The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is at the forefront of Exeter’s activity for Chinese New Year: one of the world’s most widely celebrated festivals.
For our second #FinditInExeter article we visited the RAMM and spoke with Neil Heasman, events coordinator within the audience development team, to learn about his integral role at one of Exeter’s largest cultural attractions and to gain an exclusive insight to the museum’s free ‘Chinese Collections Trail’. The trail is aimed at families and comprises of nine exquisite artefacts across four of the museum’s galleries.
Neil came to the museum following a former role in primary education. As a teacher he swiftly realised that what he liked most was working with children kinaesthetically. He found that this was the way in which children learned best – whilst doing ‘hands on’ things rather than sitting at a desk – and essentially what they enjoyed more. It was this paired with Neil’s love of artefacts and a degree in Heritage and Landscape which drew him to working at the RAMM. Since joining the museum Neil has continued to nurture his love for children’s learning as well as developing an aptitude for adult learning, including the development of the museum’s dementia friendly sections.
Neil is the primary orchestrator behind the ‘Chinese Collections Trail’, so we wanted to discover his inspiration behind the chosen objects in a little extra depth ahead of the Chinese New Year celebrations:
This year the trail includes both authentic Chinese artefacts as well as several Chinoiserie artefacts: objects made outside China in the Chinese style. These items suitably demonstrate just how great an impact China has had on global art and culture for centuries. This influence has continued to filter through to the present day, and is especially prominent during the word-wide celebration of Chinese New Year.
Neil also told us his favourite item from the trail and the history which it characterises:
‘One of my favourite items from the trail is the blue and white porcelain dish featured in the Making History gallery. This beautiful dish was actually found in a rubbish pit in 1680 Exeter – which illustrates the longstanding trade link! As we know, China has always been hugely popular with regard to trade. This dates back hundreds and thousands of years, and the trade between Exeter and China spans hundreds of years too. The museum has a selection of Chinese porcelain, which is accompanied by the story of trading history between China and the UK. Going back to the 17th century in this country we couldn’t produce porcelain, so ours tended to be pottery but painted the same – although it never quite matched up. A lot of Chinese porcelain and other Chinese articles were made purely for the export market. The Chinese wouldn’t necessarily have had them in their homes as they were specifically for the European taste.’
All nine items tell a unique and fascinating story, with the aim of the trail to get both children and adults engaged with the wider contextual history surrounding each different artefact.
The Chinese Collections Trail is free and runs from February 17 – March 16.
Check out the line-up for the University of Exeter’s Chinese New Year celebrations, which includes a parade of traditional Dragon and Lion dancing through the city centre and ends at the RAMM: https://www.inexeter.com/events/exeter-universitys-chinese-new-year-parade/