Rolling wallpapers onto plastic spools

As the assistant to the curator of textiles and wallpapers at the Whitworth Art Gallery, I went into the work experience without any prior knowledge of textiles and wallpapers. I worked alongside Amy George who introduced me to these beautiful works on paper. I found myself absolutely smitten by the gallery’s collection of wallpapers. The Whitworth owns over 5,000 wallpapers, making it the second largest wallpaper collection in the UK, alongside the V&A. Over the past six months, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined about the beautifully funky world of wallpapers, from the 1960s to present-day. Handling, documenting, or even simply looking at all of the retro-centric and stylish designs made me somewhat glimmer inside. So, I am here to provide a little zest about working with the Whitworth’s wallpaper collection.

First, wallpaper rips easily – more easily than you think, I can assure you. One of my first responsibilities at the Whitworth was assisting Amy in her curatorial endeavours with her wallpaper exhibition. I put in a good amount of time and effort to meticulously roll wallpapers onto plastic spools, which were then transported to the exhibition space to be hung for display. Each spool took about an hour and a half to roll. As you can imagine, wallpaper from the 1960s tends to weather with time and can become brittle and fragile. Unfortunately, I was never blessed with graceful hands; I ripped one of the papers and my life flashed before my eyes. I have to take this time to thank Amy for her saintly forgiving nature, and have now learned to what extent patience truly stands as a virtue.

Wallpapers preparing for exhibition display

Second, documentation is actually a therapeutic past time. Following its 2015 renovation, the Whitworth’s prints collection has been relocated to beautifully organised cradles in climate-controlled stores. My job was to document the new locations of the wallpapers on KE Emu (not the therapeutic past time) and then ensure its placement in each location of the physical store (ahhhh, namaste). Surrounded by over 55,000 all-embracing stylish wallpapers, world textiles and historic prints, I found my nirvana amidst the Whitworth’s bountiful prints collection. I voluntarily spent hours each day walking up and down the aisles, visually photographing the worldly creations. It was in this collections store where I was reminded of my passionate connectivity with beautiful works of art.

Altogether, my role as a (partially successful) curator and a (overly impassioned) collections manager at the Whitworth Art Gallery has taught me the intricate practice of caring for a gallery’s collection. My eyes have been opened to an entirely new art form that I wasn’t even aware I could fall so in love with. As a parting gift, Amy gave me an exhibition catalogue from a previous wallpaper show at the Whitworth (don’t worry, I did not manhandle this one). Looking through it now, I can see I’ve developed an eye for wallpaper design, and I have Amy and the Whitworth to completely thank for that!