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Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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The Marvellous Captain Manby

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by Andy Bowen, Costume & Textiles Trainee

Some time ago I was offered the opportunity to take part in the lunchtime talks programme at Time and Tide in Great Yarmouth, and when asked to come up with a subject for my talk there was only ever really one choice. It would be fair to say that my traineeship has been fairly Nelson-centric (that tends to happen when you work on a major summer exhibition called Nelson & Norfolk), but for this talk I decided to focus on one of Norfolk’s lesser known maritime figures.

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‘Portrait of Captain George William Manby (1765-1854)’ by John Philip Davis

I first heard of Captain George William Manby a few years ago when he was featured in the BBC series Shipwrecks: Britain’s Sunken History presented by Dr Sam Willis. On 18th February 1807, Manby witnessed the scene as the naval gun brig Snipe ran aground just off the coast of Great Yarmouth. The stricken ship was less than 100 yards from shore, but the crashing waves near the ship made it impossible for boats from shore to reach the desperate crew. 67 lives were lost that day, and Manby resolved to come up with a device that would help to provide assistance to crews of wrecked ships in future.

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The ‘Manby Mortar’

The result of Manby’s efforts was the ‘Manby Mortar’: a line-throwing device which would allow a light rope to be fired over the rigging of the stricken ship. The smaller line could then be used by the crew of the stranded vessel to haul across heavier lines, which could then be used as a means of evacuating survivors by either boat or harness. On the night of 12th February 1808, almost a year after Manby witnessed the tragedy of the Snipe, his apparatus was used to rescue 7 seamen from the brig Elizabeth just off the coast of Great Yarmouth.

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The ‘Manby Mortar’ in action

The mortar was just one of Manby’s inventions, with his other ideas ranging from an unsinkable boat to the first pressurised fire extinguisher. His life outside of his many inventions was also far from dull, with Manby surviving at least two attempts on his life and meeting with royalty on several occasions. Ultimately he never achieved the recognition he felt he deserved. In retirement, Manby moved into his basement and converted his house into a museum of Nelson memorabilia. When Manby died on 18th November 1854, he was found alone in the chair in his living room looking out at the sea which had inspired his greatest invention.

To find out more about Captain Manby, come along to my talk at Time and Tide, Great Yarmouth on Friday 3rd November 2017 at 11.30. £3 entry (talk only) or £1.95 for Norfolk Museums Pass holders. Booking essential. Click here for further details.

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From Nelson’s hat to Queen Victoria’s slippers, this is no ordinary job

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Helping run a pop-up museum in Brampton as part of the ’12 Towers Festival’

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.

Today we see Andy Bowen, trainee with the Costume & Textiles section.

As I write this blog, I’m just over two months into my traineeship and still being surprised by the things I see from day to day. The Costume & Textile collection at the Norwich Castle Study Centre contains all manner of objects ranging from parkas to pie frills!

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Nelson’s Nile Hat

My favourite object was also one of the first I got to see close-up. We are extremely fortunate to have the hat that was worn by Admiral Lord Nelson during the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and that featured in the portrait of Nelson painted by William Beechey in 1801. Right at the start of my traineeship I was able to see the hat uncased and up close, and it was at that point that I knew for certain that this would be unlike any other job I’d had before.

 

The hat – along with the Beechey portrait of Nelson in which it features – will be included in Norwich Castle’s summer exhibition Nelson & Norfolk which is open between 29th July and 1st October 2017. I’ve been really privileged to be able to join the Costume & Textiles team in the build up to such an exciting exhibition, and we really can’t wait to showcase the amazing Nelson objects we have in our collections as well as some really exciting loan items.

The largest object in the exhibition – in fact the largest object in our collections – is the battle ensign of the French warship Le Généreux. Measuring 16 metres long and 8.3 metres high, this huge French flag was captured by a British naval squadron led by Nelson in February 1800 when they forced the surrender of the French ship. Captain Sir Edward Berry – a Norfolk man – was in command of Nelson’s flagship HMS Foudroyant, and sent the flag to Norwich as a gift in thanks for the freedom of the city he had received the previous year. The flag itself needs to be seen to be believed, and the only place to really grasp the full scale of this magnificent object will be at Norwich Castle this summer.

