It has taken me near enough 22 years to visit Bristol, even though it is only a two and a half hour drive from where I live. Bristol didn’t fill me with thoughts of a vibrant and artistic city, but BOY I was wrong. There is a myriad of local and semi local museums/heritage sites, and the majority are free entry. As you can imagine, then, I spent a large percentage of my time making the rounds with my boyfriend in tow.
We started off with M Shed. I had previously googled this museum for background info, and described itself in a way that focused upon Bristol’s industrial heritage. I’m more about ‘social’ history, people, stories, social change etc, so the possibility of seeing machine after machine didn’t appeal at first. It is true that outside the museum it has some very large but very impressive 1951 electric dock cranes. The best thing about these is that they are working museum pieces, and were restored by a lot of TLC from volunteers. I started to change my mind by this point – they are just that impressive.
M Shed is an enormous building, with three floors of exhibitions and collections. Each floor is themed, starting off with the various sections that Bristol is split in to. The first is dedicated to the people of Bristol, and the second floor to Bristonian life. This museum isn’t just about Bristol’s industrial heritage, so by now I’m wondering about pleased as punch. I won’t ramble on about what M Shed displays, you can see that for yourself one day. However, I do want to ramble about the way they have displayed.
Features of M Shed I REEEALLY liked:
For this I will enlist the use of a list, because its easy and not boring:
- I loved the use of this old illustrated map as a background for a large case. Its a great way to make an impactful [not a word I know] use of document and photograph collections.
- The ground floor that is dedicated to places was sectioned, with various bits of the outer wall split up into Bristol’s numerous districts. Here they have used smaller floating cases filled with what local residents felt most summed-up their district. This is an effective way not only to engage with the community, but also provide a town/city with depth, showing us that Bristol does have a collective history, but each place also has it’s own distinct voice.
- Also another great way to display photograph collections and get kids to engage with them. This may look clunky, but the orange colour and wheel handle make it fun, not to mention the design suited the industrial aspects of the museum. M Shed had three of these and it was almost permanently in use by small children running between them.
- Now, the tiny toy boats. I stood looking at these for a long time. They had been placed in cut-out sections of the museum wall that faced the docks, looking over the boats and machinery. I thought it was a brilliant way to bring the outside in, and also make use of some uninspiring toy boats. This is clearly a design feature of the building, therefore hard to copy, but nevertheless a very creative way to use physically tiny collections.
- I have left the best for last. As I have said, the first floor was dedicated to the stories of Brisonians. This was the first space in which you were deliberately guided through exhibits. Above the panels and cases were long signs asking very personal and possibly quite troubling questions. The one in the photo below was above a case showing objects collected from the 2011 Occupy Bristol protest which lasted about 2/3 months in a public park. Mostly I admired M Shed’s sense of urgency to display such a recent and controversial event, especially adding it not as a temporary feature, but to their permanent exhibition.