IT’S an underused, under-publicised and under-rated resource and probably in line for cost-cutting, but I love Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.
We don’t go often enough. We aren’t one of those families who go to all the Toddlers’ Afternoons, where you can make things with your under-fives. Upcoming events include a chance to make Chinese Lanterns on January 27, a Spanish Fan on March 3, or the ambitious-sounding Native American Wigwam workshop on March 31.
No, I go with the kids maybe two or three times a year when we find ourselves in town at a loose end. You should go, (it’s opposite the theatres) it’s warm, and interesting, and free!
I expect most Northamptonians haven’t been since being dragged there on a school trip, and I dare say much of it may not have changed since. While a lot of exhibits seem unchanged for decades, there is always something new every time we visit.
We’ve been going since the older boys were babies. They’ll tell you all about the Elephant Boot in the Shoe Museum part. All our kids have played with the shoe shiner and the twirly thing, where you spin sections of a cube to give different heads, outfits and shoes.
They have been through the weird and wonderful top floor, which features the history of Northampton, including a bit where you sit in a tunnel-that’s-not-a-tunnel watching a small flicking orange light, listening to the story of the Great Fire of Northampton. The floor ends with a bizarre corporation video extolling the virtues of 80s (or is it 70s?) Northampton with the kitsch ‘pop single’ called Sixty Miles by Road or Rail playing as the finale. It’s so bad it’s brilliant. You’ll see what I mean here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W52nq58OYsU
The museum is tragically under-publicised. Recently, Billy was most excited on a random visit to see football boots worn by the likes of David Beckham and Gary Lineker. There’s currently shoe exhibits from top sportsmen, including Roger Federer whose feet are HUGE. But disappointingly, they don’t say what size the shoes are, which I found strangely frustrating.
The museum might be known for its massive, historic collection of shoes, including very modern Blaniks and Westwoods, but it’s the rest that keeps me coming back.
The art gallery – and it does belong to you, the people – has an extraordinary collection that, let’s face it, most of us ignore and our children will never see. It needs to change.
The gallery currently has an exhibition called Big, Bold and Bizarre, running until February 27, and I urge you to drop in, as Billy, Bonnie and I did this week. The first thing to catch the kids’ eye – aside from the textile-covered lion and a kids’ drawing table – was a large oil painting at the end. “There’s Hairy Alan Moore,” said Billy, casually referring to someone he knows as a family friend, rather than a world-famous graphic novelist.
It’s a small exhibition covering everything from contemporary modern art to busts of the Fermors from Easton Neston, dating from 1658. My personal favourite is a picture of a metal door and lock, in such incredible detail I stared and stared, until Baby Bonnie decided she’d like to start drawing on the walls rather than the paper provided.
It’s not ideal to go to a museum with small children (unless yours are considerably better behaved than mine) if all want to do is read every description and explanation. But nevertheless, it’s worth going back and back again for short visits.
The curators obviously make an effort to keep coming up with innovative ways of keeping at least part of it fresh, and it desperately needs its own detailed website to show just how much treasure we have in this town. We must keep visiting or it will be lost to our own children forever. How can we deny them their own history?