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Gathering up all the fragments of today's Cornwall

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 28, 2013

  • Margaret Orchard's object is a single teacup, saucer and plate from St Eval United Methodist Chapel at Tregona. When services ceased at the chapel, families were each given a set as a memento. Margaret says it reminds her of the tea treats when her mum and gran would bake and serve yeast buns, jam tarts, splits-and-cream and saffron cake at a proper summer celebration, with the band playing and everyone in their Sunday best

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Ethel holds up a lapel pin from Truro Grammar School, which was demolished to make way for a supermarket.

"Every time I walk through the shop's deep freeze department, I think of my old school because that is where my classroom would have been," she says.

Benjamin brings in a smooth piece of granite, perfectly carved by the sea into the shape of a heart.

"I'm always on the lookout for heart-shaped stones, but this is the best one yet," he said.

"I found it in a rock pool at Constantine Bay. This stone represents Cornwall for me: rock, sand, sea and my love for all of it."

These are just two of the many objects going on show at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro from today in a unique exhibition celebrating... us.

Conceived by Cornish theatre company WildWorks, the aim of the project is to look at how specific objects conjure memories for us all. Curated by Echo Morgan, Mercedes Kemp and Jane Darke, the project grew out of an installation WildWorks staged at Kensington Palace in London. Centred around a cabinet of curiosities created for the London extravaganza, The Museum Of Us has been expanded and developed to include the artefacts and memories of people across the whole of Cornwall.

WildWorks archivists have spent the past few weeks running events in Helston, Bude, Falmouth, St Eval, Mylor and Porthcothan, inviting residents to bring along a physical reminder of some aspect of their Cornish life.

The results can be seen in Truro from today until Saturday – and visitors are even able gain free admission by taking along an object and a story of their own between 2pm and 4pm on any of the days.

Jane Darke's centrepiece Cabinet of the Sea Collection was originally made as a tribute to her late husband, the acclaimed Cornish playwright, Nick Darke. Comprising material she and Nick collected from North Cornwall beaches, it incorporates objects, stories, sounds, rock pools in drawers and film installations.

WildWorks' artistic director Bill Mitchell said: "When the cabinet was on show at the palace, lots of people commented on its Cornishness. So after the exhibition was all packed up we wanted to find a way to show it in Cornwall and to make it alive for Cornwall. We decided it would be a really wonderful vessel for ideas about Cornishness, about identity, whether people are from Cornwall or live here and love it. It's about the things that bind people to this place.

"And that's when we came up with the idea of putting together The Museum of Us."

Bill's partner, and fellow WildWorks director, Sue Hill, said the various project events had produced a diverse range of objects and stories – some historical and others expressing more recent responses to Cornish life.

"Janet Webb, who helps run the Polyglot Cafe in Falmouth, said she had long wanted to live in Cornwall, but postponed the idea for many years," said Sue.

"Janet had a little ceramic bird hung up in her house in Birmingham to remind her not to lose her dream. She now lives happily in Penryn and has learnt to speak Cornish.

"Then there's Paul Haines, who learned to ride the waves as a child on a traditional wooden bellyboard. He lost track of his precious board, but was reunited with it recently when it turned up in the possession of his cousin. Paul then entered the World Bellyboard Championships – and won."

To give an idea of the breadth of exhibits on show, they include a Chacewater water diviner's hazel twig, an assayer's pot from Redruth, a pewter Mazey Day badge from Penzance, an exotic rug from Heligan, a block of Dr Zogg's sex wax, a grandmother's recipe book, a surfing trophy and a Barbie doll in a knitted RNLI suit from Mullion.

"It has been a wonderful storytelling device," said Bill. "It is a simple, clear way of expressing why we feel the way we do about this place. Through these objects, people are talking about things that really matter to them."

So, if you had to choose just one object that represents an aspect of Cornwall, or tells a story about your relationship to Cornwall, what would it be? Why not take it along to The Museum of Us at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro until Saturday.

For more information visit royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk

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