So long and thanks for all the cake

It seems somewhat odd writing about the end of my traineeship, as I’m still here at the desk where I’ve sat over the past 15 months, continuing work on the same projects I’ve been chipping away at during this time. I’ve become very fond of my little corner at MAG and I’m pleased to say that I’ll be staying for the next few months.

Winter Cattle, bridget macdonald,

Bridget Macdonald, Winter Cattle, image supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation, Worcester City Collection

During this time I will be working on three exciting new exhibitions, but at the moment I am mostly focused on This Green Earth: Bridget Macdonald and the landscape tradition of Claude Lorrain, Samuel Palmer and Peter Paul Rubens (Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum) 13th February — 25th June 2016) a loan-based exhibition with incredible artworks coming from Ashmolean Museum and Manchester Art Gallery. The show will explore the timeless yearning for elusive peace and tranquillity of rural life that underpins landscape art. I will also be making my first steps into curating medical and social history, working on A Happy Convalescence (Worcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury Castle, March 12th 2016 – late 2018), which will bring together years of research from historians involved in the Worcestershire World War 100 project to share the stories of the nurses and wounded soldiers at Hartlebury Castle during it’s time as a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital.

Last week, on Wednesday 21st October, we marked the end of the final Worcestershire’s Treasures Skills for the Future project at an event at Worcester Guildhall. It was a great opportunity to celebrate everything that the scheme has achieved over the last four years and share to what it has meant to each of us. But it was also quite a sad moment, saying goodbye to ‘The Treasures’ who are leaving for exciting jobs further afield and marking the end of a project that has given so much us and to Worcestershire’s heritage industry.

The final tranche of Worcestershire's treasures trainees wit Sue Beardsmore from Heritage

The final tranche of Worcestershire’s Treasures trainees with Sue Beardsmore from Heritage Lottery Fund

I have had the most fantastic time over the last 15 months, the amount I have learned, achieved and developed as a person has been incredible. I cannot overstate how grateful I am to Heritage Lottery Fund and the Worcestershire’s Treasures team for the opportunity. I am, most of all, hugely grateful to Philippa and everyone at Museums Worcestershire for their support, knowledge, kindness and professionalism.

Because of the Skills for the Future project and the support of the Museums Worcestershire team, I have progressed from an editor and aspiring museums professional to a qualified, experienced and confident curator. On top of the pleasure of working in heritage, I am also very happy to be able to continue supporting the brilliantly resilient and ambitious Museums Worcestershire and continue working at Worcester Museum and Art Gallery, which has become like a second home to me.

Emalee Beddoes

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Stanhope Forbes’ England – Evaluation

It’s been nearly two months since the artworks for Stanhope Forbes’ England went back to their owners and one year since we began the Skills for the Future traineeships, so I have been reflecting on all that I have learned.

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Stanhope Forbes’ England at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum

As part of evaluating the exhibition, I hosted a swap shop, introducing the trainees to the principles of front-end, formative and summative evaluation before we spent a few hours observing visitors to Stanhope Forbes’ England. From these observations and evaluating visitor numbers and the comments book we now know that:

  • There were around 19,000 visitors to the building during the duration of the exhibition
  • 81% of visitors came specifically for the Forbes exhibition
  • 51% of visitors came from outside the WR postcodes

We also received some inspiring comments in the visitor book, including:

“Thank you for bringing this exhibition to Worcester”

“Excellent exhibition. Inspires me to find out more.”

“Chadding in Mounts Bay – one of the great paintings of the 20th century. A fine exhibition well worth the drive from Newlyn to Worcester!”

A particularly lovely moment in evaluating the exhibition came when one of the trainees observed two couples who came separately and did not know each other, but began to talk about the exhibition and then continued around the museum together. These types of comments and observations make me feel so proud of everything that Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum achieves and highlights what exhibitions can bring to the local community.

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Stanhope Forbes’ England at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum

Evaluating my learning while working on Stanhope Forbes’ England has also filled me with pride, in both my own achievements and in the people I work with. I was offered a rare combination of freedom and support from the team here at MAG, which I believe significantly fast-tracked my learning. Curating Stanhope Forbes’ England offered me an in-depth understanding of the complex processes behind loans based exhibitions including project management; securing Government Indemnity insurance; arranging transportation and packaging; managing environmental conditions; planning an exhibition hang; writing interpretation, marketing materials and a companion publication; as well as giving public talks and tours.

