Bristol’s City Museum & Art Gallery is located in a magnificent building in the heart of the city Bristol. It houses important national and international collections of minerals, fossils, natural history, eastern art, world wildlife, archaeology and seven galleries of fine and applied art.
Brunel & the Art of Invention was the region’s major art exhibition which contained works of national and international importance, spanning the Victorian age right up to and including modern art and industry. The exhibition was conceived by guest curator Dr Claire O’Mahony, from the Department of Fine Art at the University of Bristol. It included objects and items belonging to Brunel as well as iconic paintings such as Frith’s painting The Railway Station and Stanley Spencer’s Shipbuilders on the Clyde. It also included film, books and large 3D objects, which are examples of technological advances – including a Pegasus Aero engine and a large tower clock.
Themes of the exhibition included Brunel as Artistic Engineer, Travel and Transport, Ways of Seeing, Inventing Britain and The Art of Work.
Resources were produced to support formal and informal learners who visited the exhibition and interactive elements were included to encourage engagement with the subject matter.
There was a wide-ranging events programme which ran throughout the exhibition and included family fun days, talks by guest speakers and activities and tours for visually impaired visitors, Sign Supported English tours and more.
The exhibition provided the opportunity for other Brunel-related projects to take advantage of the theme and the space available. Ralph Hoyte performed his poem, ISAMBARD! The Epic Poem, and the Filton Male Voice Choir sang at the opening night.
The City Museum recorded 46,216 visitors between 17th April and 18th June 2006, comprising 28,728 adults and 8,940 children. There were 46 organised groups of children (1471 individuals), from 25 different schools around the local area, and the overall male/female split was 62% male to 38% female.
The Museum was able to carry out some conservation work on museum objects for example the Dock Master’s clock that has not been on display since it was dismantled in 1964. Many volunteers put in time to restore and construct the Dock Master’s clock and one volunteer continued to wind the clock every 3 days for the duration of the exhibition.
As part of this exhibition, a new visitor response wall was introduced, for which visitors could write or draw their own inventions and add to the wall. This proved extremely popular and has now been used in subsequent exhibitions at the museum, having not been used beforehand.
Brunel's Lamp post designs.
“An important exhibition-the shape of Bristol and the world may have been very different without this chap”. – Bristol
“What a lovely collection depicting the age in which Brunel operated” – Henley on Thames
“Brunel makes me proud to be a Bristolian”!! – Bristol
“I feel covered in a thin layer of history” – Bristol
“Loved the exhibition! I wonder if in 200 years time we will be celebrating Roni Size?” – Bristol
“Marvellous. My great, great, grandmother emigrated on the ss Great Britain!” – Australia
“Fantastic, what a fellow!” – Warminster
“Great exhibits, shows Bristol’s history vividly” – Nevada
“An excellent tour, informative and interesting. A highlight to a weekend away, thank you” – Cornwall
“Does what is says, brings together many threads and places Brunel in context. Inspirational!” – Bristol
“3rd visit – enough said!” – Somerset
“We came 3700 miles to see this. Glad we did!” – USA
“Excellent – Brunel was a genius” – Ontario
“I really like those little things to look into and it seems 3D (a lot better than TV)” – Bristol
“I call in once a week to marvel at this exhibition” – Bristol
“Both informative and beautiful, this exhibition was thoughtful and challenging. An impressive, distinctive achievement” – California
“I liked the Forbes painting. Would have been interesting to get more differing views about what Brunel means to different communities in Bristol” - Anon
“Wonderful! I think I will be a scientist” – Cheltenham
“It was a very good exhibition of a genius and a great man” – Bristol
“What an amazing man Brunel was! He should be depicted on a bank note!” – Somerset
“Most imaginative. But perhaps some items of Brunel could always be on display” – Bristol
“Congratulations. Scholarly research plus artistic presentation. So pleased to have caught it on the penultimate day. Please next time improved advertising” – Bristol
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