Encountering Corpses.

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A brilliant blog post about a recently attended ‘Encountering Corpses’ seminar at Manchester Museum. Lauren Field sums up the day perfectly!

Exploring the Collection...

Museums, in order to achieve accredited status, must adhere to correct standards and policies. Alongside this it is essential to address the ethics of dealing with certain collections items. Collection items such as human remains.

The conversation is an interesting one to have – should museums display and/or store human remains? Do they even have the right to? What gives them that right? What are the advantages, or the disadvantages? And how should display and interpretation be attempted, what is there to accomplish?

This is why I jumped at the chance to attend ‘Encountering Corpses’, a day of lectures and debates presented by Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research (iHSSR) and held at Manchester Museum (MM).

The event aimed to “specifically address how the materiality of the human corpse is treated in and through display, exhibition, sanctification, memorialisation, burial and disposal”. This meant that although…

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“How to….. Install exhibitions” Training day

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I recently attended “How to…Install Exhibitions for the Non-Specialist” a training day set up by Museums Development North West. It was a really informative and practical day which took us through the basics of hanging exhibitions. This is a skill which is becoming more and more sought after as museums staffing levels become smaller, people are having to adapt themselves to taking on different job roles, sometimes including practical aspects of hanging exhibitions.

The workshop was presented by Matt and Phil Yates from M&G Museum and Gallery Transport and Technical Services. They have years of experience and have worked within museums and art galleries all over the country, experts in their trade they were the perfect people to deliver this workshop. They took us through various things to consider when manual handling and unpacking objects. Key points included; assessing each object individually, creating a safe and clean place to unpack work with plenty of space and protection on the work surface. Recognising features such as fragile areas or ornate frames that might be more easily damaged and reacting to these by providing more padding with Plastazote, bubblewrap or rolled up blankets when preparing the artwork for hanging. Removing all tape from the packaging is important, as this can become stuck to objects and consequently damage them. Wear gloves when directly handling the art work to protect it from natural oils on the hands. It is important to plan ahead when moving the art work; plan a route from A to B and walk this through before moving the object, this gives you time to move any obstructions before moving the art work.

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   We were talked through a range of different hanging techniques and fixings such as mirror plates, spring locks and picture hooks, and the pro’s and cons for each. It was interesting to hear how a variety of different museums, galleries and historic venues hang art work depending on several factors.  Things to consider when choosing your fittings include;

  • Wall construction – what is the wall made from and where you will be hanging?
  • Security
  • Weight of your object
  • Environment and the conditions
  • Where will you attach the fittings on the art work? are there any conservation issues with both the wall and artwork?

‘Measure twice mark once’

The afternoon began with a practical measuring and hanging exercise, in pairs we were tought how to measure and hang frames to a central line and with equal spacing between each frame.

To measure out spacing with equal gaps in between:

  1.  Measure the length of the wall
  2. Measure the length of each work to go on that wall
  3. Take the total away from the length of the wall
  4. Divide that by the number of gaps required (usually number of works +1) and this will give you the measurement of each space needed between each artwork.

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Our next task was to hang the frames with a chosen fitting and fixing method. My group was given the Spring Lock fitting. This allows you to hang artwork with an invisible fitting. It works by attaching two Spring Lock Brackets to the back of the frame (one at either side) screwing two screws in to the wall at the correct distance and height and then effectively locking the screws into the fittings on the back of the frame with the locking spring insert. The recommended hight to hang art work is 1.5 meters, which is an average eye line, but this can be adapted accordingly.

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The afternoon was rounded of with a detailed demonstration of how to cut mounts for framing pictures using acid free mount card. And also some tips from Lynsey Jones on how to get the most from display aids especially when considering investing in new ones (in particular on a budget). She outlined some examples of a combination of mounts that would get the best out of a mixed 2D and 3D collection items. These included; perspex magnifying blocks, bridges, rises and plate stands. This combination will be trialed by several museums to see which stands were the most effective.

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Overall it was an extremely insightful day and a pleasure to attend an event run by people who are passionate and knowledgable about their area of work. thanks to Museums Development North West and M&G for a great day!

