On Monday I met with Robert Wenley (Head of Collections and Learning) and Sarah Beattie (Collections Assistant) from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. My brief is to curate an online exhibition featuring items from the archives of Dame Martha Constance Hattie Barber (Lady Barber) – a sizable collection of photographs and written material that offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the Barbers and the time in which they lived.
Sir Henry made his fortune as a solicitor and property developer during the expansion of Birmingham’s suburbs during the late 19th century and was able to retire by his mid-thirties. The Barbers resided at Culham Court in Oxfordshire for over forty years where they pursued their interests in agriculture, music, fine art, gardening and sport. During her lifetime, Lady Barber commissioned an extraordinary 25 portraits of herself, many featuring lavish costumes and interiors. They maintained close ties to Birmingham and the University, with Lady Barber donating funds to establish the Institute in 1932 in memory of her late husband.
|My favourite image from the archive: Sir Henry and Lady Barber in fancy-dress costume, c.1910|
I also spent a day at Winterbourne House and Garden, a former residence built in 1903 in an Arts & Craft style by John Sutton Nettlefold and Margaret Nettlefold, and home to their six children. The house has an interesting history - also home to the Wheelock and Nicholson families, before being bestowed to the University and used as a hall of residence for female students during the 1950s and 1960s, and by various University departments in the subsequent decades. The property has been carefully restored to resemble the everyday life of a wealthy Edwardian family.
I rehoused several fragile early twentieth-century books illustrated by Bynam Shaw and then searched through their archives for information relating to John Kenrick Nettlefold, the only son of Margaret and John. Winterbourne is planning an exhibition to commemorate the centenary of World War I and there is great interest in records of Ken Nettlefold’s wartime experiences.