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The ensign of Le Généreux in St Andrew’s Hall, October 2016

My contributions to the exhibition have ranged from setting up and sourcing content for the exhibition blog through to having the opportunity to visit the National Archives at Kew in order to find out more about what happened to Le Génereux after she was captured in 1800. I have also worked with the Display and Learning teams on designing the interactive elements of Nelson & Norfolk.

 

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Queen Victoria’s slippers

Alongside Nelson & Norfolk there is still the everyday business of a Costume and Textiles department to keep us (even more) busy. I have assisted with the preparation and delivery of Talking Textiles sessions, which involve members of the public coming in to the Norwich Castle Study Centre to look at specially selected items from our collections. I also respond to enquiries from researchers eager to know more about the objects we look after: one enquiry in particular related to a pair of Queen Victoria’s slippers!

 

As well as my fantastic day job, I also get to attend museum skills training with my fellow trainees once a week. These sessions have included introductions to collections management and conservation, and practical sessions on object photography. We’ve also been learning about the history of museums in a programme of Understanding Museums sessions which included visiting the amazing 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum near Diss, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in military history.

 

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Trainees with staff from 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum

Over the next few months I will be continuing with my work supporting Nelson & Norfolk, including assisting with the installation of over 150 objects including a flag the size of a tennis court. I’ll also be assisting our volunteers with recording and cataloguing recently donated items, and coming up with improved ways of arranging our library and resource area. All I can say is that if the remaining 10 months of this traineeship are anything like the first 2, it’s going to be a fantastic year!

‘Nelson & Norfolk’ is open at the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 29th July-1st October. For more information visit http://nelsonandnorfolk.wordpress.com


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Brueghel; Defining a Dynasty

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.

Today we see Freya Monk-McGowan, trainee with the Collections Management section.

Hello all! My name is Freya and I’m one of the newest trainees within Norfolk Museum Services, I am also a new arrival to Norfolk itself, so have been taking my time settling in and getting to know my new surroundings. My apologies for not writing sooner, but I must admit that my mind has been exploding and imploding from the utter amazement of the position I find myself in, and the exciting things I get to do within this traineeship. As this is my first blog post, I will give a short introduction to myself and how I came to be here, as well as one of my most recent achievements within the service.

I graduated in 2015 from Brighton University with a History, Literature and Culture BA Hons, after which I moved home and found myself managing a cinema for just under a year. Although an exciting and educational experience, I realised that my passion for history and culture was not being completely fulfilled, so I spent a while sending out a whole host of applications, but having only studied to an undergraduate level, I was not qualified for most museum jobs. So began my applications for internships and traineeships, I was lucky enough to get onto Culture &’s SOCL traineeship (Strengthening Our Common Life), based here at Norfolk Museum Service, and the rest (as they say) ‘is history.’

Since then, my traineeship has been a bit of a whirlwind, within a few days I was being let loose on objects hundreds of years old, and being involved in training sessions, with my fellow trainees, about aspects of the museum service that I had frankly given no consideration before. (I must clarify that my term ‘let loose’ here refers only to my excitement, there was of course training before I was allowed to handle any objects.) So far, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in training sessions on Community Engagement, Improving Access to Museums, Marketing, Working with Display Teams, and a whole host more!

By far however, one of the most exciting (and nerve-racking) things that I have been asked to do (apart from being asked to go on the radio later this year, updates will follow), was being asked to courier an object that was going out on loan. As seems to be the case for me currently, it was serendipitous and a complete surprise – due to calendar clashes and a few lucky (for me) cross-overs, I was asked in the third week of January to do a courier trip to the Holburne Museum in Bath. Although having visited Bath when I was younger, I had not much recollection of the place, and was excited to go. My excitement grew evermore as I was told exactly what object I would be taking.

