Working your way into heritage

BA (Hons) Museum and Heritage Studies graduate (2017) Lindsay Lawrence on working at Michelham Priory


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When I began studying for my degree in Museum and Heritage Studies at University of Brighton I had been working as a nursery practitioner in a children’s nursery for seven years. I was growing tired of the job and had started volunteering at a local heritage site, Michelham Priory. I helped in their Education Department, teaching school children about history in an interactive way, in a beautiful environment.


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I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the heritage sector, which is notoriously hard to get into, so I gave up my job and decided to get some qualifications. I was lucky because through volunteering and showing my commitment to the Priory I had become part of the team and they offered me casual hours to help me get through university. Being a single mum with two children, going to university at the age of 35 was not an easy thing to do, but the staff and other students were really supportive.


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As I worked my way through my course so much changed. Gradually I saw I was basing a lot of my coursework around the Priory, which helped me get to know the history of the site better, but the university work was also showing me how to look at things around me. One of our modules was ‘Interpreting Objects’, this was fantastic, it showed us how to look beyond the object you have in front of you and to think about histories that object has been involved with. This has been invaluable to me in my work, for a variety of reasons. The trips we went on at university also contributed to making me look at things differently: we talked about how museums work, how they are constructed to lead visitors around a particular route so they view exhibitions in the way that is intended. We also talked a lot about what worked (or not) in museums we visited. This made me look at Michelham in a new way; what did I want to highlight, what did I want to make sure visitors paid attention to? I fed information about what I was learning back to the Property Manager, who was supportive in every aspect of my learning. Towards the end of the course I had taken over running the gift shop and helping with a few weddings. I also started helping to market the Priory on social media. By discussing museums and heritage properties at university it helped me think about what potential visitors would want to see.


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My manager was keen for me to put into practice what I had learnt at university, tasking me with revamping our Rope Museum and making it a more practical visitor-friendly area of the site. This went well and the room is now much brighter, laid out to make sense of the displays, with much nicer descriptive labels.

After this I asked for a new project: I wanted to create a secondhand bookshop to raise more money for the Priory. The confidence I had gained at university encouraged me to push my ideas forward! I was given the go ahead and I worked with three other staff members to decorate and renovate our old nature room into a beautiful bookshop. This has gone so well that the money raised has paid for the Priory buildings to be 3D scanned, to become an interactive tool for visitors who can’t make it upstairs in the buildings, ensuring improved access for all.


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For my dissertation I decided, yet again, to incorporate the Priory and write about my favourite era there: World War Two. I learnt a massive amount about the Priory during this time in my research, which has then enabled me to be able to talk to visitors in detail about this period. I have had many requests from volunteers to read my dissertation, which is helping to share that knowledge. The research skills I learnt at University have come in handy recently, as a family that used to live at the Priory in the 1950s came to visit. I interviewed them and it gave us all a real insight into the Priory as a family home. One part of my job I really enjoy is taking photographs  around the site to advertise events, create interest in the site on social media and to create items to sell in the shop.


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After I finished university I was taken on full-time as Visitor Services and Retail Supervisor. I am now in charge of retail on the site, ensuring the shop is presented beautifully, buying stock and managing volunteers, I also work in the ticket office and I organise a lot of the events such as Wildlife Wednesday, Homefront Weekend, Archaeology Day and I have created two new events so far: Superhero Day and Christmas in the Courtyard.


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I absolutely love my job and I adore the Priory. I am given lots of responsibility and I am now part of the Duty Manager team. Every day is different, which is what I enjoy: most recently I have been filming with ITV and a US production company. If you had told me four years ago I would be in this position I would never have believed it. Hard work, a supportive manager and senior staff within the Society and an incredible three-year experience at university have helped me achieve my goals. Going to university was the best decision I could have made; the knowledge I have gained will stick with me and the support from the tutors was invaluable. I was given a piece of advice a few years ago from an ex colleague “Never stop learning, always have a go at everything, that will take you far”. It proved right for me, hard work, enthusiasm and commitment is what you need in this industry.


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Virginia Woolf at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

MA History of Design and Material Culture student Paulina Kulacz reviews Pallant House Gallery’s recent Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings

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Fig. 1: Paintings by Laura Knight and Nina Hamnett.

