Friday, 3 May 2013

Back into the swing of things...

I've been back at MoDA for around about 3 months now, having been off on maternity leave for most of 2012, and it really is good to be back. Like most mums returning to work after having a baby, I did worry that my 'work brain' was gone for good. Luckily it seems to have survived reasonably intact, having spent the last nine months squashed somewhere in between 'baby brain' and 'functioning on little or no sleep' brain. But how would my work brain cope when required to remember the contents of MoDA's Collections? Well, a bit shaky at first if I'm honest, but I like to think I'm back in the swing of things now. And I've had a fantastic range of diverse research requests to get my teeth in to since I've been back. Here is just a taster:

Middlesex University Fine Art student Ilze Babra wanted to know whether we have any "Latvian traditional (patterns) used in applied arts - tablecloths, as well as traditional costumes... (They) are subject to a grid structure, which makes them easily applicable to embroidery, cross-stitching and weaving." I was pretty sure I knew the answer to the question 'have we got anything Latvian?', but still being a bit unsure of things generally I thought I'd better check! As suspected a quick search of the catalogue didn't reveal anything originating from Latvia, or that we know to be Latvian in origin. Ilze had emailed a couple of photos of the type of patterns she was working with, and when I saw these I felt sure I could find some examples from our textile collection that had a similar pattern and structure. Ilze was interested in geometric patterns in general, and using my knowledge of the collections I was able to pull out a diverse range of objects including original Silver Studio designs from the 1930s, as well as a Linoleum sample book and a Doulton floor tiles pamphlet from the turn of the century, all of which feature examples of geometric patterns in some way, shape or form.

When Ilze asked about Latvian embroidery I could have just said that we didn't have anything Latvian, and suggested she try looking elsewhere. But one of the challenges of this job is to be able to think laterally about our collections, and find material that is both useful and relevant for our researchers, even if it's not exactly what they asked for. And in my experience it is often the unexpected objects which prove the most thought provoking and stimulating for our visitors.  

Woven cotton fabric sample, 1925-1940, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (ST 4169)

Doulton & Co floor tile catalogue, c.1900
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 139)
On an entirely different tack, another recent visitor to the Study Room was Rob Vinall, who is in his first year of an MA in Interior Design at the Royal College of Art. His dissertation topic looks at British social housing in the immediate post-war period, exploring the extent to which the utopian ideals which informed much of the domestic architecture can also be seen in the way the interiors of the dwellings were planned and decorated by their inhabitants.  Rob was initially interested to know whether we had any photographs of relevant interiors from this period. A look through our small photographic collection soon established that this wasn't the case, but I was sure we did have a number of publications relating to housing policy in the post-war period, as well as contemporary publications looking at planning and reconstruction.

'Homes for the People', 1946, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 3401)

Two pages from 'Housing Type Plans: Prepared in the Housing Division of the Architect's Department of the London County Council', 1956, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 2277)

Unlike Ilze, who was primarily looking for visual reference material, the nature of Rob's project means he needs quite specific information relating to a particular point in history. MoDA's In Search of Suburbia exhibition in 2005 focused on how suburban housing, both private and public, has developed from the late nineteenth century through to the 1960s and '70s. Having been involved in  the research for this exhibition I was already aware of the relevant post-war material which we hold, and so I knew where to look in terms of relevant publications. I'm hoping to get an update from Rob in a couple of months time as to how his research is progressing, so watch this space.

Another Middlesex BA Jewellery student Emma Tratt came in to the Study Room for the second time in early April. This time she was focusing on books and magazines about handicrafts for a project concerning making things by hand. Emma had looked on the MoDA website and found an image of a book cover called 'The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Knitting' (BADDA 3266). The book's cover features a simple illustration of a pair of hands knitting. But when we opened the book we found these fabulous endpapers (see below), which proved to be the 'find' of the visit. It's great the way that our website, which is now full of wonderful images from the collections, is proving such a useful 'way in' for people like Emma looking for visual inspiration. If you don't know the collections, how do you explain to someone like me what it is that you're looking for? But if you can find one or two images of things that you find interesting, this helps me to understand what it is you're really looking for, and I can then use my knowledge of the collections to point you towards more relevant material.

Emma is hoping to put together an entry for this year's Arthur Silver Award based on her research at MoDA. The deadline for entries is Friday 17th May, and I'm sure we'll be featuring the work of some of those entering in future blog posts. So good luck to Emma and all other Middlesex second and final year students hoping to enter this year. For further details on the Award see MoDA's website.

End papers from The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Knitting
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 3266)

There is so much people can gain from accessing MoDA's collections, and the fact that my job is centred around helping people to do this is incredibly satisfying. There is no better feeling than watching someone start to look through a box of designs, or a pile of magazines and start to make connections between this seemingly random collection of objects and their own research or creative practice. The fact that I can help people to navigate this material, and to make these connections, is something I've found I still enjoy immensely, and thankfully my 'work brain' still appears to be up for the challenge!

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