Category Archives: Artist in Residence

In Conversation with Annie: Malaysia

Revisiting Peninsula Malaysia at Bexhill Museum brings memories of giant shopping centres, palm oil plantations and very long bus journeys. 

Looking back through my journal I read about the first things I noticed on reaching Malaysia. I was struck by the peculiarity of the familiar. English is widely spoken, electric sockets are the same as the UK. The wide motorways are soulless. Well manicured, it seemed everything had been tamed. Roads are lined with palm oil plantations. I felt more disconnected from the landscape with a desire to keep going. 

Rifling through the museum’s archives, a fly whisk is found. Much later than Annie, it is from the mid 20th century. Made of coconut fibre I become fascinated with the knots of fibre at the base. These curious details become the focus of my drawing, frustratingly hard to keep track of which knot it was I was following.


Bexhill to Bexhill

Fly Whisk, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Fly Whisk, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Annie visited Georgetown and sailed along the Malacca Strait while travelling from Hong Kong to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). A Voyage in the Sunbeam gives the following account:

“While the doctor was on shore, we had been surrounded by boats bringing monkeys, birds, ratan and Malacca canes, fruit, rice, etc to sell, and as I did not care to go ashore, thinking there might be some bother about quarantine, we made bargains over the side of the yacht with the traders, the result being that seven monkeys, about fifty birds of sorts, and innumerable bundles of canes, were added to the stock on board. In the meantime Dr Simon had removed our invalid to the hospital.

Malacca looks exceedingly pretty from the sea. It is a regular Malay village, consisting of huts, built on piles close to the water, overshadowed by cocoa palm and other forms of tropical vegetation. Mount Ofia rises in the distance behind…By one o’clock we were again under way, and once more en route for Penang.” Tuesday, March 20th, A Voyage in the ‘Sunbeam’ Annie Brassey 1878.

Louise is at Bexhill Museum every Thursday, as Artist in Residence she is exploring her journey, with Annie, in the context of the collection in the archives. This is made possible thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant.

Reaching Borneo

A Trail of Breadcrumbs’ continued from Bali to Borneo, where I spent a little too long in Kota Kinabalu before exploring Northern Sabah. This was dominated by a tour of wildlife in rescue centres, albeit impressive organisations, it was a saddening fact that these were necessary. This was only emphasised by the roads being almost entirely lined by palm oil plantations and tour guides emphasising their value to the local economy. Tourism and palm oil are two of the biggest industries in this part of the world, it must be a delicate balance in PR. 

There was the chance, however, to follow rivers and explore rainforest, to listen to the orchestra within and to see nature in the wild, orangutans, proboscis monkeys, snakes, elephants. All truly awesome experiences. 

The highlight was of course to reach the Gormantong caves that Annie didn’t manage to (she was eventually persuaded she wouldn’t be able to access them). Alas a breadcrumb wasn’t left here, but one did find a home (albeit temporarily) on the coastline of one of the islands not far from Kota Kinabalu and where I had dived the previous week. This was a relaxing, calming pause in the fast paced itinerary and one worthy of marking.

Bexhill to Bexhill

A Trail of Breadcrumbs reaches Borneo, Louise Kenward (2014)

Bexhill to Bexhill

A Trail of Breadcrumbs reaches Borneo, Louise Kenward (2014)