Creating a new space

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Our next major project will be the Redevelopment of Stockport Story Museum, this will involve a variety of changes in order to make the museum more easily accessible;with better orientation and different and re-displayed exhibits. The aim is to increase visitor numbers and better utilise the collection.

The first project that we will be working on is to create a new education space, which will be used by the education team during school visits. The space that we will be transforming  was formerly the ‘Costume gallery.’ It was a very dark space with a case that spread over the width of the room. The walls were painted black and the lights were activated by a button in order to protect the textiles within case. The case held Victorian clothing and domestic items aswell as items from the Suffragette era. The first task was to carefully record and pack away the collection items before taking them back to the stores , this was done by the curatorial team. You can read more about this on Lauren’s blog. The objects will be safely kept there untill the redisplay when they might be needed for redisplay within another area of the museum.

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Our first task was to remove the heavy glass case doors which would then enable us to take down the frame of the case. We also had to remove the lighting that was inserted into the case itself. We were then left with just the floor to tackle. Some grey ‘stone’ style scenery flooring had been put down along with some wooden floorboards, these proved difficult to remove!

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We were finally left with a blank canvas (an empty black room) which is soon to be a bright and lively educational space.  We are going to turn the room in to a WVS service shelter. At the moment it may need some imagination! But after three coats of white paint it is already looking twice the original size and ready to be transformed.

The WVS stands for ‘Womens Voluntary Service’ and played a huge part during the WWII War Effort. Women volunteered their time and got involved in a number of tasks such as; making camouflage nets, evacuations, clothing exchanges, tea service, collecting salvage and most importantly providing a welcoming service to people who otherwise had nowhere to go or anyone to turn to. Their outstanding contribution to the war efforts will play a part in the education area where children will get to try some of the tasks that the WVS would have done.

The next stage of this project is to dress the room. I will post another blog post with an update on stage two and the creation of the education room.

Discovering Gaskell House

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Gaskell House was the home of Elizabeth Gaskell, a novelist and one of the nineteenth centuries greatest writers. She is known for novels such as ‘Cranford’, ‘Mary Barton’ and ‘North and South.’ The house is now  a grade II* listed building, Elizabeth and her husband William lived here from 1850 untill their deaths in 1884 and 1865 , the house remained in the Gaskell family untill 1935. The house is situated in Ardwick in Greater Manchester and was granted a listed building due to it’s direct associations with the Gaskell family. This saved it from demolition but the house was in a state of dis-repair so needed lots of attention. The house is now in the process of being restored and converted into a visitor attraction and a center for the local community by  The Manchester Historical buildings Trust and through funding by The Heritage Lottery Fund. Frank Galvin is a trustee of the project and previously worked for Stockport’s Heritage Service.  He offered to show us around, along with the rest of the Heritage Lottery Fund Trainees we took a behind the scenes visit to Gaskell House. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to get an overview of how a live project like this comes together and the work that goes into restoring a historical building aswell as the challenges associated with making it a visitor attraction.

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There was still a lot of construction work happening on site when we arrived but most of the exterior work has been completed, this included structural work , roofing and removing the layer of pink paint that had covered the building for many years. The first room that we were shown was ‘The Morning Room’ this room will be restored to represent it’s original features.  Replica wallpaper is being made to mimic the original decor and this room will be carpeted with a patterned carpet that also fits the era. An 1830 s fireplace and gas light fittings have been sourced to give the room an authentic look.  most of the fixtures and fittings are being sourced locally so that they are as close to the originals as possible. Across from the Morning room will be the Library where an original book shelf will be filled with books from the Victorian era. Although care is being taken to sensitively restore the house to it’s original features there are some modernisations that can not be avoided. Electrical plugs will be hidden in the floor and shallow low-rise radiators will discreetly be placed underneath window sills. There is only so much that can be done to restore a building like this when it needs to be comfortable and accessible for public visits. The installation of a lift means that it will be easily accessible to all floors.

