When you live somewhere it’s very easy to overlook and almost forget about some of the things right on your doorstep that are generally considered as something for tourists.
So, having seen the latest exhibition at the Guernsey Museum at Candie Gardens was coming to an end and that they’d just opened a new section of their standing exhibit about the islands folklore, I thought I’d go and take a look around.
The museum is relatively small, but, divided in to several sections, they pack a lot in with three spaces for changing exhibitions and an area for a standing display of art related to the island and exploring its history and folklore.
The main exhibition space, and my main inspiration to visit, was given over to look at part of the museum’s collection of historical photographs by F.W. Guerin, a renowned documentarian of the island in the early 20th century, under the name Unseen World.
Split into sections looking at people, places, events and (given the choice of Edwardian era and inclusion of photos from the coronation celebrations) King and Country, the exhibition focussed on the years from the coronation of Edward VII to the start of the First World War, 1902 to 1914.
Along with the rather excellent photography, reprinted from the original glass plate negatives which gave some of the images a surprisingly modern quality despite the subject matter, was a commentary on the events including quotes from the newspapers of the day that really helped highlight the differences, and similarities, between then and now.
To my mind the most striking images were of the High Street, Albert Pier and States Chamber which remain in many ways unchanged and are instantly recognisable, and those of a ship run aground at Vazon and scenes from the southwest of the island that really look like a different world – one that in places looked like it could as easily have been from 200 or 300 years ago as a century.
Opposite the main exhibition gallery is a smaller space that has been given over to the Guernsey Arts Commission for the continuation of their greenhouse gallery that previously existed in the Information Centre building on the seafront.
This space has, over the years, featured a range of art from local artists, or those working locally, spanning all sides of the visual media from traditional paintings to video work and more.
This visit the exhibition, called Evolution, showcased some of the highlights of the island’s schools’ end of year art shows.
I must confess a little bias toward this exhibition as I was involved with originating these kind of shows during my time at the Commission and they have consistently acted a great way for a wider audience to see the great talent coming through the island’s schools.
As with previous versions the work here was diverse and highly impressive spanning photography to sculpture and drawing to video games as art. Particularly striking was a piece called The Greenhouse as well as the captivating sculpture in the middle of the gallery.
The rest of the museum features a standing display of art from the island which includes some interesting pieces ranging from historic landscapes to modern works from the likes of Chris Foss and Peter Le Vasseur, as well as a an exploration of the history and folklore of Guernsey.
While the history part is a longstanding feature charting everything from Neolithic burial sites to Roman trade routes to the, comparatively, recent links with Britain, the folklore section is a new addition.
With much of Guernsey’s traditional history having only been recorded verbally, this draws on three sources attempting to collate some of the stories told in Guernésiais (aka Guernsey French or Patois) into written English.
The exhibition contains newly created artwork (similar in style to some from locally made comic Zone 1 but I didn’t see any names of artists), artefacts from the museum’s collection and newly written versions of the stories to explore everything from the faerie caves dotted around the island to the local werewolf stories to the real life tales of those convicted of witchcraft and how that bleeds into the more fantastic.
While designed to be understood by all with simple layouts and use of interactive elements, the displays are created to offer something to everyone from children to adults and, whatever your previous knowledge of the subject might be, added a new dimension to the already fascinating story of the island.
In all this made for an enjoyable hour or so (I could easily have stayed longer if I’d had the time) exploring some aspects of the island’s history I wasn’t so aware of, as well as some I was, and demonstrated quite how good Guernsey Museums (which span other sites around the island like Castle Cornet and Fort Grey, amongst others) can be.