The Incredible Hulk!

A guest post by Conservator Jenny Barsby

Fig 1.The banner in use at a demonstration

Fig 1.The banner in use at a demonstration

The Textile Conservation Studio here at PHM takes in private work as well as caring for our collection which helps to support the running of the museum. I recently had the pleasure of working on a banner belonging to the GMB union. This was an interesting project for me not only because the banner is still being used, which presents specific conservation issues, but also because the artist who created the banner was able to provide valuable information about the object which informed the treatment.

The banner in question was designed and made by Scottish artist Andrew Turner. Turner was born into a coal mining community and his early experiences as a miner’s son feature heavily in his work. In 1961 he attended Edinburgh School of Art but was later expelled for organising a student demonstration. He went on to study at the Leeds College of Art before attending the Royal Academy as a postgraduate in 1971. The banner was commissioned by the Manchester branch of the GMB (then GMWU) in 1977. The brief was to produce a banner which represents the strength of the working class, depicting the ongoing struggles but also hope for the future.

The design put forward by Turner featured a muscular proletarian figure positioned in the centre with his head facing down; eyes closed and fists outstretched breaking the chains which bind him. Turner recalls that the figure was christened by a young shop steward at the unfurling of the banner who thought he looked like the Incredible Hulk. Other symbolic references are included such as the negotiating table which appears often in Turner’s work, a key and a small piece of cake. An open book sits on the table with a quote from Engels ‘It is not the Lowness of wages which forms the fundamental evil but the wages system itself.’ It is painted onto heavy-weight blue cotton sailcloth; the colour was a controversial choice because it is has conservative associations but in an art history context, blue symbolises hope, which is why Turner favoured it.

Turners working process involved stretching the fabric out under tension and pinning it to a frame before applying a primer layer and blocking out the design using scale drawings. The painting was worked up in thin layers with drying time in between. The style of painting is quite expressive with shading used to pick out the shapes and make the image look three dimensional and dramatic. The figure and chains are depicted with exciting, dynamic marks which suggest movement and aggression whereas the text is worked very neatly in flat colour with sharp clean lines.

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Fig 2.  Andrew Turner’s visit to PHM

It is quite rare for a conservator to be working on an object and be able to consult the maker or artist about the treatment of their piece. So when the opportunity arose to meet Andrew Turner we didn’t hesitate to invite him to the studio to see the banner he finished painting 35 years ago. Turner was delighted to be re-united with his work and was pleased to see it was still in good condition despite being used on marches for many years. For me the experience really enhanced my appreciation of the banner and although the insight provided by Turner did not alter my treatment plan, it confirmed that my approach was appropriate for the materials I was dealing with.

Fig 3. Microscope image showing cracks and soiling

Fig 3. Microscope image showing cracks and soiling

The banner was painted with good quality artist’s acrylic paint. This media is a modern material and still commonly used by artists today, it does however present problems for long term preservation. Even when dry, the paint film remains quite soft which means it can be easily damaged; this also means that dust and other types of particulate soiling can become embedded in the surface. Cleaning all types of paint can be very difficult because water and other solvents can react chemically and cause more damage. In the case of acrylic paint, research is still being done to find safe ways of cleaning which do not alter the original quality of the paint. With this in mind my treatment plan for the ‘Hulk’ banner was to surface clean and stabilise cracks in the paint film without full scale wet cleaning of the paint.

The first stage of treatment was a thorough surface clean; this was done using a low suction vacuum with a screen placed across the object to protect the painted areas. The non-painted areas were worked over more thoroughly using soft brushes and the vacuum. Any dust removed was captured on muslin traps inside the vacuum nozzle; this allows us to assess the condition of the textile and the type of dirt coming off. In this case, a surprising amount of dust was found on the traps along with loose fluff, dislodged paint flakes and a lot of blue fibre from the fabric itself.

Fig 4. Cracking in paint on book motif

Fig 4. Cracking in paint on book motif

Fig 5. consolidating the paint

Fig 5. consolidating the paint

Fig 6. Face of banner after conservation

Fig 6. Face of banner after conservation

The second stage was a series of tests to establish the suitability of possible consolidants for the painted areas and then work began on stabilising the cracked and flaking paint. The consolidant is a type of adhesive, it is transparent and no attempt is made to ‘touch up’ missing areas. In most cases conservators aim to do what we can to preserve the original material rather than make something look new again. In addition to stabilising the paint some humidification was done to ease out creases across the top of the banner, unfortunately some creases in the body of the banner have set in with the stiffening of the paint over time and will now be impossible to remove.  As part of the treatment a special banner bag was made to make it easier for the client to store and preserve it, advice was offered for its ongoing care with the hope that it will be enjoyed for years to come.

