The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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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)

 

 

 

 


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Collecting in East Anglia

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Daisy, curatorial trainee in the Art Department at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. https://nmsteachingmuseum.wordpress.com/

We’re now over seven months into our traineeships and things are going very well here in the Art Department. My experiences have been varied, often challenging and always exciting; I visited Leeds Art Gallery for the opening of British Art Show 8 (opening in Norwich on 25th June 2016), delivered a training session to my fellow trainees on British Studio Ceramics, worked with volunteer Keith to photograph a large collection and dealt with a number of unique enquiries.

British Art Show 8

British Art Show 8: Caroline Achaintre, ‘Todo Custo’, 2015, Tufted Wool

It’s fair to say I’ve done a lot of interesting stuff. Most notable, perhaps, has been my contribution to the exhibition ‘Collecting in East Anglia’ which I helped my colleague Hannah Higham, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, curate and deliver. It’s been a multi-faceted process; exciting, challenging and the result of a cross-departmental effort.

Here’s how it went…

In July we created the long object list. The concept for the exhibition, which had been in the pipeline for some time, was focused on showcasing the museum’s recent acquisitions. I used Modes, our collections management system, to isolate paintings, prints and sculptures which had entered our collections in the last five years. Hannah and I talked about which to include and which to discount. Before long they formed natural groups, allowing us to explore another angle: how they came to be here. Were they bequests? Gifts from the artist? Or were they donated in lieu of inheritance tax?

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Our long list printed from Modes

With the long list complete, the Conservation team checked over the works and those deemed too delicate were mostly omitted, though some were remounted for display. Further curatorial considerations were discussed; do we need to show all four Cedric Morris drawings or will a pair represent the collection sufficiently? How will including a long term loan enhance the acquisitions story?

Having worked separately on accessioning a large collection of British Studio Ceramics, I was confident in curating a display to feature in the gallery. The pots had been acquired by bequest at the start of the year and up until then the museum had been less comprehensive in its collections of this kind. ‘Collecting in East Anglia’ presented the perfect opportunity to show them to the public.

Deciding what should go where...

Deciding what should go where…

We’d made our choices and were ready to begin researching for the label text. Hannah and I divided the works between us and I spent the following few weeks reading about Graham Sutherland’s thorn imagery, Walter Sickert’s relationship with Venice and the lifelong friendship of Cedric Morris and Lett Haines. Once we’d written, checked and edited our text I liaised with the Design team to have our labels produced.

Working on our labels

Working on our labels

We worked with our technicians to hang the works and with Building Services to configure the gallery lighting. It was quite a feat getting the lighting just right on the glass tower case but I love how it casts these subtle shadows on the wall behind:

I selected 15 pots to show a range of potters, glazes, techniques and object types

I selected 15 pots to show a range of potters, glazes, techniques and object types

I'm holding a light meter here - the lux level for this oil painting should be no more than 250

I’m holding a light meter here – the lux level for this oil painting should be no more than 250

Installation was great fun; it was exciting to be in the thick of it, to see our plans realised on the walls around us. It was a particularly special moment when the beautiful Barbara Hepworth sculpture (on loan from a private collection), arrived on site and was slowly hoisted into place. It has recently been restored in the Conservation Lab at Gressenhall and now sits centre-stage in the gallery.

Navigating the bronze Barbara Hepworth sculpture through the museum

Navigating the bronze Barbara Hepworth sculpture through the museum

Overall, this has been a fantastic project. I’ve learnt a lot and am both proud of the outcome and grateful to have been involved from start to finish. ‘Collecting in East Anglia’ is now open in the Timothy Gurney Gallery at Norwich Castle and will be until May next year. I recommend a visit!

The final result!

The final result!


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Art at Norwich Castle

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Daisy, curatorial trainee in the Art Department at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. https://nmsteachingmuseum.wordpress.com/

First of all, there couldn’t have been a more exciting time to begin my traineeship than in the midst of the ARTIST ROOMS: Jeff Koons installation back in April. Koons is arguably one of the world’s most famous (and controversial!) artists of our time and here I was stood in the gallery watching the ‘inflatable’ caterpillar be unboxed. I still can’t believe it’s made of aluminium!

‘Caterpillar Chains’ – Jeff Koons

It’s an incredible privilege to be involved in such exciting, important projects. Being part of the Art and Exhibitions team, my work is always varied; I have dealt with object enquiries, supervised filmmakers and visiting curators, been involved in post-exhibition evaluation for Homage to Manet and am also responsible for accessioning a collection of 20th Century British Studio ceramics, including many beautiful works by potters such as Lucie Rie, David Leach and the Martin Brothers. It’s been wonderful researching this collection so far and I look forward to continuing.

During the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time in the Print Store, one of my favourite places in the building. I am co-curating an exhibition of works on paper, due to open in the Colman Watercolour Gallery next April. It’s exciting to delve into such a vast collection, to create object lists and to learn more about the artists and their techniques.

