12.4.11

Birmingham & Pre-Raphaelite drawings

Pre-Raphaelite life drawings
En route for the NUJ DM in Southport, where I was to be a first-time delegate, I broke the journey in Birmingham to see The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite designs, studies and watercolours at the Art gallery. It was a fabulous exhibition comprising sketches and drawings, along with the paintings they were the studies for, from their student life drawings from casts at the Royal Academy Schools and drawings by their mentor Ford Madox Brown, through their entire careers and into the drawings of followers such as Frederick Sandys, Aubrey Beardsley and Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale. There was also a whole bay of textile designs, stained glass and ceramics by designers such as William Morris, William de Morgan and Florence Camm. But it was the Big Three - Rossetti, Holman-Hunt and Millais - I'd come to see and I wasn't disappointed. I particularly liked the cartoons and caricatures, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti's scratchy pen drawing of Christina Rossetti in a tantrum (1862). Cost me a fiver to get in, and was well worth it. It's on until 15 May, then moves to Sydney.

Birmingham Art Gallery also has a fantastic permanent collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, including some chairs designed by William Holman-Hunt and the world's largest watercolour, by Edward Burne-Jones. The cafe gives a discount if you show them your ticket, but be warned they have those irritating stainless-steel teapots that dribble all over the place. That night I searched for the Balti Triangle (nobody in Brum seemed to know where it was) but eventually stumbled on Al Frash in Ladypool Road where I had a mixed-veg balti for £5.50. I really didn't need the rice and (small!) naan! A pint at the Briar Rose (a Burne-Jones connection) Wetherspoons round the corner from the hotel finished off the night nicely.

I stayed at the Premier Inn on Waterloo Street, which was really handy for New Street station and the art gallery and well recommended. On Thursday 7 April, I jumped on a 101 bus to the Jewellery Quarter to see the Pen Museum. I was a bit early so walked to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, passing Gillott's Victoria Works (I learnt later that the G in Gillott is a soft J, like in Gillette), where my favourite 303 nib was once made, the factory of Thomas Fattorini, where enamel badges are still made, and a cast-iron 'Temple of Relief' by the station, sadly not in use!

The Jewelley Quarter Museum is the old works of gold bangle makers Smith and Pepper - a time capsule that closed in the 1980s, full of old machinery and dies that would give a factory health and safety inspector nightmares. Cost £5.50 for the guided tour and well worth it. There's a nice cafe too. Back at the Pen Room (I prefer Pen Museum), I joined a party being shown round, not just the front rooms, but another large room crammed full of nibs and fountain pens at the back. There's such a lot of stuff to see. We were shown how a Mitchell's nib was made in stages, and all encouraged to have a go. It's housed in what was once the factory of pen maker W E Wiley, now the Argent Centre, who used the steam from the factory boilers to heat a Turkish Baths - an early example of combined heat and power! Time was up - no chance to see Moor Street Station or Thinktank...

Southport is a very strange place, where it seems impossible to see the sea. The waitress at the Leicester Hotel said to see the sea in Southport you have to go to Blackpool. The trip from Liverpool to S'port was interrupted by vandals putting something on the line between Waterloo and Crosby. The train was full of tipsy scantily clad orange ladies who were presumably returning from a day at Aintree. The DM was quite hard work, with early starts and long days, in a 1930s Floral Hall that had been encapsulated into a modern (not Modernist!) complex - but it was scorching outside. My account of proceedings is here. I didn't manage to get to see the Lawnmower Museum, nor ride to the end of the pier, and the Art Gallery was closed for two years, but I did see some interesting buildings and sample some real ale and we were well looked after at the Conference. Now it's a few days respite until the BiG outing to Pallant House on Wednesday and the Clarion New Forest excursion this Friday!

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