I am aware what an incredible privilege this is at such an early stage in my career and the benefits I have gained do not only lie in this widened skills set, but have also had tangible results as I have been offered ongoing curatorial work at Museums Worcestershire. I have also been awarded a position on the British Arts Network’s Early Career Curators Group (supported by Arts Council England and Tate) for the next two years which includes a professional development bursary. I hope to use these opportunities to continue bringing great exhibitions to Worcester and to continue developing as a heritage professional.

Emalee Beddoes

Preparing a workshop

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Receiving an award from the Worcestershire Historical Society for my Independent Study

Just lately, my working life, academic study, and spare time have all been about the Worcester Infirmary. I have been preparing to deliver my first ever workshop and it is based on my independent study about local funders of Worcester infirmary. I received a fantastic grade for the original work and subsequently two great prizes, the latest presented by the Worcestershire Historical Society. And now I am ready to present my research to the public. I hope.

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The Worcester Infirmary board room

Like similar services around the country, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service offers courses and workshops to the public to help customers with their research and show them what we have. This also helps the service to maintain its reputation with customers new and old, and to generate a small amount of income to cover costs. When I first arrived I sat in a few very interesting workshops and when I offered to run one myself that’s where the work really began. It is one thing to have written an academic piece of work, but quite another to develop that into something I can deliver in an interesting way to the public.

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My independent study and the Worcester Infirmary minutes

In preparation for my workshop, I have attended some workshops by other members of the team, and taken staff training at the university on how to train and deliver research. I even used training as for my last assignment for the PG Cert in Leadership and Management. And I have practiced public speaking by talking to colleagues and students.

Picture curtesy of the George Marshall Medical Museum: Postcard of Worcester Infirmary 1914

Picture curtesy of the George Marshall Medical Museum: Postcard of Worcester Infirmary 1914

Now the time is drawing near. I have done further research on different subscribers to the Worcester Infirmary to be able to tell their stories in the workshop. I have delivered research in tours and talks as preparation for the big day: a successful tour of the Infirmary for Worcester Belles WI and a talk for University of Worcester history students. I have advertised on social media, helped to write a press release, and now a blog post….now there is nothing more to do but to walk into the room and deliver my workshop on 19th May at 2pm at the Hive. Places on this workshop can be booked through this link.

Sarah Ganderton

Red Sticker Day

Cataloguing items in the archives means they can be accessed by customers. This involves lots of different tasks and I had the opportunity to help: checking through a collection of log books from the Worcestershire fire brigade to see whether they could be used by the public. As a member of staff I was cleared to work with such confidential and sensitive information, so I was able to read samples of the books. Then under the guidance of the archivists I had to put stickers on the archives to avoid other people doing the same. The stickering bit was fun – yes I am just a big kid at heart.

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Sarah updating the inventory

I was able to read through the log books, learning about the bathing routine of the firemen. I could also see patterns of chip pan fires in the winter and grass fires in the summer. I read only a sample of the collection, but after a few years’ worth of log books I noticed a change in the format. Additional data started to be included. Now the names, addresses and phone number of callers, home owners and details of casualties were recorded. The data protection act states that data has to be protected where it can identify a person, so where all these facts were included the books had to be closed to the public. Sadly I will be the last person to read these records for some time – now that they have been closed for 84 years, (or 100 years where children were mentioned).

Boxes in the archives - complete with new red stickers

Boxes in the archives – complete with new red stickers

But, where I had to close the records I was able to play with the stickers. I have left a rash of red stickers in my wake – across the boxes on the shelves in the strong rooms, on the books inside the boxes, and even on the inventory. In this way, everyone can clearly see where I the boxes contain sensitive information, and are to be avoided.

Firemen's log books

Firemen’s log books

So now when customers and staff are searching within BA11011, boxes 1 to 14 and 91 and part of boxes 15 and 92 can still be viewed. But the rest can’t be viewed, in some instances, until 2085, which means my work will be recognised long after my placement has finished.

Sarah Ganderton

Moving On Up

Last month Lily and I attended the Museums Association’s conference for early career professionals, Moving On Up. This year held in Leicester, the event “aims to help people increase their confidence, meet new contacts and find out about innovative and creative ways of getting ahead rather than just relying on traditional career paths.”

The entire day felt very positive and inspiring, and I particularly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Kathryn Perera and Hilary Jennings, which focused on aligning your values and goals with who you are as a person, wellness and fulfilment. Both speeches could have applied to virtually any sector, and were a reminder of things to consider beyond a role’s tasks and practical aspects such as salary or commute time when job hunting.

