Taking shape

Highways of Empire (detail), Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
A text detail from ‘Highways of Empire’ (1927) poster that caught my eye and made me smile

Last Tuesday marked the finishing point for all of the conservation work that myself and Melissa Williams have been busy with for the forthcoming Macdonald Gill exhibition. The last piece we worked on was the alternative ‘Highways of Empire’ item I wrote about in an earlier entry – the mounted on plywood version of it will be making its way back to its owner.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade Gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Laying out the case items before glass panels get placed on top

The project has now slowed down from my part, but the gallery is busy with the activity of hanging up the work and filling the cases. As this week draws to an end, I have had a chance to reflect back on the past seven or so months that I have had the privilege to be a part of the exhibition team. By being involved with this project, I have taken on many new conservation and digitisation challenges that will all continue to feed into my work and forthcoming projects here at the Design Archives. It has also been an eye-opening experience to be involved with the ‘behind the scenes’ side of putting together a major exhibition of archival objects. Other challenges within the team have varied from the logistics of coming up with a narrative and deciding which objects to include in the exhibition to ‘smaller’ tasks such as picking up paint colours for the entrance wall and cases. I have luckily also had the chance to indulge in my love of maps by working literally very closely with some of the pieces to be shown at the exhibition.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade Gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Detail of some of the case items in the exhibition

The case items are being put in their rightful homes by Andrew Haslam and Philippa Lyons as I type this, and the gallery is taking shape. For the case items that have needed weighing down, a nice detail has been added. Instead of using glass weights or photo corners where needed, Andrew Haslam came up with an idea to use typographic spacing material for letter press printing to weigh corners down. These objects are little lead squares also referred to as ‘4x4s’ and they seemed a very natural choice to use.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade Gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Typographic spacing material for letter press printing used as weights to make sure all objects are flat within the cases. They are also used to number the items.

This of course then proposed a conservation issue – using a lead weight directly on top of archival materials is not ideal. To avoid the lead touching the paper directly, we have created little squares from archival paper. These have been placed on the lead and work as a ‘guard’ between the weight and the works, protecting the originals. The works in the cases are also numbered in this manner.

Max Gill exhibition, Grand Parade gallery, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Still wrapped up and waiting to be hung. This particular piece is one of the very few facsimiles used in the exhibition. The original piece: Painted wind gauge map panel, Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, 1913.

The gallery technicians David Cooper and Steve Mace are very busy putting the works on the walls. I have been in and out of the gallery today watching it all slowly taking shape and I can not help but walk around the space with a smile on my face – I am so pleased and feel very lucky to have been a part of it all.

With technical help from Michael Wilson, I am also in the process of building a digital resource to go alongside the exhibition. As a part of this, I am aiming to launch an area within it built solely on people’s personal experiences of or with Macdonald Gill’s work. If you feel like you have a story you would like to share and therefore become a part of this project, I would love to hear from you!

The exhibition opens next Friday 22nd of July and will be launched by Peter Barber, Head of Cartographic and Topographic Materials at the British Library. It continues at the University Gallery until the 31st of August, excluding the August Bank Holiday Monday.

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