The National Library of Wales is tremendously fortunate to have a comprehensive visual record of some of Wales’ most cherished bards, filmmakers, authors, artists and dramatists. The photographer, Julian Sheppard, was commissioned by the Welsh Arts Council from 1967 through to 1990 to take photographs of these remarkable individuals. Sheppard ultimately managed to capture about 7,000 beautiful black and white images.
His collection contains images of literary greats such as Pennar Davies, Kate Roberts, Cynan, Saunders Lewis, John Ormond to name but a few.
In January 2014, it was decided that we should begin to digitise this engaging collection. I was given the task of creating the metadata, which involved the careful identification and profiling of each individual negative, before uploading the information onto our purpose built digital database. This would provide the scanning operators with the ability to cross-reference their progress against our metadata.
Identifying the individuals in the photographs proved to be rather difficult, because a significant number of contact sheets had nothing more than an identification number. Particularly challenging was the fact that most of the negatives had not been printed either, thus we only had 35mm negatives to refer to.
How was I to remember the face of an individual after turning the page and moving on to the next poet or author? I needed a quick, but comprehensible ‘photographic’ reference, and so came up with a cunning plan…
As soon as I stumbled upon a contact sheet that had no name for the sitter, I would grab a pencil and quickly sketch what I saw through a loupe (a magnifying glass to you and me), in order to obtain – what I hoped was a likeness to the individual. This actually helped a great deal when it came to identifying the people I wasn’t too familiar with… not exactly textbook stuff, but it worked. Here’s an example:
Inverted tones: It is difficult to recognise Alan Llwyd in the 35mm negative.
The Julian Sheppard collection promises to be online soon. We still have a few people left to identify, so please remember to inform a member of the enquiries team if you can put names to some of the faces.
Why did the author of the first Welsh book omit the eighth of the Ten Commandments (‘thou shall not steal’) from his volume? Was the conscience of John Prise, author of Yny lhyvyr hwnn, troubling him? Is this a deliberate mistake?
Yny lhyvyr hwnn was the first book to be printed in the Welsh language, in 1546. Between its covers, John Prise shows the main priorities of Welsh humanists and their concern for the future of their language. It includes the alphabet, a calendar, horticultural tips, and the basics of the Christian faith. But why omit the eighth of the Ten Commandments?
John Prise had a prominent role in the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, and it is thought that he used his position as a civil servant to amass a substantial and rich library of manuscripts and printed books, including the famous Black Book of Carmarthen. Could he have paid honestly for these volumes, or did they mysteriously fall into his pocket so that he could ‘preserve them for posterity’ in his home at Hereford? Was John Prise a national benefactor or an unscrupulous thief?
Some of his treasures are displayed in a new exhibition – ‘Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books’ – at the National Library of Wales between the end of January and the end of June, amongst them four manuscripts from Hereford Cathedral, volumes which came originally from the monasteries and priories of Brecon, Hereford and Gloucester.
According to Aled Gruffydd Jones, Chief Executive and Librarian of the National Library: ‘This is a rare opportunity to see volumes which have been chained to their shelves at Hereford for centuries, and to see them side-by-side with treasures preserved here in Wales. It is an opportunity to question the motives of a Welsh hero, and one of the giants of the Renaissance.’
Yny lhyvyr hwnn has been digitised anew for this exhibition, and published online, and a number of events, including a conference and day school, is part of the season of events at the Library.
On Wednesday, 4 February, at 1.15 in the Library’s Drwm, Dr Eryn White from Aberystwyth University’s Department of History and Welsh History will be looking anew at ‘Syr Siôn Prys, y Dadeni, a’r diwylliant print yng Nghymru’ [Sir John Prise, the Renaissance, and print culture in Wales], an event held in Welsh with simultaneous translation.
The exhibition ‘Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books’, can be seen at the National Library of Wales from 31 January – 27 June 2015.
Wikipedia is one of the most viewed websites in the world and the Welsh version is by far the most viewed Welsh language website in the world. It is the largest encyclopedia ever created, and it is written by the people for the people. Anyone can edit and add content to this rich resource.
With funding support from Wikimedia UK the Wikipedian in Residence is a concept which has already proved its worth in other institutions such as the British Library, the National Library of Scotland and the Natural History Museum. Now the National Library of Wales has appointed a Wikipedian in Residence.
