About: marklewis

Mark was born and brought up in Tenby. He is Curator at Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, where he has worked for over twenty years. He is an Associate of the Museums Association (AMA). He has written extensively for various local journals as well as several creative pieces including a monologue on the life of Gwen John and two works on Dylan Thomas.

Posts by marklewis:

  • Forged In Wales, 16 Jan 2020 in Art&Culture&Film&Heritage&History
  • The Charles Darwin Letters, 08 May 2019 in Heritage&History&Science
  • Solo Exhibition for Manic Street Preacher, Nicky Wire, 07 Sep 2018 in Art&Culture&Heritage
  • Remains of the Day by artist Barry John MBE, 14 Jan 2018 in Art&Culture
  • Enchanting Exhibition at Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 24 Apr 2017 in Art&Culture
  • International Talk Like A Pirate Day, 03 Sep 2016 in Culture&Event&Heritage&History
  • Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty, 12 Jun 2016 in History
  • Museum’s Great Weekend of Adventure, 28 Mar 2016 in Culture&Event&Heritage&History
  • St Dwynwen’s Day, 21 Jan 2016 in Culture&History
  • The Dreamer of Dreams Roald Dahl and Tenby, 16 Jan 2016 in Art&Culture&Heritage&History&Uncategorized

  • Forged In Wales

    A major new exhibition opened at Tenby Museum and Art Gallery in January 2020.

    Forged in Wales: Five Welsh Actors has been put together by museum  Curator Mark Lewis and has been generously funded by the Friends of Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.

    KENNETH GRIFFITHThe exhibition looks at the life and careers of five actors closely associated not only with Wales but also with the international film scene – Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Baker, Michael Sheen and Tenby born actor and documentary maker Kenneth Griffith.

    The material on display – mostly from the private collection of the Curator but with archive material relating to Kenneth Griffith from the museum’s collection – includes rare film posters from all over the world, lobby cards, press books, photographs, books, postcards and other film related material.

    Mark, a self-confessed film buff (“or film bore!”) stated, “This exhibition went through various planning stages before the final theme was settled on.  I originally wanted to look at Wales’ contribution to the cinema in a broader sense, to include actors such as Catherine Zeta Jones, Glynis Johns, Hugh Griffith, Ray Milland and Wales’ contemporary contribution to the horror movie scene – indeed had the texts written for these ideas – but space dictated a smaller exhibition.  However, thematically this exhibition works very well.  These iconic cultural icons of cinema have played integral roles in ensuring Wales’ cultural importance and relevance to cinephiles and the film industry.  Four of them hailed from the Welsh valleys around Port Talbot and one was born and continued to visit Tenby. ‘I am enormously proud of being Welsh,’ Richard Burton once declared.  And I think this exhibition shows that we should be enormously proud of the talent and contribution to the arts that has originated here.  Long may that tradition continue.”

    He added, “Being a huge long term fan of these actors, Burton in particular, I have been collecting material for many years and it’s wonderful to bring it all together into this exhibition at Tenby Museum.  Although there is a Tenby connection – with the brilliant but often contentious Kenneth Griffith – I think it is important for museums such as ourselves to show exhibits that are of a wider cultural interest.


    People often regard Burton as a mere celebrity, who succumbed to the trappings of stardom but they often forget that he was Oscar nominated seven times and made some classic films that stand the test of time.  I hope the exhibition will draw this talent, and the talents of the other Welsh actors, some of whom have been overlooked, back into the public consciousness as true cinematic greats.”

    He continued, “Film posters, particularly the early ones before they were superseded by digital promotion, are superb works of art in themselves.  The colours remain vibrant and it is an artistic snapshot of the film being advertised, getting the tone and content of the film across perfectly.  I am hugely indebted to the Friends of Tenby Museum for their support in getting these pictures framed for exhibition and for funding the interpretive panels and their translation.  Without their continued support the museum could not be able to achieve half of what it does.”

    The exhibition will run until the end of the year.

    The Charles Darwin Letters

    In August 1840 Charles Darwin replied to a letter from Reverend Gilbert Smith, Rector of Gumfreston and an avid amateur geologist and archaeologist.  Smith had written to Darwin concerning the matter of skeletal remains of animals found on Caldey Island.

    At this time Darwin had conceived his idea of natural selection but did not release his ideas upon the world until 19 years later with the release of his seminal work On the Origin of Species.  Four years pervious to the letters he had completed an almost five-year survey trip on the HMS Beagle and was already a celebrity in scientific circles.

