Saturday, 11 September 2010

One Enchanting Video - 100 Legendary Trunks leads to a thousand more thoughts

This post was going to be a short one, but as I thought about it, I felt I wanted to share more. I've always loved the idea of looking at one thing through history - seeing how it itself changes, an object transforming to suit different things as times change, as well as changing reactions to it - what it means to contemporary people and in what different situations it is used. And how looking at and thinking about one thing can spark a thousand other thoughts.

All this seemed to come together when I watched this video on Lily and the Muse. This truly amazing video is actually part of an ad campaign for the Louis Vuitton book. Both look amazing, I love the video and think the book would make the perfect coffee table companion, to peruse over and dream. I was simply going to share the video and leave it at that. But it got me thinking about history and objects.

The video and book shares 100 legendary trunks, but they are all designer - a small slice of the bigger history. Louis Vuitton are using history to cement the idea of their brand, to evoke thoughts of luxury, heritage, and the past. They are, in the present day, cementing their brand, and making more sales by embracing their history, suggesting, perhaps, superiority and certainly the chance for buyers of the brand to feel part of something larger than just the material product. Looking at this could lead to cynicism, as heritage is blatantly used for commercial purposes. I feel differently, the video is just one of the ways that history can be enjoyed, thought about and embraced.

Reading the book, or simply watching the video (something many more can enjoy, if you, like me, cannot afford the book), can spark so many thoughts. On trunks themselves, how differently they were used in the past (on stage coaches, ships and trains. When men and women travelled with a retinue as well as their possessions. When diplomats in the 19th century, travelled the world, and India rode on elephants, their trunks behind them. Or when kings and queens travelled the country, their court moving with them. Or perhaps think about the men and women who emigrated, with all their worldly possessions in one trunk), compared to the present when we collect our luggage from impersonal suitcases as they circle the conveyor belt at an airport. That is simply the object, but it evokes other thoughts and feelings; ideas of travel, for pleasure, work or emigration. The movements of people that have always occurred, grand tours, trips to the seaside and our own memories of perfect holidays. Not to mention the thoughts of the people who used them and what they put inside.

Just looking at one thing, can mean being inspired by so much more.

Helen at Clio's Curiosities

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A visit to the past, via Lacock Abbey and village

I'm sure this cat posed for the photo

In the grounds leading to the Abbey

A wonderful collection of candles, in a shop full of so much lovely homemade soap

Some old photos on a table in the Abbey

The most glorious rocking horse and wallpaper
Taken from a shelf in a cabinet of curiosities

Don't you just love it when there's a dressing up room

Just done the garments and strick a pose

I loved loved loved this patchwork quilt

The courtyard in the Abbey

Just a few of the old cameras on display
This Saturday I went to Lacock and loved it so much, although it was certainly a surreal experience. The small town was totally quiet, no one about apart from a whole load of tourists and daytrippers milling around and enjoying one of our few days of sun. The village is total picture book fairytale, a proper chocolate box. It's as if the whole place is national trust, rather than just the museum, and abbey house on the outskirts. You can certainly feel the history as you wonder around, although certainly in a strange way. There was a lovely big old barns that had been preserved, and there was even, on that very day, a reunion for those evacuated there during the war! All the shops are quaint and full of rustic and homemade things and we were served in the bakery by women in period serving outfits before going on to have cream teas outside. I mean where could you feel the history more than in a place where Cranford was filmed and Colin Firth strutted around in when the BBC filmed Pride and Prejudice? And that was just the village.

Yes there was more. Lacock Abbey is breathtaking and certainly worth visiting if you can. It's even more steeped in history, you can see the layers, appreciate all that has gone on there. It really feels like something where so much has happened. All I can share is a potted history and hope that it inspires you to visit. The Abbey was founded by Ela of Salisbury in the 13th Century. Her husband witnessed the Magna Carta and she seems to have been a remarkable and powerful woman in her own right. When Henry VIII disbanded the nunnery that was there, part of the building was kept and attached to the grand house that was built there. And so today you can wonder round the Abbey (which was used in two of the Harry Potter films) and then walk straight into the house, which is decked out in former glory as so many National Trust properties are.

And still there's more. In the nineteenth century the house was owned by the Talbots. Fox Talbot invented the photo negative! And so we have two of my favourite things - history and photography. There is a small museum there that is so well done, half box of curiosity with interesting things to show and tell, half exploratory and explanatory, sharing what occurred and its significance. It's a joy to walk around and brilliant that they have a changing gallery space above. I loved the exhibition on significant negatives that was on, so fascinating to see photos entirely differently.