The residency will run for one year with the goal of building lasting bridges between The National Library and Wikipedia. This will enable us to share our collections with the world, to improve the quantity and quality of Wikipedia content, particularly in the Welsh language. It is hoped that by supporting and contributing to such a high profile resource we can begin to realise the Library’s ambition of ‘Information for All’ and this in turn will draw people back to our website and to the Library.
The first aspect of the residency will focus on offering workshops to staff, so that they can become wikipedia editors themselves. A series of events called ‘Editathons’ will also be organised, where volunteer editors of all backgrounds can come together and spend a day improving the content on a particular subject, in English or Welsh (or any other language of their choosing).
The second aspect of the residency will involve releasing some of the Library’s digital collections on open licences so that they can be uploaded to Wiki-commons. From there anyone can use the images to improve Wikipedia content. By the end of the residency it is hoped that a more permanent system will be in place, whereby our digital media can be shared with Wikipedia as a matter of course.
From correcting spelling and grammar to creating detailed new articles from scratch, everyone has a role to play in the development of Wikipedia as a portal to Welsh life, culture and history.
It came to pass in days of yore
the Devil chanced upon Landore.
Quoth he: “by all this fume and stink
I can’t be far from home, I think.”
Today one can but imagine the “fume and stink” of that insidious sulphurous smoke which inspired this nineteenth century doggerel, but how well I recall my views from the train on the approach to Swansea’s High Street Station – Landore’s diabolical slag lands, the dereliction and a blighted and treeless Kilvey Hill, the ugly and toxic legacies of two centuries of profound industrial activity and brutal pollution.
This was the price that Swansea paid as a foremost cradle of the Industrial Revolution, an area renowned for its metal smelting and also as the world’s principal centre of copper production during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was famously dubbed Copperopolis. The copper industry’s success stemmed from Swansea’s abundance of local coal and labour, its proximity to Cornish copper ore deposits and a navigable river which facilitated the ore’s direct conveyance to the smelters, initially from Cornwall but subsequently from distant overseas sources.
“Copper smelting houses near Swansea” by Thomas Rowlandson
This recently purchased drawing by Thomas Rowlandson in pen and ink and watercolour with touches of pencil is inscribed “Copper smelting houses near Swansea”. Drawn in August 1797, it provides a glimpse of the city’s industrial beginnings.
Rowlandson depicts the smoke-belching copper furnaces at White Rock on the River Tawe’s east bank. White Rock was one of the earlier smelters and operated from 1736 to 1924. Also included is the newly constructed Smith’s Canal, which provided direct access for coal supplies and beyond the river, open ground where the huge Hafod and Morfa copper works were soon to be constructed and where the communities of Landore, Plas-marl and Morriston would grow. Above, on Clase Hill, stands ‘Morris Castle’, an unconventional Welsh ‘castle’, being in fact a block of workers’ flats dating from about 1775. Its austere ruins now overlook the valley.
On the road in the foreground, a barely discernible and incomplete pencil sketch displays people, possibly with a barge horse.
Rowlandson’s drawing contains valuable information. The momentous reclamation work and removal of industrial despoilment began in earnest during the mid-1960s, before the concept and study of industrial archaeology had fully evolved and the site of the White Rock Copper Works, perfect for preservation, was lost. The restoration of some of this area’s few remaining historic industrial edifices continues, but these relics are now rarities amongst today’s offices, retail outlets and residential neighbourhoods.
Whilst in Swansea, Rowlandson also visited Mumbles and Caswell Bay, some of this region’s drawings being reproduced and published in 1800 by his companion Henry Wigstead, in his “Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales”. At this time Rowlandson also visited and illustrated other Welsh locations and many of his contemporary original drawings, particularly of Snowdonia, Conwy and Llangollen were bequeathed to the National Library of Wales by Sir John Williams, the Library’s foremost benefactor.
Rowlandson’s “Copper smelting houses” features in the Library’s current ‘Beth Sy’n Newydd?’ or ‘What’s New?’ exhibition which displays some of the recent acquisitions.
The broadcast of the BBC2 adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall at 9pm on 21 January heralds an important exhibition at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 10 days later.
A walk-on part in Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies scarcely reflects Welshman John Prise’s supporting role in Thomas Cromwell’s household circle. He had married into Cromwell’s family, and was frequently employed in carrying out the instructions of the King and of his Secretary. Prise wrote down statements made by heretics, collected evidence in support of Henry VIII’s first divorce, and administered the dissolution of some wealthy monasteries. In fact, he could have been one of Cromwell’s most loyal henchmen at Wolf Hall.
