With public art collections currently closed The Guardian are exploring highlights and hidden gems from across the country in partnership with Art UK. Emalee Beddoes-Davis, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Birmingham Museums Trust writes about Donald Rodney’s ‘Land of Milk and Honey II’, at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Cold War Steve talks about his work with Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the impact of the pandemic on the arts – via The Independent.

Cold War Steve’s latest work – an homage to his hometown of Birmingham – features a glittering cast of local luminaries set against a 19th Century cityscape. Find out more about this new commission from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and Vivid Projects. – via BBC

The Staffordshire Hoard

The Staffordshire Hoard in focus. Apollo Magazine pick their favourite virtual and digital museum resources. – via Apollo Magazine

Leanne O'Connor, Hands of Sisterhood, installation view at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Artist Leanne O’Connor undertook a Whitworth Wallis Residency in 2018 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. She spent a month exploring the stained glass and metalwork collections of the museum’s industrial galleries, as well as items in the museum collection centre and local archives services. Her new exhibition, on display until 1 June 2020, uses The Story of Dante and Beatrice by Florence Camm, a 3-part stained glass panel held in the museum’s collection, as its jumping off point, within a series of newly made sculptures in steel and glass. Anneka French finds out more.


Leanne O’Connor, Florence?, installation view at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Image: David Rowan


Tell me a bit about your starting points?

I have made a fragment, a digital print on glass titled Florence? which was taken from the story of Dante and Beatrice, a 3-part stained glass panel made in 1912 by Florence Camm and the Camms of Smethwick. I linked up with a historian called Elaine Williams who theorised that this particular fragment was actually Florence herself. It was a weird exchange between looking at historical photographs of Florence’s life and looking back into the image. How it’s constructed is important because it doesn’t play to the Edwardian rhetoric of everyone looking off or out away from the central image. I thought that there could be something quite feminist about the work, especially if Florence did include herself looking straight out towards us in a pivotal work that was going to be internationally shown at the International Craft Exhibition in Turin. Florence had quite a sheltered life in terms of her output because she was just making for the family really. The figure of Beatrice was always shown as docile and shrouded by other women which goes against the original text. Florence and her contemporaries reframed this story in a way that I haven’t seen before. A defiance is well-captured.

How has this research come through into your work?

I thought it could be something quite excellent to have a fragment of a face of a maker maybe in the Birmingham School of Art room in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BM&AG). The team very kindly said we show the work as an intervention in the gallery.

And this is the first time there has been a contemporary work in that room?

As far as I am aware, this is the only contemporary work exhibited in the Birmingham School gallery, yes. And this work represents both a historic and contemporary maker at the same time. I considered solidarity and sisterhood over generations. There have been some really beautiful and haunting works I’ve seen around women makers who are tied into activism. These straddle art and craft and I enjoy those borders of production. I like that this piece captivates the room and that it is outside of a frame. It is a sort of a devotion to Florence.

Leanne O’Connor, Hands of Sisterhood, installation view at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Image: David Rowan


How many works are in the industrial galleries?

There are 3 downstairs and 2 upstairs. The central panel that I have been looking at is a transparency reproduction and the original is currently in the Oklahoma Museum as part of a big Pre-Raphaelite exhibition that’s happening in North America. It is on loan from BM&AG. There was a fading reproduction on show but my works nearby are hands pointing towards this and the team at the museum were able to refresh the reproduction. It’s been nice that interacting with collections can re-invigorate the display.

Tell me more about your research?

I’ve been working with the Community and History Archives Service (CHAS) in Smethwick, Sandwell. They have a massive collection of photographs that Florence took of the community of Smethwick that would pose for her ecclesiastical designs. The company certainly didn’t have a hierarchy of models that the central Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had. For example, there is a picture of a beggar from the panel which is in the archive, as well as a man called Albert Fell who was their glazer or leader. It was bonkers but I was installing this work and his great granddaughter came here with her husband. They were talking to the technician and they said that’s my great granddad with the feather. We’re going to be meeting up soon to talk about everything.

Leanne O’Connor, Hands of Sisterhood, installation view at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Image: David Rowan

Tell me more about your works Hands of a Sisterhood?

