2017 Update

I’ve had another busy year, with some very exciting projects, but the website is becoming quite difficult to keep up to date with all the current exciting work I am doing. At some point I will have to rebuild it, but for now I just thought I’d write a quick post to let you all know one of the best places you can keep up to date with the work we are doing and current projects and reproduction galleries; our social media.

You can find links to our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on the left, but I would particularly direct you to Instagram to see the various stuff we have been involved in, and to Facebook for a gallery of curated projects here, particularly the museum and Universities handling collections in this album.

We are currently working on a large reproduction handling collection for the AHRC-funded ‘Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands’ project by the Centre for the Study of the Viking Age at the University of Nottingham. This will be completed in the next month, and accompany a large viking exhibition in the Museum of Archaeology at Nottingham Lakeside arts  a series of handling and practical craft workshops.

 

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Viking World: Diversity and Change: 2016 Conference

From the 27th June to the 2nd of July, I was privileged to be invited to attend the Viking World Conference 2016, hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Viking-age, at the University of Nottingham.

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As part of my invitation as well as being a full delegate at the plenary conference, I also would be manning a stall before and after lectures, and also during the breaks and lunch hour. This would contain both reproductions of original objects I had made, as well as a small display on some of the experimental and investigative work I had done into craft techniques, and objects use and function.

I have found previously that there is often a reluctance from professionals and academia to engage with a display such as this, particularly as until they spoke to me, most did not know I was also a professional within the field, however, whilst there was still a little of this, my overwhelming impression was that of interest, enthusiasm, and support, from the cast majority of delegates, often from places I was not expecting it.

This is particularly the case from the conferences two organisers; Professor Judith Jesch and Associate Professor Christina Lee, who not only put in an amazing amount of effort to organise and run the conference, but also showed a lot of personal support and interest in the unusual work I do. Both brilliant scholars, and lovely people.

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The programme for the conference was very varied and wide-ranging, with speakers from all over the viking world, from the Americas to Azerbaijan. There are far too many topics to recount here, but you can see from the programme, just how much was covered.

Things that stood out for me particularly were a talk by Charlotta Lindblom from Vejle Museum on the evolving story of the monumental landscape at Jelling; the sheer scale of the monuments was astounding to me. There were also a number of talks dealing with the local level networks of outland management by Andreas Hennius, who put forward the evidence for outland exploitation in the Viking-age, particularly tar pits, but which also got me thinking about other related industries, such as charcoal manufacture, honey and beeswax collection/farming, amongst many others. This notion of a complex and layered landscape exploitation tradition as part of a symbiotic relationship with larger towns and trading centres, made a lot of sense to me, and is a much neglected area of study. Ryan Fosters talk about Shieling naming in Northern Britain,brought out through the use of naming variations, a similar suggestion of a variation in activities and identities.

In addition different talks by Vusala Afandiyeva, Þórir Hraundal, and Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, really brought home the huge influence and activities of the Rus, both down the Rivers of Eastern Europe and modern-day Russia, and in around the Caspian Sea, and a compelling case for a more robust trade route to Asia. It is an aspect of Viking studies I had always been aware of but the scale and significance of it, I think, has really begun to emerge (like the Jelling monument) as far greater than previously appreciated.

A subject very close to home was the talk from Eleanor Rye (from the University of Nottingham) who discussed placename construction in Cumbria and the Wirral, which owe a lot to West Norse influence, which reinforced my observations within my own field of interest; material culture, which I feel shows similar patterns.

Kerstin Näverskölds talk on Shields as objects and symbols, and Leszek Gardeƚas discussion of pendants and amulaic objects in Poland, as symbols of belief and identity, brought home the nuance between a physical and functional object, and its personal significance and symbolism, and also a cautionary tale of how our beliefs and desire can taint identification and understanding of an object.
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I shall have to stop here, completely unfairly, because the temptation is to just run down the list of many outstanding papers given, some of personal pet subjects too, and this blog post would never end. Needless to say, it was an outstanding collection of work and material presented, and enough to overstimulated my brain even now, a week later!
All in all, the conference, perhaps accented for me by the few talks I mentioned, brought home the scale and influence of the viking world, the significance and sophistication of its infrastructures and networks, and social systems, and the vast array of cultural variation and complexity of identities and belief structures. Diversity and Change indeed.

Tullie House Exhibition of the Cumwhitton Viking Graves

Earlier on this year I completed the largest museum reproduction commission I have undertaken to date. The work was outfitting Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery’s permanent new exhibition: Vikings Revealed, containing some of the material from the Viking-age cemetery at Cumwhitton, excavated in 2004. As one of the lead authors on the volume, I spent a good deal of time making reproductions during the analysis phase to understand some the artefacts better, and as such, understood a lot of detail about the objects and their manufacture.

There were a lot of objects required replication, involving a huge variety of craft materials and techniques. For the exhibition a Pattern welded sword with a silver inlaid hilt, a shield, and axe head, and a spear were chosen as reproduction weaponry. In addition, an iron bound maple box, a drinking horn with brass mounts, a pair of tinned spurs, with leathering and buckles, a ringed-pin, a pair of tinned brass buckles and strap ends, and a bone comb, sickle, and shears. Given time constrains, and the complexity and skill required in some of the weaponry, I enlisted the help of two friends; Dave Barnes a Blacksmith from York, and Paul Binns, a well-respected bladesmith. Dave did the axe, spearheads, and some of the ironwork, and Paul constructed the pattern welded blade. I made all the remaining items, and hafted the spearhead, and constructed the horn handle and hilts of the sword, and inlaid it in silver, the latter after some expert help and advice from a friend at Newcastle University.