So, I am now in love with Lacock (despite the strange feeling of the village itself) and had a wonderful day - especially with the new Vignette app I downloaded for my HTC phone (available on Android marketplace and the iPhone equivalent). It was so fun to play around with the settings and I think the photos turned out great!

Helen at Clio's Curiosities

Saturday, 4 September 2010

So you wish you could sew...

It seems that there a lot of things that have gotten lost in the past - like the fact that once, sewing was something known by everybody (well, every woman). And I now a lot of people who wish they could create something themselves. I'm one of these people. Inspired by volunteering at the Quilt Museum in York I even wanted to get my own sewing machine and do some of my own projects - sadly me and my mum decided against it at the last minute. I'm going into my final year of University and my spare time is already filled to the brim with other projects that I couldn't add another thing to the mix.

This is why this project is brilliant. I know my blog is not yet very established, but after seeing it in the blogoshpere I couldn't help but share it (also there's a prize. I won't lie, that made my attention linger once I realised I couldn't actually do it myself).

The idea is simple, starting on 27th September and going on until the 4th November, Drucilla and Mathlyd will take you through step by step personal tutorials via a password accessed blog to teach you to sew and embroider. What could be better? Add to the fact that the inspiration came from the glamorous twenties and you'll be creating your own sleep sets (a pillow case, camosile and shorts), and you have a perfect combination.

So head to their blog and take a look.

Helen at Clio's Curiosities

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Reactions to The Illusionist: when history steps in and claims the present


Last week I went with my family to see The Illusionist and it is truly breathtaking. And of course, it's certainly historical. It itself was created, as my dad was quick to often point out, from the unfinished script of Jaques Tati that was written in 1956. He was a French filmaker, director and comedian and the main character of the Illusionist is based on him. This is something I'd loved to know more about, but as I didn't know much at the time, it is not what struck a cord in me.

Directed by Sylvain Chomet (of Belleville Rendezvous - or The Triplets of Belleville if you're not from England like me) the film is typically full of breathtaking animation and artistic swoons. With little dialogue the plot is comparitively simple. Set in the 1950s it follows an old magician performer who travels from Paris to Edinburgh, via a remote Scottish village where he meets a young woman called Alice. She's entranced by the magic he performs, a stark comparision to the world that faces him in the Scottish capital at a time when the old delights are pushed aside for more modern entertainment.

Aside from the beauty of the story and art direction (which should make it worthwhile to watch for any history and art lover), the story captures what it means when one historical or cultural era is replaced by something new. It's hard not to feel for the characters who find they can no longer make a living from the old entertainments (we are also introduced into the lives of a ventriloquist and a trio trapese artists aside from the beginning to be forgotten illusionist). The film seems to comment on how modern societies can brutally push aside past amusements, no longer relishing them, gradually letting them disapear.

There is certainly a melancoly and wistful air to the film, the sense of regret and change is not subtle. To me this seemed somewhat depressing, especially when it is clear that today's society does have one eye on the past, and that things aren't so dismissing as was depicted in the film. If not then many less people would have seen the itself, less would have been entranced with it and attracted to it. The vintage revival is occuring, not just in the blog world but in influencing contemporary and 'new' lifestyle as well. People watch  films, read books, and gorge on the historical features and snapshots into the past. Yes, there is less of place for the old entertainment represented in the film, but there is still a place. It seems to me that people are increasingly embracing alternatives to the modern aspects of our lives. This weekend I also went to the theatre, not to see a play, but in the intimate setting I was one of many captivated by the magicians performing on stage. There was no modern techniques, just the old fashioned magic (or tricks). It was wonderful.

I guess things are always going to move on and away, some things will get left behind, but they will not be forgotten. And they may certainly be enjoyed again.

So look the stills and go and enjoy the film, tell me what you thought and how you reacted to the clear movement of time, as a present man's world increasingly became part of history. And also tell, or think about, if there is something you've done recently where you've felt the touch of the past?

Helen at Clio's Curiosities

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Introducing the infamous Princess Caraboo

Princess Caraboo - by Edward Bird

It seems only fitting that my first proper blog post, and the first story I chose to share, is about a woman whose story resonated with me from the first time I saw Edward Bird’s painting of her. Standing amidst the Bristol based paintings in my local museum (the much loved Bristol Museum and Art Gallery), the portrait is perhaps nothing special and easily overlooked unless you know the story behind it or have read the all important explanation beside it.

So who is she?
An unknown foreigner?
The Princess of Javasu?
Or a woman from the moon?

