To get a good handle on collections management in museums I also need to learn about how visitors experience the collections. And what better way to do that than to put together a mini-exhibition? For the last five years the museum has displayed a selection of its embroidery samplers each summer season, and this year it was down to me to choose samplers for the drawers and objects for the top cabinet, and to write the panels that go along with it.
The theme of this year’s display is ‘learning and leisure’, reflecting the different roles of sampler making in girls’ and ladies’ lives. Sampler making was valuable practical education for work and motherhood, it allowed girls to improve their reading and writing, and helped teach religion and good behaviour. Without handheld toys and games like we have today, girls and young ladies would also produce samplers to pass the time while they recovered from illness.
Remembering that making samplers was a female-only activity which largely died out 100 years ago, I knew I had to choose a range of items for the top of the cabinet to represent work and play for girls and boys right up to the present day. A slate tablet and pencil worked well for education, but most of our Victorian toys are already on display elsewhere. I enjoyed the challenge of scouring the record cards and the Museum’s stores for iconic toys that are up to a century old, but are still produced and sold in huge numbers today – dominoes, tiddlywinks and all sorts of models, to name a few.
To finish off, some handy ‘Get Involved’ tips and challenges – can you read the sampler from the 1700s? What toy would you keep if you could only have one? Head over to Home Close to compare your sewing skills to those of a Victorian 8-year-old, and find out how entertainment has changed over the last 250 years.
‘Samplers: work and play’ can be explored in the Domestic Life building (outside the Osier Café), and is open to museum patrons until 4th November 2016.