Having the option to undertake a work placement was one of the most attractive features of the MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies, especially if (like me) you’ve never had a chance to work in the sector before. I was drawn to becoming a member of the exhibitions team at Quarry Bank Mill. As a National Trust site I knew I’d be in good hands and it appeared that I’d be involved in many aspects of bringing an exhibition to fruition.
Quarry Bank is one of the best preserved mills of the Industrial Revolution and continues to produce cotton today. As a museum, it presents the story of the Greg family who owned the mill and the mill workers; the history and processes of cotton trade, as well as a chance to experience working machinery. The gardens are picturesque! They were established by the Greg’s as a status symbol back in the 1790’s and feature rare rhododendrons. Work in the upper garden is the first phase of the Quarry Bank Project, a £9.4 million project to restore and transform the site, therefore inspiring the Spring 2016 exhibition, Unearthed.
The focus of the Unearthed exhibition was to provide an insight in to those involved with the gardens, past and present. I was assigned with Maurice Earlam and Cyril Bradley, who both worked in the gardens during the 1930’s, alongside Ashley Deane the current Academy Ranger. I was responsible for writing their text panels and object labels. The team was provided with a workshop by Ellen Fenton, the Learning and Interpretation manager, on writing in line with the National Trust guidelines and to ensure we would write with a similar voice.
A training day on the theory and practice behind oral histories proved useful when I interviewed Ashley Deane, not only as research for the exhibition but as a valuable addition to the Quarry Bank archives. I sourced relevant images and objects from the archives to display on text panels and in cases, as well as organising the best contemporary images from our photographer.
As a team we agreed on the layout of the exhibition and the interactives to engage both adult and family visitors. One of these included a ‘Listening Shed’ with a retro tape player to select and listen to the oral histories gathered throughout the process. The day before installation included a dash to B&Q with a tight budget, to buy any plants and any other dressings needed to improve the aesthetics of the space.
The placement was a great experience! I was involved in all aspects of the exhibition process from research to interpretation, exploring the archives and developing the oral histories, to curation, installation and evaluation. Here is a really embarrassing video of myself and fellow placement student Steven giving you an insight in to the exhibition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nd6sFf94Ck
The experience provided a great opportunity for hands-on learning but also opened doors- I’m now employed at Quarry Bank as a Visitor Welcome Assistant!