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Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Rent Collectors 1618 (also known as The Payment of the Tithes, Village Lawyer, and Paying the Tax – The Tax Collector).

When this was confirmed my excitement could barely be contained. As well as the nerves/doubts of the dreaded ‘what if.’ However, my nerves being set aside, I began planning for the trip by getting a foundational knowledge of the procedures of loaning to another museum, the different job roles that are necessary, and getting my head around the scale of work involved when putting on an exhibition that is made up of mainly of borrowed works.

The Holburne Museum in Bath is bringing together a range of paintings from across the UK, for the first time, in order to display the dynasty of the Brueghel family. This will give the viewer an ability to see the similarities between the artists, yes, but also their differences. The ways in which they were influenced, but by no means the way they ‘copied’ on from one another (- a critique of the family that has been repeated over the centuries). The exhibition itself is ambitious and exciting, and definitely one worth visiting.

The next part of my preparation involved actually coming face-to-paint with this piece (-yay!). Myself and a colleague (Fiona Ford, registrar) visited the piece in store, in order to review the condition check before packing. This is done so that we can keep an eye on the condition of the painting before and after transit to Bath, before and after the exhibition, and before and after it has gone on loan and been returned. It was during this condition check that I really got the chance to indulge in the piece. This painting really does demand attention – it requires the viewer to attend for a lengthy period of time, and will not let you leave easily. I found myself (four hours later) still finding aspects of it that I had not thought of before, and if you will, dear reader, let me share those with you.

(I hasten to add that although I am an art lover, I have not studied art, in the practical sense, academically. I say this in order to allow myself room for error, and to allow others who are similar (-having not studied art), to engage, agree/disagree with me on my findings.)

As with most pieces of art, this painting asks more questions than it answers. And with its different names, the meaning behind it is enigmatic.

If, for example, we take the name of this piece as ‘The Rent Collector’ we are positioned to assume that the man far right, with his jauntily placed black hat and thoughtful expression, is there in an official capacity. He is there merely to collect these poor wretches ever-so-dear ‘rent’. As we can see, all are attempting to pay with everything that is not money: a chicken, a basket of eggs, a bunch of grapes. This therefore makes the painting both dark and harrowing – these people that have no money for rent, are now handing over their precious food stuffs, to leave (we assume) to hunger, and a life not made much better by this moment.

If, however, we take a different name for this piece, and instead assume that it is titled ‘Village Lawyer,’ the man in the black hat becomes less of a dark presence within the piece, and instead is a welcome relief to those clutching their food within.

This title encourages us to focus on this encounter closer:

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The man seen pointing and whispering into Black Hat’s ear, we can assume is a peasant, with his clothes filled with patches, and his tanned skin. The expression, and meaning, of ‘Black Hat,’ who I assume to be the Village Lawyer in this scene, changes with the title. Instead of a discerning, prudent and imposing presence, he becomes a wily, (seemingly) intelligent lawyer attempting to work through tons of paperwork in what I can only assume to be a helpful way. The total scene shifts and my focus moves from ‘Black Hat’ (or lawyer), to the man sitting slightly left of centre, quietly working through papers.

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This man now becomes the official figure, there to record the present scene, but who does not seem a helpful or welcome presence by his fellow characters. I presume this from the wide berth given to him, the clear sight-line we are afforded to stare at him, and also the emotions of the surrounding figures. If we look closely (and use a wild leap of imagination) we can see that those nearest to this gentlemen hold expressions of:

Sadness

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Anger

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And in other cases, seem to hide altogether:

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Now, that is not to say that all the rest of the people in the scene look wildly happy to be there, but if we focus again on the man talking to ‘Black-Hat’ (-I like the name, so will continue using it):

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Although it does feel that there is desperation in his face, I can see, dare I say it, some excitement there. Maybe at the possibility of paying less, getting off, or some of other positive possibility from speaking to ‘Black-Hat.’

