It was a fine morning on 1 May 2019 when I started as Creative & Skills Director at the V&A Museum of Childhood. I had visited the museum countless times before, but I had never been ‘behind the scenes’. What would my new office be like? Ordinarily, I spend more waking hours at work than at home, and I was hoping my new office would be a space I could call my own.
After a heart-warming line up by my new, very promising, team, I was taken to the lower ground floor, where all of the offices are. And there, off the library, was mine. A vase with red and yellow tulips welcomed me. It was accompanied by a card with best wishes and luck. This was the second lovely touch – and an omen that I would love it here.
I turned around to take in the room and a young boy caught my eye. He was looking straight at me, as if he was sizing me up. I held his gaze for a while.
The boy, alongside a girl, and a younger boy, were part of a large painting that took over most of the wall behind my desk. My gaze moved from the boy staring at me, to the slightly older girl by his side. She was holding a book in her lap and was looking at, what I correctly assumed were, her brothers. The younger boy stood with his hands in his pocket and with one leg crossed over the other. I immediately warmed to him.
Who are these children, I wondered? Who am I sharing an office with?
Even though the painting was not totally to my taste, the children captivated me. They looked both familiar and inviting. As I moved closer, I was able to read the title and artist in the small golden label on the frame. It read: Euterpe, Alec and Cotz Ionides, signed and dated 1869, Georges Bellenger.
“The Ionides children” I cried to myself and my face lit up.
I knew of their father: Constantine A. Ionides from the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia (Divine Wisdom) in Bayswater, where I have been a member for decades. Constantine A. Ionides was one of those members determined to give the ever-increasing Greek community of the mid-19th century not ‘some shabby building’ but a beautiful Church, outstanding in style and execution … and he did. I also knew of the children’s grandfather, Alexander C. Ionides, a Greek from Asia Minor. When Alexander moved to England as a young man, he changed his surname to Ionides, which means the ‘Greek’, as Ion was the mythical ancestor of the Ionians, Greeks of the Aegean islands and Asia Minor. Alexander never forgot his roots and shared his love of Greece with his children. Notice how the boys were dressed in the Greek national costume.
The painting in my new office could not be more fitting. Like the children’s grandparents, my grandparents were Greeks from Asia Minor. I was so excited and shared the news with friends and colleagues. Some of them thought that the museum had purposefully placed the painting in my new office. That, of course was not the case. It was such a happy coincidence – yet another omen, that I would surely love it here.
In the months that followed, Euterpe, Alec and Cotz, the Greek children, were watching over me and kept me good company. The painting though was 150 years old. The children appeared severe and did not speak to our young visitors of today and tomorrow. Despite my personal connection with it, I wanted something else in my office that would express our current work.
On the wall, opposite my desk, Ella posed the question ‘Who are we here for?’ and answered it by drawing 17 different types of potential visitors. From the expectant parent to the juggling family; from the early explorer to the independent thinker; from the hands-full teacher to the child-development expert; from the little looker and feeler to the all-age carer.
Every time I lifted my head from my computer, I encountered her drawings: uplifting, motivational, inspiring. Looking at them gave me strength to keep on working, so that I could give the best possible experiences to all of our current and future visitors. Later on, I added words that matter to me and our work: Collaboration, Compassion, Confidence, Creativity, Criticality, Curiosity, Empathy, Experimentation, Generosity, Innovation, Integrity, Resilience.
Besides the painting and the drawings, there were other things in my office that made it special. A group of toys from the learning collection decorated a corner, favourite books, and reports, a hand-made ‘clapping machine’ that an interviewee had left me, found natural objects and an icon.
I have enjoyed my office daily for only 11 months. Since April 2020, I have been mostly working from home, and now we are packing and emptying our museum for its transformation.
Euterpe, Alec and Cotz have been carefully packaged, ready for storage. My books and files are in boxes. The learning collection toys have returned to their rightful owners. In the coming months, everything in our museum will be re-homed or packed for safe storage, waiting for us until we are ready to return, and welcome all of you there. In the meantime, keep in touch by signing into our newsletter.