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The walls were being plastered as we were there and everything was beginning to take shape. The dining room where Elizabeth wrote most of her novels will allow visitors to get an insight of how she lived and spent her days writing by the window. A drawing room, complete with piano has potential to be used for events. There will be a lower ground cafe and separate servants quarters that could be used for meetings and events. There are several large rooms on the upper floor that could be used for community groups , outreach and schools.

Seeing the building now in it’s current state ment that you had to use your imagination quite a lot to gain a sence of how it will look once completed. It is easy to see that a huge amount of work and passion has gone in to this project in order to conserve and protect the social heritage of this building. Gaskell House is due to open in October 2014 and I am very much looking forward to going back and seeing the transformation on completion of this project.

Find out more about Gaskell House on their web page: http://www.elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk/the-house/

The photographs on this blog post were mainly taken by Terry Mullaney.

Saints and Sinners Exhibition: Stockport Story Museum

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Saints and Sinners exhibition is now open! at Stockport Story Museum. This post gives you a behind the scenes look at the making of the exhibition.
‘Saints and Sinner’s’ is an exploration of a curious collection of paintings donated to Stockport in 1879 by John Benjamin Smith. Smith was an MP for Stockport aswell as a founding member of Stockport’s first ever museum. The paintings were acquired whilst he was on a tour of Italy during the first half of the 19th century.The themes of the paintings are predominantly of saints and religious scenes, they are full of iconography and symbolic imagery. The exhibition explores the stories within the paintings; Victorian philanthropy, and follows the history of John Benjamin Smith, Stockport’s first museum and how the paintings came to be in Stockport’s care . In preparation for the exhibition many of the paintings had to be conserved due to their condition.This post follows on from a previous post  when the paintings  first went to the conservators studio, now they have been returned and are ready to be exhibited.

Unfortunately I was not available for the first two days of the exhibition change over (due to attending The Museums Association Conference) . In the first two days; the previous exhibition was taken down, objects packed and returned to stores or to their owners, everything was taken out of the exhibition space including old exhibition panels. The walls were filled and given a fresh coat of white paint , and a  temporary wall was built and installed into the space, providing a suitable surface to hang some of the paintings.  By the time I got back from the conference the exhibition space was prepared and ready to hang the paintings! 

Back at the stores  we carefully loaded the van and transported the paintings from the stores to Stockport Story Museum . Each painting was wrapped in bubble wrap and acid free tissue paper and protected whilst in transit by layers of foam. Most of the paintings were quite  heavy  and  awkward heights so we had to be very cautious when carrying them and especially when turning corners and through doors!

It was brilliant to be able to unwrap the paintings and see the improvements that the conservators had made. This is the first exhibition that I have seen evolve from the beginning to the end . I had helped to wrap the paintings ready for the conservator and I had also seen them during restoration and cleaning so it was an exciting moment to unveil the paintings and see them in all their glory. The paintings are much brighter and more vibrant after being expertly cleaned and below is an image of one of the paintings that had previously had a tear in the canvas. The tear has been seamlessly repaired and it is now virtually impossible to see any trace of where the tear once was. It is now on show with the rest of the paintings in the exhibition.  The interview that we recorded whilst at Gillian Walker ‘s studio(conservator) is available to listen to on one of the audio posts where you can learn about the work that went into restoring this painting.

The exhibition is made up of a series of Baroque style paintings, audio listening posts, interpretation panels, and a fantastic exhibition case featuring a bust of John Benjamin Smith. The bust had previously been on display at the Town Hall in Stockport for the past seven months, and it was a challenge to move because of its weight. However it now takes centre stage in the first room of the exhibition creating an impressive opening.

The Curator of the exhibition wanted to bring across the visuals of a Victorian philanthropy museum bringing objects such as minerals, taxidermy, shells and coral etc. into the case. It was important to have a practise at displaying these before the bust was brought to the museum to see how they could be arranged considering the size of the bust. All of the objects were firstly laid out and then carefully arranged and mapped onto a sheet of paper  which was the same size as the case. This was a good way to analyse whether all of the objects would fit into the case. Once in the case it was difficult to move the objects around as space was limited, it proved to be trial and error to get the display looking good. Hight was created using acrylic stands to construct an interesting display.

