Just because you save up to go on holiday and look forward to time away from the usual routine doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to like your new destination, as Sarah and I found out in Margate this week.
Neither of us had been to Kent so the experience was something of a blank canvas. Unfotunately, this kiss-me-quick kind of town made us avert our mouths and whilst this also meant turning our backs on the Turner Contemporary art gallery (regrettably), we headed home early. I understand Margate is or has undergone something of a re-generation, led by designer Wayne Hemingway, yet currently it seems almost apologetic in its outlook, overshadowed in the town centre by a grey, 1970s tower block, punching its fist skywards from the midst of various Victorian buildings. Disappointing, and too depressing to take a photo.
A brief pilgrimage to Canterbury on the way home was a lovely diversion though, and included the bizarre sights, sounds and smells of The Canterbury Tales Chaucer experience and vintage loveliness of Susan’s Cafe just behind the Cathedral. Wincing at the entry price for said Cathedral (adults £10.50) I had hoped for something spectacular and thankfully, it was a treasure trove of fascinating nuggets of history.
The lone candle burning in the Trinity Chapel is a reminder of England’s turbulent past as it marks where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, the shrine to him built in 1220 and subsequently destroyed in 1538 by order of Henry VIII. The troubles of the 21st Century are documented by yellow post-it notes left by visitors to the Crypt with their suggestions for prayers.
But, back at home, what could we do with our spare day in a slightly damp Leicester?
First stop the new King Richard III Visitor Centre. I had already been (see earlier post) but this time I could observe an eleven year old’s reactions. All the interactive exhibits got the thumbs up: new, different and tactile. Some teething issues from opening day on 28th July appear to have been resolved and there is a more organised ‘Dynasty’ experience as you enter. However, I question the exhibition of paintings for sale by artist Graham Turner (any relation to JMW Turner above I wonder). Why give such prominence to a sequence of naturalistic paintings of imagined scenes of KR3’s life by one person? Why not assemble different art of the period, or have a call out for other local artists for their interpretations of his life and connections with Leicester? Or an art competition for schools? Currently, this is a rather limited display and I would prefer a variety of viewpoints.
Next stop New Walk Museum where I have fallen back in love with this gem in Leicester’s visitor attraction crown.
Good news: the Victorian Art Gallery is open again, nicely organised and stylishly re-furbished. In a side room there is a small exhibition, Leicester at War 1914 -15; it is simply done but use of personal detail brings home the enormity and tragedy of that terrible conflict.
It was here we chanced upon a special event taking place in a further adjoining room. For £2.50 a happy hour was spent making ‘marble’ prints – one with a can of shaving foam and the other with oils. Museum Maestro Andrew and his team of young assistants patiently explained to intrigued parents and children how to create different marbling effects. From something resembling an explosion in a Smarties factory, beautiful results were achieved, particularly with the metallic shimmer of the oil process. Andrew’s quiet enthusiasm was clearly infectious and calming as children of all ages sat in virtual silence, carefully concentrating on their task.
Upstairs, the Eye for Colour exhibition is great fun as you learn all about colours – their history, their effects, their use in art. Interesting facts, simple to follow, easily understandable interactive exhibits with just the right balance between hi and low tech.
I only managed a brief look at the new German Expressionism exhibition but I will be back. It is a sombre contrast to the fun and colour of the adjoining Eye for Colour and that’s what I love about this place, moving from dynasty to dynasty, art form to art form, mood to mood as you wander around.
The most powerful image I saw was an incomplete self-portrait in the Leicester at War exhibit by local painter and artist Julian Gould who fought and died at the Somme. The empty, white space on the lower half of the painting gives a poignant new interpretation to the term blank canvas.