‘Give up your secrets…’

I love reading the various posts on this blog – and was particularly intrigued by Julie’s suggestion that I was the Poirot of the V&A! Of course I am not alone in carrying out my research, over the last 18 months I have been joined by the amazingly resourceful Claire whose research skills are extraordinary. Less like an Agatha Christie sleuth we’re probably more akin to Cagney and Lacey – Claire the glamorous blond with the racy lifestyle: ‘So what are you up to tonight?’ ‘Not sure, might make the pub quiz if I leave now.’  Me the slightly manic brunette with the chaotic domestic life: ‘What do you mean there’s nothing in the fridge apart from half a loaf and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire?’
1475-1902 Patchwork coverlet, maker unknown, England, 1700-20.  Detail hand embroidered depiction of ‘The Fox and the Vase’ from Aesop’s Fables.
Working closely together on a major exhibition makes you finely attuned to the other’s thought processes. A potential lead usually starts during a conversation over a cup of tea in the Research Department’s kitchen. A stream of consciousness will be followed by a sudden pause. Claire knows the signs – a crinkled brow, pursed lips and a squinting of the eyes (not my most attractive look but certainly testament to the lack of regular botox treatments), followed by a quizzical ‘What I don’t understand is ……’ Then the chase is on – the internet is a wonderful thing but nothing quite like delving into obscure archives and hunting through library stacks. Time and time again we go back to the object, searching for clues we may have missed – the fragment of paper template here, a stitched initial there. We’ve all seen the television series based on a team of dysfunctional archaeologists – pouring over recently discovered artefacts, breathlessly whispering ‘Come on – give up your secrets……’. The truth is research is 99.9% hard slog and 0.1% sheer luck. Sometimes you might never get find evidence of the elusive maker, or be able to verify the object’s history. But oh the joy of suddenly finding a name on the census or discovering the exact source of inspiration … forget the late nights, the weekends, the missed holidays.  This is why we do what we do.
The Stork and the Fox

86.V.41  Aesop’s Fables, with his life [after M. Plaudes] in English, French and Latin.  Aphra Behn, Francis Barlow, Thomas Philipot, Robert Codrington, Thomas Dudley.  1687 p. 171 Engraving of  ‘The Fox and the Stork’.

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