Volunteers Go Visiting!

March 13, 2017 -

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As part of the knowledge sharing  programme for our volunteers we include regular visits to other local heritage venues, and in a reciprocal arrangement welcome their volunteers through our doors. As part of this year’s pre-season schedule,  AMIB volunteers recently were given a ‘grand tour’ of the delights of the only UK museum dedicated to the arts and culture of East and South East Asia, located conveniently (for us) in Bath.  We asked volunteer guide Cheryl St George to fill us in on the visit.

“When we arrived (shivering from a very cold late winter morning) at the front door of the Museum of East Asian Arts, we were graciously greeted by volunteer coordinator, Jane Sparrow, and two volunteers – Christine Gorman and Mary-Jane Middlehurst.  Their warmth and good humour immediately made us feel right at home.  Dr. Nicole Chiang, the museum’s curator, is a specialist in Imperial Art, and introduced us to the temporary exhibition on the ground floor, entitled ‘Red’ (the happy colour of the sun which we all associate with Chinese art).  Dr. Chiang briefly explained the use of iron oxide, both as an under and over glaze, to produce the famous oxblood colour, along with cinnabar and ochre.  We learned that the peach, which is a motif on a specially commissioned plate for the Emperor’s son, is a symbol of longevity (I plan on eating more of this fruit in future!).

Staff and volunteers were on hand to personally guide us through the collection and since the museum is closed on Mondays, we were like kids in a candy shop, eagerly exploring every gallery with the benefit of first-hand knowledge at every corner. I particularly liked learning about the symbolism in the various objects, which originate from ancient cosmology, myths, historical legends and nature.  My favourite was the imaginary ‘qilin’, a mythical beast with the body of a deer, the face of a wolf, an ox tail and horses’ hooves.  This animal symbolises wise administration in a time of peace and prosperity, and is said to appear to humans only during the reign of a benign Emperor.

Founded by Brian McElney OBE, a prominent lawyer and long-time resident of Hong Kong, the MEAA opened to the public in April 1993 as an educational charity. McElney’s collection forms the backbone of the museum which consists of nearly 2,000 sets of objects from East and South East Asia, dating from 5,000 BC to the present.  A resident of Bath, McElney, now retired, still gives lectures from time to time on the collection.

Youngsters are well catered for at the museum, with a children’s corner and dressing up area, as well as creative workshops for families (e.g. dragon boat and carp kite making, cherry blossom origami, lantern making and story readings). Adults can learn the art of origami, calligraphy and craft making and the museum’s East Asian Fridays offer talks and workshops associated with their exhibitions, held at both the museum and at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution.

We finished off our visit with Chinese tea (served in Chinese teapots and bowls, of course) and a lively discussion on life in East and South East Asia. We even heard something of the history of silk manufacturing in America from Judi Grant. We were all feeling a lot warmer when we finally peeled ourselves away and, with a fond farewell, were graciously led out the red door into the colder reality of Bath’s wild ‘west’.”

Note: ‘Red’ has now closed. The current exhibition features the paintings of Hong Ling.

Visits such as this one are just a small part of the social side of our volunteer programme which also includes a summer tea party, a Christmas event and an annual trip to a venue further afield. Interested in joining us? Then call our volunteers manager, Sharon Blanchard on 01225 823017 or complete the application form