Of course all of these opinions and assumptions are my own, and you are welcome to agree or disagree depending on yours. I cannot help but feel that this is exactly what we are encouraged to do by this painting, and whether you are a lover of art, or not, I believe this painting does encourage contemplation.

Even if this is not the case for every viewer, the painting (/painter) offers us another opportunity – of reveling in his ability to capture the likeness of both people and inanimate objects. I must admit that I got quite obsessed at the smallest parts of this piece. For example:

This window, and its peeling panes.

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This perfectly painted knee.

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And the numerous images of papers strewn all over the floor, piled high over wardrobes, and even stuck into window panes.

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This painting, encourages the novice and the experienced viewer to search within, and then again, and then again (a similarity that is shared throughout the dynasty).

My advice for those visiting the Holburne to see this exhibition, take nothing with you but time.

I feel I have gone off topic (only slightly) with my musings of the painting itself. Back to the actual trip.

After agreeing with the condition check, getting all the relevant paperwork (loan agreement, my travel documents, the condition check, etc) in order, picking up some conservation tools (to check light levels, humidity and temperature), and packing my things, I was ready to go. The next day, the painting and I, were picked up from Norwich castle by professional art movers, and were safely packed away for the drive to Bath (stopping at Cambridge along the way to pick up another piece). Arriving at the Holburne that evening, we met with one of the curators of the exhibition and the director of the museum. We discussed the movements of the crates, and began. We unloaded the van (I say we, I did literally no heavy lifting), and moved the crates upstairs to be safely stored away for the evening, and the whole next day. As this piece was painted on a wooden panel it needed a ‘rest day’ to acclimatise to its new temperature, and humidity. This gave me the opportunity to explore Bath for a day, and visit a total of 5 museums/art galleries, which I would be happy to write on although possibly not in this piece.

After its rest day, I arrived again at the Holburne to see it’s unwrapping, and its installation – this really was the exciting bit. The exhibition space is well designed and engaging, with muted colours on the walls that highlight the rich colours found within the Brueghel’s themselves.

After taking it out of its case, and double checking the eye-line and its straightness, the freelance art technicians fixed it to the wall, and we all (6-7 of us), stood back to admire this piece once again.

I really cannot explain how exhilarating it was to be involved in this piece being put on show within such a fantastic museum, nor such an exciting show. I couldn’t help but imagine the hundreds (and hopefully thousands) of people who stand where I was then, contemplating the same piece and having an infinite amount of different thoughts when staring at it.

I really do count myself lucky to have been involved in such a moment, for that I am extremely grateful, to Norfolk Museum Services Teaching Museum, to Culture &, and to the Holburne itself. Good luck, and I hope this exhibition brings in all the attention it deserves.


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Sharing a Passion: Ted Ellis

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.

Today we see John Holdaway, trainee with the Natural History section.

Back in the summer of 2016, I was kindly asked by Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth, to present a talk as part of their excellent Friday talks programme. I was given the date of 3rd March 2017, which at the time seemed a long way off, but as I write this, it’s only a few weeks away!

Deciding on a subject to talk about was a hard choice. Over the past 10 months, I’ve had the privilege to work with a collection that holds over a million objects, ranging in ages from decades to well over 100 million years old. But narrowing it down to one single object to talk about for 60 minutes felt a hugely daunting task. After pondering on choices for a while, I stumbled upon the idea of not actually presenting a talk on an object, but instead, on a person. And a hugely influential figure, personality and visionary within the history of the Natural History department here at Norfolk Museums Service, was Ted Ellis.

Ted was employed by Norwich Castle Museum as ‘Natural History Assistant’ in 1928 at the age of 19, and presented at his interview a collection of his own ‘Nature Notebooks’ that he had kept from a young age. These had captured, in amazing detail, what he had observed on his many nature walks around Great Yarmouth and many other parts of Norfolk. We are very lucky to have many of these notebooks in the collection. Some of the colourful drawings of birds, wildlife and botany are truly wonderful, and show a young man with a real passion for nature, doing what he loved.