She was all these things and more, for some six weeks in 1817. Found wondering into Almondsbury, a village not many miles away from Bristol, was a fatigued unknown foreigner, who refused all gifts of money, and communicated only in gestures, understanding not a word that was said to her and speaking a language no one could understand.

She ended up being taken in by the local magistrate and his wife and it was eventually believed, at least according to the press, that she had been kidnapped by pirates, ill-treated on board their ship and had jumped ship at the sight of land, swimming to shore from the Bristol Channel.  For six weeks she was watched, studied and discussed by members of Bristol’s intellectuals and middle class society, even fascinating the fashionable Bath society for one single day. She seemed to inhibit all that was fascinating about the Orient, the Other; foreign cultures and people that enthralled the people of Britain. She ‘swam like a fish’, fenced with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, ate curry, refused all spirits and alcohol, drinking only water (which was strange for the time). She worshiped the sun, shrunk away from male touch and said her name was “Caraboo! Caraboo!”.

She was beautiful and enigmatic, but more importantly she was exotic. The people of early nineteenth century were lured by images and ideas of the Orient and the east, which they only knew through paintings and engravings, exhibited in galleries or published in newspapers and periodicals. They heard about the foreign through the second and third hand stories of those who had traveled there, or through the things they brought back and the commodities the east inspired. Princess Caraboo’s story had all the excitement of the Arabian Nights, translated and read also at that time, or the exuberant pantomimes such as Aladdin or The Sultan put on in theatres across England.

She was real, an exotic eastern royal, in their midst, in the home of one of their own. She could be seen, touched, an attempt at conversation could be made. She was all that entranced them about the orient and she was here, in their own country.

Of course she wasn’t who she said she was. With the increasingly powerful press creating an aura of celebrity around this unknown foreigner, she was recognized. Princess Caraboo was in fact a Miss Mary Baker, one time servant, a vagrant and wonderer, a member of the lower classes, a girl from Witheridge, Devonshire. Media attention still surrounded her and the hoax, discussion of her and the case was published periodically throughout the century and into the next. Her deception fascinated many, ships and race horses were named after her, she inspired ballads, books, and a film. She even inspired a twenty year old Bristol girl in 2010 to throw herself into research, reading newspaper articles of the day and spending hours reading in the library surrounded by towering books on the period all so she could write one 10,000 word dissertation on her.

She truly was an  amazing woman of her day – I almost can’t believe she managed to pull off her deception, speaking only gibberish and talking to no one for some six weeks! I’m I shall write more than this potted description of what happened, there are so many things that make her case interesting to discuss and think about. But that will have to wait until another day.

Helen at Clio's Curiosities

Friday, 27 August 2010

Me and a little thing called the past

I'm just an ordinary girl in love with the past. As a History student at the University of York I'm using this blog as a platform to share all the things I come across that are related, in some shape or form, to history. Be it objects, stories, people or places, the past is never far from us. It is always there to inspire, fascinate, enjoy and provoke discussion.

My aim, at the moment, is for this blog to become some sort of unordered treasure trove and discussion of everything from the past that sparks my interests, or tugs at my heartstrings. I may come across what I write about in a museum, a book, or in my seminars at University, but I may equally find it in the buildings I walk past, the charity, vintage and antique shops I wonder through, the photos I see, the films I watch, the clothes I wear and the things that adorn my room and fill my home. The past is everywhere, history is all around us; it is there for the taking and shouldn't be ignored, glossed over or dismissed. In my life I chose to enjoy it, to collect stories of people and places in the past, and the things they leave behind, and this makes my reality that bit more special.

It doesn't matter if the past is appreciated in the form of a pretty object, that perfect vintage dress or piece of jewelry inherited, or in a more traditional way an event or person from the past you learn about. It is all history and it all matters.

So I hope you enjoy what I have share, take on board my comments, feeling and opinions. I'll leave you with something a little more exciting than my ramblings: me, in my own mini History (go on and grab a few of your own photos from that highlight one of your passions and do the same)

I was sorting through some photos the other day and stumbled across a selection that clearly show an early interest in history

I'm clearly appreciating the classical inspired
 architecture that is picturesquely placed in
country estates - or at knowing where to pose

A young Helen ready to star in my own historical drama
- all I needed to do was to stash the plastic bucket and fork
and then work the bonnet

Me taking photos for future histories

And I also found clear proof that I'm a girl who was destined for a career in history - I mean who wouldn't with a brother for a Mummy? (Well at least one who was mummified for a school assembly)

Helen at Clio's Curiosities