    CHARLES DARWINDarwin’s letter of reply to Smith is now on display at Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.   The letter was originally written to Darwin’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Wedgwood, who was asked to send a note with his questions to Smith.  However she felt it better to send the letter directly to Smith – Elizabeth had built a school on Caldey and so presumably knew Smith personally.  We know that Smith received the reply, as his written responses to Darwin’s questions are evident on the document.  For some unknown reason however, he never sent these back to Darwin.

    Darwin’s reply asks six separate questions abut the finds, ranging from “Are bones rounded or broken”, “Distance of Caldy (sic) Isd from main & depth of water” to perhaps the most interesting, “Particularly describe whether beaks of birds were embedded actually with Elephants bones, or chiefly in upper part of fissure.”

    “It would,” Darwin writes, “be very valuable present (to) Geolog. Socy. if Mr Smith would send some of these beaks and breast bones or bones of legs to Somerset House, directed to me…And without they are examined by Anatomist, they are almost useless to science.”

    Like other geniuses (such as Vladimir Nabakov, Victor Hugo and Samuel Becket to name but a few) Darwin’s handwriting is at times illegible. However at this time Darwin had another valid excuse for the shaky hand.  At the time of writing Darwin was ill and confined to bed.  Strain from overwork had left him with stomach problems, headaches and heart symptoms and for the rest of his life he was repeatedly taken unwell with stomach issues, vomiting, boils, trembling and palpitations.

    The numerous finds of Gilbert Smith from his excavations on Caldey and Hoyle’s Mouth formed the nucleus of the original collections at Tenby Museum on its inception in 1878.

    Solo Exhibition for Manic Street Preacher, Nicky Wire

    Tenby Museum will be the site of the first ever solo art exhibition by Welsh music legend Nicky Wire, bassist and lyricist with the Manic Street Preachers.  Nicky, a regular visitor to Tenby, accepted the invitation from museum curator Mark Lewis and his exhibition, Paintings and Polaroids, will open to the public on Saturday 15th September.

    Nicky said, “These artworks are mini tributes to people and places that have given me comfort and inspiration over the years.  I grew up obsessed by Polaroids – the beauty and simplicity, the accidental moment caught, the initial vivid colour and the eventual sad fade.  I am so pleased to be having my first exhibition in Tenby.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a flat here for the last 12 years and it is a very special place with such a rich artistic history.

    The works themselves are truly mixed media – foil, superglue, gaffer tape and sellotape, nail varnish, glitter, make-up and of course paint.  The exhibition is a celebration of inspiration – Warhol’s repeated images, the quilt paintings of John Uzzell Edwards, Yayoi Kusama, Gerhard Richter, Tracy Emin, Bert Stern, Dylan Thomas, Miles Davis, the list is endless.  I will say that it is more nerve-wracking than any gig I have done as a musician and I hope that people enjoy it.


    Curator Mark Lewis, who has made several trips to Nicky’s studio in Newport, Gwent, to discuss the show, said, “This is a real coup for both the museum and the town.  I am extremely excited by the show and proud that Nicky has chosen Tenby Museum for his first solo exhibition.”

    The exhibition runs from 15 September until 21 October.

    Remains of the Day by artist Barry John MBE

    Saturday 3 February will see the official opening of the exhibition Remains of the Day by artist Barry John at Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.

    Barry was born in Neyland and studied at Sir Thomas Picton School. He served in the British armed forces, being posted to Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Jamaica, America, Northern Ireland and Kosovo. His art is very much formed by the experiences he has had during his time in the army. Through his work he expresses stories, memories, demons, harsh and sometimes brutal truths and, yes, the beauty and colours and resilience of our conflicted world. To paraphrase Christopher Marlowe, his art shall play the orator for us.

    Barry left the army in December 2013 after 24 years service.   His design was to set up a community art gallery, which he achieved in 2014 with the opening of The VC Gallery in Haverfordwest. He had had previous experience during his service with mental health work and PTSD and, combined with his artistic skills, he realised a need in his community for such an undertaking. The gallery, located now in High Street, works with veterans, older people, children and those who just feel they need time to express themselves through art. As Barry says, “its all about socialising, community and art.”

    The exhibition will feature a number of works including examples of his ‘black graffiti’ and Geisha girls. Themes may be challenging, riots and terrorism among them, but Barry is all about the challenge in life and in his work and in “being brave” in art, with form and shape and colour and execution. I for one am very much looking forward to seeing the works exhibited here in Tenby Museum.

