Lear (2007) with Sir Ian McKellen as King Lear and Sylvester McCoy as the fool
Natural History Museum, London: Rough-toothed dolphin skull with ink scrimshaw decoration by unknown sailor (mid C19th)
Peterborough Museum: Model bone guillotine crafted from left over rations by Napoleonic prisoners of war (early C19th)
Science Museum: Set of ten ivory mathematical puzzles in black lacquer box, made in China (C19th)
Discovery Museum, Newcastle: First light bulb and light switch designs by Joseph Swan and John H. Holmes (1881 and late 1880s)
Wellcome Collection: Carved cigar holder representing the coronation of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1864
Waddesdon Manor: Oval dish from “New Dulong” pattern service used by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (late C18th)
Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection says,
'First Time Out is a disarmingly simple idea which opens up complicated questions about the millions of intriguing artefacts looked after by museums and galleries behind closed doors. At its heart are ten fascinating objects whose value is held in the different stories we tell about them. The project is generous in spirit, governed by a shared curiosity about what others’ views and interpretations may lend to our own holdings. We hope that visitors, wherever they see the project, and however many pieces they see, will participate in extending this creative exchange before the objects return to their archives.'
First Time Out runs from 6 June to 31 July 2013. Objects will be swapped by partner museums and galleries on 4 July.
Further information about each object is available. Please contact Tim Morley, Senior Media Officer, 020 7611 8612, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract over 1.5m visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately half its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Further funding needed to support Kew's vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales. www.kew.org
If you’re passionate about the arts and history, want activities and fun, or would just like somewhere quiet to relax and think, you’ll find it all at The Lightbox an award winning gallery and museum. Designed by the architects of the London Eye, Marks Barfield, the building boasts three stunning galleries that host a wide range of exhibitions, changing regularly. The building is also home to ‘Woking’s Story’, an interactive museum of the town’s history. If you’re visiting with children you’ll find plenty to keep them occupied and entertained, you can complete your visit with a trip to the canal-side Café and Gift Shop. Entrance is free, find out more at www.thelightbox.org.uk
Wellcome Collection is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises three gallery spaces, a public events programme, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop, conference facilities and a members' club. It is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. Wellcome Collection is growing. A £17.5million development will deliver new galleries and spaces in late Summer 2014. Find out more at www.wellcomecollection.org/curious
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew