Taking Inventory

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Hello,

One of the very first tasks I started for the exhibition was creating an inventory of the collection at St Mary’s Church. This was quite a daunting proposition; not only were the objects scattered around a rather large building, but the Heritage Trust and the church managers didn’t quite know what they had on-site.

Happily, the majority of the objects that we could use (and had some historical importance) were located in a small chapel seldom used by the public. However, this came with another issue in that there was no information available concerning dates, where in the church they came from. They were also stored on wooden shelving and left to collect dust, which is far from ideal.

After several weeks of chipping away, I finally managed to get to a stage where I had enough data and a fair idea of what’s hidden under the dust and drapes of St Mary’s. A small note: I stay “a stage” because we keep finding new objects, or hearing about them from parishioners with every visit. Exciting and frustrating in equal measure!

This week, spurred on by developments in other areas I decided to digitise the inventory I had so far. At the beginning when we were still just talking about what we would like to do, we talked about how great it would be to take an inventory of the collection, and then create a museum database that the church could use afterwards.

If you’ve read my last post, you might know where I’m going with this. A museum database is a great idea in theory: easy to keep track of your objects, displays useful criteria and has an interface designed for heritage folks to quickly get what they need. In reality though, it’s a lot of effort for something that the Heritage Trust likely won’t use.

I’d also have to ask my colleagues to download the software (we were going with the free Museum Archive Software Project), along with the trust and the church managers. The latter has no computer on site as far as I know. I tried the software and I noticed a glitch or two that could potentially cause problems further on.

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In the interests of saving time, accessibility and reliability I decided to transfer the inventory to Microsoft Excel. It’s not ideal, but it is easier to use and the chances are a computer will already have the software installed.

Besides a few things I need to add (such as a neon renovation sign which is currently in hiding), we’re now up to the point where we can sit down with the inventory and a copy of the exhibition space and get designing!

Jamie

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A Change of Pace

Being an exhibition novice, I knew from the beginning that there would be pitfalls I’d blunder into, mistakes I’d make and plans that would collapse. It’s an integral part of the learning process for any new endeavor. That said, I feel that we dropped a rather large clanger when we decided what we wanted to do.

When myself, Antia and Jade met up for the first time to discuss the exhibition, we quickly decided that we would do a timeline of St Mary’s history, starting just before the 1817 renovation and ending with the church as it is presently. We thought this would make the most sense as it also works with the space we have.

Here’s where we went wrong with this:

  1. A timeline exhibition can work really well, but it requires so much research. The space we have for the exhibition isn’t large, and the history of St Mary’s Church is extensive. It would take longer than we have to accumulate all the information concerning the changes the church has seen over the last 200 years.
  2. We were approaching it very much in the style of a museum exhibition. Lots of information and interaction planned. This is great in theory, but what we lost sight of is that we’re holding the exhibition in an art gallery. Bombarding a visitor with history is likely to have a negative impact.
  3. I was struggling to figure out how to tie in the objects we had in the inventory to the timeline. Most of the objects are hard to date, and I felt it would have been quite jarring to present precise historical information with imprecise archaeological interpretations.

I was having a few sleepless nights over how we could make this all work, until I spoke to someone who has experience with small exhibitions like this one. After a long conversation where I outlined the troubles we had run into, we came to the following conclusions.

  1. It’s an art gallery, so make it an art exhibition. Less information, more visual impact.
  2. To that end, instead of doing a timeline we could present the exhibition thematically. One idea was to focus on the materials used in the renovations, of which we have some incredible examples (ie stone and wood carvings, stained glass windows etc). I personally like the idea of mixing the two, so a thematic exhibition with appropriate historical information dispersed throughout.
  3. Focus on what interests a visitor to the church. It’s hardly an exaggeration when I say St Mary’s is an architectural masterpiece, but it has much more to offer. A great example of this is photographs of the tower, which visitors aren’t allowed to go up. We could do a secret rooms of St Mary’s panel, which feels exciting.
  4. Lastly, but just as important was this: Meet the brief. It sounds simple, but we were overburdening ourselves with trying to organise events around the exhibition and transport to and from the gallery for all the content. This isn’t something we should be doing, so after speaking to the church they’ve agreed to deliver on that side.

One positive impact of changing to a thematic style of exhibition is I feel that by making that decision, we leapt forward in progress. We have the inventory all but completed and digitised, so we know what we have to play with. The church has their tasks to work on, and we are in the process of applying for funding.

The next hurdle is getting together and hammering out how we want it to look, and what goes where.

Wish us luck!

Jamie

 

Mission Statement

Hello,

My name is Jamie, and I am the creator of the St Mary’s 200th Anniversary Exhibition. The exhibition is to be held at Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery from June-July 2017.

To explain the purpose of this page, I believe I should start at the beginning. In July 2016, myself, along with Antia and Jade (my fellow co-conspiritors) were hired as Museum Assistants by Stockport Council to work at Bramall Hall, a 14th century Tudor house.

It is my goal to one day be a curator, and to that end I asked for voluntary work with the council to gain experience. Nothing materialised until November, when a chance meeting with a colleague and a member of the Stockport Heritage Trust opened a new, exciting door.

I was offered the opportunity to completely create an exhibition commemorating the 200 year anniversary of St Mary’s Church’s completed renovations. Excited by the prospect but also aware of the momentous amount of work that goes into an exhibition, I invited Antia and Jade to join me on the project.

We already have a Facebook group (see the link to the right) but we really wanted to showcase our work, skills and accomplishments. What better way than a WordPress blog?

Over the next few months, we’ll be posting updates and photos showing what we’re doing, how the creation of the exhibition is coming along and ultimately, media from the exhibition as it’s running.

Be back soon,

Jamie