Friday, 25 May 2012

Exeter Museum Visit

Warning – long post with lots of photos!!

Yesterday was our 26th wedding anniversary, and my hubby took me to visit the newly re-opened Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, which has been closed for a while for a major overhaul and refit. He had visited it briefly shortly after it was opened and was so impressed that he has been longing to take me ever since. He used to visit it regularly in the old days when he was working just around the corner in the city. I must say I was very impressed! As with many provincial museums, it has at its core a private collection, which by its very nature is going to be eclectic – the Victorians were inveterate collectors and travelled the world in search of treasures old and new: animal, vegetable and mineral! It was surprising just how many strange things were rubbing shoulders with each other! Here are some of the photos I took – I wasn’t able to write down what they all were, but it doesn’t matter anyway – they are just objects which took my fancy and/or inspired my artistic muse! The whole set of photos can be seen in my Photobucket album.

First of all, some pictures of the inside of the building itself. The revamped museum still incorporates the original glorious Gothic revival structure built in Victorian times, with some fabulous modern additions. There is a very good restaurant attached, and although the menu was fairly limited, the quality was good. The restaurant also features a small gallery of artworks by children and others.

This gorgeous gold mosaic is in the top of the front entrance archway.

The main foyer and staircase. I adore Gothic Revival architecture!

This is one of the modern additions – a bridge leading from one part of the museum to another. You can see the original wall beyond.

In one of the hallways we found this amazing paper sculpture hanging from the ceiling – lots of interesting shapes and ideas to cut with Sheba, my Cougar cutting machine?

Here are a couple of pictures I took in the restaurant while we were having our lunch. On the end wall is a beautiful mosaic depicting the museum. One of the favourite exhibits is a stuffed giraffe called Gerald, and the kids had done a lot of paintings of him, which were also exhibited. You can see him depicted in the centre arch of the mosaic.

Along the wall beside where we were sitting, were these extraordinary painted corrugated panels which really took my fancy!

Now for some exhibits. There were quite a lot of tribal artefacts from around the world, including these magnificent masks. As usual I was on the look out for suitable inspiration for zentangle art, and these might just do!

I loved these three American Indian model canoes.

Samurai armour:

I fell in love with this ancient Chinese money cat with tassels for his legs. If you look closely you can see his body is made up of Chinese coins.

I’ve always loved Indonesian shadow puppets with their grotesque features and extended limbs, and the fantastical shows made with them. This could be an interesting project to draw in Inkscape and cut with Sheba!

A beautiful Malay silver platter:

An ancient Mayan necklace – I’d like one of these almost as much as I’d like a Saxon torc!!

There was a great number of artefacts from the ancient world, including several cuneiform tablets.

Ceramics from ancient Greece:

including this charming little dish decorated with three fish, which looked entirely modern in its design!

I think this delightful little object might have been an oil lamp:

An ancient Greek helmet:

In addition to these artefacts from the ancient world, there were exhibits from more modern times, including the arts and sciences. There was a small gallery devoted to the science of microscopy, with various microscopes (including a tiny travelling microscope in a wooden box – if you look closely, you can just see this, just above the mirror of the microscope) and beautiful engravings of drawings of items viewed through the microscope.

There was also a good collection of clocks, including a number of fine long-case clocks, and some smaller ones. This one had a mirror placed behind it so that one could see the mechanism. I was particularly pleased to see that all these clocks were going!

A collection of pocket watches:

Many of these clocks and watches were made locally.

There was a whole section of the museum devoted to the local area, and it contained many artefacts which had been found in local fields by metal detectorists, and my hubby was very interested in these, examining them closely so that should he find anything similar, he would recognise it! Also in the Devon section were some examples of Honiton lace, which was the finest and most desired of all the laces. Unlike many other forms of lace which are worked in a strip, Honiton lace is motif lace, and these motifs can then be joined on a net. I did two terms of lace making before discovering it really wasn’t for me – you have to be very advanced before you can start designing your own patterns, and it was also extremely slow work for very little result (at least for me, as a beginner!) The patterns on display at the museum were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and I can really appreciate just how much work went into them. The lace-makers were extremely poorly paid, and often had to work in poor light, late into the night.

Some other miscellaneous objects which appealed to me. Firstly, a display of tortoiseshell hair combs. Amazingly intricate carving and pierced work!

A slice through a fossil ammonite – a really big fossil! There were lots of fossils.

More hair ornaments:

(This second one would make a good zentangle pattern!)

A Pakistani wall hanging with embroidered mirror-work (known as shi-sha – I have done a fair bit of this and it’s gorgeous! My wedding dress had shi-sha embroidery on it.)

African zylophone which anyone could play. Note the gourds underneath the wooden slats, which amplify the sound. There was a man visiting the museum who played it, and produced an authentic African sound which was quite magical.

A Roman mirror:

I think this gives a taste of the amazing and varied collection of artefacts in the museum. I haven’t touched on the slideshows, interactive computer screens, children’s activities, galleries of stuffed animals and birds, cases of creepy crawlies… and the rest!! Before we left, we went up to the top of the building and out onto a newly-built bridge to look at the ancient Roman walls of the city.

We had a wonderful time, and could have spent considerably longer, examining the items in greater detail. I came away thinking again of the incredible inventiveness of humanity through the ages, and the capacity for decorating and beautifying everyday objects, and our endless desire to be creative. I am very impressed with this amazing local resource, and if anyone is planning on visiting our part of the world, I would definitely recommend a visit.


  1. Hello Shoshi

    This was quite a surprise Shoshi. I would have expected this to be a local museum but it seems to have a great many Empire artifacts: a real time capsule of the Victorian Age. Nice to see examples of local lace and perhaps the fossils are local too.


  2. Looks like a very wonderful place and a great way to spend your anniversary! Thanks for sharing. I've said it before and I'll say it again - if I EVER get over to England, I would love to visit you and have you show me your cool places!

  3. It looks a fabulous place to visit - I really loved the hanging paper sculpture, and I know the rooms full of stuffed birds and creepy crawlies would be my first stop! The lace is exquisite too - I have been a lace maker for years and used to make Honiton, but as my eyes have aged I don't find it as easy to see the intricate work so I'm now a lapsed Honiton lace maker! I do make other bits now and again but it feels like I'm working with rope after doing the really fine stuff!
    It looks a really great place to visit and is now on my list of places I MUST go to! Thanks so much for sharing all about it.

  4. I really enjoyed this visit. Thanks so much for sharing!


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