Heritage, history, and books.

Category: Museum Stuff Page 3 of 4

M Shed: Things I REEEALLY liked.


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:

  1. image8(1)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.




  1. image7(1)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.


  1. 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.




  1. Now, the tiny image9(1)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.


  1. image2(1)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.

You need to know about: Edward King

I recently visited Portsmouth Museum, and those who are familiar with Portsmouth are aware of it’s rich naval history and museums relating to such. However, I was pleasantly surprised to have been greeted with an art exhibition as the first port-of-call there. The artist in question is the quite unknown Edward King. Born in 1862, and living through both wars, he died of a stroke at St James’ Hospital in Portsmouth in 1951. He made the move to St James’ after a breakdown after the death of his wife. Consequently he was plagued by depression, and spent 26 years in the institution. But rather like many other famous artists, King’s work was revered during these troubled times.

“If you can see light, shade and shadow, you can paint and the picture will come.”  – Edward King.

The exhibition was split into lose segments, grouping his work into themes such as his work depicting the WWII bombing of Portsmouth, fishing, and rural scenes. His painting technique includes a particularly warm feeling even to those of bombed buildings. In turn this creates a sense of hope in the morning after, the feeling of warm sunshine that somehow belittles the harrowing nature of the attacks, and shows that Portsmouth will steadfastly carry on.

King, Edward; High Street, Old Portsmouth; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/high-street-old-portsmouth-24193

King, Edward; High Street, Old Portsmouth; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/high-street-old-portsmouth-24193

Another feature I observed was his use of near-impasto painting technique, as can be observed in Cabbage Field on the farm at St James’ Hospital, 1941 (see below). This use of impasto, alongside the use of perspective, draws you deep into the scene an creates the illusion you are either part of the farming staff, or a casual walker wondering past this beautiful scene. It does give you the impression that Edward King saw beauty in the darkest of his experiences, as St James’ Hospital was an Asylum.

In regards to the displaying and conveying of Edward King’s work and history, PM did a paired-back, engaging, but altogether wonderful job. I have seen comments from people who have wondered why his works aren’t available to see, this was a few years ago, and seems to be a man that belongs to Portsmouth. It is evident that the museum is lucky and holds an extensive collection, seeing as King gave many of his paintings away, and we are met by a self-portrait at the beginning giving us an immediate connection with this local man.

King, Edward; Self Portrait; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/self-portrait-24363

King, Edward; Self Portrait; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/self-portrait-24363

I enjoyed the basic but modern signage as it let the paintings do most of the story-telling. It was also the little touches, like the quotes and his signature on the walls, that helped to bring the character alive as well as the paintings. In terms of connecting this exhibition with the community, it was indeed minimal. However, the use of a washing-line with memories of Portsmouth residents pegged to it, plus the space in the centre for quiet study, acknowledged the city’s links with WWII and the University’s Art School. Moreover, it reminded people that like WWII, King has not left Portsmouth’s conciousness just yet, and his artistic influence will continue to stir up thought in people’s minds.

Photos from the exhibition


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