Once all of the paintings had been carefully unwrapped they needed mirror plates screwed into the back of each frame. The smaller paintings needed only two mirror plates,  the larger paintings needed four to take the weight and securely attached the painting to the wall. Once the mirror plates had been attached the paintings were ready to hang, this involved creating a central hanging point and hanging each painting central to this line making sure that they were all equal distance apart. This can be calculated by measuring the length of the wall and subtracting the total width of all the paintings and then dividing the total by the amount of spaces that are needed between the paintings. The paintings were then held against the wall and the holes marked where the screws needed to be positioned. Pilot holes were then drilled into the wall before the painting being held up again, (the larger ones taking up to three people) and screws carefully screwed in to the mirror plates by hand to secure the painting on to the wall.

The interpretation panels were all designed in-house and were designed to fit in with the Victorian museum theme with a vibrant red border and gilt frame graphic. The whole exhibition has a warm and inviting feeling to it and additional touches such as curtains, cushions and seating areas have again added to this inviting atmosphere. A series of audio posts tell stories of the paintings and feature interviews from both the curator of the exhibition and conservator of the paintings.  The audio telephone was also made in-house and provides a novel way to learn more about the exhibits by picking up the receiver and listening to interviews and extracts of audio. 

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It is important to think about the safety and security of the paintings within the exhibition space. Exhibition barriers were inserted into the space to deter people from getting two close to the paintings and closed circuit CCTV cameras pan the room .

Each painting has a LED picture light hung above to enhance the viewing of the picture, these were simply screwed directly to the wall above each painting to give maximum light and efficiency. They light up the paintings significantly and were specifically chosen as LED so that the light does not damage the paintings.

 Being involved in the installation of this exhibition has given me an insight in to all the different elements that have to be considered when displaying art works to the public.  I have gained a great insight into all the technical elements that need to be considered when setting up an exhibition as well as an overview of the huge amount of research, planning and designing that goes in to a temporary exhibition too.

The exhibition runs from November 23rd – October 26th 2014  at Stockport Story Museum.

Stockport Story Designer Craft Show – Part 2

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The Designer Craft Show is now officially open in the entrance area of Staircase House, Stockport. It is brimming with beautiful handmade goods from a variety of Designers and Makers including jewellery, textiles and ceramics, making it a great place to buy your Christmas gifts!

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My previous blog post showed how I had been collecting and making shelving and display units for the craft show, which I made compatible with the existing Slat Wall system. This made them easily adaptable when displaying the work and an alternative more creative approach to the usual slat wall shelving. Unfortunately I wasn’t available to help the day that the stock was being displayed, so it was a great surprise to see how the shop area had been transformed and to see how the shelving had been utilised. I am sure that you will agree that all of the stock has been displayed beautifully and it has become an inviting and welcoming space full of interesting things to see and buy.

As a textiles graduate myself I take a keen interest in craft shows and try to visit as many as I can. I was lucky enough to get some of my own work into the Craft show exhibiting a range of laser cut jewellery under ‘Katie May Design’. I really enjoyed making the shelving and display units for the show and thought that I would share how I made some of these things with you:
Hook Frames:
These individual hook frames were made from a sheet of 3mm ply wood and a reclaimed row of coat pegs. I unscrewed the pegs to reuse, and made the frames from scratch to give them a new lease of life. They were used in the Craft Show to hang scarves tea towels and bags.

1. First I drew a template for the shape of the frame.
2. I then lasercut these shapes out of 3mm ply wood, which is a quick method giving a smooth burnt edge, however simple designs could be cut with a jigsaw or a hack saw and sanded.
3. I then painted the wooden shapes white.
4. Position a baton of wood on to the back of the frame and glue and clamp in place using standard wood glue or PVA
5. Once dry position and screw the hook fixings onto the front of the frame
6. Attach the Slat Wall cabinet bracket onto the back (or alternative fixing) and it is now ready to hang!

Bunting:On my last post I posted some Christmas themed pictures of images that I had found within the stores, I wanted to utilise these images and one simple way of doing this was to make some bunting!

