Collecting Cultures

You are currently browsing articles tagged Collecting Cultures.

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!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We’re now nine months into the Sense of Place project, and time is certainly flying by. As we’re getting to know the MERL collections better we’ve been getting involved in wider work within the Museum, on top of our day to day cataloguing work, so I thought it was time for another update on ‘What did you do at work today?’. See here and here for previous posts on this topic.

Enquiries

Over the past few weeks, Felicity and I have been taking on more of the object-based enquiries that MERL receives. These include requests to identify mystery objects, looking to see if we have particular objects in the museum, and handling offers of objects to the Museum. Enquiries really show how useful having a thorough online catalogue is, and what a difference it can make to the day to day work of museum staff. It’s so much easier to answer an enquiry when you can search on the catalogue and know that any information the Museum holds about that object will be there. Unfortunately for us, there are still large chunks of the collection waiting to be catalogued, so you can’t guarantee that searching on Adlib will bring up everything you’re looking for. This means that there’s still quite a lot of rummaging in files to do.

Exhibitions

This Lilliput Lane model was purchased as part of the Collecting Cultures project and was photographed recently for use on an exhibition banner.

We’ve also been getting some experience on putting together a loan exhibition based on the objects collected by MERL as part of the Collecting 20th Century Rural Culture project. Danielle wrote in a previous post about the cataloguing work we’ve been doing on this material, and the differences we’ve noticed in cataloguing context-rich, information heavy recent acquisitions compared with older material with very little or no information in the accession records. It took us nearly two months to catalogue the 350–400 objects. Since finishing the cataloguing we’ve been spending a bit of time identifying objects to be photographed, developing themes for the exhibition, drafting text and choosing images, sorting out copyright issues, and arranging objects to be loaned.

The Berkshire Show

The University of Reading stand at the Berkshire Show

I think by far the most unusual thing we’ve done recently is to dress up as milkmaids and milk a wooden cow at the Royal County of Berkshire Show. The University of Reading had a stand on the theme of dairying and cheese production, with a wide variety of activities for children and adults alike. The Guernsey cow was painted by MERL’s Gallery Assistant, Morryce Maddams, and had a realistic udder mechanism for children to have a go at milking a cow (and many of them were far better than us). There were cheese and yoghurt samples made at the University’s Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, a cheese-making demonstration, a ‘battle of the bacteria’ activity where children were making plasticine bacteria, an art activity making butter print designs (based on those in the Museum), and a smoothie bike. We had a great day, even if we did feel a bit foolish in the outfit, and to cap it off the stand won two first prizes!

Felicity posing on her milking stool.

Cataloguing

We’re still ploughing our way through the cataloguing, and have reached a total of 7500 enhanced records. Now that we’ve finished the Collecting Cultures cataloguing (2008–2011), we’re finishing 2006–2007 and then going back to 1956 to carry on with the chronological cataloguing. We’re also hoping to make a start in the next few weeks on accessioning some of the material that has come into the Museum over the past few months. So there are plenty of things to keep us occupied, and plenty of variety to keep the project interesting.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been following a series of blog posts by the artist Justin Partyka, which relate to photographic work he has been commissioned by the museum to undertake as part of Project Berkshire. Here Justin writes about the dramatic variations in landscape on a journey from his current fieldwork site in Berkshire back to his home in East Anglia. Justin has, of course, been getting out of his car to explore the countryside in a more direct way. Nevertheless, all of his explorations necessarily begin and end with this road-based perspective on our rural surroundings. Justin’s words hint at the valuable role that highways, byways, and other route-based means of traversing the countryside can play in the construction of ideas about place.

These themes form the backbone of various pieces of recent research activity, which variously link to the commuter experience, and to the abstracted conception of place that may be seen to emerge from such perspectives. Examples of this that the museum has become aware of over the last couple of years include the work of artist Felicity Ford which seeks to interpret the A4074 route between Oxford and Reading through the medium of sound, the PhD research of Rosie Emeny relating to how people experience the countryside from the confines of their car, and a whole series of artefacts acquired through the museum’s ongoing Heritage Lottery Fund project Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures.

Jigsaw puzzle depicting motorway

Jigsaw puzzle depicting a motorway

I think there may be some value in thinking about how museum objects may connect to such routes, or how such routes might form a useful platform for building links between collections and audiences. I commute by train through the varied landscape between Oxford and Reading. I often wonder what items there are amongst the collections I work with that either stem from or connect to the many different places I see each day I travel along this route.

Tags: , , , , , , ,