Revisiting China – In Conversation with Annie

Day three and I’ve arrived in Guangzhou (Canton in 1877). This city came at the end of my three week race around China. Beijing was my introduction, and a rather imposing one, all the more intimidating for mostly being closed. Streets were cordoned off by soldiers, Tiananman Square and The Forbidden City were both closed. On reflection this strikes me with a sense of irony which at the time was lost to a mild irritation at being unable to see much of Beijing in the few days I had there. I spent almost as much time at Beijing train stations as I did sightseeing. I might have spent more time at Beijing train stations. I arrived at Beijing West (Beijing Xi Zhan) eight hours before my train. My intention had been to leave my bags and visit the Summer Palace. Once in I couldn’t find a ‘left luggage’ and showing my ticket and trying to explain, to ask, I was simply ushered deeper and deeper into the station. There were so many checks and gates and scanners to pass through I wondered if I left would I ever get back again. My last day in Beijing was mostly spent at Beijing Xi Zhan. I passed time talking to Dieter, a pleasant German man on his way to a new teaching job in a rural part of Western China. We stood out like sore thumbs and gravitated towards each other fairly easily. Unfortunately his train came and left several hours before mine. It gave me plenty of time to assess the whole business of waiting for trains in China though. There is a particular procedure in each country and in China everyone waits patiently in the waiting room, closed off securely from the platform. Not that dissimilar to the UK, people wait with bags on seats for imaginary people to sit on. A request through the use of mime and performance to sit on the seat is greeted with disdain and disinterested confusion. The seat is clearly taken, of course I cannot sit there. the waiting room is intermittently packed and almost empty, filling and emptying with each train passing through. As soon as the train is in sight there is a stampede of people who appear to come from nowhere. I sit and wait, the crowd thins and I board my train to Xi’an.

The scale of the population explosion is starkly apparent as there is less space for more people to inhabit. After what now seems (with the benefit of rose tinted glasses) a cosy week or so on board a train and travelling through more rural areas of Mongolia, even with oversized intimidating statues of Ghengis Khan overshadowing nearby mountain ranges, Beijing and China were big and daunting. The Great Wall was great and the Terracotta Warriors were formidable. A calm (ish) pause in Hong Kong and I return to China, cashing in my double entry visa I worked so hard to get. Despite Hong Kong being returned to China in 1997, it still counts as another country if you want to go back in. They made me work hard for this (my application was rejected twice) so I wanted to make the most of it. A few days in glorious Guilin and Yuangshuo followed but in the mean time I needed to catch up with Annie in gruesome Guangzhou.

“On the outskirts may be seen prisoners in chains, or wearing the cangue, imprisoned in a cage, or else suffering one of the numerous tortures inflicted in this country. I did not go to see any of these horrors, neither did I visit the execution ground; but some of the party did, and described it as a most horrible sight. Skulls were lying about in all directions, one of which had been quite recently severed from its trunk, the ground being still moist and red.” Annie Brassey, Friday, 2nd March 1877 (A Voyage in the Sunbeam). 

Bexhill to Bexhill

Chinese prisoner chains, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

The chains (pictured above) are covered in fabric, presumed to reduce the amount of noise they make as prisoners walk and move in them. Unfortunately there is only a very scant label attached with the box, the

index card reads:

Ethnographical                                                       203

“Chains used for Chinese prisoners”

No data – source unknown

An estimated date of around 1900 is suggested by Julian Porter (Museum Curator). However, as the box gets examined more closely the label on the side is noticed to be dedicated to the Lady Brassey collection. The inscription is crossed out in black marker pen but it prompts an interesting discussion as to who else would have brought such things back to Bexhill, and that they may indeed be earlier than 1900. Annie has a wide and varied collecting behaviour, she may well have deemed these an appropriate item to bring back to show people at home how people were being treated in China. Or she may not have. We will never know. It is curious, the overlaps and weaving of Annie with my time here. She is inherently a part of it, she is the reason I am here. Yet the network of information and gaps in documentation create all kinds of spaces for wonder as well.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Label on the side of box of prison chains “Lady Brassey collection” crossed out. Bexhill Museum. Louise Kenward (2015)

 Re-reading Annie’s experiences in Canton I also find reference to the foot binding mentioned in ‘day 2 – revisiting Hong Kong’ where I worked with some miniature embroidered silk on linen shoes. These were also Chinese but had temporarily crossed the border with some artistic licence.

“…poor little women tottered and tumbled on their crippled feet, holding on to one another, or leaning on a stick.” Annie Brassey (A Voyage in the Sunbeam) 2nd March, 1877.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Chinese Shoes, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Chinese shoes, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Embroidered silk garment from Costume Gallery, c.1900 China, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

In conversation with Annie: Hong Kong

I set out my objects from St Petersburg again and sift through paraphernalia bought back from my time in Hong Kong. A train ticket from Shanghai to Jui Long, a brochure from the aviary. I recall the soft horizon and pink skies. The view from the top of The Peak across the city below and the islands beyond. The vast maze of shopping centres and well dressed locals. Clearly defined from China, this identity is emphasised with signs that forbid spitting and give instruction on how to use a Western toilet. It is a curious place between West and East, between time spent in China and Vietnam.