Ted Ellis in is natural habitat

Ted Ellis in his natural habitat

 

One of Ted's many 'Nature Notebooks'

One of Ted’s many ‘Nature Notebooks’

 

One of Ted's many 'Nature Notebooks'

Amazing detail of Ted’s ‘Nature Notebooks’

In time, Ted became ‘Keeper of Natural History’, and one of his many lasting legacies here at Norwich Castle Museum, is of course, the ‘Ted Ellis Norfolk Room’. In America during the 1930s, old-style cases which contained row-upon-row of taxidermy were starting to be replaced by a new type of 3D vista, where nature that would usually occur together in the wild, was depicted in a natural-looking setting. Ted was the driving force behind designing and building Norwich Castle’s very-own set of dioramas, regarded at the time as the best in the world, and still well-respected to this day due to their attention to detail and accuracy.

Each scene depicts a different part of Norfolk, and contains birds, botany and landscapes unique to that area. Being a Breckland boy living in Norwich, it always warms my heart seeing the Stone Curlews, meres, gorse, sandy heaths, endless skies, and the belts of twisted Scots Pines that the Breckland landscape is so famous for.

The Breckland landscape in the Ted Ellis Norfolk Room at Norwich Castle Museum

The Breckland landscape in the Ted Ellis Norfolk Room at Norwich Castle Museum

 

A young Ted Ellis, and me

A young Ted Ellis, and me

Although Ted entered the professional museum world under the instruction and guidance of late Victorian and Edwardian curators, he was part of the new breed of museum professionals, tasked with evolving the museum world from their Victorian ‘curiosity’ obsessions, towards museums representing their local communities.

In this way, I can relate this to my own introduction into the world of museums. I spent 15 years working in the logistics sector, a role I never really enjoyed. I’d always had a passion for history and heritage, and to take the big jump into the museum world was never money or job-security motivated, it was purely down to wanting to share my passion with as many people as I could, and to make new memories, just as my trips to museums as a child did for me. Obviously, the heritage sector is ever changing, and through my traineeship, I have been able to draw on the experience and knowledge on some of the most forward-thinking and experienced characters within the sector. It is nearly time for me to push on with what I have learnt and to make my own mark, just as Ted Ellis did during his time at the museum. He learnt from the best at the time, and used that to springboard his own ideas. A testament to his passion and skill is that his work, including the dioramas, are still admired over 80 years since their creation.

Ted was a man who wanted to share his passion with as many people as possible, and I’ve also been able to do that over the last 10 months. And long may it continue, wherever my next chapter may take me.

If you’d like to hear more about Ted’s time at Norwich Castle Museum, see details about my talk through this link: https://www.facebook.com/events/327175364300893/?active_tab=about


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Women Leading The Field

Each month we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees. Today we see Jen Hooker, Business Development trainee at Norwich Castle.

The start of a new year is often the time to look ahead to what is coming up, break bad habits, make resolutions and initiate change (easier said than done). However, it only feels natural to begin this blog entry with a reflection of my time spent as the business development trainee in 2016 and to follow in the footsteps of my fellow trainee cohort who have all written beautifully about what our traineeship programme has exposed us to in terms of experience across the museum sector. Hence the picture of the horse below which you might wonder how it is relevant – we had the privilege of visiting the newly opened National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art in November as part of the 6th annual SHARE conference.

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When I arrived on my first day back in April, there was an exciting sense of the unexpected – the journey that I was about to take and the doors of opportunity that it would open along the way. The one thing that I didn’t expect was the amount of responsibility and experience that would be gifted to myself over the next 12 months. Not a single day has gone by since starting my role where I haven’t left work thinking, ‘wow I love what I do’ and appreciate the role that museums play in educating and engaging audiences. Working in a museum beats my old office job any day, and having the chance to work in an environment that both opens up collections and displays exhibitions to people in Norfolk is something that I once dreamt of.

