Friday, 16 May 2014

Hello from Hilary, MoDA's new Assistant Curator

Hilary Davidson, MoDA's new temporary Assistant Curator, tells us about her first week in post:

We are all excited to welcome Hilary Davidson to the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA).  Hilary has joined the staff at MoDA as our new temporary Assistant Curator, replacing Louisa Knight who has left to take up a new post at the Charles Dicken's museum. Hilary is working on collections documentation and ensuring our data is up-to-date and full of information that captures not just the collection but how it's been used.  So despite being incredibly busy, we managed to get her to jot down some initial thoughts and observations:

I’ve been at MoDA for a week now and, like the spring weather, am starting to blossom a little into the role. My previous museum job was as curator of fashion and decorative arts at the Museum of London and it’s been interesting moving into a collection that, in a sense, deals with the backdrops to the people wearing clothes and holding objects I’ve focussed on previously.  The aesthetics of dress move simultaneously with the aesthetics of homes and interiors, so it’s great to explore these movements from a different aspect.

Besides getting to grips with a raft of new documentation systems, I’ve spent a lot of time so far with a delightful collection of 1930s family photographs from a home in New Southgate. The pictures were all taken by the donor’s father. There’s a palpable sense of pride in the garden of their new house as it develops, and a lovely family feeling as the two girls grow, grandparents visit, and their aunt relaxes in the garden. I’m quite fond of the family after cataloguing their visual history so closely.

It’s also a joy to be working with mainly two-dimensional collections. They are infinitely easier to access, store and get out for researchers than clothing which has very fiddly packing and handling requirements to keep delicate textiles from crushing. Wallpaper samples, for example, are easily stored flat in a box. The research table is currently covered in more beautiful flat items – the Silver Studio’s collection of katagami stencils, being catalogued by a specialist volunteer. The patterns’ intricacy and fine quality is hypnotising. Having done some paper cutting along the way, I am astonished by the precision the nineteenth century workers achieved.

I’m looking forward to the rest of my summer at MoDA and exploring more of the collections here. Thank you to the other staff members for being so welcoming. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

#Inspiration Examined

Museums often make claims for the ‘inspirational’ nature of their collections. But the question of how ‘inspiration’ actually happens in the creative process is often implicit rather than explicit. 

Students from a variety of courses already use the collections of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) for inspiration.  Some are able to engage with the collections confidently; they feel that they have gained valuable insight by doing so, and can see how it relates to their own work.  Many other professional creative practitioners also come to MoDA, and find the experience incredibly useful for their work. However, for some students, particularly first year undergraduates, looking at 'old stuff' can appear confusing and and opaque, leaving them frustrated and confused by the process rather than inspired.

We thought it would be useful to try to gain a better understanding of exactly what's going on when a creative person looks at museum collections and declares themselves to be 'inspired'.  MoDA has been working with University of the Arts London as part of a research project funded by Share Academy.

Our research considers the processes of ‘inspiration’ by using qualitative interviewing as the means to articulate and make manifest how designers use museum collections.  Previous research in the field has looked at the visual aspect of ‘influence’, or how history informs current creative practices; but the process by which this occurs has not been articulated. 

We're hoping to understand the process of inspiration better, so that we can give better support to students who struggle by being clearer about what we hope will happen when they engage with museum collections. We have video interviewed seven students from the MA Textiles course at Chelsea College of Art; talking to us about about objects they chose from MoDA's collections and why they found them interesting and inspiring.  We'll be publishing clips from these interviews here soon, along with some initial thoughts about our findings.