Re reading Annie’s journal entries my memory is jogged, we went to the races at Happy Valley, I caught up with an old school friend and had my first  conversation for three weeks. China was challenging. I focus on associations with Bexhill. Henry Young, a founder of Bexhill Museum, made a statue of Queen Victoria at his Pimlico foundry. I smile as I learn more about Victoria’s journey to Hong Kong and recall my journey looking for her.

Having recently celebrated Chinese New Year I take fortune cookies in to the museum and we celebrate the year of the sheep’s arrival. A photo of Peter the sheep is added to the wall, football mascot during World War I. 

Coins are found from the archives, mine are prettier, Hong Kong dollars now sporting more elaborate scalloped edges. Also from the archives some very small Chinese shoes. Probably a model rather than anything actually worn. There is a discussion about foot binding when the children’s workshop comes to visit. They concentrate well and enjoy their afternoon at the museum. 

Bexhill to Bexhill

Chinese shoes, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Chinese shoes, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Of Annie’s journal entries I am particularly drawn to the following comments on life in Hong Kong (Victoria) and the treatment of girls and boys:

“Off the town of Victoria the crowd of shipping is immense, and it became a difficult task to thread our way between the fleets of sampans and junks…The sampans are long boats, pointed at both ends, and provided with a small awning…In these sampans whole families, sometimes five generations, live and move and have their being. I never shall forget my astonishment when, going ashore very early one morning in one of these strange craft, the proprietor lifted up what I had thought was the bottom of the boat, and disclosed three or four children, packed away as tightly as herrings, while under the seats were half-a dozen people of larger growth. The young mother of the small family generally rows with the smallest baby strapped on to her back, and the next-sized one in her arms, whom she is also teaching to row. The children begin to row by themselves when they are about two years old. The boys have a gourd, intended for a life-preserver, tied round their necks as soon as they are born. The girls are left to their fate, a Chinaman thinking it rather an advantage to lose a daughter or two occasionally.” Annie Brassey from A Voyage in the Sunbeam, 1879.

I spare the young visitors this information and hope that changes to Hong Kong extend beyond architecture and prolific use of concrete. There is much more to Hong Kong than there was in 1879, and a great deal more of it too. Much has been reclaimed from the sea. Victoria harbour remains, but no longer with that name and it is now a further away from China than it was 136 years ago.

I spend my day adding to the mind map on the wall, continuing my journey from Russia. Quotes from Annie are added and I start to draw. The shoes  captivate me. Attempts at photographs do not do them justice. I am compelled to draw, to explore them further. Simple line drawings of pattern of embroidery is soothing and early attempts to create shape and form are more successful than later ones. I want to use colour but find pastels clumsy and heavy. I make a note to bring watercolour pencils next time.

In Conversation with Annie is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Revisiting St Petersburg with Annie

From now until June I will be spending my Thursdays at Bexhill Museum as Artist in Residence. Working with artefacts and memories of my journey I will be connecting with Lady Annie Brassey and her travels. Inspired by the archives at Bexhill Museum (in particular Annie’s collection), this is an opportunity to revisit my journey in the context of Annie’s. With Annie as my companion for my travels it seems the ideal way to return to where I began. This time I know Annie a little better, I have written to her regularly, shared her journeys and visited places she has been.

Day one and I am returning to St Petersburg. The first point at which I crossed Annie’s path. She sailed to the Baltics in 1866, I took the train 147 years later. To be honest, I was just glad to get there, anything else in terms of exploration was a bonus. After four days of travelling I had spent two nights on a train, experienced an unnerving border crossing and had been stranded in Belarus in the middle of the night with neither local currency or language. Reaching the one place I had been to previously, it felt like a huge achievement and a familiar face all at once. To meet up here with Annie was lovely, it gave purpose to my stay. I visited the Botanical Gardens, remembered the Hermitage and completed an expedition in looking for a stamp to send a postcard back. My journey had begun.

