Described as a post-war time capsule, The Hardmans’ House, a National Trust property is the former home and studio of photographers Edward Chambré and Margaret Hardman. My work placement role was exhibitions assistant; it was to involve assisting the conservation team to prepare a new exhibition.
Previous to the Art Gallery and Museum Studies MA and my role at the Hardmans’ House, I worked in an art gallery dedicated to promoting contemporary Middle Eastern art and culture. I assisted and co-curated exhibitions, predominantly photographic works and to a lesser extent – sculpture and installation works. So when browsing through the long list of possible placements, I was hoping to find a new challenge and experience. The Hardmans’ House was exactly that, not only did it provide the opportunity to work with an interesting collection, much of it dedicated to my other love – photography! It was an exciting opportunity to work for one of the largest conservation charities in the UK.
The exhibition, which opened in March 2016, tells the story behind the staff that helped the Hardmans’ and the roles they each played. From the 1920s – 1970s, their photographic studio’s had over 50 staff members in varied roles from the cleaner to specialists such as the colourist. They were integral to the operation of the Hardmans’ business. This was the main aspect the exhibition aimed to convey.
I spent a lot of my time at the Hardmans’ on the National Trust’s Collections Management System (CMS). Part of my role as exhibitions assistant was to create a database for CMS that included each object, photograph, and prop in each exhibition dating back to when the National Trust took over the property. This is was a challenging task; the archive documents for each exhibition were in numerous files and boxes. There were many duplicates with variations that had to be cross-referenced. On one of the exhibitions I was trying to document, the only reference to the objects and photographs in the exhibit was photographs of the displays. From that I had to search CMS for the objects in question – a lengthy task! The purpose of the database was to assist the custodian of Hardmans’ with future exhibitions. By being able to cross-reference objects and photographs that had been previously displayed, it would allow future exhibitions not to repeat the exhibition objects and photographs too numerously.
The house holds two exhibition rooms; currently on display for another year is From Street to Studio. For the staff exhibit, the concept and most of the research was already in place. It was my job to put together a digital exhibition displayed on a screen in the Discovery room. Amongst other little jobs that contributed to the conservation works in the house over winter, I assisted with the practicalities of installing the exhibition. This included creating mounts for photographs and objects in display cases and to prepare reproductions of objects to act as a handling collection for visitors. Each stage of the project was reflective of the National Trust’s motto: For Ever, For Everyone.
Once the exhibition was installed, I offered to document the exhibition and From Street to Studio. Consequently I ended up documenting the whole house for promotional as well as conservation purposes.
What I learnt from my experience at the Hardmans’ House, gave me valuable insight into collections management systems, overcoming difficulties and finding a balance between display and conservation.