I made these 5 wee sculptures and had been doing research with CHAS prior to applying for this residency. I had seen the beautiful, big ecclesiastical works that Florence had produced. I felt like it was important to pay homage to women makers who worked within trades that must have been extremely difficult for them. CHAS have all of her familial collection, the photo albums that she built herself, her collected drawings, photographs and the boards she mounted things on such as shoeboxes, I found beautiful. I found some photographs she took of her sisters’ hands and I wanted to create signposts from Smethwick that would point back to existing work. I’ve been thinking about survival tactics for ageing work. The different heights of the poles that support the hands are the different ages her sisters were when they died. The bases are a map of Smethwick and the twist crops up in Oldbury fencing. I’ve not seen this design anywhere else and the hands are her sisters’.

What impact has the residency and exhibition had on your work?

These are the most heavily constructed works I’ve ever done. I saw this residency as a massive testing ground for what I could do, for what historical processes I could learn about and what materials I could discover. Negotiating form has been really difficult for me. There are things I would do differently if I were to make them again so it’s been really great in terms of making me think about how I want to make. It’s given me an appreciation that I don’t just work in steel, that I shouldn’t box myself in. The print on glass, Florence?, is the piece that resonates the most for me. Interdisciplinary ways of working are something I am going to embrace a wee bit more.

Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence: Leanne O’Connor is on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 1 June 2020.

Artist Leanne O’Connor undertook a Whitworth Wallis Residency in 2018 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Her new exhibition, a result of research conducted during that residency, is on display until 1 June 2020. We found out more.

A site in Yardley, East Birmingham has been agreed as the potential location for a new collection and cultural centre, led by Birmingham Museums Trust

Artists Tony McClure and Suzie Hunt recently completed Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s annual Whitworth Wallis Residency for graduates from Birmingham School of Art. Selected by Lisa Beauchamp, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Tony and Suzie are the first artists to have undertaken this residency as a collaborative one. They have been based in Gallery 15 throughout the four-week period of the residency.

Tony notes “The residency has been a very different way of working. It’s been a shift changing to making together after coming from 5 years of individual practice and research. But I was confident that we would work well together and we have been looking at many overlapping ideas.”

Rather than physically making work together, the artists have instead been researching, talking and developing public workshops together, combining their research from different perspectives. Period s of time spent apart have fuelled discussions the next time they met at the gallery.

The residency portion of the project has concluded with a display of work in progress in Gallery 15. Their display is a “live sketchbook of ideas, a place to pick out patterns and develop ideas really quickly,” says Tony. It comprises of drawings, photographs and text-based pieces on walls and table tops that map out their areas of interest, and has been a space where ideas and works have been constantly moving and altering. Both artists are working toward developing proposals to be shown as part of an exhibition at the gallery in the new year.

Suzie’s approach to the residency has been to seek out some of the hidden collections within the buildings that belong to Birmingham Museums Trust such as the very small collection of windows that let in daylight and the multiple light boxes that instead illuminate many of the spaces. Her photographs of frosted glass, ceiling lights and windows explore how the landscape and sky behind is framed, creating abstract views. Other of her works use drawing to map the movements of visitors through the different rooms of the gallery, considering the navigation of the space when looking at works of art. She notes that a visit to the Museum Collections Centre naturally “created the desire to look upwards at the shelves of objects; glimpsing upwards and noticing skylights that appear like paintings.”

Tony also began by looking at light within the building, shadows and glass lenses. He was interested in the ways that works were stored in the Museum Collections Centre – where a contemporary photograph might butt up against a historical painting, for instance. This layering of time has informed his approach to making. Considering how contemporary works are acquired because they are deemed to be of future historical significance feeds into a series of text based pieces which play with these ideas. The patina of a stereoscope once owned by Joseph Chamberlain and intermittent reflections of light on the wall of Gallery 15 that have created a camera obscura have also influenced this thinking.

Both artists will work on developing their proposals for exhibition. These will be considered by the boards of Birmingham Museums Trust and those that administer the Whitworth Wallis fund for a display in March 2018.


Artists Tony McClure and Suzie Hunt recently completed Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s annual Whitworth Wallis Residency for graduates from Birmingham School of Art.