Meeting the Exhibition Team

Today’s blog is written by Jo Gillam, one of the volunteers who has joined the project to help us create an exhibition. Jo advises museums on learning and access and she has her own blog – but today she is acting as guest blogger for Snapping the Stiletto.

 

On 13th July, one half of the exhibitions team for Snapping the Stiletto met for the first time in beautiful former Georgian mansion, Hollytrees Museum in Colchester. Seven volunteers from across Essex gathered with Project Manager, Pippa Smith and Interpretation Trainer, Stewart Alexander (@storylinestew). We were there to learn and discuss how to turn new research on local women who were active outside the home over the last century, into a meaningful, influential, accessible exhibition.

Hollytrees Museum Colchester

Pippa was a welcoming presence throughout the day. She was on hand to answer questions about the project such as timeframes and the different ways team members would be involved. Pippa stressed that it was the team’s exhibition with her role being to co-ordinate, organise, and “to act as a filter”.

Stewart guided us through good practice when writing interpretive text, giving us exercises involving the personal objects we’d all been asked to bring. I studied heritage interpretation post-degree and have a little experience of producing displays, so it was good to re-visit the theories of practitioners like Tilden. The group considered the use of intangibles and universal concepts, that people remember stories not facts, ways in which we might decide which stories or parts of them to tell, and how to get to the nub of a message. It was agreed that we should try to create pictures in the minds of readers, rather than simply writing summaries of facts, and to try to make emotional connections. Everyone was given practical writing guidelines which covered details such as word counts and sentence length. Towards the end of the day, we practised some of our learning using information on Southend worthy, Adelaide Hawken.

The third, important element of the day was the chance to get to know fellow volunteers. Apart from all being female, we were a varied group whose diverse ages, backgrounds, knowledge, skills and experiences should result in a team of many strengths. I’m certainly looking forward to working with such interesting women and building relationships with the remaining team members who will be getting together on 4th August.

Apart from meeting new people and finding out more about the structure of the exhibition project, what key point did I take away from the day? For me, it was that the messages we choose should meaningfully express the essence of what we wish to say and when combined should make complete stories. If the team can come up with clear messages of this nature, we’ll have a good basis for an excellent exhibition of stories audiences will leave caring about.

Jo Gillam @1accessforall

(Thanks to Hannah Salisbury for the photographs)

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Focus on…Epping Forest District Museum

It has been an exciting time for Epping Forest District museum as they reopened this year with improved facilities and displays and an extension into the building next door which gives them more exhibition space and an activity room. The improvements were funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The museum is based in Waltham Abbey in a Tudor building which is now far more accessible to all thanks to the recent improvements. It tells the story of the Epping Forest district through its collections of art, archaeology, photographs, social history and documents and has over 50 000 object in its collection. You can get a flavour of the range of its collections by visiting a new gallery- the core gallery- which has a ‘cabinet of curiosities’. This gallery also lets visitors see what is happening behind the scenes and allow a peek into the art and costume stores.

The museum is keen to uncover the untold stories of the roles played by women at work over the last 100 years. They are looking for volunteers to help them research material both in the collection at the Museum in Waltham Abbey and in the community across the district. You could contribute to this by researching stories online, visiting libraries in the district or by visiting the Essex record Office to give the museum ideas of what stories might be hiding, untold, in their collection.

 

Focus on…The Essex Fire Museum

The Essex Fire Museum in Grays has a great collection of historic fire engines, firefighting equipment, uniforms and photographs that tell the story of how firefighting has changed over the years. Today’s blog is a guest blog by Snapping the Stiletto volunteer Becky Wash who signed up to help the museum investigate their collection to look for stories of women in the service over the last 100 years.

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Volunteering at the Essex Fire Museum

Although I work full-time, I saw that the Essex Fire Museum was offering one day volunteer opportunities so I signed up to take part.

We started the morning with a discussion about the history of the fire service and the role women played. I asked questions and listened to interesting stories retold by Fire Museum volunteers, which we noted as potential stories we could use for the project.

I got to look within the museum’s displays to find objects and create a list of items that may be suitable for display in the exhibition. We also took photographs of suitable artefacts.

Then I searched through the handwritten accessions registers, searching for more suitable artefacts that could help tell the story of women in the Essex Fire Service, and created a list.

 

IMG_20180501_125245We then visited the museum store and I got to see first-hand, how the objects were stored, and we were able to handle some of them.

We decided that we would like to scan some of the paper documents and photographs and I hope to return to assist with this in the near future.

Focus on… Brightlingsea Museum

Herrings smoking Mussons c1920

It’s an exciting time at Brightlingsea Museum. They are in the process of moving out of their current building and into a brand new, purpose built one and plan to re-open in 2019.

 

The museum are looking for volunteers to research some important women from Brightlingsea, both as part of Snapping the Stiletto and to inform the displays in their new museum.

 

Could you help research the women who worked in the Brightlingsea Fish Yards? While thought of as a “male” profession, photos like the one above (from the museum’s collection) show that women worked there too and we would love to know more about them, the work they did and lives they lead. We are recruiting volunteers to spend an hour or two searching online, finding information for us to follow up on later or people able to visit the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford and do in-depth research.

