by Lizzie Hilton, Learning Officer

Sir Francis Drake by Unknown Artist, circa 1581 © National Portrait Gallery, LondonAs part of our On Tour programme, we’re part of a national initiative led by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), which has seen a remarkable portrait of Sir Francis Drake ‘come home’ to Buckland Abbey. Since the portrait went on display we’ve been leading on a schools project which has allowed young people from Plymouth to explore this significant work of art.

The country’s national collections belong to all of us, but because most of them are held and looked after by national museums in London many people never have the chance to see them.

In response to this, the NPG has made some remarkable efforts over the last few years to enable more people to access their collections. Hopefully some of you will remember the strategic partnership that Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery previously had with them and which brought the ‘Snowdon: Iconic Images’, ‘Comedians’, ‘Family Album’, ‘Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to J. K. Rowling’ and ‘Laura Knight Portraits’ exhibitions to the city?

The ambitious ‘Coming Home’ project has similar ambitions and involves the NPG loaning 50 portraits to locations across the country that the sitters are closely associated with. As well as Drake coming home to Buckland Abbey, the project will also see portraits of Dylan Thomas displayed in Swansea and Jessica Ennis-Hill on show in Sheffield, for example.

We’ve seen this project as an opportunity to extend access beyond those who might normally visit a National Trust property like Buckland Abbey. We’ve arranged for a primary school from St Budeaux to visit as well as work with an Artist Facilitator to explore the Drake portrait in depth.

Photo of two schoolgirls in purple jumpers sitting on the floor and looking up

Year 5 and 6 students worked with artist Helen Snell to use enquiry techniques borrowed from the Philosophy for Children approach to learning, exploring ideas linked to the themes of ‘Home’, ‘Place’ and ‘Identity’. These are particularly interesting when thinking about Drake, who spent so much time away from home but whose identity is so closely connected to Plymouth and Devon. The themes are also relevant to the students. Many of them are about to transition to secondary school, forging new identities and new ideas of place in the process.

Photo of a woman in a blue dress with red shoes pointing to paintings on a wall while a group of school children in white paper collars sit on the floor listening to her

After exploring these themes, the students were able to translate their ideas into their own creative responses, making paper-cut cuffs and ruffs, which they then modelled for photographic portraits. These images will now go on display at Buckland Abbey where they can be seen alongside the Drake portrait until 22 September.

Photo of a boy dressed in black wearing a large white paper collar decorated with black drawings and writing

Although the Drake portrait will return to London in the autumn, The Box will have a significant display about him in one of its galleries when it opens in 2020. This means more schools will be able to explore and respond to the history of this important figure.

The current display at Buckland Abbey puts Drake alongside a portrait of his second wife – Lady Elizabeth Sydenham. This portrait belongs to The Box and will return to our collections at the end of the year.

Photo of a woman in a blue dress with a white paper collar points to a portrait of an Elizabethan lady hanging on a wall

If you’re a teacher and would like your class to work with an Artist Facilitator to explore Drake or other historic or contemporary collections, stay in touch by joining our Facebook group. You can also join our mailing list by emailing [email protected].