The hidden treasures of one of Nottinghamshire’s oldest country estates are to be uncovered thanks to a fascinating new project involving academics and researchers at The University of Nottingham.
Computer scientists and art historians will use the latest mobile technologies to offer visitors new ways to reveal the cultural, industrial and historical heritage of the Thoresby Estate, which has been owned by the Pierrepont family since 1600.
Wander Thoresby, a collaboration between the University and the Stonebridge Trust which manages Thoresby’s parkland, centres on the artwork of Countess Manvers — Marie-Louise Roosevelt Pierrepont — who repeatedly painted favourite scenes and views of the Estate, her family home from the 1940s.
An exhibition in Thoresby Gallery kicks off from Friday August 2 and runs until Monday August 26, which will showcase the work of Countess Manvers, many of which have only recently been rediscovered in the family’s private collection.
Some of the early watercolours, otherwise too delicate to go on public display, will be accessible to the public thanks to researchers from the University’s Department of Art History. Led by Dr Gabriele Neher, The Digital Humanities Centre has started the process of producing high-quality digital copies of the Countess’ largely unexplored works, in preparation for more sustained research into the works themselves.
Dr Gaby Neher said: “Countess Manvers’ works offer an unique insight into the world of a landed estate during and after the Second World War. Her works chronicle, in often painstaking detail, what she sees around her. Some of the most striking works are tinged with a melancholy resignation to a lost world slipping away. They are wonderfully accessible and human pieces of considerable charm. For Wandering Thoresby, we are using Countess Manvers’ own work to open up a new way of looking at an important country estate.”
Visitors to Thoresby Park will be able to follow in the Countess’ footsteps around parts of the estate where she lived, through wartime and post-war austerity until her death in 1984.
Dr Ben Bedwell, a computer scientist from Horizon Digital Economy Research at the University, which has a strong focus on research ‘in the wild’, is leading technical research on the project. Using Wander Anywhere — a web-based app that takes advantage of GPS in mobile phones and tablets — he is working with staff and inhabitants of the Estate to offer an enhanced experience of the Wander Thoresby exhibition with a new orienteering/geocaching activity that will guide visitors to the sites and scenes from many of the Countess’ works.
Visitors will be prompted to leave their own thoughts and feedback on the experience in notebooks contained within a series of geocaching boxes hidden on public footpaths around the park. They will also be encouraged to reinterpret the scenes in Countess Manvers’ works on-location using their mobiles, creating a constantly evolving “crowd-sourced” element of the exhibition.
Dr Ben Bedwell, Horizon Research Fellow said: “The Wander Anywhere app allows visitors to have a more interactive experience when viewing the art and estate of Thoresby, digitally guiding visitors through the Countess’ works. One of the key aims of this project is to create a network of expertise from North Nottinghamshire tourism and heritage organisations, showcasing the latest digital technologies that can be applied to various cultural experiences, using wander Thoresby as the demonstrator.”
Wander Anywhere is funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Creative Economy Knowledge Exchange Project, Archives, Assets and Audiences.
The project re-kindles a long-standing relationship between the University and the Pierrepont family — the collections at Thoresby were studied in the 1970s by art historian Professor Alistair Smart, a personal friend of Countess Manvers, and the University holds historical papers from the Pierrepont Family within its Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections.
Following the end of the exhibition, the collaboration will continue over the course of the next year with a series of activities aimed at enhancing the experience of art history students studying at Nottingham, as well as involving children and young people from the local community.
Art historians will continue to study the artwork of Countess Manvers, with plans to establish a digital internship for a Nottingham student to develop ways of opening up access to the rare works through digital copies and the use of new technologies.
In addition, Dr Neher is planning a series of workshops for academics and student volunteers based around the heritage of the estate, which also features a number of Listed Buildings and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Through this the art history students — many of whom take up positions at stately homes or with organisations such as the National Trust or English Heritage — could enhance their CVs and boost their employability through learning new skills in conservation and estate management.
The project will culminate in an on-site residential camp over for art history students and an exhibition of works related to the Thoresby Estate on University Park campus.
The art history project work is funded by a grant from the University’s Cascade fund — part of the University’s Impact Campaign — which supports projects that will enrich students’ university experience and comes through donations from Nottingham’s community of alumni, parents, staff and friends.
The Wander Thoresby event runs at the Thoresby Gallery from Friday August 2 until Monday August 26 and the exhibition is open every day from 10.30am to 5pm.
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