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.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A (student) conservator turned curator

One of the more challenging projects I was tasked with while in Birmingham was to curate an online exhibition based on material from the Lady Barber Archive housed at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. The archive contains a sizeable amount of photographic and written material relating to the Barbers’ many interests throughout their lifetime – including agriculture, equestrianism, travel, art collecting, fashion and gardening – much of which has not been previously exhibited. Having come to the material with almost no background knowledge of the Barbers, nor any experience in curating an exhibition, it was a revealing process to search through the material and piece together images in order to tell an interesting and accurate story. I decided to narrow my focus to explore Lady Barber’s interest in gardening and along the way learnt some fun facts about the ‘gardening craze’ that gripped 19th century England. It turns out to have been a theme with some of my other projects here. At Winterbourne House & Garden I've been researching members of the Nettlefold family, who were also keen gardeners around the turn of the century. At Winterbourne, the garden itself forms an integral part of the collection – and gives a whole new (and very literal) meaning to the idea of a “living museum”.

Winterbourne House & Garden (during warmer months!) Image source:

Based on my close handling of the material in the Lady Barber Archives, I was also asked to compile a report detailing some basic preservation recommendations to improve the storage of photographs.

I will be excited to see the exhibition when it ‘goes live’ on the Barber website in the coming weeks! In the meantime, the 'Art of Anatomy' is now on display.

The completed installation at the Cadbury Research Library (Photographs: Jenny Lance).

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