Friday, June 27, 2008

The National Museum of Country Life, Mayo

On my way home from Foxford Woolen Mills, I decided to stop off at Turlough House (as the museum is known) for a latte and a browse round the shop. I have been into the museum a few times, so I was going to skip the cultural bit and just stick to the coffee. I was on the hunt for any kind of interesting textile book, specifically one on Irish Viking Textiles. (I was thinking of joining the Viking re-enactment group, and wanted to do some research on viking clothes). There is a particular lack of books on textiles in Ireland. OK, our ancestors dress sense mightn't have been as exciting as say the Egyptians, but its still interesting. But as expected there was nothing there. I did buy a book on Clones Lace, a few postcards of old ladies spinning, and aran jumpers. I recently had a conversation with an American on doing the touristy thing, and I told her I loved doing the touristy thing, even in my own country, so there's the proof. I just can't resist those old lady postcards.

There was also a poster there of Aran stitches, and I thought that was funny, because there was a discussion in one of the Ravelry Groups about "the end of Aran". So, I sat down with my latte, and began to read the back of the postcards, and discovered that there was currently a new exhibition on, "Romantic Stitches and Realist Sketches".

The Museum exhibition will show a range of early 20th century Aran knitwear and a series of drawings by Seán Keating RHA. The businessman, Pádraig Ó Síocháin, used the drawings to illustrate a brochure to promote Aran knitwear worldwide during the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibition focuses on the unique marketing story of the Aran knitwear as well as highlighting some of the traditions associated with the stitches.

What a find, that explains the poster! So I finish quickly, threw my stuff in the car and run down to the museum. As I said, I've been there many times so I skipped the thatch, the stonework, the spinning wheels and went into the exhibition all excited. What can I say.................

Considering the wealth of history, true or invented, about Aran, a poky room with 7/8 Aran
jumpers on dummy's behind glass is not what the glossy brochure promoted. Also, an audio-visual of Aran made by different designers since the 50's, without even a seat to sit down and view it properly. If you stopped to look at the TV, you were blocking the jumper display, that's how small the room was. There was more information in the brochure than in that room. And damn those audio-visuals, does anyone else think they're starting to take over, replace real exhibits that our Heritage people don't want to bother showing. I know the National Museum of Ireland has a vast range of textiles in storage, so its a pity they couldn't dredge up a few more gansey's to display.

I am happy with my poster and brochure which, as I said, gave me more info than the exhibition itself. Next time, Museum people, you do an exhibition like this, just raid the old folks home, get in a few Grannies. They'd be able to give you a lot more interesting chat about the real history behind Aran, the stitches and the women who were paid pittance for their hard work. Could we also have a pot of tea, and a few biscuits, just to get the atmosphere right.

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