    The exhibition runs until Saturday 3 March.

    Barry John (left) with artist Sally Green and Donna Wright (Tenby Youth Club) undertaking a beach pollution graffiti project at Tenby Museum

    Enchanting Exhibition at Tenby Museum & Art Gallery

    How many of us are guilty of walking around what we believe are familiar streets with our eyes metaphorically closed to our surroundings?  We pass by houses, shops, restaurants, pubs, hotels, civic buildings, turn corners and plod on going about our daily business, too engrossed in where we are going or what we should be doing to take in the finer details.

    Linda Thompson is obviously not like that.  Her joint exhibition (with her husband Bill) at Tenby Museum reveals an eye that catches details that many of us are too often oblivious to.  Familiar scenes are given a quirky twist, often humorous, to capture the charm of a town that is overflowing with it.

    Thus the picture-postcard town is seen as a view in the slot of a post-box, from the perspective of a lobster peering at the harbour from between baskets, or is suspended in a snow-globe or then given the warm pastel hues of the Mediterranean.  There are side streets, window frames, stained glass windows, reflections, buildings old and new, recognisable faces, and suddenly we find ourselves looking at a familiar location with brand new eyes open wide.   And every picture is gifted the warmth of the artist and the enchantment and love that she feels for this, our town.


    Bill’s work presents a far different style.  Whereas Linda‘s vision is firmly with her surroundings and its people, Bill gives us a more geometric vision where the regularity of the shapes and lines, enhanced by his use of colour, are his focus.  This is the first time he has ever exhibited his work in a public gallery and says, “I like to think that the shapes and colour combinations leave the viewer with pleasant, positive thoughts and, if I am lucky, a smile on their face.”

    This fabulous joint show runs at the museum until Sunday 7 May.  The pictures are for sale and if you want to go home with a smile, visit the exhibition and buy one!  You will not be disappointed.

    International Talk Like A Pirate Day

    I was brought up watching classic movies and recall rainy Saturday mornings when football was off the agenda, being glued to a small television set watching Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat sliding down sails and swashing buckles in glorious Technicolor (if you have never seen The Crimson Pirate, I suggest that you abandon whatever you are currently doing and remedy that immediately). And so when I was asked to write this blog on International Talk Like A Pirate Day my inner child (very shallowly buried in my psyche) roared to the surface with a mighty “Shiver me timbers!”

    So what is International Talk Like A Pirate Day? For one thing it is not something that was instigated by bored, becalmed corsairs who had already guzzled their ration of grog and were looking for something constructive to do. In fact it was invented in 1995 by two Americans who, during a game of racquetball, started giving each other encouragement in the pirate vernacular and they soon realised that use of this particular form of singular slang made the game a more enjoyable experience.  From this they decided that a new holiday was needed and Talk Like A Pirate Day was born. And so 19th September (the date of one of the founder’s ex wife’s birthday) was settled upon and over the years the event has grown to achieve international status.

    So why should this have a resonance in Tenby? Two reasons really. First off, it is fun. Whilst piracy itself is far from being funny, talking like a pirate, especially in an exaggerated eye-rolling Robert Newton-esque way, is funny. Go on, try it. And the world needs more fun and stupidity to counteract the endless round robin of tubed-in misery.  Secondly, Tenby and the coast around it have historic connections with pirates and piracy. You only need to visit Tenby Museum or go on one of Blue Badge Marion Davies’ walks to learn about the story of Black Barty and Tenby-born Leekie Porridge to realise that pirates operated outside the sun-kissed shores of the Caribbean. Caldey Island also has several associations with piracy. Welsh buccaneer Henry Morgan and privateer John Paul Jones are both rumoured to have used the island as a hideout. It is said that when Jones died in 1792 his body was pushed into the rocks on Caldey and the ghostly sound of digging can sometimes be heard on the beach there, as if a ghoulish pirate is searching for lost treasure. Indeed Caldey has Paul Jones Bay on the northeast of the island, named after this legendary pirate.

    And if you do visit the museum (which all of you certainly should) there is the opportunity to dress up as a pirate whilst completing both of the pirate quizzes we offer. So avast, me hearties, and a yo ho ho! I look forward to welcoming you all with a loud Ahoy! on 19th September.


    Children enjoying the pirate experience at Tenby Museum

    Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty

    The new exhibition at Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, which was officially opened by Simon Hancock on 22 April, is Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty: Tenby and World War One.

