Each month we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees. Today we see Louise Turner, trainee with the Costume and Textiles Department.
Unbelievably, we are now in the eighth month of our traineeships, and as next year’s positions are advertised, I think we are all feeling both reflective and conscious of making the most of our remaining time. So a good juncture for a blog post.
I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity and value everyday for its diversity, uniqueness, and privilege. Choosing my best bits has therefore been tricky, so here are just a few of the highlights of my role…
I’ll start with the most obvious, working with the fantastic Costume and Textiles (C&T) collection. I was recently asked to choose a favourite object and found the task almost impossible. The department looks after some, what might be termed, ‘star’ items. A bodice worn by Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria’s stockings, exquisitely embroidered medieval church textiles, and male costume worn to the Coronation of George IV, can all be found in the C&T stores. But the more everyday objects have just as fascinating and poignant stories to tell. A set of 3 samplers, which may have the appearance of typical works of memorial from the early 1800s, but which are actually a painstaking exercise in remembrance and tell the tale of a girl who in a period of only 7 years, and by the age of 20, had lost her mother, uncle, and father, is just one example. The library is also a treasure trove of resources, including a large collection of vintage Vogues.
As the Costume and Textile collection is in the main a stored collection, a large part of the work of the department and my role is to facilitate access to objects in ways other than display. Monthly Talking Textile events, themed object handling sessions, are always a sell-out and it’s really rewarding to enable people to learn about, and look in detail at, items from the collection and to see them so engaged by them. I will be leading an underwear themed session, entitled ‘Brief Encounters’ (we love a pun), in February. Tours of the stores are also a valuable way to increase awareness of the collection and I will never get bored with showing visitors around the C&T store rooms (which are a museum geek’s dream in terms of their organisation).
I have also been fortunate enough that my time here has fallen at the same time as a redisplay of the costume in the Arts of Living Gallery in the Castle. As part of my involvement with this, I was lucky enough to spend some time with our Textile Conservator as she mounted the costume ready for display. It’s amazing how much time, work and skill goes into what’s happening underneath the clothing to get that all important silhouette.
But it’s not all glamour. I have also been dressed in lowly Medieval garb (replica, she adds quickly) whilst working with the Castle learning team, removed spiders from blunder traps as part of pest management, and donned a Tyvek suit for the annual Gressenhall Superstore deep clean. And I have loved it all. Which brings me onto our trainee development programme. As much as I enjoy working with the C&T department, I really look forward to our weekly training sessions. From the demystification of Archaeology and Natural History, to discovering the many wonders of Norfolk’s independent museums and the poignancy of becoming Dementia friendly, the breadth and worth of the programme is vast. Having the support and friendship of the other trainees and being able to chat about what you’ve been up to that week is also incredibly valuable. Similarly, everyone throughout Norfolk Museums Service, whether those I work with on a daily basis, including our wonderful team of volunteers, or members of staff from across the diverse departments, have been encouraging and generous with their time and knowledge.
There are some exciting projects coming up in the next few months so there is still much to look forward to, including our Fashion and Passion event where the C&T department take over the Castle for the day. But I’d just like to finish with a note of encouragement to anyone who may be considering applying for the trainee programme. The Teaching Museum scheme is everything you think it will be, hope it might be, and everything you hadn’t even considered.