Letters from Ann

  • Posted: Aug 28, 2014

Supplanting the truth with fiction

Iziko Bertram House, 25 August until 26 September 2014

Meet the woman after whom Iziko Bertram House was named. On display at the Bertram House Museum, Letters from Ann follows the ‘discovery’ of a series of fictional letters that chronicle a year of Ann Bertram Barker’s life. Nearly two centuries after her death, the exhibition establishes a connection between the museum and its namesake.

After Ann’s death in 1838, her husband, the notary John Barker, named Bertram House in honour of her memory. Bertram House was opened as a museum in 1984, and was envisioned as a specimen of early life at the Cape. It was never designed to memorialise a famous or notable owner. Therefore, nothing personal to Ann features in the house today.

In an effort to create a narrative that would breathe life into the rooms of Bertram House, exhibition curator Bianca Packham has written an epistolary short story, with a 19th-century timeline, where Ann is the lady of the house. The exhibition allows visitors to the museum to travel back to a bygone era. They will also, for the first time, be able to engage with the historic interiors of Bertram House in an entirely new way.

Ann’s real-life letters paint a surprisingly detailed portrait of life as a young English settler. Her lively character and tragic physical decline are recorded in the letters written by her sister, Margaret. Creating a fictional continuation of Ann’s life and letters – the ‘newly-resident’ lady of Bertram House – was a productive and minimally invasive way to address the overwhelming silence the curator felt when normally visiting the museum.

Ann, daughter of the Scottish-born ship captain, John Findlay, came to settle in Cape Town with her sister Margaret in 1830. Educated at Miss Mien’s Academy in London, both women were skilled writers and composed many detailed letters while resident at the Cape. These letters, preserved in the Findlay Papers archive at the University of the Witwatersrand, are today an interesting resource for the study of early 19th century life in the Cape Colony. Unfortunately, the correspondence of these two young women comes to an abrupt end in 1838. Ann would die at the age of just 26 years that November, followed a month later by her sister Margaret. The cause of their deaths remains unknown.

Letters from Annforms part of the Honours in Curatorship research project at the University of Cape Town. It engages a new trend in the curating of museum objects – in this case, fiction. This exhibition has been made possible through funding by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

The exhibition runs from 25 August until 26 September 2014.

*Entrance fees and opening hours: Monday to Friday 10h00-17h00, and certain commemorative days and public holidays. Closed on Saturdays, Sundays, Workers' Day and Christmas Day. Adults: R20; 18 years and under: R10; SA students and pensioners with valid SA card: R10. (SA students and pensioners enter free on Fridays on provision of valid cards.) For more information visit www.iziko.org.za

Enquiries can be directed to Bianca Packham on Tel. 073 174 5330 or email biancapackham@gmail.comAlternatively, contact Wieke van Delen on Tel. 021 467 7203 or email wvandelen@iziko.org.za


Issued by: Lee-Shay Collison

Media Liaison Officer: Institutional Advancement, Iziko Museums of South Africa
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 481 3891                  Facsimile: +27 (0) 21 461 9620
Cell: 073 585 9843                                                             E-mail: lcollison@iziko.org.za
Website http://www.iziko.org.za                            


On behalf of: Office of the CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa

Notes to editor:

About the Andrew Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation under the laws of the State of New York, was formed on June 30, 1969, through the consolidation of two existing foundations—Avalon Foundation and Old Dominion Foundation.The Avalon Foundation had been established in 1940 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce, daughter of Andrew W. Mellon.  The Old Dominion Foundation had been established in 1941 by Paul Mellon, son of Andrew W. Mellon.  When the two foundations were consolidated, the Foundation was renamed The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to honour their father. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports grantees within four defined program areas: Higher Education and Scholarship; Scholarly Communications and Information Technology; Art History, Conservation and Museums; and Performing Arts.


About Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko)

Iziko operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at www.iziko.org.za, join our online community on Facebook (www.facebook.com/IzikoMuseums) or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions. 

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