The Church on Spilled Blood

The Church on Spilled Blood, Louise Kenward 2013

Setting up at the museum this morning I have a large wall space and long wide shelf the length of the wall. The possibilities are tantalising. I come armed with materials, equipment, books and artefacts. An empty tea tin with images of the city on it, a calendar from the Hermitage from my previous visit, tickets, postcards, two small 10 kopek coins, a small stone and three acorns from the Botanical Gardens and a leaf stitched into my diary because that’s where it fell while I was writing. Covering the wall in lining paper I enjoy writing and mind mapping, remembering my trip and Annie’s, and Bexhill’s connections with St Petersburg and Russia. Kate Marsden, nurse, missionary, explorer and writer, and (one of the) founder(s) of the Bexhill Museum joined me on my journey through Siberia. Equipped with fur coat and whistle she left Bexhill in 1891 in search for a cure for leprosy. I am working next to a case dedicated to Kate, there is a spectacular photograph of her wrapped up in many many layers of furs and animal skins. In a book with the same image it describes her wardrobe:

“Her get up consisted of Jaeger clothing; a down filled ulster covered by a sheepskin coat covered by a reindeer skin cloak in which she was unable to bend or to manoeuvre herself into a sleigh.” Hodgson, 2002

Kate was nonetheless very grateful for such clothing:

“I wish to thank you for having persuaded me to wear Jaeger Clothing. Humanly speaking I owe my life to that and not taking stimulants; and I really believe that no woman could have gone through all my dangers, privations and difficulties without both of these aids to health” (Advertisement, cited in Hodgson, 2002).

Bexhill to Bexhill

Kate Marsden in full travelling dress, image courtesy of Bexhill Museum.

Annie Brassey did not suffer such hardship in her travels. ‘Flight of the Meteor’ was published only privately (1866), so it is not possible to be certain, but her travels were not as a missionary with a view to curing leprosy and were generally more comfortable and with greater means than Kate. This isn’t to say that Annie’s travels were frivolous however, she supported many good causes and adopted an approach of education and publicity to a wider audience than Kate would have had access to. 

Like Annie, I am a collector, unlike her, I collect with my heart rather than my head. Annie was more thoughtful about her collection, without sentiment she set out (and had means) to collect the finest examples of the finest objects. A collector in a different league to those of her era, she regarded objects as a curator does today, rather than a collector of her time. This brings an interesting dialogue at the outset between me and Annie. Today I have brought my few mementoes of St Petersburg, things connecting with the country and my journey. These included the three acorns, two small coins, stone and leaf from St Petersburg, a small plastic container with lip salve in the shape of a Russian doll given as a gift by a friend before I left (in a bid to find all things tiny). Some postcards and map from the Hermitage bought the previous time I’d visited the city, two oak leaves collected from inside my car which begged to be painted gold, a guidebook on St Petersburg, a map of the city, a metro token, a theatre ticket from attending the ballet and the memory of a small metal pin of an aeroplane that was a gift from a friend and was sadly irretrievably lost in St Petersburg. I took my letter to Annie and my blog posts, and crochet pebbles to ground me.

Bexhill to Bexhill

St Petersburg, leaf stitched into place where it fell. Louise Kenward, 2015

Surrounded by books and objects and with lining paper covering the wall I am soothed and have created a space within which I can explore. With a school visit there is little time or space to think about what I am doing. Their energy and enthusiasm is inspiring. I lower my shoulders and pick up a pen. The morning is spent drawing out thoughts and ideas, recollections and associations, a diagram of my thoughts and interests grow out of the wall. A welcome interruption and the museum curator, Julian Porter, shows me around all the Russian connections on display: a model of a Scourge ship sent to Russia during the First World War; some woolly mammoths, traditionally with a Siberian connection these were found at Eastbourne (long thought to be mole-like creatures because of the common discovery of them underground); a butterfly postcard (one of a series of allies and enemy forces) from World War I. Press cuttings had been found, connecting Bexhill and Russia: Bexhill Observer reports of the Northern Lights in June 1908, later discovered to be the effect from the meteor crash landing in Tunguska, Siberia; and the role the Mayor, a Mr Mayer, of Bexhill had in discovering Anna Pavlova.

