Skilling up and scaling down: Student encounters with furniture

January 8, 2019
Kerbie Mackrill, after Jonathan de Pas, ‘Blow’ chair, 1967. Image © Stephanie Framer

Student engagement has been at the heart of the V&A’s mission since its early Victorian roots. At a time when concerns over the development of creative thinkers in the UK are paramount in all levels of education, it is vital that museums continue to play a role in supporting students across vocational art and design courses. This means not only showcasing examples of design that inspire the next generation of designers and makers, but also giving meaningful opportunities to connect, collaborate and create with museum objects.

When an object is acquired into the V&A’s collection, it is held in trust for the nation so that it can be enjoyed by every future generation as readily as our own. Past examples of ingenuity and expertise are an incredibly rich resource for college and university students in particular, as they are at the forefront of every new generation.

Rooms 133–135 at the V&A, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, hold objects from over six centuries of British and international furniture production. Where would you begin, then, when asked to construct a 1:6 replica model of one of the works on display?

This was the design brief given to students on the FdA Prop and Special Effects course, Brighton Metropolitan College, part of the Northbrook College Campus, by tutors Caroline Testa and Stephen Sheffield. Interestingly, the V&A’s Furniture collection contains a large repository of miniature furniture, not only highlighted in its collection of dolls’ houses, but in the examples of furniture made purely to exemplify or showcase the skill of designers or producers.

In the images that follow, a blue tack illustrates the scale of the models. Each miniature replica showcases the group’s impressive attention to detail and skill, while also subtly drawing attention to details of the original that we might overlook – in effect giving new life to the original pieces.

We want to give the next generation of learners and thinkers the extra tools and opportunities they need to succeed. But the workshop also reminded me how important it is to look closely at pieces of individual effort and skill within a bigger picture, for this benefits everyone – the present generation, the future ones, and even those of the past.

Model makers: Kirsty Baron, Lotte Van Ginneken, Hannah Benn, Jacques Griffith, Nicola Hartwell, Kerbie Mackrill, Polly Hall, Charles Joy and Sophie King.

Photography by Stephanie Farmer

(Below, the objects in the V&A collection are linked to our collections pages, if you have any trouble telling them apart!)

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