Taking a look through the Print Collection

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Checking for light damage

I am also co-curating Collecting in East Anglia, a rehang of the Timothy Gurney Gallery. This will display mostly 20th Century Art (oils, prints and sculptures) and look at the ways in which recent acquisitions have come into our collection. I will include some of the British Studio pots and will be involved in research and label writing. The exhibition will launch this autumn so there is lots to do in the coming weeks!

Considering works for new exhibition ‘Collecting in East Anglia’

On the other end of the spectrum from the more traditional curatorial work, I have also had experience with events! As well as assisting at a conference and an artist’s book launch, I recently organised and delivered a Koons event for local bloggers, the first bloggers’ event at Norwich Castle; before the museum opened one morning, local online content creators came along for a networking breakfast and a private tour of the exhibition. It was very rewarding to see it all come together and to read some fantastic write-ups and social media posts about the event from those that attended.

Koons Bloggers Breakfast at Norwich Castle

Koons Bloggers Breakfast at Norwich Castle

Other highlights of the traineeship so far would definitely include my trip to the Fitzwilliam Museum with my supervisor where we spent a day exploring the decorative art store, as well as the development programme sessions each Friday with my fellow trainees. We have received training in all aspects of museum work from Conservation to Learning and recently participated in a week-long Summer School for Looked After Children.

I look back on myself three and a half months ago and I’m astonished at how much I’ve learnt and experienced since then. Without question this traineeship will prove invaluable in launching my career in museums.

 


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Three months at Ancient House and Lynn Museum

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Morgan, curatorial trainee at Ancient House and Lynn Museum.

It is hard to believe that it has been over three months since I began my traineeship at Lynn Museum and Ancient House. What a three months it has been! My role as the curatorial trainee in two local history museums covers caring for the collections, exhibitions work, and making the collections more accessible. The breadth of this particular traineeship is what attracted me to it, but I could not have possibly anticipated the wide range of tasks my position covers. Just last week, I organised the emergency kit at Ancient House, helped install the new temporary exhibition at Lynn Museum, and prepared for interviews with potential volunteers for a project to create new learning resources at Ancient House. Every week is different.

Auditing Aickman's

Myself and Mike, long-standing volunteer and auditing extraordinaire

One of my (many) favourite parts of the work is assisting with the audit of the object store for Lynn Museum. Each Thursday morning, I work with the assistant curator and a small team of volunteers to document and condition check what’s in each box. It can be a little like Christmas – opening mystery boxes and unwrapping the tissue paper to see what goodies are inside! In addition to ensuring that the object records on Modes are accurate, the audit has provided me with inspiration for some of my other tasks. I recently wrote a piece for Lynn Museum’s fortnightly newspaper column, The History of King’s Lynn in 100 Objects, on a letter that I came across during the audit from a British prisoner of war to his wife during the Second World War. Another week, I found a box of hearing aids. Decades-old earwax aside, it was fascinating to see how they have evolved since the 1960s, and I am hoping to put them on display during Deaf Awareness Week in May 2016.

100 Objects - WWII

The History of King’s Lynn in 100 Objects column on the prisoner of war letter

This is another wonderful aspect of my job: creating monthly displays in the foyer case at Lynn Museum. Although my fantastic colleagues are always there for support – giving me ideas, helping me transport objects, and teaching me how to make mounts – it is great fun to have my own mini-exhibitions and oversee them from conception to installation. Plus, it is great experience researching objects, writing labels, and arranging displays. So far, I have created a display on Alfred and Percy Smith, Lynn watchmakers, and worked with an intern from the King’s Lynn Festival to put on another two about the festival. Next up, the Bronze Age ceremonial dagger the Rudham Dirk arrives at the museum this week for the Lynn portion of its international tour!

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The first foyer display on the King’s Lynn Festival

At Ancient House, I have been a lot more involved with the learning team. Although I was pretty nervous beforehand, one of the highlights of the last three months was preparing and delivering a school session on sports and games in Tudor England. Not only did I get to wear a costume, I spent the day playing bowls and dice with 90 enthusiastic children! It was really fantastic to see them so excited about history and so critical of the Tudor norms that restricted women and servants from playing most games.

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The learning team for the Tudors event at Ancient House

This is just a glimpse into what my traineeship covers and I hope to discuss more of my tasks and projects in later blog entries. Furthermore, as some of the other trainees have mentioned, all this has been complemented by a wonderful development programme. At Ancient House and Lynn Museum, it has also been supported by the most knowledgeable, supportive and welcoming colleagues you could hope for. It has been a demanding three months, with a busy schedule, a steep learning curve, and lots of travel across Norfolk, but there is nowhere else I would rather be. I can’t wait to see what the next nine months have to offer.