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Dorset Museum Reopens

Jim Potts

Museums modern Achesons Atrium complete with Mosaic
Museums modern Achesons Atrium complete with Mosaic

I was delighted to be invited to a preview of the new Dorset Museum building. I was immediately struck by the friendliness, pride and contagious enthusiasm of the staff who welcomed visitors, and by the immediately impressive interior design, layout and spatial feeling of the complex.

I headed upstairs first, in pursuit of Dorset writers and artists who have worked in Dorset.

The Artists’ Dorset gallery drew me straight in. It felt like the entrance to a major national gallery and museum. I had once given a lecture in the Victorian Hall on ‘Art and the Dorset Landscape’ - I couldn’t have asked for more from the permanent exhibition. The sculptures by Dame Elisabeth Frink are beautifully and dramatically presented and it is good to see her work in an area also devoted to Elizabeth Muntz. Alfred Wallace certainly deserves his space. The museum is not parochial in its collection. It manages to reinforce diversity as well as Dorset’s local traditions and culture.

Elsewhere, Thomas Hardy’s violin was a high spot, as well as the agricultural cart.

I was glad to recognise and chat with a well-masked Bonny Sartin (formerly of The Yetties). It occurred to me that he is a living Dorset treasure and that The Yetties should also be represented, perhaps with a listening booth devoted to Dorset folk music. On such occasions, one looks for what one thinks is missing as well as admiring what is there (like the mention of Llewelyn Powys and the Chaldon Herring circle).

Many of the revised explanatory captions are up-to-date in terms of balance and interpretation, with panels devoted to ‘Powerful Families on The Land’ and ‘Dorset and the Slave Trade”. Some of Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s whackier theories about Maiden Castle have been challenged and reinterpreted in a more modern scientific context.

There is a subtle readjustment of the arrangement of the Whitcombe Man’s skeleton (the placement and angle of the warrior’s skull is quite jaunty). The Maumbury Rings phallic finds are exhibited effectively.

I left the important natural history and fossil exhibits for my next visit when I hope to be accompanied by two of my grandchildren, who will be thrilled and engrossed for hours.

I did observe that the entrance prices are on the high side, but I am not complaining, given the millions of pounds spent so imaginatively on the redevelopment and expansion of the site. For those who do not want to become annual members, the cost of a family visiting three or four times a year means significant expenditure.

As I left, I was reassured that there will be opportunities for temporary exhibitions to focus more fully on key Dorset writers like William Barnes.

It is good that one leaves the museum wanting to come back again and again. There is so much to explore.

Congratulations to everyone concerned. It is not an overstatement to say that the new Dorset Museum is a triumph.

The front of the New Dorset Museum The Acheson's Atrium and Fordington High Street Mosaic Artist's Dorset Gallery Former Curator Henry Joseph Moule and William Barnes Busts highlighted in the Collections Discovery Centre Section on William Barnes in the new People's Dorset Gallery William Barnes' Shoes and audio recordings of dialect poetry by WBS members, Tim Laycock and Brian Caddy Georgian Waistcoats in the Artist's Dorset Gallery Weymouth and Melcombe Regis MP, Thomas Buxton, Vice President of the Anti-Slavery Society.

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