Oh Happy Study Day!

Hello, Michael here again.

A day at the British Museum! What more could a Trainee want? Especially as the visit took us behind the scenes and introduced us to the mounting and storage methods used by the Collections Team for their vast trove of works on paper.

I have always been fascinated by drawing, painting and print-making. When I saw the British Museum had organised a Skills Sharing Day devoted to the care and presentation of these works, I was quick to book a place. I’m not usually a morning person, but on this occasion, I was very happy to be on the 6.18am train to London. I even arrived early in the fierce London heat, full of eager anticipation… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The morning was spent studying the different materials and methods used to mount and display works on paper. We learnt about conservation mount boards, their different types and weights and how The British Museum uses a French-made brand. We learnt about hinging and backboards, as well as melinex sheets to protect fragile surfaces. We also got to make two hinges from delicate Japanese paper, a V-hinge and a T-hinge, which hold and support the paper within the mount.

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Box of Italian Renaissance drawings.

I have always been able to spot a British Museum mount for two reasons. The first is their elegant rounded corners and we were given a demonstration of their simple and effective corner cutter. The second is the distinctive stamped name and details that appear below the window aperture. Again, we were given an explanation of the manual typographic stamper, which requires a good eye, a steady hand and a brave heart to use. Following the practical work, we toured the hi-tech mounting room, containing huge computerised mount cutters, as well as traditional manual devices.

After lunch, we moved to The Prints and Drawings Study Room, an historic interior with a special atmosphere. Here we were shown several methods of storage used by the museum including conservation boxes, portfolios and folders. I was impressed by the way they had used a difficult Victorian space to accommodate a vast number of priceless works. Boxes marked Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and Constable filled the old storage-shelved cupboards. Prints by Rembrandt, a drawing by Degas and the original print blocks engraved by Durer were all brought out for us to see. I knew I was in Heaven when I sat down to look through an original, hand-coloured copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.

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The day was full of fascinating insights into the way The British Museum operates and it was all delivered in a practical and helpful tone. It felt like one group of museum professionals helping others with sensible, down-to-earth advice, which is exactly what the day had been designed to be.

I felt very lucky to be a part of it.

Michael.

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Let’s Hear It For Volunteers!

Hello, Michael here once again.

This week (1-7 June 2017) is Volunteers Week, a national celebration of the important contribution made by dedicated and caring people from all walks of life. Obviously volunteers work across many areas of society, but I’m going to focus on the ones that support Ipswich Museum.

As part of The Training Museum programme, I have recently begun work on a project that involves digitising part of the works on paper collection. This is a dream job for me as I’m a great lover of paintings, drawings and prints. I also get to work with two volunteers, which is something new. Over the course of the project, I will be organising how we do things in what will hopefully become a well-oiled machine.

Works on paper

Tat and Joan are two lovely people, with a great interest in Colchester + Ipswich Museums and their collections. They are very efficient and have quickly settled into the process of documenting and scanning pictures.

I can see they get a great deal of satisfaction from helping to raise awareness and understanding of our vast collection and so do I. Firstly, we record measurements, titles, artists, accession numbers and locations. When this done, we scan each picture at a very high resolution (600 dpi is Museum Standard). Having worked as an illustrator for thirty years, I am exceedingly envious of the large and impressive scanner we are using.

Works on paper digitising

Our work will be put into the MODES collections database at the museum and eventually be uploaded to the Art UK website, which will make these pictures available for all to see for the first time. This is one of my favourite websites, so it is great to be contributing to it.

I have witnessed first hand Tat and Joan getting up close to the collection, handling and measuring beautiful prints and drawings. I enjoy the atmosphere of calm focus in the room. Then there is the sense of achievement and satisfaction as we complete each box of prints. The volunteers make a huge contribution to this project. If we multiply this out across the museum and then throughout society, we see what a valuable asset volunteers are to all of us.

This week, Christchurch Mansion hosted a celebration event for our volunteers. It was a small way of saying thank you for all their hard work and support.

Michael

From paint pots to paw prints

It’s Spring! Below are a couple of snippets from projects that I’ve worked on in the past month…

At the beginning of April I helped with de-installing Eduardo Paolozzi: General Dynamic F.U.N. at Ipswich Art Gallery, which rolled into the installation of the current Open Call exhibition. Here we have the artwork ready to return home. Bye bye Paolozzi! 

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Next, the Open Call exhibition!

Before work could go up, existing vinyl decals needed to be removed, drilled holes filled and walls touched up. By the end of the first day I was suffering with some snow blindness from all the white paint.

Next, the text needed to go up. There was much debate about where this should be and how it should be presented. It may seem less important than the artwork, but this is the first thing a visitor would see…

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…so we all agreed that it would shout for the visitor’s attention far more by being at an angle.

