The museum’s Director and CEO Steph Fuller reflects on another busy year for Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.
The year opened with the Dame Vera Lynn: An Extraordinary Life exhibition, which brought visitors back with a bang. Suddenly we were almost overwhelmed with groups and individuals wanting to come, and it was really moving to hear their memories and stories of the beloved Dame Vera. She touched many lives in many ways, and it was a very special opportunity to commemorate her in the village she loved.
Summer brought Frank Brangwyn’s Skinners Hall murals to the museum in a never to be repeated exhibition, courtesy of the Skinners Company who allowed us to exhibit the towering artworks whilst their Great Hall was closed for restoration. We were able to explore Brangwyn’s use of local people as models, recreating one of the paintings using contemporary villagers including children from St Margaret’s Primary. Sadly the last living link with Brangwyn’s village models ended just recently when Dick Morley who had posed for the artist with his mother and brother passed away.
Finally, we ended the year with the long awaited and much delayed Shoji Hamada: A Japanese Potter in Ditchling. This has received lots of accolades in the press and is attracting plenty of visitors despite the snowy weather! We were privileged to have the Japanese Ambassador attend the opening, and say some words about the historic and ongoing links between Ditchling and Mashiko in Japan.
In our wider programme we ran a pilot project Make It Happen! working with learning disabled adults to make products for sale in our shop. Our ambition is for this to become a self sustaining social enterprise and we will be continuing the project next year.
We’ve also just concluded our Different Stories project, an exciting collaboration between Disability Arts Online, which has uncovered new material about the lives of weavers Hilary Bourne and Barbara Allen. An audio play written by Natasha Sutton Williams about the pair and artist Amy Sawyer will be launched as a podcast in January 2023.
Finally in the wider world the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II means our President Camilla is now the Queen Consort. Her support and patronage has been greatly valued over the years by the museum, and we hope it will be able to continue.
The ‘new normal’ world is still throwing up many challenges, financial and otherwise, and we have been striving to develop more opportunities for people who are being hit hardest by the cost of living crisis. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters we have been able to raise funds to launch some new programmes in the Spring giving free museum access to those who need it via food banks and other partners.
I think we are all looking forward to a much needed break over the festive period. Very warmest wishes from all at the museum for a merry Christmas and happy new year!