    The war has obviously attracted a great deal of national attention over the past couple of years  because of the 100th anniversary (indeed, I recently enjoyed a visit with my brother to the brilliant Mametz Wood exhibition at National Museum Wales) and so finding a different angle to approach the subject was one that required serious thought. Much work had been done by museum staff and volunteers in perusing the local newspaper reports from the time and I started by cherry picking my way through these to concentrate on stories that were occurring locally but had a national resonance and so I could place the events reported in Tenby into a wider context.

    And so the exhibition features stories on football, munitions, recruitment, women at the front, trench life, hospitals, tanks (Frank B Mason had designed something of a similar nature to the tank, the Tenby Observer told us on 5 October 1916), Belgians, Land Girls (Pembrokeshire was the first county in Wales to employ women on the land), war horses, the sinking of the Lusitania (Tenby man Henry Adams was one of the 1153 victims of this tragedy) and Tenby’s returned men.  I planned to place the emphasis of the show on the social repercussions as much as the military (which had already been tackled in the museum publication Tenby Remembers) but the brutality of the war is still brought home in images, poetry, moving letters from the front, frightening statistics and the artefacts (especially the caltrops, a vicious anti-personnel weapon designed to maim).  The vast human cost is one thing you cannot, and should not, get away from.

    I had also asked Greenhill School to participate in the show and so the history department, under the guidance of teacher Tom Crichton, produced a wonderful 10 minute series of pieces to camera on what the students felt about the war and what, if anything, was learned from it.  The film has an added poignancy when you consider that the young faces on the film were of the same age as many of the fallen soldiers during the war.  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, the old Lie indeed.

    I am exceptionally grateful to Andrew and Seimon of the Tin Shed Experience in Laugharne for loaning me a large quantity of contemporary artefacts for the exhibition.

    The exhibition runs until August 2016


    Museum’s Great Weekend of Adventure

    The 2nd and 3rd of April marks the Great Weekend of Adventure, a Welsh Government initiative as part of 2016’s Year of Adventure.   Visitors are being encouraged to participate in the exciting and adventurous packages that the Welsh tourism industry has to offer, from canoeing to mountain biking to yomping across the Beacons Julia Bradbury style.

    Now whenever I see the word ‘adventure’ my sense of lassitude kicks hurriedly in.  However, as a member of staff at Tenby Museum I got off my haunches and thought we would offer something for this exciting weekend.  Instead of providing abseiling down the gallery walls, feet astride the Augustus John’s, we are offering an adventure for the mind, where the imagination does all the hard work. Town crier and actor Teifion Powell will be providing storytelling with a piratical theme at the museum on Sunday 3 April at 11am.  Not only that but he (and other gullible, landlubbing members of staff) will be dressed as pirates, hooks and eye-patches and all and we are encouraging children (of all ages!) to come as pirates to give this imaginative adventure an additional frisson of verisimilitude.

    There will be readings from a revolting rhyme written by yours truly (I hold my hands up to this and will probably be made to walk the plank over shark infested waters once it gets a public airing!) and another story for children regarding a pirate’s curse, so there is plenty to sink the adventurous teeth into.  The usual admission prices will apply (children free when accompanied by an adult), unless you come in pirate garb when there will be £1 off the price, and I can guarantee much Aargghing! from all enthusiastic members of staff, which is surely worth the price of admission alone.  I have been pulling my best Robert Newton face in the mirror for the past few weeks to get the mad piratical twinkle working to its best advantage and hopefully this will go some way to making Tenby Museum’s contribution to the Great Weekend of Adventure a memorable and enjoyable event.   We look forward to seeing you all there for a fun, adventure packed time!

    The costumes have been generously sponsored by Roland Grigg of Griggles, Warren Street, Tenby.

    St Dwynwen’s Day

    Maybe your true love is immune to red roses and sentimental cards adorned with heart-clutching teddy bears floating on balloons of sweet emotion.  Maybe, as Bob Dylan wrote, Valentines can’t buy her.  Well, why wait?  January 25th gives you the perfect opportunity to confess your deepest feelings, for this is St Dwynwen’s Day.