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I really enjoyed helping the Exhibitions team decide which works should go where. We were basically trying to solve a large puzzle, as the artworks were initially stored A-Z by artist and all in one room, making it harder to get an overview. When choosing where the work should be, we took into consideration scale, material, subject, style and occasionally feelings. Some pairings highlighted differences and some complimented each other.

Open Call runs at Ipswich Art Gallery from Monday 8 April until Monday 5 June. If you visit, make sure to vote for your favourite!

Besides painting walls and hanging artworks, I’ve also been working on projects for my placement at the East Anglian Railway Museum. Below is a peek at the trail I’ve been creating.

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I’ve been looking into existing ‘i-spy’ style trails, featuring Milo Mouse, as well as reflecting on the trails and museum learning training that we received before Christmas.

It took a little while for me to remember both the training and how Adobe Illustrator works. I collected photographs of objects from around the museum, which could be grouped into themes, such as work or leisure. It was a little tricky figuring out how to translate the physical space onto the page, so visitors could locate themselves and the objects.

Milo Mouse and his friends run about the site and pop up all around the museum, so footprints help to reflect this part of the character. Below is the work in progress…

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It is currently being trialed alongside existing trails and I’m hoping to gain some feedback as to what might need changing. My plan is to create a few different ones to entertain families that return to the site.

Thanks for reading. I hope to update you with more progress soon!

Esme

 

Follow the Nose!

Michael here once again with tales from Ipswich Museum.

One of the roles of our Visitor Services Team is to keep the museum clean and tidy. We do some work before the doors open in the morning, but we also keep an eye on things during the day. Tissues are dropped, maps get shredded, whilst toys, costumes and cushions get thrown about. Nothing terrible, though vomiting schoolchildren can be more of a challenge!

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As I keep an eye on things, I have become increasingly aware of nose prints on glass. Finger and hand prints are always to be found on the display cases, but nose prints are different. Nose prints are a sign of genuine interest. They represent a need to get closer to the object. A visitor wants to look much harder to understand what is in front of them. In this situation they become oblivious to glass, it’s transparency creates a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind’…which is when they hit the glass.

Usually there is a round, oily mark from the tip of the nose. Occasionally we find a more pronounced shape, which takes in the bridge, tip and nostrils. This implies a more intense level of focus. Now and then, I come across the highest level of absorption, which contains a full nose print combined with a section of forehead. This must be painful. I have heard “ouches” in the gallery followed by laughter or embarrassed denial.

It is firm proof that our collections can fascinate and absorb people. Museums today have a necessary obsession with data collection and visitor feedback. There is an important need to understand what aspects of our displays are of particular relevance to our local communities. Maybe nose prints can become part of this data collection process, where the highest density of oily, nose marks points to the highest level of visitor engagement. Maybe charts or tables can be created, like the ones football pundits on TV use in their post-match analysis, which show clusters of visitor movement and engagement based on nose print ratios.

I have photographed some of the key objects in Ipswich Museum that accumulate the most smears, so you can see for yourself what attracts the highest scrutiny. This is a statistically unproven representation of course.

In the meantime, it’s my job to remove nose prints with a damp glass cloth, helping the next visitor to see clearly and engage more deeply.

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Michael

Horse’s for Courses at the Munnings Art Museum

Salutations folks, Mark reporting.

After being ill for about a week, I have a new sense of energy, which I will now express in a fantastic blog post…….

Following Tim and Esme’s posts, you are probably seeing a trend. I am also going to talk to you about my placement, which has been at the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham.

Before I start, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Alfred Munnings. He was a well-known Suffolk artist of the early 20th century. He was a keen painter of the quintessential landscape, but is more commonly known for his skillful works of horse’s in action. Castle House was Munnings home for much of his life, but is now owned by the Castle House Trust and was made into a museum and research centre, dedicated to his life and works.

An an art lover, I am undertaking a very exciting and highly involved task for my placement. Museums can have massive collections, which have been accessioned over many years and there is not always a complete paper trail for every object. As a result there is much work to be done to properly document objects and modern database technology has allowed for this task to become easier.

The Munnings Art Museum is no exception and my task is to document, catalogue and digitise wonderful artist sketchbooks into their collections database.

For me, a day at Munnings is usually split into two activities. The main one involves taking sketchbooks from the store and recording the details of every page into an entry on their database. I have to assign each page a number, fill in information like it’s location and measurements, and write a basic description for identification purposes.

The other task is to photograph the pages, making sure to have a variety of shots including zoomed in details. Once I have a whole sketchbook complete, I go back to the database and upload the photos to the relevant entry.

