This blog follows my placement with Research & Cultural Collections at the University of Birmingham in January 2014, where I will undertake a range of collections management projects to further develop my skills in research, cataloguing, exhibition and preventive conservation.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

First days in Birmingham

I finally arrived in Birmingham on Thursday – the late afternoon winter sunshine and a blast of cold air a perfect antidote to 20+ hours in transit! Previous Award winner, Katy Wade met me at the airport and very kindly helped me find my accommodation and get my bearings, with a drive through the city centre of Birmingham, the University grounds and the local High Street at Harborne.

I’ve spent the first few days getting over the jetlag by exploring the University campus, which is quiet until classes begin next week. There are certainly similarities to be drawn with the University of Melbourne campus, with the seamless mix of old and new architectural styles and gardens throughout.

A Birmingham University icon: 'Old Joe'
I spent a very enjoyable afternoon escaping the rain at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, situated on campus in a magnificent 1930s Art Deco building. The Barber has a very impressive collection, including 150 major paintings and a vast range of more than 1000 works on paper. One particular highlight was an exhibition of works by the contemporary British painter John Monks, an artist whom I was not familiar with. In a vibrant and gestural style, Monks depicted the interiors of historic buildings, with paint-layers manipulated to create a dynamic surface texture and rich interplay of colour.

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

A visit to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has further improved my understanding of the city and its history as a centre for arts, crafts and industry. As the birthplace of Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, Birmingham holds many of his works, alongside a vast Pre-Raphaelite collection including works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown and others. I also enjoyed an exhibition of Birmingham industries – ceramics, metalwork and jewellery – that focused as much on the historical and artistic aspects, as the details of their materials and production technologies and techniques (always of interest to a student conservator!). Another highlight was a contemporary exhibition commemorating thirty years of printmaking by the Birmingham Print Workshop.

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

From my brief introduction, I can already appreciate that Birmingham has a vibrant cultural atmosphere – historical and contemporary. I’m excited to become involved when my placement officially begins in the coming days!

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