A barrel of history

We walk past statues, monuments, and artworks all the time in the UK, but often, we do not know their history. Today was different. We took a walk through Hyde Park, but we had the added benefit of having researched the history of a few important monuments along the way. It made the trip a lot more interesting.

First, we visited the statue of Peter Pan, and learned the sad story of the kids who inspired the story. The children lost both their mother and their father while they were young, and were mostly raised by a family friend, the author J.M. Barrie. Barrie based his most popular characters, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, on these unfortunate children.

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I lived next to Hyde Park for a week when we were first in London, but never visited. I didn’t know that, this whole time, we were lucky enough to be in London at the same time as an artwork by the famous artist Christo. Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, started making public art installations in the 1960s. Since Jeanne-Claude’s death about a decade ago, Christo has carried on the spirit of their work alone. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s modus operandi is taking ordinary parts of the landscape of major metropolises and briefly transforming them with colorful displays. They are famous for “wrapping” things in colorful cloth–notably, including the German Reichstag, among many other locations. They are also well-known for funding their work entirely on their own, without the help of outside donations.

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For his Hyde Park artwork, Christo decided to return to another motif he had commonly used in his drawing-board designs: a pyramid, or mastaba, of colorful oil barrels. Later in the day, I visited Hyde Park’s Serpentine Gallery, which had a display of all the plans that went into this and other mastabas. There, I learned that Christo and Jeanne-Claude had planned several installations of mastabas in other locations, including one in Houston, Texas, and a record-breaking one in the United Arab Emirates. However, these mastabas did not come to fruition. Interestingly, the UAE mastaba would have been based on orange oil barrels, while the British one was based on red barrels.

The third location we learned about was Speakers’ Corner. This turned out to be the most disappointing location to see in person, as I did not even see a plaque pointing out that this was in fact speaker’s corner, though that name did appear on maps of Hyde Park. However, researching this corner was more interesting. This corner holds historical significance as the venue where almost any public speech is allowed. Famously controversial political figures like Karl Marx, Marcus Garvey, and the British author George Orwell have spoken here.

I thought that the fact that we were tasked with a little research to do before today’s adventure made it much more interesting, and allowed me to find context for everything we saw. This wasn’t really tedious work for me, as I normally try to research the places we go anyway. However, it helped me direct my research.

After the Hyde Park visit and our lecture from an expert storyteller, I also got the chance to visit the Museum of Design today. I absolutely loved it, and more about the museum will be coming in my England essay.

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