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Birmingham’s updated Signposts to Middle-earth exhibit enhanced by Digital Advertising Displays.

Birmingham’s updated Signposts to Middle-earth exhibit enhanced by Digital Advertising Displays.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of the critically acclaimed novel The Hobbit. To coincide with this Birmingham Museums has renovated the interpretation inside Sarehole Mill, one of the influential haunts of legendary author JRR Tolkien. The new displays are enhanced by two complimentary Digital Advertising Displays.

The current building at Sarehole Mill dates back to 1771 and was the stimulus for much of Tolkien’s most iconic work. Aged three, Tolkien and his family moved to Birmingham from South Africa and from a young age he would explore the local area of Kings Heath and Moseley; in particular Sarehole Mill. Tolkien’s family lived close to the mill for four years and he even contributed to its restoration in the 1960s. Much of the local area, namely Moseley Bogs and The Mill, were the inspiration for many of the rural settings in Tolkien’s novels; explored in detail in the exhibit entitled Signposts to Middle-earth.

The Signposts to Middle-earth exhibition, which opened on Sunday 1st April, is on permanent display on the museum site. The exhibit explores how Tolkien drew inspiration from the quaint bucolic area where he spent most of his childhood as well as other influential locations for his work. It also investigates personal obstacles he overcame such as limited resources and the lack of a father figure while growing up. The exhibit also looks into how the area shaped Tolkien as a person and not only influenced locations in his famous novels but also characters. Tolkien likened himself to the serene child-like creatures, the Hobbits, in his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food […]; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour […]; I go to bed late and get up late […]. I do not travel much.”

The narrator of all the books in this series was a Hobbit and it was apparent that this was a reflection of Tolkien’s Arcadian point of view looking out on an industrial world. The exhibit features a specially commissioned short film about Tolkien’s connections with Birmingham. To optimise the overall look of the exhibit the video is playing on two avant-garde Digital Advertising Displays from Birmingham based Screen Manufacturer, Allsee Technologies.

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There are three floors to the mill, each exhibiting something different. The top floor has been painted to look like the entrance to a Hobbit hole and has a 46” Digital Advertising Display. This has been elegantly integrated into one of the walls and plays an informative and professionally produced short film. It also has interpretation boards providing a commentary on Tolkien’s life and inspirations. The second level includes one of many copies of Tolkien’s own illustrations and also has exposition boards depicting the storied history of the mill. This floor also includes more child-friendly interactive displays about mill pool wildlife. The ground floor has a 32” Digital Advertising Display playing the short film; this is so everybody can enjoy the film as there is no disabled access to the top floor. This too has interpretation boards chronicling key events in Tolkien’s life. The reinterpretation of the mill was diligently completed by Simon Meddings Associates, who specialise in exhibition and installation design.

The Signposts to Middle-earth exhibition is now open to the public but there will be an official opening on Friday 20th April which will be attended by local councillors and representatives of the Birmingham based Tolkien groups and the Tolkien Society.

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