Museum’s visitors are Drawn to the Coast

11 July 2018

The latest show at a Norfolk museum has been receiving rave reviews and has even drawn in visitors from as far afield as Hawaii.

Time and Tide’s latest exhibition explores the identity of Great Yarmouth and its surrounding landscape through the art work it has inspired.  Drawn to the Coast: Turner, Constable, Cotman was designed and curated with assistance from the Community Curators and volunteers, explores an area that continues to inspire artists to this day.

Highlights of the show include two loaned works by J.M.W Turner from Tate – a watercolour of Great Yarmouth, and, on display in the county for the first time, his Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex sketchbook.

Since opening at the end of May, the exhibition has attracted over 5,000 visitors, from as far afield as Hawaii in the United States.  Visitors have been impressed with the local community’s involvement in curating the innovative displays that showcase Great Yarmouth’s fascinating history, with comments including:

‘The Drawn to the Coast exhibition is excellent and in a gem of a museum.’
‘We had a fascinating couple of hours visiting such an interesting and innovative exhibition. It’s great to see how the local community have been positively involved.’
‘Brilliantly curated and displayed. Another great exhibition at Time and Tide.’
‘Art exhibition was wonderful. Lovely to see the three artists’ work shown together.’
‘Brilliant exhibition, very enlightening. Loved it! On a trip from Hawaii and came to see this. Totally worth it.’

The coastline around Great Yarmouth has been and continues to be a popular subject for artists; the big skies, windswept vistas and bustling boat-based industries offer a rich mine of colour, characters and composition for those with the skills to exploit them.

Some of Britain’s greatest landscape artists such as J.M.W Turner, John Constable and John Sell Cotman have all left us striking visual legacies of the inspiration they drew from the area.  This show will explore a fascinating selection of their work displayed alongside works by other well-known names, particularly from the Norwich School of painters, such as Joseph Stannard and John Crome.  The works on show include a diverse range of media from oil on canvas and watercolours to pencil sketches and etchings.

Together these works highlight Great Yarmouth’s importance as a unique and beautiful place which played a significant role in the development of British landscape painting.  Through recording their impressions of the town and its surroundings, it has helped place this small coastal community within the national consciousness: Drawn to the Coast: Turner, Constable, Cotman celebrates these connections and offers visitors the opportunity to see the town through their eyes.

The striking selection of works, many drawn from Norfolk Museums Service’s own collection, have been enriched with important loans from Tate, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service, the East Anglian Traditional Art Centre, as well as private lenders.

The exhibition also features objects that complement scenes depicting daily life on the shoreline and in the town, so vividly portrayed within the artworks.  Highlights include a bronze Manby mortar – a breakthrough invention for saving shipwrecked souls – and a wooden model of a wherry, the sailing boat so synonymous with Norfolk.

The exhibition is the culmination of a larger project called Sea History Differently which has been funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.  The project, which has been running for 18 months, aims to transform engagement with maritime collections.  This objective has been central to the creation of Drawn to the Coast, with staff from Time and Tide Museum recruiting a cohort of around 20 Community Curators to co-curate the exhibition.  Members of the local community from various backgrounds and of all ages signed up as a result of the open call put out by the museum in the local press.

The participants have been involved in every aspect of the exhibition process from choosing works and writing text to developing the gallery lay-out.  The Community Curators were offered regular practical training sessions, such as honing their skills alongside gallery design experts and exploring the requirements for professional quality still-life photography.

Johanna O'Donoghue, Curator at Time and Tide Museum said: "This exhibition has been a brilliant opportunity to draw together some of the finest works of art by nationally recognised artists including Turner, Constable and Cotman that show what a beautiful place Great Yarmouth was and continues to be.  It has allowed us to use these major works of art as a starting point for our outreach and to show local people that these great artists regarded Yarmouth as truly something special.  We are celebrating that visitors can see these works of art back in the town where they were created over two hundred years ago."

One of the Community Curators involved with the development of the exhibition commented: “From the first meeting, it felt as though being a Community Curator could provide us with an opportunity to learn new things whilst bringing our own ideas and suggestions to the exhibition… I now have a better understanding of the painting and sketches that are going into this exhibition…and it’s been a privilege to see behind the scenes and works in store”

The mutually beneficial partnership between the museum and the Community Curators will continue into the future, with several of the participants expressing their desire to continue volunteering their time working with the collection beyond the run of the show.

A key aim throughout the museum’s engagement with their local community, which has been so integral to the formation of this show, was to broaden entry to, and engagement with fine art. Cllr. John Ward, Chairman of Norfolk’s Joint Museums Committee said: "“It is wonderful to see how this exhibition – and the Sea History Differently project as a whole – has engaged local people in new ways with Great Yarmouth’s fascinating maritime history. It is so important that people connect with our collections in ways which have meaning for them. The Community Curators, supported by Time and Tide staff, have done a wonderful job in creating an exhibition which celebrates the town’s artistic legacy in a way which is accessible to everyone and reminds us of how special the Great Yarmouth coastline is.”

The project team have also been working with community groups in the local area to deliver workshops and sessions inspired by the artworks in the exhibition.  Taking a selection of key objects from their collection of over 33,000 objects to a diverse range of local venues such as shopping centres, banks, supermarkets, schools and youth groups has enabled Time and Tide Museum to engage with more than 2,000 people, whose views, ideas and responses will be explored within the exhibition galleries.

Sarah Briggs, Collections Development Officer at the Museums Association said: "The Museums Association is proud to have supported the Sea History Differently project through the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.  Time and Tide Museum have provided a great example of how museums can change lives with this project enabling young people to unlock the true potential of Norfolk’s amazing collections for this exhibition.”

The show runs until 9 September. Among its many events this summer, the museum will be holding two hands-on art days linked to the exhibition, where visitors can experience being an artist for themselves:

  • ‘Draw(n) to the Coast’ on Wednesday 8 August, from 11am-4pm.  Discover ways of building landscapes inspired by our exhibition, from the traditional to the abstract.
  • ‘Become Turner for the Day’ on Wednesday 29 August, from 11am-4pm.  Step into the shoes of Britain’s favourite painter, with this hands-on art day and come away with your own marvellous masterpiece!

For more details, visit


'Yarmouth Church' by John Constable, watercolour on paper, c.1794. © Private lender

Wherries at Anchor on Breydon Water.  John Sell Cotman (British, 1782-1842). Oil on canvas, circa 1810. © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

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