The proposed overarching narrative structure for the Art Gallery and Museum is journeys’, understood in the widest possible sense of the word.
The Art Gallery will explore the journeys or lives of the objects that make up its exceptional collections of fine and decorative art. This will involve interpreting these objects in terms of: how they were designed and made; the stylistic movements and influences they represent; how they were used, and; how they became part of the Art Gallery’s collections.
The Museum will explore the journeys of people, ideas and things into, within and out of Bedford, as well as the area’s relationship with the wider world. In the broadest sense, the Museum will tell the story of Bedford from prehistory right through to the culturally diverse town we see today. It will focus on the people and places that are unique or special to the story of Bedford and the surrounding area.
The Art Gallery
WATERCOLOUR AND PRINT GALLERY
This area will feature changing displays from the Art Gallery’s nationally-significant watercolour and print collections.
A flexible walling system will be combined with showcases specifically designed for works on paper. Moveable sculpture plinths and mobile activity benches will increase the flexibility of the space.
The gallery will be able to be divided into two separate areas, used as one space or combined with Bedford Gallery, depending on the size of each exhibition.
Arranged broadly chronologically, this gallery will explore stylistic developments in the applied arts from the 17th century to the 20th century. This will include Classicism, Rococo and Baroque, Neo-Classicism, early and high-Victorian style, the Aesthetic Movement, Arts & Crafts, and 20th century movements such as Art Nouveux, Art Deco and Modernism.
The design will combine objects on open display, large cases with objects grouped together in context, and shallow cases enabling smaller objects to be investigated in more detail. Touch-screens linked to the Art Gallery’s collections database will provide more depth to the interpretation.
A key theme will be design and manufacturing techniques, supported by craft technique interactive areas focussing on glass, ceramics, enamel, glazes, and plastic. A second key theme will be what influences designers – in particular the influence of other cultures on British and European design.
EDWARD BAWDEN GALLERY
This gallery will house the Edward Bawden archive, which at around 3,000 items is the largest of its kind in the world. Between 1981 and 1989 Edward Bawden (1903-1989) donated the contents of his studio to the Art Gallery; the collection includes work from his college days through to 1980 and covers every medium he used, from watercolours and prints to examples of his commercial designs.
Pull-out display drawers will allow rotating, thematic displays of Bawden’s work, while a central display case will house ceramics designed by Bawden and Eric Ravilious. Other display cases and an audio visual presentation will explore linocut printing techniques.
A flexible hanging system on the gallery walls will allow rotating displays of framed prints and watercolours by Bawden.
INFLUENCE: GOTHIC REVIVAL
This gallery will continue the themes introduced in the Design Gallery but will look specifically at the Victorian revival of interest in medieval art and design. Influence – of the past, of religion and of nature – will be a key theme.
An introductory area will use the Museum’s medieval collections to explore the themes and motifs that influenced the Gothic Revival. There will also be display cases dedicated to Pugin, religious iconography, architecture, and domestic Gothic, which will explore how commercial manufacturers embraced the style.
The design will focus on display cases with objects grouped together by context and striking, backlit graphic panels.
WILLIAM BURGES GALLERY
The William Burges Gallery, housed in the Hexagon, will be the showpiece of the redevelopment.
An introductory area will explore Burges’ influences and his personal life. Graphic panels will illustrate his elaborate architectural and decorative schemes, including those from his own home. Cases will display examples of his smaller-scale work, such as the zodiac tiles and the Angell & Mendelson decanter.
The main, hexagonal gallery space will feature the Art Gallery’s world-renowned collection of painted furniture designed by Burges, including the Sleeping Beauty bed and the Narcissus washstand. The objects will be beautifully lit to highlight their architectural qualities and reveal the depth of detail in their decoration.
Following on from the themes of style, craft techniques and influence introduced in the Design Gallery, this section of the Art Gallery will focus on the idea of objects in use. The objects on display, taken from the Art Gallery’s decorative arts collection, will be interpreted in the context of how they were used and by whom. A further topic will be how use changes over time.
Each room will be divided into: an area that will group objects to illustrate how they were used in a typical mid-Victorian house; a more interpretive area featuring a mixture of objects from different periods, designed to illustrate two particular topics in more depth. These topics will be changed periodically in order to increase public access to the collections. This area will use a large plinth housing a mixture of objects from different periods to introduce the concept of ‘objects in use’. Two cased displays will explore particular topics; initially, these will be ‘the gentleman’s realm’ and ‘ornamentation’.
INTERACTIVE AREA: DESIGN YOUR OWN ROOM
This central area will feature computer interactives giving visitors the chance to ‘design their own room’ virtually, using the collections around them. There will also be a number of low-tech interactives based on the theme of objects in use.
OBJECTS IN USE: THE BEDROOM
The space will be divided into an area based on a mid-Victorian woman’s bedroom, and display cases and graphics focussing on two topics that illustrate how the use of objects associated with bedrooms has changed over time.
