Topsham Museum from the courtyard. Photo Steve Tanner, courtesy HLF
The Art Fund Prize shortlist will be announced any day now, but who do you think should win the coveted prize?
We're running our own poll - the 24 Hour Museum Art Fund Prize People's Vote. Read this story about Topsham Museum and then cast your vote - see the link at the end of the page.
The Art Fund Prize for 2008 features the whole range of museums, from local to national, but if there is one museum that really epitomises the balanced nature of the prize then Topsham Museum must be it.
Staffed entirely by local volunteers, the museum, a second or two from the River Exe, has been long-listed not only because it managed to rescue some valuable local heritage but also because it used the occasion to turn itself into one of the most vibrant museums in the South West.
"We didn't even expect to get on the longlist - we were euphoric when we heard the news," said Maureen Rogan, PR and Marketing officer at the museum.
"It's been three years hard work to get our recent HLF funding, and such a boost after all that work to get on the longlist for the Art Fund Prize. It's a great chance for a small volunteer-run museum to compete with the big museums," said Maureen.
Cygnet, a unique and idiosynchratic nautical survival at Topsham museum. Photo Steve Tanner, courtesy HLF
"Already, as a result of the longlisting, our profile has been raised, and it's done a lot for the profile of Topsham. We've had considerably more visitors than last year, and people are mentioning the award when they come into the museum."
Established by Dorothy Holman (1888-1983) in 1967 in the sail loft behind her home, the museum originally included artefacts relating to her great grandfather who owned three sailing shipyards in the port of Topsham.
However, in her will she left the whole property to continue as an extensive museum and expressed her hope that the house would be used to show the home of a Topsham seafaring family.
Fast forward thirty years and what began as a random collection of curios, has been transformed and reorganised through a Lottery-funded refurbishment into a state of the art gallery that represents a time-line of Topsham’s history, from Roman occupation to the present.
The catalyst for this transformation was a threatened collection of local boats and skiffs. It is to the credit of the volunteers that they had the imagination and drive to launch a major project to save, conserve and display the unique collection of boats, specific to the Exe Estuary, following the closure of the museum where they were formerly housed.
The four boats include Cygnet, a unique craft with an ornate swan’s neck prow, which was formerly owned by Captain George Peacock, a locally born character whose extraordinary life history was already a feature of Topsham Museum’s collections.
Inside the museum extension, Topsham Museum. Photo Steve Tanner, courtesy HLF
The boats are unique and represent rare examples of local nautical heritage that help to illustrate the importance of Topsham and the Exe Estuary as a boat building centre.
Now housed in the museum’s new River Gallery, the acquisition and restoration of the boats kick started a general refurbishment of the existing displays in the museum, which have now been refreshed and re-presented to complement and integrate with the new Gallery.
Both the restoration and refurbishment was secured with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Exeter City Council and with a fund raising by the Museum volunteers.
Following the judges’ visits, four museums and galleries will soon be shortlisted. The winner of the Art Fund Prize will be then announced on Thursday May 22 at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London during Museum and Galleries Month 2008.
Before then we would like to know what you think. Do you think Topsham Museum should win the 2008 Art Fund Prize? Vote for Topsham or any other longlisted museums in our People's Vote