 

1. Firstly make a template – this can be done on Adobe Illustrator or by hand. I made mine in the shape of an isosceles triangle , but other shapes can be used also. It is a good idea to leave a tab of about 3cm at the top of the template as this will be where the bunting will be folded and attached to the string.

2. Either insert your images in to the template in Illustrator, manipulating the area that you want to crop by rotating the image and resizing it. Or you could work directly with photocopies from magazines using your template to cut around. I worked with illustrator printing the chosen images directly on to A3 paper and cutting out the triangles .

3. Once they are all cut out fold over the tabs and attach with either glue or staples to the string leaving equal gaps of about 4cm. Your bunting is now ready to hang!

Transferring a printed mage onto a wooden surface:

I wanted to incorporate a few of the images taken from the collection directly on to the surface of some of the units. I did this by using Lasertran- a waterslide decal paper for inkjet printers.

1. Firstly I formatted the image that I wanted to use to the correct size in Microsoft Word, I then flipped the image so that any text would read backwards.

2. Chalky side up I printed the images directly on to the Lasertran waterslide inkjet paper.

3. After cutting to size and leaving to dry for approx 30 min, submerge the paper in water for 1min the backing should be released from the paper. Now take the image out of the water and set aside to dry the background should dry white.

4. Once dry coat the surface that you want to apply the image to with ‘real’ turpentine. Lay the image face up on the surface and very carefully smooth out any creases and air bubbles.

5. Leave to dry for approximately 24 hours and the image should set seamlessly within the surface of the wood.
DesignerCraftShowPoster_A4_FINAL

 

 

 

 

Here is a list of all of the designer makers taking part in this years show:
2013 Designer Makers:

Ceramics & Glass;
Brittany Delany
Cheryl Ewing
Michelle Keeling
Tone Von Krogh
Samantha Robinson
Helen Russell

Jewellery;
Jo Lavelle
Rebecca Lawley
Eve Redmond
Katie May Senior
Miranda Sharpe
Aiden Spencer
Catherine Woodall

Textiles;
Devines Design
by Meeni
Naked Lunge
Stabo
Amy Stubbs

Boutique Designer Craft Show: Preperations

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Preparations are underway for the annual Stockport Boutique Designer Craft Show. This year it will be held in the entrance of Staircase House, right in the heart of Stockport. The craft show is guest curated by Jewellery Designer-maker Jo Lavelle and hosts a collection of designers featuring a range of work including jewellery, ceramics, interior and fashion textiles.
The show runs from 15th November until 19 th January making it the perfect place to buy Christmas gifts!

DesignerCraftShowPoster_A4_FINAL

Currently Staircase house has Slat Wall fittings within its shop/ entrance area,  these are very diverse yet not very attractive to look at. I have been working to collect props, and items that can be turned in to display units such as old drawers, door knobs, tins etc in order to transform the display area and give the products a more creative aesthetic to be displayed within.


I have sprayed or painted everything that I have collected a shade of ‘off-white’ to give a fresh and neutral background. Old drawers will be turned and hung sideways to form shelves. I took inspiration from researching creative display methods as well as looking at existing shop window displays.

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I was able to source a slat wall cabinet bracket fixing that will allow the units to be hung on to the slat wall system easily.The  units will be very adaptable when it comes to arranging the display as they can be easily removed and repositioned anywhere on the wall. It is difficult to know exactly what will be displayed and the amount of stock that will be arriving so I have tried to create a variety of sizes of shelves and units.

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Here’s how I made some quick and easy shelves:

1. Take two pieces of wood, equally sized.  

2. Clamp them in a right-angled vice.

3. Drill small pilot holes in the base of the shelf.

4. Knock nails in to the piloted holes.

5. Paint the shelves white and attach the slat wall cabinet bracket.
These are now ready to be hung on to the slat wall.

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I have also been delving into the Museum Collection and searching for ‘Christmas’ themed images that I could be incorporated into the display. It would be good opportunity to get some of the wonderful images out of the collection and viewed by the public. I have looked through a range of mediums from magazines and newspapers to photographs, there were also some beautifully illustrated cards.

Here are a few of my favourites ; and in my next post I will show you how I have used some of these images.