Andrea DeRome, Collections Access Officer at Ceredigion Museum travelled to Argentina with an ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant. This is the blog that Andrea wrote during her visit. The full report from Andrea’s visit will be published in the coming weeks in the Case Studies section of the ICOM UK website.
Imagine it is the 18th century; you are aboard a sailing ship out at sea. The weather is rough; the waves are high against the side of your vessel. There are the sounds of a raging gale, of water hitting wood of creaking ropes, slapping sails and heavy rain. You are at the mercy of the wind being tossed around in the middle of the ocean; you know you must have been blown off your course. But for now all you can do is hope and wait. Hope that you, the rest of the crew and your ship can survive this maelstrom and wait until the wind has died down and the clouds have cleared.
This was the beginning idea for my exhibition, ‘Because it’s there’, and an idea that would lead me to follow in the footsteps of Welsh pioneers and take my own journey to Argentina.
Because it’s there
Ceredigion is a coastal county, bordered by Cardigan Bay to the west. The museum has an excellent seafaring collection and I am curious about the tools of celestial navigation and exploration. The exhibition ‘Because it’s there’ examines human exploration: the desire to go beyond the horizon, climb the mountain, venture out across the ocean, fly among the stars, to discover something because it’s there. To tell the story of the ventures and risks brave people take to fulfil their ambitions and dreams.
Onward, as we are able through the years and decades to precisely May 28, 1865. The anchor is being raised as the sailing ship ‘Mimosa’ leaves Liverpool for Patagonia in Argentina. It took 60 days for the ship to arrive at its destination, at the mercy of the wind and waves, with four deaths, two childbirths and one wedding along the way. On board are about 153 Welsh-speaking families seeking to create a Welsh-speaking utopia. They had grown concerned that amongst the many changes of the Industrial Revolution their language and values were being eroded and lost.
When they finally land there is nothing, they have arrived on this continent in winter. It is not the fertile land they were passionately pushed; they shape their first dwelling in a cave and survive the winter through the kindness and forgiveness of the indigenous people.
Again, we can press fast forward. It is 2019. I board a plane at London Gatwick. It has taken me eight hours from Wales so far. Fourteen hours later, flying among the stars, I land in Argentina.
What do I discover?
I find the infrastructure the pioneers forged the 430 miles from Puerto Madryn to Trevelin, an enormous land of beautiful, varied terrain. They brought the railway but favoured the road. The train stations stand as a reminder, devoid of connecting tracks they are now museums housing the artefacts of the pioneers’ time. I set foot inside The First House, in the town of Gaiman, built from stone and mud in 1874. I meet spirited, proud people who respect Welsh culture and language, who consider the pioneers “to be the wheels of Patagonia, they got this area moving”, and I discover communities, chapels and schools working together to keep it all alive.