Get up to speed with the latest episode of Secrets of the Museum where we go behind-the-scenes to reveal the goings-on in the world’s leading museum of art and design.
This week: selecting, preparing and display objects; ‘One of the most exciting things I have ever seen’; and cleaning 150 years-worth of grime from a fabric.
Up in Stoke-on-Trent at the V&A Wedgwood Collection, curators Catrin Jones and Rebecca Klarner are painstakingly preparing a set of trays containing Josiah Wedgwood’s ceramic experiments to go out on display in a new exhibition by Neil Brownsword at a local museum. Neil’s exhibition will include over 500 of these trail pieces – some on display to the public for the first time.
Josiah Wedgwood was a pioneering potter who transformed English pottery from a cottage craft to a world-beating industry in the late 18th century. Wedgwood’s experimentation led him to achieve perfection in his glazes and techniques, and eventually to discover jasperware, which the Wedgwood company would soon become famous for.
Back at the V&A Kensington, we get to see more of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting on a display as curator Martin Barnes and conservator Stephanie Jamieson prepare for a new exhibition showcasing a leading postwar photographer, Maurice Broomfield.
Maurice captured the drama and atmosphere of industrial factories across the country, honouring communities of the working class and celebrating post war British manufacturing. Before his death in 2010, Maurice donated his entire life’s work of 30,000 prints to the V&A.
Martin visits Maurice’s home with his son, Nick Broomfield, who kindly agrees to loan the V&A some of Maurice’s personal cameras to the exhibition.
Many of the objects that enter into our collection come from generous donations from the public. Over in our fashion department, Curator Jenny Lister meets collector Danuta Laughton, who is donating a series of ensembles from the iconic fashion brand Biba, in addition to an original production file from the Biba factory.
We find out that Danuta’s husband saved the lever arch file, which contains designs, sample of fabric, measurements and stock ordered, from a skip when the shops closed. ‘One of the most exciting things I have ever seen’, says Jenny.
Later Barbara Hulanicki, the founder of Biba, is invited to the museum to see the file and talk about her time at Biba.
Over in our South Asian gallery, objects are being prepared to go on display as part of a gallery refresh. One object is a Jamdani stole, an incredibly fine and fragile muslin, designed and made in Dhaka, India and one of the first objects to be acquired by the museum from the Great Exhibition in 1852. Never before displayed (and probably never washed since it was acquired!), it must be handled delicately and washed to remove over 150 years’ worth of dirt. Find out how textile conservator Elizabeth-Anne Haldane uses an ultrasonic wand to remove its stubborn stains.