And voila! You have a fully catalogued sketchbook with information and pictures!

This has been such a valuable opportunity in two ways. Firstly, I refer back to my title-pun: “Horses for Courses”. Munnings Art Museum has been an ideal placement for me, coupling my strong passion for art and keen interest in collections management. Secondly it has given me an insight into how an independent museum operates, as opposed to Colchester + Ipswich Museums, which is local authority run.

Finally, I’d like to just say a huge thank you to The Munnings Art Museum for having me. They have a fantastic and knowledgeable team who dedicate their time towards researching the artist, and I really take my hat off to them.

If you are ever in Dedham, make sure you stop by at the museum. It is highly recommended and they have a new exhibition, titled ‘Munnings and the River’.

That is all. Mark signing off.

A Hundred Warm Welcomes

Hello, Michael here again.

I’ve just found out that this is the 100th blog post from The Training Museum Trainees! I know that pomp, ceremony and fireworks are required for this significant event, so I hope you are suitably uplifted by the end of it.

Whilst working at Ipswich Museums, I have been struck by the efforts of everyone here to make people welcome. It happens at all levels, from Visitor Services to the curatorial teams, from event and workshop organisers to the design and exhibitions team. I don’t think museums were always this open and friendly, but luckily times have changed.

As a boy growing up in the 1970s, I was very interested in drawing and painting. Most of my inspiration came from comics and cartoons. I was from a working class, immigrant family living in inner city Manchester. We weren’t the kind of people that went to museums or were even particularly aware that they existed. Our local school never made a visit to one.

I first noticed Manchester City Art Gallery when I was thirteen. I had walked past a few times on the way to the shops. Though I loved to paint and draw, I had no idea that I might be allowed to go into this building. I noticed that people went in and came out, and that there was a uniformed man at the door, who I assumed would not let me in. The building was very grand, looking like a classical temple with a huge flight of stone steps up to the front door. I stopped and looked several times, occasionally climbing those steps, but never making it through the entrance. The man in uniform glared at the scruffy boy stood outside looking in and I knew it was not a place for me.

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I didn’t give up. My interest in art was growing and I was an inquisitive little chap. I found The Whitworth Art Gallery whilst walking my dog Patch. It was a friendlier looking building with an entrance at ground level. Eventually my curiosity got too much. I tied Patch up to the railings and ventured through the door. Nobody stopped me. The guard looked and said nothing. I WAS IN! What I saw there fueled my passion for art and art history, shaping my choice of future career. From that point on, there was no stopping me. When I came out, I realised that Patch had been making a terrible noise all that time and had disturbed all the visitors to the gallery.

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I can safely say that museums and galleries have changed my life, which is why it is so wonderful to see how much effort Ipswich Museums put into encouraging people to enter. There is always a friendly smile when you arrive, along with an offer of help. The museum is free for everyone and genuinely attracts a wide range of people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are signs outside to coax you in, as well as encouragement to feel comfortable in the building. This is so important, as our museums and galleries belong to all of us. It’s great to be a small part of this warm welcome.

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Maybe the best way to celebrate this 100th blog post is to think of the hundreds and hundreds of warm welcomes that museums offer members of the public each and every day.

Michael

 

Drawing the Object

Hello everyone, Michael here.

There is a hidden treasure in Ipswich Museum! A group of objects that are rarely, if ever seen by the general public. These are the Accession Registers, a group of unique books cataloging each object that has come in. They have a very important function. They help curators, conservators and researchers understand exactly what we have, when it came into the collection, how and where from.

I feel very privileged to be handling these books as part of my  work on the Collections Information Programme. Ipswich Museums are currently updating and digitising all the information about their objects. This is a mammoth task when you consider that there are around 77,000! Some of my time is spent photographing objects or transferring information from index cards onto a spreadsheet. I’ve also been packing and unpacking items and recording where they are located.

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Part of researching an object can involve looking it up in the Accession Register. These beautiful, decade by decade records are often hand written. They are full of carefully observed drawings and elegant hand-writing, and I have become a little obsessed with the simple beauty of the drawings. They are both elegant and functional. I love to draw. I find it the best way to really study what a thing looks like, so I find it fascinating to see how carefully these objects have been rendered. They seem to be mostly anonymous and the fact that they are hidden away in a book, inside a locked cupboard demonstrates the humility and dedication of the draughtsmen.

To me, they are quiet little masterpieces. I love the warmth and humanity that is conveyed in the simplicity of the black ink lines. They make me think of all the dedicated curators and museum illustrators that have come before me in this building. The examples I have used are from the 1920 register, but there are many, many more.

That’s all for now. I need to get back to those Accession Registers…

Michael

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