I am wondering where to start, how to capture all this, what an incredible breadth of resource and knowledge is held at the museum, and in Julian’s head. I am amazed at how well connected Bexhill is to the rest of the world, and so many eras past, what happens when you scratch the surface. However, the magic is yet to be revealed. Within the archives a number of Russian coins, several from the time Annie would have visited, were found. A second rummage in the archives turns up nothing less than an emerald from the Brassey collection itself, complete with original label. This is Annie’s emerald, collected from Siberia. It is mighty, weighty and rather wonderful.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Brassey Collection, Bexhill Museum, Siberian Emerald (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Siberian Emerald, Brassey Collection, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)


In Conversation with Annie is supported by an Award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

‘In Conversation with Annie’

“In conversation with Annie: developing a dialogue with local heritage” celebrates £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Boarding the Sunbeam c 1876 (image courtesy of Bexhill Museum)

Bexhill Museum is celebrating a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This grant will fund their exciting project, “In conversation with Annie” led by local artist and traveller Louise Kenward at Bexhill Museum. The project aims to ‘develop a dialogue with local heritage’, exploring and sharing the archive collection of Lady Annie Brassey brought back to the area from her world voyages during the end of the 19th century. Inspired by Annie, Louise travelled around the world (Bexhill to Bexhill), collecting objects and observations from places where their paths crossed. She will hold drop-in sessions at the museum as she explores the stories behind 15 objects from the archives using Annie’s letters and journal entries as context, and connects them to her own travels. Visitors will also be able to take part in a series of workshops and talks which will build on the museum’s community and education programme. Reflections on current communication methods as opposed to those in practice during the time of Annie’s book ‘Voyage of the Sunbeam’ (1876-1877), will bring her journal writing to the fore and connect with the Museum’s use of social media which will play a role in telling people about the project, just as Annie’s book told of her travels.

Commenting on the award, Louise Kenward said: “Having visited other places called Bexhill around the world, I’m now really looking forward to returning to my home town, Bexhill-on-Sea and spending time with my travel companion, Annie Brassey. This grant gives me the opportunity to explore and share the collections she brought back from her voyages, now held at Bexhill Museum”.

Stuart McLeod, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South East England, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re pleased to support Bexhill Museum as they offer an innovative insight into the collection of one of the first female travel writers. Many of the items collected by Annie Brassey are not currently on display and this project will ensure people can access them and learn about the heritage stories they can tell”

About Bexhill Museum: Bexhill Museum is an independent charity. If you would like to support us please become a member or make a donation. We welcome new volunteers to help us with all aspects of running the museum. Please contact us to find out more Bexhill Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm; Saturday, Sunday & Monday 11am to 5pm. Current Special Exhibitions: ‘Bexhill and Abroad’ explores our World Cultures Collections and their connections to Bexhill (2nd February – 6 th December). ‘Something Old Something New’ showcases the museums exquisite collection of wedding dresses from 1850-2015 (2nd February – 6 th December). (Charity No: 1102638)

About Louise Kenward: Intrigued by the discovery that there are three places in the world called Bexhill, Louise set out to find them. ‘Bexhill to Bexhill’ is an account of that journey, inspired by the local travel writer, collector and philanthropist, Annie Brassey, and the possibility of travelling almost entirely by train. Louise Kenward is a visual artist based in the UK. With an interest in the ‘betwixt and between’ of the liminal, her work explores this with regards to the physical spaces we inhabit and the mental spaces we dwell. Having completed her MA in Fine Art in 2011, her paper “Self, space and objects: relational practice through the experience of spaces” brought together arts and psychology practice, with a framework of ‘inhabiting spaces’.

Heritage Lottery Fund: From the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife, we use National Lottery players’ money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about.

For further information, images and interviews, please contact:

Louise Kenward, Project Manager at Bexhill Museum on 01424 787950 Bexhill Museum, Egerton Road, Bexhill on Sea TN39 3HL

Twitter: @bexhill2bexhill @bexhillmuseum

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