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Election! Britain Votes: the results are in!

Volunteer Amber Greenall-Heffernan dissects our visitors responses to questions posed to them in Election! Britain Votes.

As part of our recent ‘Election! Britain Votes’ exhibition, we asked visitors to do a ballot paper vote on certain issues surrounding elections and the government. In total we had almost 2,800 responses! A lot of people also left comments and wrote their opinions on the ballot papers which proved for interesting debate. Here are the results –

Our first question was:

Would having an elected House of Lords make our democracy more representative and therefore fairer?

Parliament is made up of two chambers; the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons is where elected MPs debate laws. Once a bill is approved in the House of Commons, it is then reviewed by the House of Lords. The House of Lords is an unelected chamber and peerages can be titles passed down the generations, spiritual peers (for Bishops and Archbishops of the Church of England) or given by a panel which includes the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

For this question, 78.1% voted Yes and their responses included comments such as “Yes but only if they still are experts in their fields” and “Yes, or appointed from society”.

21.9% voted No for this question. One visitor commented that the House of Lords “needs people who have expertise and cannot be strongly influenced by whips”. Another pointed out that for democracy to be fair, we need representatives from all areas of life, and thus appointing Lords works too. There were also quite a few people who responded and said that instead, we should get rid of the House of Lords altogether!

Ballot Paper with Comments

The next question was:

In order to increase the number of female MPs should parties have to meet quotas for female candidates?

In the 2010-2015 government 22% of MPs were female. The 2015 General Election saw an increase in female MPs, who now make up 29% of the government. However, there are questions of how representative this is. A common criticism of the House of Commons is that it does not reflect the composition of the population, of which 51% is female.

The idea of quotas for female MPs is often widely debated. The results for this question were very close – 52.2% voted Yes but many of these respondents commented that it should only be a temporary measure “until the inequality is changed”. Many respondents also believed that the same should be done for MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds, as in 2010 only 27 MPs (out of 650) were from an ethnic minority.

For the 47.8% that voted No, many believed that “positive discrimination is still discrimination”, and candidates should be elected on their talent alone. Otherwise, as one visitor pointed out, it would undermine the basis on which they were elected.

Next, we asked:

Should we lower the voting age to 16 years old?

For the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, the voting age was reduced from 18 to 16. The referendum had a record-breaking turnout of 84.5% and more than 100,000 of these voters were 16-17 year olds. There is some debate to whether the voting age should be lowered; the Liberal Democrats promised it in their 2010 manifesto, Labour backed it in their 2015 Manifesto but the Conservative Party opposes it.

Similarly, the results on this question were divided. 53.9% of respondents voted Yes, many citing that 16 year olds are classed as adults in other aspects of life and so they should also be able to vote. A lot also voted Yes but on the condition that politics is taught as a core subject in schools.

On the other hand, 46.1% voted No, one visitor stating that voting is beyond comprehension at that age and “16 year olds are not mature enough to vote”. Interestingly enough, the House of Lords very recently backed an amendment to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in council elections, with plans to do the same for the EU referendum later this year.

Perhaps one of the most contentious questions we asked was:

Should we allow prisoners to vote?Ballot Paper

When people are sent to prison, they are no longer allowed to vote. In 2013, the Joint Committee published a report on the issue of prisoners’ voting eligibility. In this report, they recommended that prisoners should be able to apply to register to vote 6 months before their scheduled release date.

The response to this question was quite split. 32.3% voted ‘Yes, All Prisoners’, many believing that prisoners have the right to vote, as they have human rights and should be able to speak for themselves. One visitor asked, “How else will we achieve prison reform?”

A lot of responses were indecisive on the subject explaining that the issue was undoubtedly complicated and 30.2% voted ‘Yes, Some Prisoners’ as they think that voting should be allowed for some, dependent on their crime and release date.

37.5% voted No because they believe prisoners lose their right to vote with their freedom. One visitor said that prisoners have “committed crime and must give up their right” and that they should wait until they are released to vote.

We also asked:

Should the UK adopt a different voting system?

In the UK we currently have the voting system ‘First Past the Post’. This means that whichever political party has the most votes, wins. However, this is seen by some to produce unrepresentative results, and other voting systems such as Proportional Representation (PR) and Alternative Voting (AV) have been suggested instead. PR is a system which makes the seats won proportional to the percentage of votes, and AV is a system in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference.

