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.
The samplers all have a plastazote (museum-grade foam) border and are laid on a thick card base to protect them when stacked in storage. In the display drawers these boards are secretly pinned to stop them sliding aorund around.
There must be some sort of guidelines for placing objects in a display… These battleships went in a convoy formation winding between all the other items.
The finished display – come and see it while you can!
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.
Our entry for Suffolk Museums Object of the Year contest 2016, for which voting is now open here: http://suffolkmuseums.org/museums/
The Stowmarket church clock with its Meccano-like appearance is an object that intrigues and fascinates visitors to the Museum of East Anglian Life. The story of the clock is one of community inclusion and progress. Dating from 1620, the clock announced the time through its carillon of bells, as it didn’t have a face.
The carillon and clock mechanism are now separate, but would have been connected to chime the time and a selection of 5 different hymns. The bells shared both the time and the act of worship with the people and landscape which would help create and sustain Stowmarket’s economic force in the centuries to come.
The clock mechanism, with the smaller internal clock face still attached (left). The museum’s metal support allows the weights (right) to drive the mechanism throughout the day.
The clock’s carillon mechanism, with a large cylinder for striking hymn tunes, and a smaller cylinder to sound the time.
In 1837, a clock face was added to the outside of the tower. A smaller face on the same mechanism was mounted inside, providing a physical link between the internal structure and the role of the church in the wider community – three centuries earlier, the church of St Peter and St Paul welcomed the congregation of St Mary’s church following its demolition, uniting two communities in the church of St Peter and St Mary as we know it today.
The clock is still wound at the start of each day, and we are proud that such a long-standing symbol of unity between town and country, agricultural and economic strength still ticks as it marks the passage of time in the Museum’s Boby building,
Click the bottom-right link on the Suffolk Museums homepage, and scroll down to the bottom to vote for the “correct” museum.
The Boby building is on the top field of the Museum’s main site and is open during the high season to paying visitors.