Responding to Artefacts
People have always come to Exeter for all sorts of reasons – to retire near the sea or to make a new start. And some of the museum’s objects have made long journeys too.
Many were collected in distant lands and others show influences across continents.
During the Moving Here project, we’ve shown artefacts and recorded responses of a variety of people: the local synagogue and Hindu temple, women learning English, a black and ethnic minority disability support group, community interpreters, senior citizens and local history enthusiasts.
Here are some of the comments we’ve collected:
Tasmanian Aboriginal basket
Delicate woven basket, called tayenebe, made by Aboriginal Tasmanian artists and gifted to RAMM in 1997 as a mark of friendship when RAMM had returned two pieces of shell jewellery to Tasmania because of their cultural significance
“Baskets are my least favourite, because they’re not visually appealing, but now I know the story, it’s interesting [and]… their significance is working for me…. The longer I look at it, the more I like it.” (Alan, local historian in Exwick History Group)
19th-century silver amulets from Oman, made to contain a piece of text from the Koran
“The idea is similar to the mezuzah… we put on the doors of our houses. It’s a small container which holds a parchment of a prayer – the Shema – …which should be recited every morning and evening. In Cornwall, the Jewish community produce their own mezuzahs from Cornish tin.” (Richard Halsey, member of Exeter Synagogue, dealer in 17th and 18th-century furniture)
Chinese hairpin decorated with kingfisher feathers
19th-century brass hairpin. The head of the bird is set on a spring so that it moves.
“In ancient times, ladies used to wear these in performances. Nowadays in China, people like to decorate themselves a lot; they follow the old designs. I have a hairpin like this, but it is black. My grandmother came from a rich family and my mother still has some decorative clothes. They live near the mountains.” (Jo from China, just moved to Exeter)
“In Korea, older generations of married women have similar ones, called pinyo. They were… longer and they’re prettily decorated. It reminds me of those. High class, married ladies would wear bigger, longer, more beautifully decorated ones and lower class ladies would wear more simple ones – always on long hair, to hold it together.” (Deborah Kim, Korean student at Belmont Chapel English class)
“[I’m] amazed the feathers are still attached. The work in reproducing the peacocks is amazing and the colour is brilliant. It’s a colour you could see today in a store like Accessorise.” (Kathleen Moolman, TEFL teacher & Ruth Flanagan, teacher of English at Belmont Chapel)
Carved caribou antler map used by Inupiaq–Inuit fishermen. The map represents a short length of Arctic coastline. The user can work out where he is by feeling its edge.
“I think this is very interesting as a map. We are used to maps being visual with the landscape laid out from an aerial perspective. We are used to seeing everything. But it is tactile. It’s a different way of understanding the world. If it’s from within the Arctic circle, then four months of the year is spent in darkness.” (Rosamund Davis, RAMM volunteer)
“You have to be clever to read it.” (Caito Herreros, Spanish interpreter for Multilingua and art lover)
Tunic from Pakistan
This chola from Sindh would be worn by women in the desert regions of southern Pakistan and western India. The colours and designs relate information about the wearer’s age, marital status, religion and community. This photo shows the reverse of the tunic, which incorporates a piece of embroidery worn by the woman for her wedding. Over time, the garment becomes part of her daily life.
“In Algeria,… Women wear silver and pink embroidered clothes at a wedding. Men wear a burnous that’s brown or white. If it’s brown, sometimes it’s made from camel hair. For my wedding, I wore six outfits during [the course of] the day. Each one comes from a different place in Algeria. First the shadda, from the west of Algeria. It’s traditional… an outfit with a crown. Lots of necklaces and bracelets with silver. It’s very long, down to the floor…. There was a big party [for my wedding] with couscous with meat or chicken. [I come from] Relizane in the west of Algeria. It’s much bigger than Exeter, with a university. (Somia, Algerian student at Belmont Chapel English class)
Black burnished Roman bowl
This bowl – made in southwest Britain in the 2nd century – was found in Bartholomew Street East, Exeter, in 1959.
