At The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen

I’ve been hesitating as to whether to post about my visit to the British Museum on Thursday. Obviously I am no art critic, have no training in art and very little knowledge on the subject and even less knowledge about Grayson Perry himself so this is just my own personal comment. When I first heard about “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman”  I was very excited to see it.

I had no idea what to expect but the thought of choosing artefacts, items made by craftsmen and women over the decades, centuries and millennia, from the vast archive of the British Museum had overwhelming appeal for me. Put together with recently crafted pots and tapestries and what I believe are called installations for me the mix was a huge success. I loved it!

We’ve had A History of The World in 100 objects and Our Top Ten British Treasures and now we have a kind of temporary memorial to all of the unknown craftsmen and women whose work has been collected by the museum – or donated to it – over the centuries of its existence.

The exhibition is divided into themes such as Shrines, Journeys, Magick, Maps, Souvenirs of Pilgrimage, Sexuality and Gender, Scary Figures and Patina and Texture. I think I’ve remembered them correctly.

There is Grayson Perry’s teddy bear Alan Measles in his own shrine on the back of GP’s motorcycle. There was a radio programme about the journey they made to Germany on the bike on Radio 4 last November.

No photography is allowed inside the Exhibition but I did take a few notes of GP’s comments on some of the themes that most interested me.

On the topic of Journeys he says :

“The “journey” has become a tired metaphor of reality TV describing a transformative experience. I come on a journey every time I visit the British Museum. I enjoy idealised foreign travel in my head. Walking from my house in WC1 within 20 minutes I can have an encounter with the world.” 

You may have thought the title of this post included a typing error but it is intentional because GP and many of us see The British Museum as a Tomb to Unknown Craftsmen. A pot by Perry on display is called “A Walk in Bloomsbury”.

On Maps he says :

We trust maps. Maps are meant to be a trustworthy diagram of reality. All maps though contain some very human bias. They emphasise desirable features and leave out the undesirable. I like maps of feelings, beliefs and the irrational, they use our trust of maps to persuade us that there might be truth in their beauty.”

I have always loved maps and was delighted see a copy of  a book recommended to me by a friend and which has long lain in my Amazon shopping basket:  You are here : personal geographies ; by Katharine Harmon. A fabric map by Perry fills one wall – to see it at its best wait until you have moved into the next room and view it through a hatch in the wall.

On Souvenirs of Pilgrimage he says :

We all make journeys to see places or people that are significant to us. It is natural to want a keepsake of the trip to remind ourselves and show others. Pilgrims usually travel light so the souvenir may only be a badge, a photo or a signature.”

I was delighted to see masses of badges collected over the years by the British Museum. Even such ephemera has a role in the exhibition. I smile because I have a box full of badges up in the attic.

This final quotation has a resonance for me too. I’m a great visitor to churches on my travels. On the subject of Scary Figures Perry says :

“We have always had images at gateways to warn and protect. Cathedrals had carvings over the doors showing the Last Judgement and the damned going to hell – now we have CCTV.”

To find out more  there’s a book that accompanies the exhibition (of course) and here’s a link to the exhibition in pictures :

Grayson Perry’s Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – in pictures

In the end I didn’t buy a souvenir but I saw three books which will go on my library suggestions list :

50 British Artists you should know, by Lucinda Hawksley

You are here : personal geographies ; by Katharine Harmon.

The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman by Grayson Perry.