    St Dwynwen’s Day, or Dydd Santes Dwynwen, is the feast day of the Welsh saint of love.  Her story is one of unrequited love, which is perhaps not the result you would want when professing love to your heart’s desire.  Born into a royal family, Dwynwen fell in love with Maelon who did not meet her father’s approval and being King, he had the last say.  He promised her hand to another man and the broken-hearted Dwynwen prayed that she would fall out of love with Maelon.   She was visited by an angel who provided her with a potion to grant her wishes but when Maelon drank it he was turned into a statue of ice.  The cold shoulder, indeed.  God then granted Dwynwen three wishes – that Maelon, a bit like Han Solo, be thawed; that God meet the dreams of true lovers and that she would never marry.  In return she devoted herself to God and became a nun, founding a church on an island near Anglesey called Llanddywyn.  The island is also the site of Dwynwen’s well where one legend proclaims that if you look into the water and see a sacred fish then you will marry a faithful husband.

    The  14th century Welsh poet Dafydd Ap Gwilym is said to have seen a golden image of Dwynwen inside the church and asked her assistance to act as a messenger between himself and the Morfudd, the girl he hoped to woo, despite the fact that she was married.  In his poem In Morfudd’s Arms, ap Gwilym wrote tenderly about his heart’s desire: her hair has lit/My heart to a flame with the gold of it.

     In the 1960s Vera Williams, a student at Bangor University, began the revival of St Dwynen’s Day by commissioning four designs for cards in the style of a Welsh Valentine’s Day.  By 2004 the day was being promoted by Gwynedd County Council.

    So this year, why not try to avoid the commercialism and the prompting of the calendar, think of poor Dwynwen’s sacrifice of the heart, take the moment by the scruff of the neck and surprise the one you love with an unbidden declaration of affection.  The news keeps telling us that it’s a big bad world out there, filled with big bad wolves, and so a little bit more affection in the gloom can’t hurt, can it?

    The Dreamer of Dreams Roald Dahl and Tenby

    When I was asked to write a blog on Roald Dahl I felt at first oddly out of my comfort zone.  Middle aged and cynical, I had no real emotional attachment to the works of Dahl and so felt unqualified to celebrate the man.  So I went to those who would know and could help me – my nephew and my niece.  Which books, I asked, are your favourites by Dahl?  Without hesitation the answer came back – Fantastic Mr Fox (said my niece) and George’s Marvellous Medicine (said my nephew).  What, I then asked, is his appeal?  Again there was no pause (but perhaps more than a hint of disbelief – did I, the adult, not understand the point of reading, their faces seemed to ask).  They said, they are exciting books and you don’t know what’s going to happen next and they are funny.  And that was it, the appeal of Dahl explained to me through the wisdom of children and as Dahl had written in The Minpins (1991), they perfectly illustrated the sentiment that “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”   I vowed then to be more open to magic, to be less of a complicated grown up, and I like to think that in that moment of epiphany Dahl would have been proud of me.  Try it, I recommend the sense of freedom.

    2016 marks the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birthday.  He was born in Llandaff, Cardiff in 1916 to Norwegian parents.  As a schoolchild it would appear that a career as a writer would not be a path worth pursuing as one of his English teachers remarked, ”I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended.”

    Dahl’s Welsh connections extended beyond the capital.  Tenby has its own not insignificant part to play in the Roald Dahl story.  As a child Dahl used to holiday here with his family (his father died in 1920).  From the 1920s to the late 1930s they would visit Tenby every Easter.  His mother rented a house on the harbour called The Cabin.  In his wonderful book My Year (published in 1993) Dahl wrote memorably about his holidays: “We adored Tenby.  We had donkey rides on the beach and long walks with the dogs along the top of the cliffs opposite Caldy Island, and there were primroses everywhere.  We hunted for winkles on the rocks and carried them home and boiled them and got them out of their shells with bent pins and put them on bread and butter for tea.”    In a letter from 1933 young Dahl  wrote, “an Easter holidays is hardly an Easter holidays without Tenby.” 

    The town obviously had a place of fondness in Dahl’s heart.  Communication between Dahl and friends and family reveal that holidays in Tenby were a tradition that he continued with his own children.

    Dahl died in 1990.  True to his Scandinavian heritage and his vivid imagination he was given a ‘Viking funeral’ and buried with his snooker cues, HB pencils, a very good bottle of Burgundy and a power saw to see him safe and comfortable on his final journey.


    The Cabin is today owned by Dahl’s niece, whose parents had purchased it in 1973.   Tenby Civic Society unveiled a Blue Plaque to Dahl on The Cabin.  Tenby Museum and Art Gallery also have a small interpretive display on Dahl and are planning additional events for the anniversary year.  So as you can see there are plenty of reasons for us Tenby folk to get involved in celebrating the work and ethos of this giant of an author and I leave the last words of inspiration to the man himself:


    “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”