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St Ives Museum

Founded: Not sure        Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local history    Visited: Autumn 2013

There aren't very many photographs of St Ives Museum here, for a very good reason: there shouldn't really be any. Once upon a time, museums didn't like visitors taking photographs, partly (so we used to say) for copyright reasons, partly because the light of camera flashes was bad for delicate objects. Now most museums, including the nationals, seem much more relaxed, except for special exhibitions which often include lots of articles the institution doesn't actually own; certainly modern digital cameras, even when used with flash, don't damage light-sensitive objects in the way older cameras may have done. However, St Ives Museum makes it very, very clear that it doesn't want you taking snaps. It is not the only respect in which it is, let us say, a little old-fashioned. The Museum is very insistent on this as on other points, that visitors should not touch things, nor should they lean on the glass of display cases; and, in case you may have overlooked the instructions, reminds you of them in labels every six feet or so.

I rebelled. 

But I only rebelled in circumstances where I seemed unlikely to risk anyone's wrath, which is why there aren't many images here. Call me coward.

Having visited St Ives for many, many years, I couldn't recall ever going into the Museum, and having toiled up the steps into the somewhat unprepossessing building I appreciated why. The Museum's site has housed a pilchard curing cellar, a laundry, a variety of Christian societies, a pottery and a cinema, before the collection was moved here in 1968 and expanded thereafter, and the structure is designed for utility, not beauty. That's not the issue: it's the displays that are a little retro. The visitor is greeted by a roomful of dark wood display cases rather like the more antique sections of the Natural History Museum in South Ken, and explores a variegated and not-always contextualised landscape of local paraphernalia (why is there a shelf of old electrical plugs?), during which time she is badgered from room to room by those everpresent hectoring labels. My favourite item was a rather wonderful collection of photographs of the little fishing borough, mounted on fading beige hessian boards of a kind that made me assume at first that the display had remained unaltered since the Museum opened: I boggled a bit on realising that it had in fact been updated relatively recently.  I think the coup de grace was the blue tarpaulin screening some of the windows: I'm not sure that's a very effective anti-UV filter, no matter how cheap it may be. 

Friends: I am not, NOT, advising you to steer clear of St Ives Museum. Every local museum (or every one I've visited) is worth while and should be supported, and St Ives's is no different: it has a lot of lovely stuff and that pattern of chains you can see below is rather beautiful, isn't it? It couldn't half do with a bit of love, though, some of it tough.

St Ives Museum St Ives Museum

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