Talking to visitors to Powis about their favourite object and the Roman Cat
Last week I went to Powis on a lovely sunny afternoon to accost visitors to the castle as they came out to ask them about their visit generally, and about their favourite objects and their thoughts about the Roman Cat in particular.
I had been very nervous about doing this as I was worried that perhaps some people would not want to talk to me or would be suspicious of me (as this strange art student from Shrewsbury). But it turned out that my fears were unnecessary. In fact all but one of the people I spoke to were very happy to talk to me (and that one only because she felt she’d been a bit overwhelmed by all she’d seen in the castle and therefore unable to talk about anything within it). Some of the people I spoke to were glad for a rest and a chat. Most were just happy to talk about their visit I think because on leaving the castle and coming out in the bright sunshine they felt the need to go over what they’d seen and I was providing them with the opportunity to do that.
I interviewed 13 groups of people (of between 1 and 3 people in each grouping) and their favourite objects were as follows:
- Clock in the Blue Drawing Room = 3 people
- Marble table in the Long Gallery = 3 people
- Rosewood and ivory dressing table = 2 people
- Mary Queen of Scots rosary beads = 1 person
- Owl paintings = 2 people
- Dining Room = 2 people
- All the doors and floors = 1 person
- Ceiling paintings = 1 person
- Pottery = 2 people
- Swords = 2 people
What interested me is how many people picked similar items (i.e. the marble table, the clock and the owl paintings) out of all the hundreds of objects in the castle. It also interested me that nobody chose the View of Verona painting, a favourite of more than one volunteer and member of staff or the Portrait of Lady Henrietta, which I would have expected to be an object that would catch people’s attention.
The people I spoke to were very keen to talk about their favourite object, some extremely happy to talk at great length. The castle had had quite an impact on many of them (especially the first-time visitors, some from Germany and Australia).
Next, I asked everyone about the Roman Cat. out of thirteen groups of people, eight remembered it and were willing to talk about it, three didn’t remember it and two didn’t talk to me about it for other reasons. Out of the eight, four liked it and four didn’t. This pleased me because I expected most people to dislike it. Interestingly, whether people liked it or disliked it correlated exactly with their opinions about real cats (cat lovers liked it, non-cat lovers hated it).
The words they used to describe the cat were: scary, fierce, evil, angry, awful, face, life-like, terrified, striking, alive, horrid, fascinating, unusual, humped, marble, craftsmanship, wild.
Out of the eight people who remembered it, only one would be happy to own it.
Also out of the eight, six wanted to touch it, two didn’t.
Out of the four that didn’t like it, nobody felt at all concerned about disliking it.
Everybody thought it was a good piece of artwork.
Out of the eight, only one person considered that it’s origin mattered (i.e. whether it is genuinely Roman or not).
Overall, I found the experience fascinating. It was partly good for me to be able to engage with people and converse about art and objects. It was also interesting for my study of the objects of Powis Castle. I found that the pull and attraction of the objects is stronger than I had originally thought. The people I spoke to seemed overwhelmed by their experience of going around the castle, and excited by the objects within it. They have a large impact on all of the visitors I spoke to. Their enthusiasm was catching.
The next question is: what should I do with this information?
I had no interest in touching the cat!