Madonna and Child painted in 1921 by David Jones was chosen by David Barrie, Director of the National Art Collections Fund and purchased for the museumby the NACF. Courtesy Ditchling Museum.
It’s not often that a rural community attracts a flurry of media attention and a host of celebrity visitors. But in the small Sussex village of Ditchling a museum in an old school house is celebrating its rich local heritage - with a little help from some famous friends, art world buffs and the local community.
Altogether 20 local people, institutions and celebrities have been asked to select a piece from Ditchling Museum’s collection that they either love, loath or feel encapsulates the museum and the village for them. The result is 20x20, an exhibition that runs until October 23 2005 and celebrates the 20th anniversary of Ditchling Museum.
Janet Cragg, publicity officer, told the 24 Hour Museum that the inspiration for the exhibition came from museum Director Hilary Williams.
“Hilary wanted to celebrate 20 years of the museum in a way that would draw attention to particular pieces of a wide and varied collection that has a strong connection with the arts and entertainment world.”
“We’re not just a small village, tucked away, but an important museum with an important collection,” said Janet.
Some of the artists displayed include sculptor Eric Gill, calligrapher Edward Johnston, Ethel Mairet, a weaver whose workshops were attended by the likes of potter Shoji Hamada and painter David Jones.
The Book of Vegetable Dyes by the weaver Ethel Mairet was selected by Sir Christopher Frayling, Director of Arts Council England and printed inDitchling in 1916. Courtesy Ditchling Museum.
Not surprising then that Ditchling Museum is known for its outstanding art collection and that it has managed to attract a bevy of celebrities and art world buffs to participate in selecting items from that collection.
Sir David Attenborough, who already has an established relationship with the museum (he opened a Shoji Hamada Pottery exhibition there), was only too pleased to be involved in selecting a piece of work by Edward Johnston - who taught lettering to Eric Gill at the Central School of Art and Craft.
“He honed in on Edward Johnston who his father had corresponded with when he was a child,” said Janet. “He had memories of letters arriving in rather fine calligraphic lettering and Sir Attenborough believes everybody’s writing says something about them.”
Gill remains a respected typographer; his Sans Gill typeface is still widely used whilst a logo designed by Edward Johnston for London Transport in 1916 is also in use today.
Personal connections are everywhere in the exhibition; actor Sir Donald Sinden and Woman’s Hour presenter Martha Kearney, both of whom trod the boards at Ditchling's local theatre as youngsters, were happy to select items from the collection.
Jamie Theakston and Dame Vera Lynn, who both still live in the village, were also asked to choose something that meant something to them.
The portrait of Amy Sawyer, a Ditchling artist and playwright, is by Rose Cobban and was chosen for the exhibition by actors Sir Donald and Leon Sinden who remember it hanging in the village hall where they first performed on stage.
It’s not just the world of entertainment that was involved. Sir Christopher Frayling, Director of Arts Council England chose a David Jones painting paid for with Arts Council funding and Eric Gill's biographer Fiona MacCarthy chose a sculptured head by him.
Local school children were also asked to choose their favourite pieces from the collection, signifying the sense of local community that has driven the success of the museum.
“The public get to see the pieces in the collection in a new light, with a new perspective," added Janet. "People are realising the rich heritage Ditchling has to offer."
The exhibition effectively shows how the museum has been sustained over the past 20 years and also celebrates the vision of the two people who created it, sisters Hilary and Joanna Bourne.
“The sisters had a vision that the collection would be important, it’s their vision we’re celebrating,” said Janet.
Zoe Adjonyoh is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the South East region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.