Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures

News and updates about the Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures project.

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The day has finally come when I have to say goodbye to MERL. I’ve been here for nearly three years and have loved absolutely every minute of it – it really has been a dream job!!! And, in all honesty, I think I can say that there’s only been one day when I wasn’t looking forward to going in – which is pretty good going! MERL has been wonderful place to work (largely thanks to my amazing colleagues and volunteers, and the fantastic Felicity in particular) and I’ve loved all of the different things I’ve been involved in – the various projects, the events, meeting visiting researchers, and trying to convince everyone that baskets are the Best Thing Ever!

The thought of leaving MERL and all my beloved craft collections (especially the baskets) is absolutely heart-breaking, but at the same time I’m really looking forward to my new adventures at the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. But my departure from MERL certainly isn’t an end to my love affair with craft – I’ll be carrying on as a trustee of the Heritage Crafts Association and will hopefully continue to try my hand at lots of crafts.

Thanks everyone!

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skills

On Wednesday 24 April 2013 we’re holding a Skills Sharing Day at MERL to discuss some of the recent collections development projects which have been taking place at MERL. This includes some of the projects we’ve been working on and blogging about over the past year – A Sense of Place, Collecting Rural Cultures and Countryside21. The day offers a unique opportunity to hear more about these projects and help us shape our future displays.

Please get in touch if you are interested in attending and would like to find out more.

 

Outline programme for the day

10.30: Arrival, registration, and coffee

11.00: Welcome and introduction to the day

11.15 Collecting Rural Cultures – case study and discussion

11.45 A Sense of Place – case study and discussion

12.15 Countryside21 – case study and discussion

12.45 Lunch and opportunity to view online resources, a selection of recent acquisitions and the current museum galleries

13.45 Our Country Lives – an introduction to key themes outlines in the Museum’s Round One bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund followed by facilitated discussion

14.45 Closing remarks and tea

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One of the QR codes (bottom left) in position at MEAL, linking to a clip from ‘The Darling Buds of May’.

As Felicity is busy working on other things this week, I thought I would attempt to write a post about the use of QR codes at the I Spy the Countryside exhibition at the Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL) in Stowmarket, which we visited last week. Being a bit of a technophobe, this post won’t dwell too much on the technical issues related to using QR codes.

The exhibition was installed in two rooms in the newly-opened Abbots Hall at MEAL. The frequent use of QR codes was one of the first things we noticed when looking around Abbots Hall, and there were also several in the exhibition. Having given quite a bit of thought to the use of QR codes over the past few months, we were interested to see how they were being used at MEAL.

So, what did the QR codes in I Spy the Countryside point to? Most of them pointed to videos relating to the objects they were positioned next to, such as the trailer for the film Withnail and I next to the film poster, and a clip from the first episode of The Darling Buds of May next to a blazer worn by David Jason as Pop Larkin in the TV series. What was perhaps most intriguing was the QR code next to the Introductory Panel linking to an I Spy the Countryside Spotify playlist. Unfortunately I didn’t have any 3G signal at MEAL so I took photos of all the QR codes, uploaded them to the computer and have been scanning the codes back in the office (where 3G/wireless signal is also pretty unreliable).

This was very different from the way we’ve tried to use QR codes at MERL, which link back to the online catalogue to provide more information about the objects displayed in a particular case in the gallery. Having not been able to access the content while at MEAL, I can’t really tell how the use of QR codes affected my experience of the exhibition, but it did make me think. Would watching videos/listening to music have enhanced my experience of the exhibition? How would it have affected my understanding of the objects on display? Would I have spent more time watching/listening to things rather than looking at the objects – and does that matter? Would I have enjoyed the videos/music more or less if I watched/listened to them while looking at the exhibition rather than at home? How were the QR codes intended to be used? Are people without smartphones/QR readers missing out? How was the content chosen for the QR codes, and who chose it? Are the QR codes checked regularly to ensure that the content hasn’t been removed from the internet (as videos are often take down due to copyright issues)? Does this technology enable new interactions between the museum and the visitor – e.g. could the playlist be changed each month in response to suggestions from visitors (visitors were able to make suggestions for contemporary collecting)? How many people have been using the QR codes and what has the response been?

There’s certainly a lot to think about when using QR codes in museums, and perhaps we should be experimenting with different types of content at MERL. If you’ve visited I Spy the Countryside, what did you think of the QR codes? Would you like to see them used at MERL and, if so, how?

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Welcome to the exhibition!

Last Friday we visited the Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL) in Stowmarket for the opening of their new temporary exhibition, I Spy the Countryside. This is MEAL’s incarnation of a loan exhibition put together by MERL called Collecting 20th century rural cultures.

The introductory banner – one of six banners put together by MERL as part of the ‘Collecting 20th century rural cultures’ exhibition which are available for loan.

