Thursday, 19 August 2010

Treasures of the past

This Monday saw me getting on a train and travelling to the birth place Robbie Williams, Xtreme tea drinking and the first jar of Marmite... any ideas yet?
Yes, I was in Staffordshire! (obvious wasn't it!)

Well, Stoke on Trent to be precise and my first visit to The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery for the beginning of a collaborative project based around my research on dressing tables, femininty and narrative through belongings (see my last post for a full update).

I was really impressed by the broad variety of exhibits at the museum including the famous Staffordshire Hoard, an impressive collection of local slipware and even a full size spitfire! There were many weird and wonderful objects, and I particularly enjoyed the frog mugs and Ozzy the famous pottery owl.

But my visit was focused on the decorative arts collection, as, with the help of Laura the museum's Documentation Assisitant, I began to uncover the treasures of the past!

The purpose of our collaboration is to give my research a platform resulting in new art work whilst also displaying the museum's artifacts in a new and interesting way. I'm hoping to build up a collection of selected pieces that will tell a story, and can be displayed like a dressing room similar to a theatre set.

We spent a long time sifting through drawers and unwrapping tissue paper; I gasped with delight at a bundle of Berry Pins and shuddered with discomfort at real hair twinned into keepsakes and love tokens.

The store held pieces from all eras
and covered a range of genres including cosmetics, anyone recognise these?:

It was eye opening to me to find out that certain items made from the earliest plastics are very few due to their combustable nature. When they were first being made producers didn't know how the materials would age hence things like tortoise shell style combs and mirrors discintegrating and becoming very fragile. Luckily there were many other examples of historic accessories in the store including Victorian fans and antique sewing kits :

I found it very affecting as I viewed each item to think they had once belonged to someone and had some kind of emotional value or place within that person's daily routine.

Yet it was the items which seemed somewhat out of place in the decorative arts store which gave my ideas full direction; the unassuming handwritten note inside a gift box, a hotel reciept and a dance card half filled with promising suitors!

These items were clues to lives that have been lived. They offered windows into moments in time which actually took place, unlike the decorative items which are very objective when viewed seperately these documents had an immediate link to various individuals.

It seems the best way for me to progress with my project is to mix both decorative objects and documents together and create layers of information that when viewed as a whole can be read almost like a crime scene, giving clues to a characater and her story.

I can't help wondering how an item's meaning could alter depending on what it was displayed next to. For instance what would my character keep in her giftbox when it had such a sweet message written inside? would it be innocent or a secret she wouldn't want anyone to find out? This is where it gets exciting!

I have some strong ideas about where to take this but my intuition is telling me to let the items within the decorative arts collection take the lead and guide me. So my next job is to delve deeper into the possiblities of what I've recorded and source likely items within the store which I might not have seen yet. We only managed to look through about half of it this week so I am going back to view the shoes, clothes and costumes next time.

Get ready for corsets and frilly 50's knickers!


Kittie Howard said...

Glamourie, you're truly pulling me into your research. Of course I'd heard about dance cards but had never seen one. I couldn't help but wonder what the young lady thought when she looked at the half-filled card, happy at the results or sad there weren't more invites.

The mugs are beyond fabulous. So clever, so intricate, so perfect.

But, I guess, most of all I felt nostalgic about the old-fashioned handwriting. My grandmother wrote cursive as such. I treasure the keepsakes I have.

Looking forward to your posts. (And I think you've got a book in the making.)

Gemma Parker said...

I'm loving this project Kittie, and I'm really glad you are on board with my excitiment over mugs and cards!

I agree that old fashioned writing is wonderful, it really evokes times gone by and grabs the readers attention :) ***