The Museum’s ceramics collection is one of the most important, and the largest in scope and span, outside London, and the galleries – which contain rare and important pieces from the 16th to the 20th Century – now show it to best advantage.
New and innovative standards of display and interpretation have been set by the Museum in recent years, and this project – the latest phase of works undertaken by the Museum since 2006, with the aim of improving visitor experience and knowledge – also aimed high.
The scheme, designed by Stuart Jones, Artistic Director of Headland Design, has transformed an area covering almost a third of the second floor, bringing the space up to the standard of the other recently modernized galleries, utilising modern lighting and display methods.
After performing the ribbon cutting ceremony, the Danish born China Trade and Ceramics historian was given a tour by Howard Coutts, the Museum’s Curator of Ceramics, whose knowledge and expertise has underpinned the interpretation of the new galleries. Dr Coutts outlined specifically chosen themes which he hoped would resonate with the public, including:
- the highlighting of key objects as signposts to other parts of the ceramics collection
- the creation of displays for visitors to enjoy as well as learn from, that are visually appealing through innovative design and alternative viewing options
- making the collection more accessible to audiences, both physically and intellectually, while ensuring it appeals to a wider and younger audience
- the creation of vibrant spaces with innovative display techniques and sympathetic lighting
- enhanced interpretation by the use of material from the Museum archive and other collections
- new seating to encourage lingering in the galleries
Mr Tharp declared himself thrilled that the Museum had rejuvenated its collection of listed showcases, originally used in the 1867 Paris exhibition, which were ‘hugely improved by modern lighting and non reflective glass.’
“The whole display is far more arresting, as it is not as densely laid out, which is a major thing,” he said. “Previously, the pieces were a chorus, now they are truly singing.
“Man’s early use of clay goes back to the Old Stone Age, but ceramics remain highly relevant to the modern world, from the crockery we use, to ceramic insulators in electricity pylons,” he added. “Decorative ceramics are a capsule of what was going on in the world at the time they were made and each piece has a story to tell.”
The Museum’s Head of Collections, Jane Whittaker, said: “The new galleries enable The Bowes Museum to do what most other museums in the UK, outside London, cannot; explain the unique cultural significance of its collection in a world context, spanning five centuries, due to its extensive collection of European and oriental ceramics.”
The refurbishment of the ceramics galleries was made possible by the support of the DCMS/Wolfson Museums & Galleries Improvement Fund; the Headley Trust; the Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement; the Charles Hayward Foundation and the Friends of The Bowes Museum.