Friday, 15 October 2010

The fictional Wife

The many gentlemen candidates for 'The Husband'

I was back in Stoke last Tuesday continuing my collaborative project with Stoke Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
I am using the Decorative Arts collection at the museum to create a dressing room set. It is my intention that every item of clothing, every object and placement will help to illustrate a story. Like looking at a crime scene it will be the viewers job to piece the clues together and come to a conclusion. To find out more and see where my ideas came from see some of my older posts.

Tuesday's visit was all about photographs. After rifling through handbags, cosmetics, jewelllery and accessories all of which are housed in the museum's extensive Decorative Arts collection, I am now looking for more personal touches to anchor the narrative. I was looking for photos to represent the main character and owner of the dressing room her husband and also various other pictures of events and loved ones to add interest and back story.

Lady Bagot studio portrait 1953

I've been hugely inspired by Lady Bagot of Staffordshire who donated a splendid collection of her clothing and accessories dating from the 1940's-1970's (more of this to come). The character I want to portray will be a socialite like Lady Bagot and high profile. I'm basing the dressing room set in a 40's 50's era as it represents a particular glamour that is hard to beat in later decades. Fortunately many of the artifacts I've already sourced for the set fit into this time slot too.

The photographic collection at the museum is divided into dates and catagories with many photos donated by the local people of Stoke. Myself and Carol, a volunteer at the museum, began by pulling out a huge file each, titled 'Women 1900-1950' and proceeded to whittle down likely candidates for my 'Lady' character.

It was so much fun and a real eye opener to see peoples everyday lives portrayed; everything from working class terraces to formal portraits. We found many interesting individuals like the rather serious looking old lady in a very uncomfortable black dress (a widow?) who was corseted up to the eyeballs. She was doing her best Queen Victoria impression (unwittingly) with the legend 'Auntie Lisem Filch in the garden' inked along the bottom of the photo.

I also found it very affecting to see black and white images of single women sitting staring out to the viewer then turning the paper over to see' Mother' inscribed on the back. This was once someones beloved parent, now an anonymous figure among many others stacked into a museum basement.

In fact all the photos were very special, right down to the out of focus slightly fuzzy ones, because they all captured a moment and person in time from Stoke's past. Yet hardly anything is known about who or what or even exactly where they portray.

The 'men' section was equally fascinating. One photo of a whiskered overall wearing chap even had a descriptive story on the back; ' Taken in the yard, just got in. Just come in from work not washed. Feeding Hope's Cat. Dollie is shadow'.

As we worked our way through the decades the photos began to peter out. Why? The invention and mass distribution of digital cameras. As more people embrace the technological age old school print outs are being fazed out. It makes you wonder how historians in the future will understand our world when archives will no longer be a physical thing you can handle and compare.

Domestic servant circa 1899 taken from the Stoke on Trent Collections Explorer

From amongst the holiday snaps, studio portraits and informal pictures, we managed to create a subtle narrative of a woman, married to a rather staid formal looking gentlman. There is a picture of them dancing at a soiree and a lovely shot of her with her pekinese dog. Somewhere in her life, maybe before her marriage, there is evidence of a performance background and a relationship with a sailor. The autographed photo of him signed 'your's very truely' and the fact she has kept it in her private boudoir could hint at something more? That is up to the viewer to decide when the set is complete and I am looking forward deciding how to display the photos in a natural personal way which will evoke the life of my fictional character.

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