 

Crooks Reginald Josie nee Culling, Teacher UDC and BowlingAnother story that the project and museum are keen to know about is that of Josephine Culling, the first female Chair of Brightlingsea Urban Distrct Council, former teacher and National Bowls Champion. She was an influential woman in Brightlingsea during the mid-Twentieth Century but we know very little about her.

 

Brightlingsea Museum is also looking for people to help share their social media, promoting both our project and their move.

 

To find out more about all of our volunteering opportunities, click here.

Focus on… Chelmsford Museum

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Chelmsford Museum, Oarklands Park

Our first “Museum of the Week” is Chelmsford Museum.

Set in the beautiful Oaklands Park, just outside of the city centre, Chelmsford Museum is currently undergoing big changes!

The modern extension on the building is still open for visitors, but the original Victorian house is closed while the team work hard to update the displays to include different objects and stories as well as adding in a much-needed café.

You can read more about their plans for the future here and there is currently a display about what’s happening in the Meadows Shopping Centre in Chelmsford City Centre.

As part of Snapping the Stiletto, Chelmsford Museum is looking for volunteers to research lives of women working at the Marconi factory. Built in 1912, it was the first purpose-built radio factory in the world. They are looking for people to give a couple of hours to research online or, if you have more time to spare, to go into Essex Record Office and do research there. For more information about these, and other opportunities, have a look at our volunteering pages.​ 

If you are interested in doing research at Essex Record Office but are not sure how to go about it, we do have a few spaces left on out training session on Wednesday 25th April.

 

 

Construction: An Exhibition on Clothing, Image & Persona

Construction explores the ways we project identities and construct personas through the clothing we wear and how we wear it. Current obsessions and pressures regarding self-image and its documentation online make it a timely and highly relatable exhibition for visitors. Particularly for women, clothing has been a medium through which to express oneself but also to restrict, through societal expectations of body image and appearance.

Playful and bold fashion on display

The wide-ranging exhibition showcases pieces from the costume and fine art collection alongside designer fashion and specially commissioned photography. The display of garments breaks from traditional chronological formats through unexpected placements of contemporary fashion with historical garments and a range of mounting techniques.

Visitors will find a 1640’s slap-sole shoe placed next to a 1970s brothel creeper whilst Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 2009 fashion show is projected alongside formal 17th century portraiture. These jarring juxtapositions alongside bold colours and unusual displays create a modern, clashing effect and recreate how a designer approaches a collection through assimilating contrasting influences and inspirations. These clashes also reflect the ways we borrow from diverse influences when dressing and expressing our individual identities.

The exhibition considers how the physical construction of garments alters our bodies and enables us to embody new personas. For women especially their bodies have continually been shaped by fashion in order to fit in with societal expectations and pressures. This still continues today and on display is a waist trainer from 2017, a modern day corset.

The Construction Exhibition

Yet fashion can be a medium for positive expression. The contemporary designer items on display show fashion as a form of celebratory self-expression. Bold brash power suits from the 1980s show clothing as a way to project empowered identities, at a time when women were increasingly entering more executive positions in the workplace and had greater disposable incomes through which to spend on fashion.

Jean Paul Gaultier suit c.1990s

Ideas on how fashion can both empower and restrict women will be explored in a curator led tour of the exhibition on Friday the 16th of March from 12pm-12:45 pm. The tour will unpick the great social and political changes in women’s lives through fashion and discuss current developments within the fashion industry.

This talk arrives at time of increasing awareness of gender inequalities, in the wake of campaigns such as #MeToo and the BBC pay scandal. More so than ever fashion is a tool to protest and attendees at recent awards ceremonies have expressed solidarity with the Times Up movement by wearing black.

The talk will give the chance to explore in depth the pieces on display and gain insights into how fashion history can be used as a tool to document changes in women’s lives.

Tickets are free and can be booked online or collected from the Beecroft Reception desk

Beecroft Art Gallery
Victoria Avenue

Southend-on-Sea

SS2 6EX

Tuesday- Saturday 10am – 5pm

Votes for Women- working with students from Essex University

 

Early on in the project Pippa and Eleanor Root (who was then the Essex MDO Maternity cover) worked with students from Essex University who were taking a ‘Votes for Women’ module.

To start the session we had asked the students to bring along an object which meant something to them and which they felt told a story about women – this got the students thinking about objects and threw up some fascinating stories including one which told of forced marriage only three generations ago.

Eleanor then explored how museums catalogue items with the groups and we looked together at some classification systems to see where objects associated with women would be found- overwhelmingly we decided that these objects would be classified as ’;domestic’ or possibly be found in the costume section. A search of various museum websites confirmed this.

We then looked at how museums think of their audiences and talked through how many divide their visitors into groups and what this might mean to exhibition and event planners

Pippa then took the students through the various ways museums are managed across the country and we looked at who was represented at a high level in national and regional museums and the make-up of some Boards of Trustees. We did find some senior women which was encouraging but decided that women were generally under-represented at a senior level across the board.

The session introduced one of the key themes of Snapping the Stiletto- that women’s’ history is held in museums but that the way objects have been collected and catalogued over the last 100 years has hidden these stories away. We hope that the project will support museums to uncover these stories and think about future collections

The students were great to work with – we were just a little disappointed that there were no male students as part of the group!

Students taking the Votes for Women module- notice anything?