Heritage: Volunteer museum project wins national recognition

Pop Up Ruskin Museum, Walkley:Sarah Lewis and Julian Cole with a Ruskin postcard and selected treasures from the museum
Pop Up Ruskin Museum, Walkley:Sarah Lewis and Julian Cole with a Ruskin postcard and selected treasures from the museum

Pop-up tribute to Victorian philanthropistJohn Ruskin’s work in Walkley hailed as a major succcess

Sheffield’s Pop-Up Ruskin Museum has been named as best community project in the Association for Heritage Interpretation Discover Heritage Awards.

Pop Up Ruskin Museum, Walkley: Brian Muriithi (left) reads a quote from the Ruskin pick and mix jar to Alan Middup

Pop Up Ruskin Museum, Walkley: Brian Muriithi (left) reads a quote from the Ruskin pick and mix jar to Alan Middup

The museum was a popular attraction which aimed to connect people to John Ruskin and the story of his Victorian museum in Walkley.

Funded by the Heritage LotteryFund Our Heritage grant, the pop-up museum ran for six months in an empty shop on South Road as part ofthe Guild of St George’s Ruskin in Sheffield 2015 programme of events.

The award was given in recognition of the outstanding work by a volunteer-led group who created and ran the museum. It was one of five projects that won an award.

The AHI awards are given for excellence in cultural and natural interpretation.

Pop Up Ruskin Museum, Walkley: Gareth Pert shows Tomas Tucek (right) the Ruskin Loaf from Gerry's Bakery

Pop Up Ruskin Museum, Walkley: Gareth Pert shows Tomas Tucek (right) the Ruskin Loaf from Gerry's Bakery

They are the only UK and Irish awards to recognise excellence in all types and sizes of heritage interpretation, whether held in museums, historic buildings, visitor centres or any type of outdoor location.

Ruth Nutter of Ruskin in Sheffield went to the Association for Heritage Interpretation conference in Inverness to pick up the award on behalf of the project.

She said: “The reason they picked all the winners was that they were bold visions and not things that on the surface that would succeed.

“They captured people’s imagination and involved local community members right from the outset.

John Ruskin

John Ruskin

“All the volunteers were in from the start, literally from when the shop was emptied.

“We cleaned it together and made the displays together.”

Ruth said that the project was also created by involving the Walkley community in a celebration of philanthropist and art critic Ruskin’s vision to set up St George’s Museum in a converted cottage in Walkley in 1875.

He said his aim was “the liberal education of the artisan”, inspiring the creativity of working-class people and giving them a haven of beauty in the industrial city.

Ruth said: “We had a number of public meetings in Walkley about how much people knew about Ruskin. Realising there were quite a lot of artists who respond to a creative project, because St George’s had been a stone’s throw away from them, we said, ‘let’s do a pop-up museum’.

“We wanted to do something that didn’t feel old or all glass cases.”

The idea was to transform the empty shop with artistic activities to engage the public with the story of Ruskin in Walkley, said Ruth.

Artists created modern cabinets of curiosities, related to the natural items and works of arts still on display in the modern-day Ruskin Gallery at the Millennium Gallery.

A mannequin stood in the shop and visitors could bring in items they had made to decorate it or dip into an old sweet jar with a pick and mix selection of Ruskin’s quotations inside.

Lots of activities took place in and around the museum and there was even a chance to try loaves of Ruskin bread, courtesy of Gerry’s Bakery.

Ruth said: “It was good fun but you could also sit in a corner and read the research that other occupants had done about the museum.”

She added: “Less than half the people who came in knew that the original museum had existed.

“About half knew that there was somehow a relationship with Ruskin but they didn’t know what it was.”

Many people who wrote in the visitors’ book said that it was a great way to find out something new about the place where they live, said Ruth.

A group of 60 local artists took the opportunity to display their own work in the museum.

Environmental advisor and TV gardening expert Chris Baines, who grew up in Sheffield, set up a display of reproductions of landscapes by the Rivelin Valley group of artists.

The exhibition of original paintings by the Rivelin Valley artists on display at Weston Park Museum is one of the legacies of the project.

The museum is now a record shop but there is a planter outside to mark the project, decorated with Ruskin’s most famous quotation, ‘There is no wealth but life’.

There is also a plaque to mark the old museum building, now called Ruskin House, and a display will eventually go up in Walkley Library.

The Ruskin in Sheffield project is also now working with Heeley Development Trust and the Friends of Meersbrook Hall to support their restoration of the hall in Meersbrook Park. It became the second home of the museum and collection after it outgrew the cottage.

Ruth said: “If we hadn’t had the pop-up museum, we never would have made the connection.”

The project has also been working in the Manor and Castle area and held a Big Draw public art event in Manor Fields Park in July.