20160117_212541A group shot of all the objects. From left to right: axe head, iron bound maple box, the shield, shears, buckles and strap ends, spear, spurs, ringed-pin, comb, sickle, and drinking horn.

20160202_202059The Pattern welded sword, with a horn handle, and silver inlaid iron hilt.

Finally I have a few pictures of the objects in the final exhibition, showing them mounted in the display cases. The majority of the objects were mounted within plinths to physically represent the graves, which the designers chose to embody the interred individuals, as their skeletons had degraded leaving nothing but their graves filled with objects.

The iron bound maplewood box on the Grave 1 plinth

The iron-bound maple wood box on the Grave 1 plinth

 

The Buckle and Strap end in the Grave 2 plinth

The Buckle and Strap end in the Grave 2 plinth

 

The comb, sickle, and shears in the Grave 2 plinth

The comb, sickle, and shears in the Grave 2 plinth

 

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The sword mounted in the Grave 3 plinth

 

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The remains of the Grave 3 objects on display

 

The axehead in the Grave 4 plinth

The axe head in the Grave 4 plinth

 

The shield mounted on the wall next to the Grave 2 plinth

The shield mounted on the wall next to the Grave 2 plinth

The drinking horn in the Grave 5 plinth

The drinking horn in the Grave 5 plinth

 

The spurs in the Grave 5 plinth

The spurs in the Grave 5 plinth

 

The spear head mounted on the wall, close to the partial plinth representing the damaged Grave 6

The spear head mounted on the wall, close to the partial plinth representing the damaged Grave 6

 

Last of all, here I am dressed as a 10th century viking, waiting to talk to the press and Tullie House members and VIPs for the open evening! It was a great opportunity to incorporate reproductions into an interpretations scheme, and whilst there is always more you wish you could do, they were a very striking and cost-effective addition to the exhibition.

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2015: Vikings for Schools for The University of Nottingham

2015 was a busy year for me. I got to meet some interesting people and was asked to undertake some interesting commissions throughout the year, the first of which came from the University of Nottingham’s CSVA (Centre for Study of the Viking Age) with an enquiry about some objects for their ‘Vikings for Schools‘ programme. As with most of the commissions I get, I spent some time with them, working out what sort of things they may need, and what they would need them for. As they are working with school children they needed to be very safe, and as robust as possible for frequent handling. In addition, there was a little working out of what sort of things might be useful, or possible, and working out a budget.

In the end we came up with a list of Viking-age objects that I produced and delivered to the University Campus. Quite a lot of the creative and construction process I shared on my Twitter account: @eblueaxe and can still be seen there if you look back at my feed and images. Below are the finished objects; including ice skates, a reproduction of the Lincoln runic comb and case, and the Scar viking boat burial comb, a knife with a wooden carved handle (based on a handle fragment from York), and a ‘carved’ leather scabbard. There was also a blowing horn and strap, four arm-rings based on finds from the Cuerdale and Silverdale hoards, and an early-eleventh century axe with an Ashwood haft and brass punched collar inspired by an example from the River Thames.

Here is a picture of it all together, also including some of the bone Thor’s hammers and glass bead necklaces I made them.

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Last but by no means least, there was the small challenge of making an interpretation of a ships head with a dragon or beast on it. What size to make it, how to prop it up, and what to base it on were somewhat of a challenge as there is very little evidence as to what ship heads may have looked like, and a full size one or three dimensional version would be unwieldy and likely too expensive to produce, but it needed to maintain some of its scale and grandeur to impress the children.

As a result, I decided to make it as a flat oak board that would be detachable from the front of the ship as suggested by some sources. For the design I chose to base it on one of the Gokstad ship burial objects carvings, as whilst it wasn’t a ship head, it was from a ship burial from the period, and was carved on a flat plank like this, and also importantly depicts some form of Horse, or Dragon, or other beast (notoriously viking snakes and dragons can have ears like horses which makes interpretation difficult!). Finally, a simple timber stand was constructed to hold the shiphead up higher and at the angle of the front of the ship.

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Finally here are a couple of pictures of the objects being used in anger, courtesy of the CSVA!

 

Seeing some of our work on display

Over the last 18 months we have a number of commissions from The National Trust, the Dublinia experience in Dublin, private individuals, Television production companies, and other museums and educational organisations. This has included an interesting mix of objects, from bone and antler combs (such as those below on display at Dublinia), tinned copper-alloy belt fittings, and copper-allow cloak pins.

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One of the more unusual items was a bronze age dagger ‘replica artefact’, complete with an aged patina. This was to be used for an archaeological dig exercise for children, to enable a number of school groups to excavate and analyse a mock-up bronze age grave many times.

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It has been an intriguing time, with a variety of interesting and unique challenges, so if you have one of your own please don’t hesitate to get in touch!