26 September 2012

Review: Revealing the World at Buxton Museum

 8 September to 24 November 2012
 Buxton Museum [Free]
Image from Buxton Museum website

By Alison Petch
Pitt Rivers Museum

I visited Buxton on the 8 September with some friends. On our way up the hill to one of the best second-hand bookshops in England, Scrivener's, we passed by Buxton Museum and popped in. I have visited the small museum before and found the recreated library and information about two important local geologists, Professor Sir William Boyd Dawkins and Dr J.W. Jackson quite fascinating. This time, though I was not aware of it when I entered, I had more reasons to be interested. 

On the upper floor of the museum is a large room that is used for temporary exhibitions: this is currently occupied by Revealing the World. This exhibition is described by the museum on its website as follows:

Treasures dating back more than 3,000 years have been dusted down for display at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

In the first exchange of its kind with Derbyshire, the British Museum in London has loaned the Museum five precious items - a 13th century BC Egyptian pyramidion, three gold and silver Inca human figures and a model of a North American canoe.

They all have links with explorers and adventurers from Derbyshire's historic past, including the founding father of British Egyptology Sir John Gardner Wilkinson and naturalist Joseph Banks.

The exhibition also features dozens of curios and artefacts from the council's own collection as well as from Derby Museum and Art Gallery and Bakewell Old House Museum.

Buxton is probably one of those museums which has had wildly fluctuating levels of financial support and staffing over the last few years, it certainly looks like that. Some areas have been well-resourced (like the Boyd Dawkins area) and are none the worse for not being cutting-edge in their design, others - like this exhibition - strike the viewer as a little 'thrown together', making the best of good local and national collections but having little money for 'fancy' exhibition design.

The exhibition is rather an ad-hoc assemblage of some good ethnographic specimens, random 'tourist' collections and social history artefacts as well as archaeological objects mostly coming from Derbyshire museum collections. I would guess that the majority of the items are usually held in store. This diversity is confirmed by the wide range of the objects loaned by the British Museum, presumably as part of its Partnership programme, though Buxton museum is not listed as a Partner. The objects are arranged on the walls and in a few glass cases in a loose geographical arrangement. The only linking theme appears to be that they have some (loose) connection with Derbyshire people. The exhibition has no object labels but copies of a soft-cover catalogue are available though it contains little detail.

British Museum representative Jack Davy and Derbyshire museums manager Ros Westwood carefully unpack the pyramidion on loan to Buxton Musuem and Art Gallery.
However, the exhibition is a worthwhile attempt at reminding local people who, outside the summer holidays, probably form the majority of visitors, that Derbyshire (a landlocked and heavily rural county) does have many connections with the outside world and has always engaged with it.
If you happen to be passing Buxton do make sure you set aside half an hour to see it (and the other Buxton Museum displays) and also to visit Scrivenor's. [1]

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on Terrace Road is open Tuesday to Friday, 9.30am-5.30pm; Saturdays, 9.30am-5pm and Sundays, until September 30, 10.30am-5pm.
Find Out More:

Find out more about the Exhibition at http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/buxton_museum/temporary_exhibitions/revealing_the_world/default.asp

Find out more about the BM loan at http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/council/news_events/news-updates/2012/august/news_items/british_museum_travels_north_to_derbyshire.asp

Find out more about the Buxton Museum here http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/buxton_museum/default.asp

Find out more about Scrivener's at http://www.scrivenersbooks.co.uk/


[1] By the way, when I arrived at Scrivener's I came across two volumes relating to Pitt-Rivers that I had been searching for for some time, so the virtue of being an accidental museum exhibition visitor was rewarded amply and quickly.


  1. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
    As was my wont w
    hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site, wahooart.com, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?

  2. I will make a bold suggestion! People revere art as important because is makes them feel things they dare not speak. It intimates messages that the artists, and the public, are too cowardly to put into plain words. With Joseph Wright of Derby it's the darkness of the unknown and fear of progress. With Benjamin Britten and others it's the joys of pederasty and homosexuality. With Shostakovich it's hatred of Soviet Russia. At least D H Lawrence puts his feelings into plain words - and hence got banned for many years. An honest society does not have any need for art. I'm no fan of Islamic extremists, but it's interesting that societies like theirs, that ban art and music, do exist. Art comes with civilisation, and is the safety valve for what Freud called 'Civilisation and its discontents'. Sport is the corresponding safety valve for war.