The Collecting 20th century rural cultures project at MERL, which ran from 2008, aimed to acquire objects which build a picture of the English countryside in the twentieth century. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures initiative. Over 400 objects were collected during the project – you can read about many of them on the project’s blog. Unlike previous collecting at MERL, which has focused largely on the story of rural technology and crafts, these objects have a more tangential connection to the countryside, exploring representations and perceptions about rural places and people.

One of the major outcomes of the project was a temporary exhibition which can be loaned to other museums and institutions. This exhibition, put together by the Sense of Place team, brings together the objects collected during the project into five themes – rural and urban interactions, the countryside as inspiration, representations of the countryside, modernisation, and conflict. These are not definitive, but are the result of our own interpretations of the material that was collected.

Both MEAL and MERL are rural museums, and share many of the same issues in contemporary collecting. Like Collecting 20th century rural cultures, I Spy the Countryside aims to get people talking about the future of collecting in rural museums. Roy Brigden, who initiated the project at MERL, opened the exhibition and in his opening speech made an excellent point about who determines what museums collect – the donors, as many museums acquire what they are offered, rather than actively seeking objects.

Ele and Izzy, Collections Management and Interpretation Interns at MEAL, who’ve spent the past few weeks working on the exhibition.

 

I Spy the Countryside was installed in two rooms in the newly-opened Abbots Hall at MEAL. It consisted of the six banners from MERL, alongside nearly sixty objects loaned from MERL and some of MEAL’s own collections. The cataloguing work we did in the summer played an important role in enabling MEAL to select the objects they wished to borrow, as all the information we have about the objects was available to view on our online catalogue (type “collecting 20th” into the search box).  I really liked the very colourful and ‘full’ feeling the exhibition had, with the walls crammed with paintings and posters, many of which we’d never seen actually seen (as we spend most of our time working from the files). There were several QR codes scattered throughout the exhibition (which Felicity will blog about shortly) and I think it was a good opportunity to learn how similar museums are making use of this technology.

Many of the objects acquired by MERL were 2D – we think they look great packed together like this.

The chair on display in the background was made by Edward Gardiner for the Cragg Sisters’ tearooms in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. MEAL was pleased to welcome a former owner of the tearooms to the exhibition opening, who offered more contextual information about the chair.

I Spy the Countryside is on display at MEAL until March 2013. Collecting 20th century rural cultures is available for loan to other institutions – if you’re interested in borrowing it or would like more information, please contact us. And if you get a chance to visit the exhibition at MEAL, please comment on the blog and give us your feedback – we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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As mentioned in previous posts, the Sense of Place team have been cataloguing parts of the collection in a number of ways.  We have worked in a chronological order but we have also identified various defined collections to ensure that we can trial some outcomes of the project in a usable way.

Lately we have begun cataloguing some relatively recently acquired objects which has made a pleasant change for us. This material was actively collected as part of the Heritage Lottery funded Collecting 20th Century Rural Culture project which began in 2008 and still continues.  The purpose of the project was to acquire material that builds, decade by decade, a picture of the countryside in the twentieth century.  MERL has been looking for signal items that speak powerfully of their day and illustrate the wider cultural influence of the countryside on English society. There is another fantastic and informative blog on this project, written by Roy Brigden, which is still live on the MERL website, for you to catch up on.

These items could range from works of art that somehow express a mood of the time down to everyday objects that instantly connect with a particular era in the countryside. Perhaps it might be an object with a special story to tell, and an association with an event or a person. For each one, MERL would like to develop an expert narrative to place it in context and construct an overall story.  Many of the objects acquired are actually on permanent display in MERL right now.  Make sure you visit to take a look!

I just wanted to quickly share with you, something which I have been working on today, which beautifully demonstrates what we are trying to achieve with this project.  When we are tidying up the records, we are trying to add detailed geographical data into 3 specific fields of the database; place made, place used and place acquired.  Despite our desire to do this, it is rarely possible to complete all three fields and this is simply because the data is not there to find in the paper records.  In fact, this is the first time I personally have come across an example where I have been able to do so.

This poster from 1931 is advertising a sale at Manor Farm Redbourne, Lincolnshire.  Mr E. Owen Ayre’s lease has expired meaning that everything is up for sale, including all stock and equipment.  The date indicates that this may be due to the agricultural depression of the inter-war years.  Mr Ayre can’t be moving to another farm, because he’s selling all he has, nor is he handing over to a son, because the lease is not being renewed.

The poster was printed or made in Brigg, Lincolnshire, used at and around Manor Farm Redbourne, which according to the poster is 6 miles from Brigg and 17 miles from Lincoln, and acquired from an Antique shop in Bedale, North Yorkshire. We don’t have any information regarding where the poster may have been between 1931 and 2010, when it was acquired, but wouldn’t it be great to find out more!  Of course, if you know anything, do leave us a comment to fill in the gaps.