Flexibility is important – the design will allow for these topics to be changed, ensuring more of the collection is displayed. Initially, they will be ‘the woman’s realm’ and ‘dressing and toilette’.
OBJECTS IN USE: THE NURSERY
The Nursery will be primarily an education space for school groups. Toys from different periods will be housed in accessible display cases, there will be large-format graphics, while furniture and other objects will be on open display with appropriate access and protection.
Key interpretation themes will be how nurseries changed through time and Victorian and Edwardian ideas of children being ‘seen and not heard’.
OBJECTS IN USE: THE SITTING ROOM
Part of the space will act as an introductory area to visitors entering Objects in Use from the Watercolour and Print Gallery. This will feature a striking, tiered display of furniture and a rotating display of smaller objects.
The space will be divided into an area based on a mid-Victorian sitting room, and display cases and graphics focussing on two topics that illustrate how the use of objects associated with sitting rooms has changed over time.
Flexibility is important – the design will allow for these topics to be changed, ensuring more of the collection is displayed. Initially, they will be ‘setting the fire’ and ‘taking tea’.
OBJECTS IN USE: THE DINING ROOM
The space will be divided into an area based on a mid-Victorian dining room, and display cases and graphics focussing on two topics that illustrate how the use of objects associated with dining rooms has changed over time.
Flexibility is important – the design will allow for these topics to be changed, ensuring more of the collection is displayed. Initially, they will be ‘eating and drinking’ and ‘ostentation’.
This area will use the collections to interpret the social hierarchies surrounding the use of different entrances to houses, ideas of ‘meeting and greeting’, and why objects such as barometers and clocks were placed in hallways.
PEOPLE & PLACE
This introductory gallery will tell the story of Bedford through a series of display ‘pods’ arranged as a timeline, together with a central touch-table computer interactive.
Each area of the timeline will focus on a part of the collection that represents a specific period of history and its association with a particular local area.
Key ideas explored within this gallery will be:
• Migration and the emergence of new communities
• People’s interactions with the landscape
• The legacies that people have left behind
• Bedford’s place in the wider world.
The central computer interactive will be a showcase feature of the development. Presented as a series of layered maps, it will enable visitors to explore interactive ‘hotspots’ that provide historical information on particular areas in the local landscape.
This space will support the interpretation of Bedford Castle with two sizeable low- tech interactives. They will include a large cut-out illustration of the castle with lift flaps, each revealing a different aspect of life in a castle, and an interactive siege machine model supporting interpretation of the 1224 siege of Bedford Castle.
This gallery will explore Bedford’s growth from a market town serving farming communities to an internationally recognised centre of brewing and engineering.
The key topics will be:
• Early trade and industry
• Bedford as a market town
• Agricultural engineering
• Manufacturing and heavy engineering
• Modern industry.
Interpretation will relate Bedford’s industry to its cultural history, in particular the growth of new communities as migrant workers came to Bedford. The personal journeys of Bedford’s great industrialists and manufacturing companies will be featured, alongside the journeys across the world of goods and products made in Bedford and the way the landscape has been affected by local industry.
The design of this gallery will be characterised by a mixture of showcases and open display areas, with striking, sculptural displays of industrial equipment. As in other areas, there will be a mixture of audio visual presentations and high and low-tech interactives.
The ‘Treasury’ will feature a display of some of the unique, precious, high-status and sacred objects in the Museum’s collections. Related interpretation will explore ideas of power and authority attached to these significant objects.
Also on display will be items from the Mayor’s Parlour, including civic regalia such as the Mayoral mace, ceremonial robes, and gifts received or presented to Bedford to celebrate its history.
IDEAS & IDEALS
This gallery will explore:
• The personal journeys of some of Bedford’s most influential progressive thinkers, radicals, reformists and philanthropists
• The journey of the Museum’s ethnographic collection, from the creation of these fascinating objects collected by students and staff at Bedford Modern School, to them being given to the Museum.
The gallery will feature a series of displays on influential individuals. Some of these will be permanent, dealing with prominent people like John Howard and John Bunyan, while some will rotate to introduce a range of lesser-known personalities, including Joanna Southcott and James Wyatt.
A stunning display of the Museum’s ethnography collection will be a standout feature of the Museum. Interpretation will look at collecting as an example of the Victorian desire to ‘understand the world’, as well as what these objects can tell us about Bedford’s place in the British Empire.
This gallery will explore the ‘life journeys’ of local people, celebrating the historical and cultural diversity of life in Bedford. The key topics will be:
• Home life, including stories of migration and settlement
• Working life, including some of Bedford’s current industries
• Community life, including volunteering and citizenship
• Leisure and recreation
• Religion and belief, including traditions, festivals and celebrations.
The gallery will have a strong graphic and pictorial approach. Another key design feature will be flexibility – displays will be rotated to illustrate other aspects of life in the local area. Part of the ‘religion and belief’ section will house a changing programme of community-led displays highlighting cultural and religious traditions, celebrations and festivals.