Award for 'fishwife' who brings art to life
A Cornish museum volunteer who breathes life into the characters that inhabit famous paintings by Newlyn School artists has been presented with a major award for her work, writes Simon Parker.
Author, dialect poet and storyteller Liz Harman received her prize at a ceremony in the British Museum.
Accepting the Marsh Trust's South West Volunteers for Museum Learning Award, she said: "I feel personally very honoured to have received this, but I am equally thrilled and proud of the whole team at Penlee House. It was very good to see Penlee's name up there alongside much bigger institutions at the British Museum."
Mrs Harman was singled out for recognition for her animated portrayal of Betsy Lanyon, a fishwife who features in several paintings by the likes of Stanhope Forbes, Harold Harvey and Walter Langley in the collection at Penlee House and Museum in Penzance. Performing mainly to school groups, she uses authentic Cornish dialect to describe the lives of the artists' models from the 1890s.
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Penlee education officer Katherine Ashton, who travelled to the awards ceremony with Mrs Harman's fellow volunteers Rose Edwards and John Wallis, said: "Liz does a fantastic job here at Penlee House Gallery and Museum. Her portrayal of Betsy Lanyon, who was a real person and appears in several of the Newlyn School paintings on show, is quite remarkable. By using her skill as a storyteller, it is as if she steps right out of the paintings and brings the characters to life.
"This award is designed to acknowledge and celebrate the work of volunteers. They are a huge asset to any museum and Liz is a huge asset to Penlee. We are enormously proud of Liz and thrilled that her contribution to the education programme, and the gallery in general, has been recognised."
Some 80 museums and galleries nationally were nominated for the awards, with nine chosen to represent their region.
"A lot of those on the list were very well known and some of the costumes used by volunteers clearly cost a lot," said Mrs Harman, who is a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd. "So I am particularly pleased to have won in a 50p shawl and a 50p blouse from a charity shop. And it's lovely to think that the work of Penlee House, all the way down west, has received this recognition."
Mrs Harman is the author of several books of Cornish dialect stories and verse, including Now 'Ark To Me and Now 'Ark To Aunt Sarah Anne.
Penlee House's collection of Newlyn School paintings can be seen from Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 5pm. For further information, visit www.penleehouse.org.uk or call 01736-363625.