An overwhelming 51% voted Yes for Proportional Representation and 20.2% voted Yes for AV. 28.8% voted to keep First Past the Post as one visitor commented: “I used to think PR was a good idea, but post-election I’m glad UKIP only got 1 MP despite the percentage of votes they received!”

Quite a few people also wrote that they would rather have a Single Transferable Vote which is a form of proportional representation which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

And, our final question was:

Should the Queen still play a part in the political process?

As our exhibition explained, the Queen has certain roles in Parliament. She appoints a new government, opens parliament each year, dissolves parliament before an election and signs bills into laws. She has the right to vote but chooses not to, in order to stay politically neutral.

41.3% voted Yes to the Queen still playing a part in the political process as she is the head of state. One visitor wrote: “She is more than just a figurehead, she is our leader!”

58.7% however, voted No, some visitors calling for an elected head of state, some believed that she has no real power, and some visitors wrote that the monarchy should be abolished instead.

One of the aims of the Election! exhibition was to engage visitors and to provide a space where visitors, researchers, activists and museum staff could get involved and debate election issues. The engagement within the exhibition has been incredible, and it has been very interesting looking through all the responses. Did you vote in our ballot? What do you think?

Visit by Britannia English Academy

Britannia English AcademyA guest blog by Richard Skillander, Director of Studies at Britannia English Academy 

When someone arrives in Manchester they often have an idea about the city that is completely wrong. They’ve heard so many comments about the bad weather, the darkness of the city or about a city where you can’t do anything else except drink beer in a pub while it’s raining outside. But, at Britannia English Academy, we try to change their opinion, offering a great social event programme to our students. And one of the best places to change their opinion about Manchester is the People’s History Museum which we’ve visited recently.

Last Thursday 9th July, Britannia English Academy organised a visit to the People’s History Museum with a group of eleven students from all over the world. They discovered so much about Manchester’s history that no one had ever told them before. The museum focuses on the fight for human rights from its beginning two centuries ago, with its politics, demonstrations and banners.

The People’s History Museum is well worth a visit. Its exhibitions are amazing and our students enjoyed their afternoon enormously, asking about every poster, exhibit and artefact they saw. They were especially impressed by the display of all the banners used in political marches. Students were astounded by their size and couldn’t imagine the scale of such protests. Another great story for them was the Peterloo Massacre, the story of brave Mancunians and their fate at St Peter’s Field against the cavalry charge really grabbed their attention. They felt they’d had an excellent history lesson about Manchester and its brave people.

We really enjoyed our day in the People’s History Museum and it will be included in our future social events programmes. Because we don’t only teach English. We want our students to leave with great memories about the city. That is our aim. Learning English is more fun if you have a range of different activities to do, and visiting Manchester’s museums should be one of them. We will be back again.

Chester U3A’s visit to the PHM

A very lovely guest blog from Sue Proctor MBE, JP, DL who organises trips for Chester U3A.  We promise these are all Sue’s words! If you’d like to write a blog about your visit then please get in touch at events@phm.org.uk.

I want to share my experience of visiting the People’s History Museum in Manchester because it was so good. I organise trips for members of Chester University of the Third Age and took 28 people on 1st July. We enjoyed The Hard Way Up play about Hannah Mitchell which was extremely well done and gave us a good insight into one woman’s fight for Women’s Suffrage and the working conditions from that time. The short anti-war poem was particularly poignant.

Chester U3A @ People's History Museum 01.07.15  (7) Chester U3A @ People's History Museum 01.07.15  (9)The displays and exhibitions provided something of interest for everyone. From the Textile Conservation Studio, and the banners to the stories of apprenticeships and the rolls of honour from WWI. My husband was delighted to discover the names of some of his relatives on one roll, but it was hard to see as it was very high up. Trying to take a photograph from lower down wouldn’t have been possible but the staff were amazing. They offered to get a set of ladders at the end of the day, and turn the lights up to take a good picture if they didn’t have a copy on file. Before we got back home the photograph had already been emailed to me.

Our coach driver had complained about problems finding a place to park up and keep cool – it was the hottest day of the year – and again the staff quickly responded by printing off details of possible locations. In fact every member of staff or volunteer we met was very helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. Must be a Manc thing!

The design of the building is superb, the café was very pleasant, especially the terrace overlooking the Irwell, the toilets were very good, access was excellent throughout the building and the quality and range of merchandise in the shop was impressive, in fact I couldn’t resist it.

My group is  diverse in age, interests, mobility and backgrounds. We all found something special at PHM. I knew that there would be lots of information about the Labour Movement but as a Lib Dem I was not put off! I would encourage anyone with an interest in the history of working people to visit Manchester’s People’s History Museum. You won’t regret it.