MoDA's Collections Assistant, Jacqueline Winston-Silk @_jsws discusses MoDA's experience of #MuseumWeek.
#MuseumWeek 2015 is here. Described as an opportunity for museums from all over the world to celebrate culture on Twitter, we were eager to be involved. To join conversations, to share collections, and to broadcast into the ether a love of all things museological!
We thought we’d take this as an opportunity to reflect on what’s been a very social week. Looking at how we tackled the daily themes, which objects we choose to share and what we learnt as a result.
To orchil or not to orchil?
Monday was the day to peek inside and discover by following #secretsMW. We tweeted stories of finding butterflies in books and of hidden Victorian messages.
|BADDA2208 Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics: how to collect them, 1920|
|Charles Hasler ephemera collection|
But #secretsMW proved the ideal opportunity to share a curious note which had been found pinned inside the pages of one of our textile dye books a few weeks prior. Handwritten and burnt around the edges, we have no knowledge of the author or when it was written, but it’s somewhat whimsical prose has caught the attention of our curators. The note describes tragic artists and omnipotent powers, occupying a peculiar landscape:
In the mighty city of Londinium there existed deep in the marshlands of Barnetis [?] a northern province [?], a strange dwelling at the artisans, Catter [?] Hillock. It is written how the architecture of this fair place was so delicate & beutifull [sic] that strangers would gasp when they saw it.
The cryptic text has really spurred our imaginations and we’d like to research any possible literary references and associations, as well as establishing more about the locations given and the mention of the artisan creed. We’ve decided to delve a little deeper and will share any findings here, but if you think you can help give meaning or context to the text please get in touch - we’d love to hear from you.
The dye book itself is attributed to Oswald Gunnell, produced in 1894. Textile dye books contain small cotton swatches arranged in colour order, with formulas of dyes and information on how to dye cotton. At the time, Gunnell was working with a leading chemist Arthur George Perkin who was Professor of Colour Chemistry and Dyeing at the University of Leeds.
After tweeting, a discussion began with a researcher of orchil. Orchil is a natural dye extracted from lichen which gives varying degrees of a magenta hue. Now we have to confess, our knowledge of orchil was somewhat limited until this point. So limited in fact, that we had mistakenly catalogued orchil as orchid, and so thank you to @Orchella49 who corrected our mistake! It seems the dye book is having somewhat of a resurgence as we’ve subsequently received even more interest in the object and its note; we plan to share our findings with you here.
What secrets did we learn from other museums? That there exists such a thing as universal curatorial chores, like the obligatory washing of white gloves – thanks to the London Transport Museum for sharing. That The Geffrye Museum’s front garden contains WW2 Anderson Shelters and that there is a secret door in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery. Who knew!
All about Hasler
Tuesday was a day to share momentos and cast an eye towards the museum gift shop using #souvenirsMW. It was an opportunity to highlight the vast and meticulous collecting of graphic designer and typographer Charles Hasler, whose ephemera collections are held at MoDA. As part of Hasler’s design process, he collected visual material for inspiration, and to inform his interests in printing, illustration, typography, branding (and more!). Part of the pleasure derived from Hasler’s collections is in the sheer breadth of material types. He amassed collections of company letter paper, wine lables, notgeld, handbills, exhibition guides, providing us with ephemeral souvenirs which might otherwise be overlooked.
What were our favourite souvenirs and what did we learn? The British Museums’ original souvenir pin badge, can you spot the error? That selecting souvenirs for the curious public is both an art and a science; The Wellcome Collection suggest it’s what the museum gift shop doesn’t stock that allows the “more unusual, less ubiquitous” to shine brighter. You can read more about it here. We were reminded by the Ministry of Curiosity that a mug remains a classic museum gift-shop purchase; their mug de jour was produced by the V&A for the Disobedient Objects exhibition.
Wednesday was a day to turn our attentions to museum buildings by following #architectureMW. Museum buildings often elicit ideas of grand, nineteenth century vitrines; steadfast and ornate architecture reflecting a responsibility to guard material culture for prosperity. In reality, museums come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and MoDA is testament to this! In lieu of having a Hintze Hall, a pavilion commission, or a ceramic staircase we chose to focus on how architecture is represented within our collection – by sharing highlights from the JMR Library. A diverse and distinctive library, we tweeted a few choice architecture books with inspired covers.
|JMR672 London Night and Day: a guide to where the other books don't take you, 1951|
|JMR770 High Street, 1938|
|JMR395 Inside the Pub, 1948|
London Night and Day (1951) provides an hour by hour account of the city, taking you into the small hours and suggesting at 1am near Garthickhithe "a walk through the City in full moon is a thing no one forgets". Inside the Pub (1948) charts the evolution of the traditional pub type, while artist Eric Ravilious gives a charismatic portrait of high street facades in High Street (1938).