However, there’s another side to his character. Prise was also a Welsh ‘Renaissance Man’, passionate about his nation’s history, and an enthusiastic collector of old manuscripts. He preserved the earliest extant Welsh manuscript, the Black Book of Carmarthen, in his own library, and also produced the first Welsh printed book, Yny lhyvyr hwnn, at London in 1546. He may well have obtained monastic treasures as ‘ill-gotten gains’, but he also preserved materials which may otherwise have been destroyed.
A new exhibition at the National Library of Wales will reveal the life and work of John Prise. Some of his own handwritten notebooks will be on display, together with some of the precious manuscripts which he rescued (or perhaps plundered?) from former monastic libraries. This multi-dimensional Welsh Tudor character never bothered to have his portrait painted but he was far more than a faceless, unscrupulous administrator…
Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books, can be seen at the National Library of Wales between 31 January – 27 June 2015.
Try searching for any subject on the Web without finding Wikipedia among your top results! The online encyclopedia has come a long way since its first appearance on 15 January 2001, now attracting hundreds of millions of users each month. A version in the Welsh language was also launched in July 2003 and now contains over 60,000 articles. And what is most remarkable about Wikipedia platforms is that you can not only read its content, but also edit and add to it yourselves.
With such a wide audience and as a resource that has been created and developed by its users, Wikipedia offers a great opportunity to present Wales, its culture, its heritage to its people and the world.
Today, the National Library of Wales celebrates Wikipedia’s fourteenth birthday by announcing the appointment of a Wikipedian in Residence in partnership with Wikimedia UK. The post will last a year and aims to establish a sustainable relationship between the Library and Wikipedia.
The Wikipedian will look at new ways of engaging with users and will organise activities such as ‘editathons’ to assist Library staff and users to contribute to Wikipedia.
The Wikipedian will also work closely with staff throughout the Library to identify materials from the Library’s collections that can be contributed to the Welsh and English versions of Wikipedia in order to raise awareness of Wales and its people.
Jason Evans has been appointed to the role and will begin in post on 19 January.
Jason Evans, Wikipedian in Residence at The National Library of Wales
Collecting is an important part of the role of any cultural institution. A national collection has a particular emphasis: it reflects the nation’s life, history or aspirations.
The Collection here at the National Library has been growing steadily since the Library opened in 1909. Generations of dedicated staff members have carefully added material, using their particular expertise to ensure the best possible examples.
We collect as part of our everyday activity: it is our mind-set as librarians, curators and archivists. To collect means to gather together and present in a form which reflects intellectual input on the material. More specifically, collecting is also about connecting. This can be obvious links between people and localities or complex and subtle connectors over time and space.
The small display which opens on 24 January, of recent acquisitions, provides a glimpse of the collecting experience of staff here at the Library over the last two years. It celebrates the fact that, despite all the reductions in purchase grant and loss of longstanding experts, we can still acquire works of national significance from national and international markets. Both the items illustrated below will form a small part of the exhibition.
The history of parishes of Whitford and Hollywell by Thomas Pennant.
Original watercolours by Moses Griffith
Much of the new material has been donated by individuals far and wide; some have years of association with the Library whilst others are new to us
The Fly Fisher’s Legacy by George Scotcher.
Published in Chepstow ca. 1819
and show that our audience is never static and always growing.
Collecting also includes storing and preserving, then of course providing a sensible access for the public. All these items on display will be available via our Catalogue; however there is no substitution for seeing groups of works together. Not only does it help us to understand the Collection context, but it can inspire our own collecting interests and ideas.
A Collection must continue to collect. It is the breath and life of the institution. It is the Collection which defines the Library and, dare I say it, new things can show fresh ways to see Wales.
On display in the main hall of the Library, between the two reading rooms is Kyffin Williams’s Self Portrait, 1968. David Griffiths’s portrait of Shane Williams previously hung in this position. The subjects of the two portraits seemingly have little in common, but as Kyffin Williams reminds us in his first volume of autobiography, he too graced the rugby field. Writing about his time working and living in London, the artist reports:
“I even played for London Welsh extra ‘B’ [the third XV], but when a large St. Thomas’s Hospital forward flattened me and apologised with a “Frightfully sorry, sir,” I realised the time had come for me to become a spectator.” (Williams, Across the Straits, p.173)
Welsh rugby’s loss was indeed Welsh art’s gain. (It is here too, that similarities between the subjects of the pictures end- it is uncertain whether Shane Williams has painted any landscape pictures!).
