Craft catalogued!

MERL 74/131/63. A rug made by Mrs Eva Norris of Reading and part of the Hemeon Collection of rug-making tools and thrift rugs.

MERL 74/131/63. A rug made from strips of French knitting sewn together. Made by Mrs Eva Norris of Reading and part of the Hemeon Collection of rug-making tools and thrift rugs.

I have just completed enhancing the digital catalogue records for the approximately 4500 objects in the MERL collections which were originally classified as ‘craft’ (see previous post). Some of these had been enhanced during previous cataloguing projects, while others were essentially empty records. I started with the 1300 untouched records, and then went back to edit the others. Each record has now been enhanced with information about provenance, use and historical context. In some cases, further enhancements incorporating more specialist information, such as details to do with materials and techniques, have also been added. The crafts at MERL are divided into seven materials-based categories – clay, leather, metal, straw, stone, textiles and wood – so I worked through the records material by material to enable me to cross reference them, to rationalise object names and descriptions, and to generally bring all the records into line with one another.

I have also systematically keyworded all of the records to make them more easily searchable on MERL’s online catalogue. This element has tied in with the work I’ve been doing on another project at MERL, Countryside21, which has involved updating the MERL Classification and developing a structured keywording system based on it.  Each craft record now has a top level process-driven and materials-based keyword – CRAFTS : clay-working, CRAFTS : leather-working, CRAFTS : metal-working, CRAFT S: stone-working, CRAFTS : straw-working, CRAFTS : textile-working, CRAFTS : wood-working. The generic keyword CRAFT S has been given if the material is not known, is not listed, or crosses many materials. Further and more specific keywords have then been added to help narrow down the searching, based on craft disciplines which are well-defined or of which we have significant numbers of objects, e.g. brick and tile making, saddlery, tinsmithing, stonemasonry, rope making, rug making, basketry etc. Take a look at the project page for a full listing of craft keywords.

During the cataloguing, I’ve come across large craft collections which I had no idea we had (such as the Hemeon Collection of rug-making tools and samples), collections which have enthralled me (my love of our basketry collections is well known), and collections which have left me asking ‘why?’ (such as the Alec Coker Collection of corn dollies).

It’s enormously satisfying to have completed this work, and I know that it will be an incredibly useful resource – especially to craftspeople. It will also be beneficial to future projects at MERL, as the importance of knowing what you have and what you know about it (all of which can now be easily found) cannot be understated. However, I’d also like to think that the craft cataloguing isn’t over – it would be great if craftspeople, when looking at our catalogue, could let us know if we’ve made mistakes or if they have further information to add (email merlobjects@reading.ac.uk). Furthermore, I really hope that engagement with craftspeople in terms of building connections, opening dialogue and raising awareness of our collections, which formed the second aspect of the craft strand of Reading Connections will become an ongoing activity at MERL.

 

Greta Bertram, Reading Connections Project Officer

 

MERL remembers WW1

 

You may be forgiven in thinking that all has gone quiet regarding the WW1 part of the Reading Connections project but, in fact,things have been busier than ever.

Since the beginning of the year, of course, there has been a significant appetite for commemorating the centenary of the First World War, most obviously, in the media. This interest has also been evident locally where attention has been focused on the impact of the conflict on Reading. Among those delving into this fascinating aspect of our local history have been the University’s History students who, last month, ran a WW1 Roadshow at MERL. This event, as well as showcasing the students’ research on the First World War and Reading, also invited members of the public to bring their WW1 documents, photographs and artefacts and show them to the students and to a panel of experts, including John Chapman of the Trooper Potts Memorial Trust (pictured).

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Of course, as can be seen in this photograph, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to display the Memorial Book and objects dating from the First World War in the MERL collections during the event.

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The Memorial Book is just one of the artefacts which has been selected for display in a free exhibition,  Reading University College: WW1 and Beyond, one of the highlights of the Reading Connections WW1 project. The exhibition was installed yesterday and, as with all installations, involved many hands on deck. The photographs below include Danni Mills (Reading Connections Digitisation and Data Officer) adding the final touches to the displays.

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Reading University College: WW1 and Beyond opened today and will remain on display until the 1st August in the MERL Staircase Hall. Its main focus is the University’s Memorial Book which features those individuals who had connections to the then Reading University College who lost their lives in the First World War. That said, it is a display which also examines how our collections relate to other conflicts. Among the more surprising and remarkable objects on display are a selection of tiles from Hiroshima which were donated to Special Collections in 2011.

Throughout the exhibition’s duration, our appeal to find out more about those individuals who feature in the Memorial Book still continues. Our appeal launched last Autumn and asks for the public to look at our flickr site where all of the individuals in the Memorial Book are featured and, if they can, to provide information on them. To access our flickr site please click here.

 

Phillippa Heath

Reading Connections Digital and On-line Engagement Officer.