Hello from Elisha!
So for the last 2 months or so the Trainees have been on external placements for one day a week. This was to gain a better understanding of how other museums or cultural organisations work. I was based at Ickworth House, a National Trust owned, neoclassical country house, built between 1795 and 1829.
I was really excited to get started with the placement and, having never been to Ickworth before, I was very happy to be greeted with the stunning view shown above. My typical day consisted of helping to clean and prepare the building for the public in the mornings, while in the afternoon I would get involved in different projects and activities. Cleaning meant being surrounded by scenes such as this:
I was based with the Conservation Assistants and House Team. Getting to work with these teams first hand really built my understanding of their various duties, and how different they are to those at Colchester + Ipswich Museums. I asked numerous questions and learnt a lot about people’s backgrounds and how they got to their current role. Not only this, but I also ate lots of biscuits and sampled some insanely good baking skills in the staff room!
Tours and interacting with the public
I was eager to learn as much about the house as possible during my time, and so joined a couple of the tours led by very dedicated volunteers. The first I attended was of the outside of the building, looking at the friezes that decorate the rotunda. These friezes are based on the illustrations of the Odyssey and Iliad by Flaxman, and are beautiful in their detail. This is a newly developed tour and I was lucky enough to attend its first proper run through. It was interesting for me to see the process involved in writing and delivering new tours.
The second I attended was their ‘Spotlight Tour’, which tells the story of some of the paintings in the house, particularly those of the Hervey family who used to live at Ickworth. The tour takes place after the house has closed to ‘free-flow’ visitors, and so is quite special for members of the public to have the area to themselves. The guide shines two very strong and specially designed torches onto the paintings, bringing out colour and detail that cannot normally be seen. I thought this was fascinating, as family history is something I am particularly interested in.
I love getting up close to and exploring objects within a collection. Ickworth House is currently marking objects with new accession numbers, which means they can be identified in the database. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to put my object marking and labeling skills into practise! I worked with the Conservation Assistants and a volunteer, listing all of the items on the shelves and identifying those that needed marking. My favourite object that I worked with was this copper alloy vase decorated with Arabic writing and patterns, as I wasn’t expecting to come across such an item in an English country house.
It was really nice to be able to spend time doing this, as I was also able to clean and repackage the objects, all the while learning more about the collection.
Every Tuesday a member of the Conservation team winds all of the clocks in the house and corrects the time on them. This is done during opening hours when visitors are in the building, so that they can observe it happening and ask any questions they may have (quite a crowd can build up!). A big highlight of my time at Ickworth was getting to help with this, as I always enjoy getting hands on with objects.
This clock in particular was my favourite, based on a classical style it shows a horn of plenty next to a cherub harvesting. With its enamel face and intricate and delicate decoration this clock is stunning and a real show stopper in the room.
Conservation in Action
Conservation in Action is a project run in National Trust properties that aims to engage the public with the work the staff do. Conservation Assistant, Sophie, told me that at Ickworth they have been trying to get creative with it, through things such as mini-exhibitions and trails. One of these upcoming mini-exhibitions is ‘Hidden Treasures’, which will uncover some of the objects and areas of Ickworth not normally seen by the public. The exhibition focuses on the conservation of these items and the different challenges each of them present.
I thought this was a really interesting way to tackle both conservation and unveiling unseen parts of the collection to the public, and it was great seeing all of the earlier Conservation in Action projects.
I had a really lovely time at Ickworth and learnt a lot about the difference between a National Trust property and a local authority run museum service. It has actually made me consider routes into the heritage sector within the National Trust, something that I hadn’t really thought about before. A big thank you goes to all the staff who made my time there so enjoyable!
Till next time,