Speaking of exhibitions and what I really wanted to write my blog on is Olive Edis. For those of you who stil haven’t visited our Fishermen & Kings exhibition at Norwich Castle (tut), you’ve got until the 22nd January – naturally plugging and promoting exhibitions and events has been a key part of my job role over the last 9 months. There are many reasons why I wish to focus my blog on the incredible woman and it only seems right to talk about something that got me excited from day one when I heard that a photography exhibition was coming to Norwich Castle. If I was to say just one thing about the work of Olive Edis, it would be the following quote made by herself in the New York Evening World in 1920:

“I believe a photograph should represent truthfully the subject at his or her most attractive moment. I have never yet found a human being who did have such a moment”

For those familiar with her work, it can be argued that there is not one photograph that doesn’t show that ‘moment’ in the exhibition. A wonderfully curated exhibition that highlights and informs of the areas in which Olive succeeded so well; famous sitters, studio techniques, fisherfolk, influential women and the First World War. For those unfamiliar with who Olive was and what she photographed – much like myself before I met with Alistair (curator) and Liz (project assistant) to learn more – the quote offers a hook and teaser for what is to be expected and what is confirmed when you see her photographs.

 

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Olive saw photography as a career and not a hobby and that is one of the things that I admire about her most. She knew that in order to make it, she would have to be focused and a modern business woman. Olive was gifted her first camera in 1900 by her cousin Caroline Murray and the early signs that she was going to succeed are evidenced by the fact that she won a gold medal for her colour photos that she entered into a Royal Photographic Society competition in 1913. A trailblazer who established a career in a traditionally male dominated field when it was unusual for women to even have a profession, she was at the centre of many important events in the early 20th century; including the Suffragette movement and World War One. Often one can talk of heroes or role models, and I hadn’t really considered myself to have a heroine, however I now realise that it was because I was yet to discover Olive Edis. Having studied photography at university, it is a practice that I have a specialist knowledge and passion for, and so discovering a woman who not only contributed in changing the attitudes towards photography as a career practice but also had such a talent and ability to capture the soul of a human being within a single frame presents no reason why she should not be a figure to look up to.

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Even her self-portraits reflect her ability to capture her subject at ease – controlling the set-up but without being the intimidating artist. Perhaps it is most evident in her local fisherfolk images, where the phrase twinkle in the eye becomes true. Edis gave the fisherfolk their own identity, each has a name; Charlie Grice, Belcher Johnson and Latter Day Cox are just a few to name. Olive presents the fishermen of Cromer and Sheringham in the same way as the kings and royalty, a bold statement in which her style implies no distinction between status, wealth and education.

One thing that emerges from the work of Olive Edis, is how willing her subjects were to let her into their homes and environment to photograph. Even during the days of the First World War in which she risked her own safety by travelling to Europe to document the action on the front line.

2Her photographs of the hospitals and army auxillary camps present a feeling of her being welcomed in – allowed in to see the damage and wreckage that had been caused by the war. Where her photographs reflect the catastrophe caused by the war, Olive is very much a part of it; not a snooper, hiding behind the scenes trying to capture a snapshot, but the photographer documenting the war and of course she was the only official female war photographer. She even worked with a broken camera at the first canteen she visited, the gaping hole from the smashed focusing screen didn’t stop her photographing – a true testament to her self-confidence and ambition.

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The power that a museum collection has to tell stories like that of Olive Edis’ is something that is truly amazing, especially knowing that the Fishermen & Kings exhibition will raise the profile of Olive Edis and see her name become more recognisable. Our collection holds over 2000 images made up of prints, glass plate negatives and auto chromes from Edis’ studios and having made these more accessible through digitisation, an exhibition, a publication, re-displays (Cromer Museum) and a travelling exhibition, it highlights the potential for audiences to be educated and inspired, at present and in the future. I will leave you with one departing thought in that I hope that our local lady, Olive Edis will be a heroine for others too and that her courage, motivation and talent will inspire us to give it our best shot at making it in the world, whether doing our dream job or not.

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(Black & white print of Olive Edis by Cyril Nunn, 1953-4. This is the last photo of her taken before her death)