The architecture that caught our eye? The Barbican’s infamous brutalist concrete was impressively handmade to create a ‘pitted’ effect. The British Museum once had its own dedicated underground station. The relocation of the Design Museum from a reused banana warehouse in tucked-away Shad Thames, to Kensington’s shiny museum quarter is well underway.
Thursday was a day for some reciprocal inspiring with #inspirationMW. It was the ideal theme to share with our followers how the museum has inspired our visitors and how visitors can inspire the museum!
As part of MiddlesexUniversity we’re always welcoming learners to our Study Room, and we encourage the use of collections in student’s research. We wanted to share with our followers some case studies of how learners and artists have recently engaged with our collection as a springboard for inspiration and new knowledge.
It’s true to say that inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of places… our Japanese Katagami stencils were consulted by student Leah Orford as part of her BA Design Crafts research project. Katagami stencils are made from mulberry bark paper; the papers are glued with wheat starch paste, stained and waterproofed with persimmon juice. They were produced as a way of applying patterns to fabric, namely kimonos. Leah examined the stencils to inform her research into the practical applications of mushrooms and fungus as a material! You can read more about her project here.
|The Hasler Gallery, photo by Justin Piperger|
Artists exhibiting at the recently opened Hasler Gallery took inspiration from MoDA’s Silver Studio and Charles Hasler collections to produce new, original work. Exhibitions Two Worlds in the Footsteps of the Silver Studio and A Second Look demonstrate the myriad practical applications of the archive.
Finally, #inspirationMW gave us a chance to garner support from our followers and offer them the chance to inspire us. The museum is looking to develop a new website and is seeking feedback on our current site’s usability and asking what new functionality our audiences might like to see. We also cheekily offered up some MoDA magnets as a thank you for those who contributed their ideas! We are still looking for more help, if you would like to contribute to the museums digital development you can inspire us here (and we still have some MoDA magnets to give away!).
What inspired us this week? The London Transport Museum launched its roundel campaign and asked us to tweet a photo of a TFL roundel. We were inspired to take part and seek one out. Tate held a mini twitter takeover and asked us to join them and their Lead Curator Chris Stephens for #desertislandart where Chris would be tweeting artworks he’d take to a desert island. While we were inspired by @MarDixon who tweeted her own ‘Mini Mar Museum’, sharing images of objects on her shelves.
We are family
Friday was a day to consider objects with an affiliation to the idea or image of the family and the family home (a familiar theme for us!), by following #familyMW.
Now considered a design classic, we tweeted a plate produced by Ridgeway Potteries and designed by Enid Seeley, which became a common sight on the dining tables of mid-century family homes. Retailed in their thousands over a period of 12 years by recently defunct high street chain Woolworths, their affordable price ensured the plate’s ubiquity in our homes. Something which proved evident to our followers who either own or covet the monochrome plates today.
Donated by a family member, we hold a collection of photographs which document the activities of the donor’s family in Dagenham, Essex between 1928-1935. Acting as a snapshot of the suburban landscape, the photograph is a group portrait depicting the donor’s paternal family including the donor’s paternal grandfather. The black & white and sepia images illustrate a growing family at leisure in the spaces of the garden.
Perhaps impacting most on London residents and families today, we tweeted a brochure for newly built semi-detached and detached properties in Edgware. The tube network reached Edgware by 1924, opening up the area for builders to buy up land and make a profit from people wishing to buy houses and become commuters. On the market in 1935, the architect-designed homes seem like a snip at £2,100 in today’s property climate.
How did other museums interpret the theme of family? The Natural History Museum shared news of their soon to open family favourite exhibition Sensational Butterflies, with an image of their soon to open chrysalises! The V&A gave its visiting families a guide on ‘Fifty Ways to Use Postcards’, an inventive approach to a cheap and accessible learning resources . While the National Portrait Gallery provided a timely welcoming and celebration of all families with Grayson Perry’s portrait of a ‘Modern Family’ on his ceramic pots.
Here’s to #MuseumWeek 2016
Taking part in the initiative has demonstrated just how enthused both museums and museum visitors are about the role of museums and their fantastic collections. It’s been an ingenious way of engaging with our audience, gaining new followers and of being asked to interpret and share our objects in new ways. More than anything, the week feels as though we've taken part in something significant, being part of a growing discussion and providing a forum to get excited about our shared culture and heritage. But perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the week were the prize tweets that emerged as museums started to reveal their informal voice, their mistakes and their magnificent idiosyncrasies…