“It’s very delicate. I’ve seen people [in Turkey] using this kind of thing for drinking water. It makes me think of old ladies bending down. In rural areas, my dad used to teach…. [where they don’t have tap water]. They bring water from a spring and put it on a wooden slat. Then they dip into it with something like this.” (Anil Lee, moved to Exeter from Istanbul in 1988)
Yoruban headdress in the form of a face with intricate hair design
“[I am from Cabinda, the region between Congo and Angola]. The men have short hair and wear a single piece of cloth draped around them over the shoulder. Only the women have long hair…. The kings also wear an animal skin of leopard or lion, also draped over the shoulder. Sometimes they wear necklaces made from carved ivory.” (Marie-Therese, member of Rejuve-nation, from the Democratic Republic of Congo)
“It is worn during a masquerade. The museum acquired it in 1959 but it’s a lot older than that.” (Tony Eccles, Curator of Ethnography)
“I don’t think I’d be able to dance with this on my head! It would be nice to see someone with it on their head…. [I like African art]…. I’ve got African paintings on my wall…. A man sitting under a tree, women carrying water…. I’ve got a carving at home. But it’s not wood, it’s graphite…. And I’ve got a couple of heads. One reminds me of my son….” (Audrey Toms, Jamaican member of Rejuve-nation)
“Apparently there are 40 million Yoruban people around the world…. A lot of items we (RAMM) have were gifts given to the Reverend Henry Townsend which he then gave to the museum. He was a missionary in Yorubaland in the 19th century. He developed a good relationship with the people there.” (Rowena Hill, Conservator)
“You’d have a headache after wearing that all day!” (Simon Tootell, volunteer)
Man’s jacket in red and blue from Myanmar (Burma)
“My mother’s half Karen (a tribe in northern Burma)…. The hill people wear similar clothes…. The men wear [a loose top and] trousers tied with a knot…. They still wear that… traditional people. It’s quite cool up there….
“In Burma, most females still wear traditional clothes, …more than the men. [Sarongs would be traditional] but I suppose trousers are easier. [For] high days and holidays they have very expensive sarongs, from silk…. It’s very attractive, I think. It makes a very feminine shape, especially the top [which would be] long-sleeved, semi-transparent – just tantalising glimpses!” (Captain James Fressanges, retired master mariner originally from Burma)
“It reminds me of South American [clothing]…. It’s quite a simple design…. It’s funny how people do similar things all over the world. (Doreth Lawrence, mother and nurse, born in Jamaica and living in Honiton)
“It is so gorgeous. The change of pattern and the trimming on the sleeve. Brilliant. I suppose it would be for cold weather. [It reminds me of] Tibetan people [I’ve seen on television]…. Look at the stitching…. If that’s the jacket, I’d like to see what goes with it.” (Audrey Toms, Jamaican member of Rejuve-nation)
Blue silk and wool shawl from about 1800.
“Shawls were originally men’s clothes from northern India…. Europeans who travelled to India brought them back and they became fashionable.” (Shelley Tobin, RAMM Assistant Costume Curator)
“It looks very traditionally English. I can see the same style as from Romania, a little Russian, but more Romanian. For a middle-aged woman, not young, worn on her head to protect… from the wind, cold. If it was worn on the shoulders, it would be to look pretty (in Russia). Two hundred years ago, this would have been very, very pretty, but probably not very expensive.” (Zoe Isopova, housewife and English student)
“These patterns could be used on a dress. This could be used as a head scarf. I recognise this pattern – [it’s the sort of thing my mum would wear.] I like the blue colour.” (Aysegul Safitürk, teacher from traditional Turkish family)
“Shawls are still traditionally worn in Romania, for special occasions such as on a Sunday. The colours of these shawls are white, embroidered with blue, red and white and are specific to region. They are still worn by country not city folk and are now made commercially.” (Roxanne Pintilie, student in English class at Belmont Chapel)
Early 18th century tillet block. A tillet was a loose woollen cloth wrapped around a bale of woollen cloth. Woollen cloth was exported from Exeter to many other countries. The tillet block was used to stamp the tillet to show that it had been through customs, was of good quality, the merchant it had come from and its destination.
“It’s so light. I was expecting it to be heavy. It looks like a block for batik designs in the Far East. [Looms] are still used in rural Turkey. Ladies – not men – still weave…. My mother had two looms – one carpet one and one for dyed rags to make rugs.” (Anil Lee, moved to Exeter from Istanbul in 1988, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)
“It looks German. It looks like a picture in an old manuscript. I associate the history of the book with Germany.” (Anne-Flore Laloe, historical geographer and French interpreter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)