Charlotte Holmes from the MA then led a session on professional development and goal setting, asking us to reflect on where we were seven years ago, where we see ourselves in seven years’ time, and one step we would take within the next year to be closer to the future vision. The session made me wonder what will happen within the next seven years, as the past seven for me have seen a lot of growth and change – in 2008, I was in my first year of sixth form.

There were also sessions on interviewing and a Q&A with three museum directors (Maggie Appleton, Tony Butler and Iain Watson) who spoke about how they got to where they are now. One of the things that really stood out to me from the Q&A was not to underestimate the value of experience from outside of the sector. I think it is easy when pursuing a career in heritage to think that heritage experience will always be the most important thing on your CV, but many of us have worked in other industries and have gained useful experience there. An example Iain Watkins gave in relation to this is that everyone he has hired into the retail arm of Tyne and Wear Museums has come from a retail background.

I found the day really useful as as we are now well over the halfway point of the traineeship, I will soon need to begin to think about my next steps. The message of not being afraid of a meandering career path and the value of transferable skills was a pertinent one to hear when I will be soon be re-entering into such a competitive and relatively unstable heritage job market; I’m well aware that I will most likely need to be flexible about both sector and role when it comes to my next position!

You can read the MA’s round-up of the day here and a blog based on Kathryn Perera’s keynote speech here.

Rachel Murphy

What is eating your collection?

We have turned into fledgling botanists-cum-poachers tracking down and hunting wild beasts – and museum pests are our prey.

insect 1We had no idea there were so many different kinds, all with their personal favourite hiding places, and diets. Some like the dark corners, under cases, where they munch on the carpet. Some venture into boxes and cases for a tasty morsel of skin, fur or textile. Others with a sharper tooth spend their lifetime wriggling through wood. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and can nibble at most things you might find in a museum or archive, if you don’t keep tabs on them.

insect from english heritage poster 2Luckily at the Archives there are very few live pests to worry about. A shiny new building with climate controlled strong rooms and carefully followed procedures mean only the most agile spider or fly can make it inside. But the conservator does deal with the evidence of insect attacks, after freezing everything to remove lodgers. Those books and documents scratched and gnawed by silverfish or left with delicate holes by the tiny Common Booklouse can be carefully put back together in such skilful hands, but it was interesting to learn more about the culprits.

At the Worcestershire Museums though the insect detecting now begins. The collection contains many stuffed animals, insect collections, textiles, carpets and wooden artefacts. These provide a veritable feast for biscuit beetles, furniture beetles, vodka beetles, and clothes moths, and require constant surveillance and control.

insect from english heritage posterThe National Brewery Centre in Burton-on-Trent provided the perfect setting for this training course with Jayne Thompson-Webb with great (if repulsive) actual examples and a chance to look around the museum itself to assess any possible pest control issues. This was also an opportunity to network with professionals and volunteers from other midland museums and historic houses, including Coventry Transport Museum, Middleport Pottery and Wightwick Manor. If you are tempted to learn more about museum tests, you can follow this link to the English Heritage pest poster.

Sarah

A musical interlude

I have a love-hate relationship with Regina Spektor’s 2012 song All the Rowboats. On the one hand, it is a cool song about museums and art galleries; on the other, it deals with a concept that cuts close to the bone for museum professionals. The song title refers to The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer that hangs the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the lyrics describe artefacts as imprisoned in museums:

First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences
It’s their own fault for being timeless
There’s a price you pay and a consequence
All the galleries, the museums
Here’s your ticket, welcome to the tombs

And, one of the most galling images:

But the most special are the most lonely
God, I pity the violins
In glass coffins they keep coughing
They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing, how to sing

A recent event at at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum made me think of this song and pointed out that while Spektor can write a great tune, she has little idea of inventiveness and care of museum professionals. Thanks to the efforts of Senior Curator Philippa Tinsley, Marketing and Events Manager, Helen Large, and cellist Julia Palmer-Price, on 20th February, the incredible trench art oil can cello in Museums Worcestershire’s collection broke a silence that may have lasted for just under 100 years.

The beautifully and inventively crafted cello was created during the war by Reginald Quelch who served as a sapper with the Royal Engineers. He lived in Pershore and died at the age of 94 and his cello was subsequently donated to the museum. Last Friday, visitors to World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People and members of the press had the privilege of hearing an evocative rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary on this poignant instrument.

To continue to preserve this singular artefact it will certainly be some time before it is played again, but this event is a fabulous example of how as museum professionals we can balance care and calculated risk to both preserve objects and allow them life.

You can still see the cello on display at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery in World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People until march 14th.

Emalee Beddoes