This self-portrait is one of several in the Library’s collection. The artist is instantly recognisable: his distinctive moustache and semi-long, swept back hair feature in all his self-portraits; the palette held in his right hand acts as a reminder of his vocation. Although the artist wears a serious expression, there is perhaps an element of humour in the image. Photographs of Kyffin show his long moustache drooping around his mouth, but in this portrait his moustache is flicked up at the edges, recalling cartoon images of artists- perhaps the stereotypical artist’s beret is just out of frame.
Kyffin Williams is renowned for using a palette knife technique especially in his landscape paintings. Critics of the artist sometimes note a heavy-handed approach, but this painting shows how nuanced his technique could be when used in portraiture. The heavy impasto often used to give a textural quality to a mountain side or rocky outcrop is used here to imply depth and gradation in the human form. The subtlety (not a word often used in relation to Kyffin’s application of paint) of the facial features is particularly notable, with light catching on the bridge of the nose, and facial hair having a real, bristly quality. Other passages are more expressive: the check of the brown shirt under his sleeveless smock is suggested by lines being scored into the thick paint possibly with the handle of a knife or brush. While the picture contains these subtle elements it retains a sense of rapidity in common with his landscape works. In the painting, Kyffin holds the palette in his right hand; the right-handed artist would naturally have held the palette in his left, reminding us that the picture is being painted from life: that is, from his own reflection in a mirror. The colours on the palette match the tones of the artist’s cheek, giving a sense that the picture is being painted in the here-and-now.
This painting was created in what can be seen as a pivotal year for Kyffin Williams. The artist turned 50 years old on May 18th 1968 and at the end of that year he made his journey to paint the Welsh communities of Patagonia as part of a Winston Churchill Foundation Fellowship. Much of the work produced by the artist as part of his journey to Patagonia is held at the National Library. This self-portrait captures the artist at perhaps the mid-point of his career. A few years later he would return to live on Anglesey after almost thirty years of teaching in London, a period reflected upon in his first volume of autobiography, Across the Straits, published in 1973. Self-Portrait, 1968 captures an experienced and confident artist at a point just before he was to become the dominant figure in Welsh painting of the late twentieth century.
An exhibition of Kyffin’s Patagonia paintings will be on display at MOMA Machynlleth 28 February – 9 May 2015.
Lloyd Roderick (Research student Kyffin Williams Online)
With Dylan Thomas’ centenary year coming to an end, will we be waving farewell to Dylan? Will he return to a dusty shelf until the next anniversary?
Last week it was announced that May 14th would from 2015 onwards be Dylan Day. A large number of books have been written, films scripted, works of art created and music composed to honour the great Welsh writer. A brand new exhibition has opened at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea; all to remind us to ‘love the words’.
We certainly won’t be forgetting Dylan in a hurry… did you know that the largest collection of Dylan Thomas related material is here at the National Library of Wales? A great deal of it is still on display in our Dylan exhibition (it closes on December 20, so you’ve got a week left if you haven’t been to see it yet!). But even though the manuscripts and the letters, the drafts of stories and scripts, the doddles and the personalia will be going back into the collection, they’re still here for you to view either in the Library building, or online.
To ensure that Dylan’s legacy lives on, we’ve digitised a vast amount of his archive, which can be viewed for free, anytime you wish on the Dylan website – go on, discover Dylan.
Llun-sgrin Gwefan Dylan / Dylan Website Screenshot
As a rare books librarian I am used to having books on my desk which were printed several centuries ago, but it isn’t often that I see anything as rare as Yny lhyvyr hwnn. This modest-looking book is one of the most important items in the Library, as it is the only known surviving copy of the first book ever printed in the Welsh language. The book was written by Sir John Prise, a Welshman working for Thomas Cromwell, and printed in 1546. It contains the basics of the Welsh language and the Christian faith.
This unique item will be one of the centre pieces of an exhibition about Sir John Prise next year. Discussion with conservation staff immediately revealed that urgent repair work was needed before the volume could be put on display. The fragile pages were splitting badly in places, and needed some weeks of expert treatment by one of our in-house conservation specialists. This involved removing the pages from their existing binding, repairing them, and putting them into a new binding which will not place strain on the leaves as the previous one did.
During this process, we took the opportunity to scan the pages in order to create a digital version of Yny lhyvyr hwnn. The digital images will also be used to create a facsimile of the volume. However, it is the newly-repaired original that will be shown in the exhibition Publisher and plunderer? Sir John Prise and the first Welsh books, which opens in the Hengwrt gallery on 31st January.
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