Landmarks in Steel (Middlesbrough, Students from Hall Garth Community Arts College, 2009)

The banks of the Tees. The Transporter Bridge, possibly the most identifiable land mark of Middlesbrough.

The Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough sits by Albert Park (home to the statue of Boro legend Brian Clough – currently surrounded by fencing – and Andrew McKeown’s Constantin Brâncuși’s homage, Endless Convenience).

The architects J.Mitchell Bottomley, Son, and Welford designed the terracotta, Grade 2-listed Dorman Museum. It officially opened to the public in 1902 and was presented as a “gift” to the town of Middlesbrough from Sir Arthur Dorman. The site was also a memorial to his son, George Lockwood Dorman who passed away in the Boer War.

However, the foundations of the Dorman date back further in time, to around the mid-1800s. In the 1860s, members of the Cleveland Literary and Philosophical Society Field Club formed the museum’s founding collections on Corporation Road. The men who were part of this society (including iron tycoon Henry Bolckow) had formed their own collection of ethnographic objects, taxidermy specimens, and artwork.

This is all very much textbook museum history. Victorian men (white and very wealthy) collect objects from the past or ‘exotic’ places, then present their views and inform the public (or rather, ‘everyday folk’) about their view of the world (looking at you V&A and Pitt Rivers Museum).

Before I go way off topic, if you really want to read more about the creation of museums, you can’t go wrong with reading the 1995 book Birth of the Museum: History, Theory and Politics by Australian academic Tony Bennett. Museum collections have thankfully improved since the Victorian era (albeit, there are still big issues in the sector regarding the repatriation of objects obtained through colonial violence) with education in museums nowadays commonly taking form through engagement with schools, colleges, and community groups. An example of this is demonstrated on a wall at the back of the Dorman Museum.

The back of the Dorman Museum (on the wall by Sacred Heart Church) is home to an eight-meter piece of public art. In 2009, a collaboration took place between the museum’s education team and engineering pupils in the local school: Hall Garth Community Arts College in Acklam. In a project exploring Middlesbrough’s past, the students researched the town’s history of steelmaking with the assistance of staff at Teesside Archives and British Steel Archives. They learnt about how the town once produced one sixth of the world’s steel, and with this knowledge they then selected landmarks that pepper Teesside’s skyline from the past to the present (notably a ladle pouring steel, the Transporter Bridge and Claus Oldenburg’s Bottle of Notes – reading, rather humorously for context – ‘The Bottle of Notes about Captain Cook’) to recreate them out of steel.

The collaboration on Landmarks of Steel at the museum combined the academic disciplines of art and history for the students to learn and gain pride in Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage. Alongside this, they were able to learn about the practical craft of working in steel through the production of a permanent artwork which now forms part of the museum collection.

Landmarks in Steel by pupils from Hall Garth Community Arts College in collaboration with the education team at the Dorman Museum. Image courtesy of Grace Redpath.

It is worth a mention that Teesside Archives has just relocated to the Dorman Museum and that there are several other pieces of public art at the Dorman Museum, such as a Bronze Age fertility statue discovered on Saltburn Beach and the infamous Gorilla from the Alcove! Please visit the museum, it is open to the public Tuesdays till Sundays 10 am – 4 pm.

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