This year marks the centenary of women’s suffrage and thinking through the lens of feminism has been at the forefront for many arts and heritage institutions. All over the country, exhibitions and programmes have tapped into the ethos of women’s rights. So it is perhaps no surprise that this has included exploring the work of Virginia Woolf, whose 1929 book A Room of One’s Own helped shape a voice for creative women, seeking to place them on equal ground with their artistic male counterparts. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf indicated how women must always keep creating, that in ‘another hundred years … give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind … and she will write a better book one of these days. She will be a poet’[1]. And almost one hundred years later a new exhibition Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings explored exactly how far female creatives have come and how Woolf’s ideas on feminism have remained relevant to people working across a vast array of media. 

The exhibition, curated by Laura Smith, Exhibitions & Displays Curator, Tate St Ives, was a partnership between Tate St. Ives in Cornwall, Pallant House Art Gallery in Chichester and the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, three locations that were important to Woolf and her writing. Throughout the summer months, the exhibition was at its stop at Pallant House, where I had a chance to see it and to reflect both on my experiences working as a conservation assistant at Monk’s House National Trust and the ways in which one can curate an exhibition around an individual whose work is in a medium that is not often associated with art galleries directly.

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Fig. 2: Still Life, The Home and ‘A Room of One’s Own’ section at the Pallant House Art Gallery, including textile art titled Interpret my Dreams by Emma Talbot.

As executive director of the Pallant House Gallery, Simon Martin, stated, ‘rather than it being a biographical exhibition about Virginia Woolf, the show takes her ideas as a structure within which to explore feminist perspectives’[2].Virginia Woolf featured over 80 female artists from 1854 to the present day and tapped into themes present in A Room of One’s Own. One theme I found especially interesting related to one of my favourite quotes from the book, where Woolf indicates that ‘Masterpieces are no single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice’[3]Woolf’s words capture the importance of communal solidarity and thinking through history, but they also capture the importance of fostering relationships, and in Woolf’s case particularly, those amongst women. Virginia Woolf herself cultivated many influential relationships with different women throughout her life, most intimately with her sister the painter Vanessa Bell, but also others such as Dorothy Brett, Dora Carrington, Nina Hamnett, Katherine Mansfield, Gwen Raverat, Vita Sackville-West and Ethel Sands. Pieces by all these women were in the exhibition, and they speak to one another both directly and indirectly about shared ideas and passions.

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Fig. 3: Abstract bodies painted directly on the gallery walls by France-Lise McGurn at the Pallant House Art Gallery.

Juxtaposing these pieces were works by contemporary artists such as Judy Chicago, Carol Bove, Linder, Louise Bourgeois, and newly commissioned works by France-Lise McGurn, who painted abstract figures directly onto the walls of the gallery – a homage to the Bloomsbury spirit of painting on things. Together, all these works drew on Woolf’s feminist perspectives. They connected tangibly, anecdotally, geographically or even conceptually to her. They depicted how the themes present in Woolf’s work, such as identity, domesticity and landscape, have resonated with artists across time through their shared experience; how, like Woolf, these artists have also explored notions of gender and different ways of experiencing and identifying as female.

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Fig. 4: Study for Virginia Woolf – from ‘The Dinner Party’ by Judy Chicago at the entrance of the exhibition Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings.

Divided into eight rooms the exhibition featured over fifty works of photography, film, painting, sculpture, wood carving, letters, books, and even material culture, such as a tea set used by Virginia herself and painted by her sister. It also featured objects such as Suffragette memorabilia and letters from Eleanor Marx, pieces extremely interesting on their own, but lost in a whirlwind of many other works that had a more dominating effect and a more direct link to the themes and to Woolf herself. At times it seemed there were too many pieces, too many artists, too many directions and links attempted in the themes explored. It made the exhibition slightly overwhelming. Perhaps one could argue this is how one feels when reading a work by Virginia Woolf – where words, metaphors and the images evoked fold into one another with little room to breath – and that this was reiterated in the exhibition. Still, the experience of reading an overwhelming book is different from stepping into an overwhelming gallery space. Time moves differently in galleries and the multi-sensory experiences are more complicatedly haphazard. There simply is more is at stake and this is where Virginia Woolf potentially misses the mark. It was an interesting exhibition to see, and one I enjoyed, but it could have been just as strong with a little less to take in. 

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Fig. 5: Section of the exhibition featuring Nicola L’s plastic eye and lip lamps and Birgit Jürgenssen’s 10 days – 100 photos composition.

Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings is currently showing at its final stop at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until 9th December 2018.

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Fig. 6: Still Life, The Home and ‘A Room of One’s Own’ section at the Pallant House Art Gallery, featuring work by Vanessa Bell and Jane Simone Bussy.

[1]Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Granada Publishing Limited, 1977) 89-90.

[2] Simon Martin, “Director’s Statement,” Pallant House Gallery Guidebook (Number 45, May-October 2018) 7.

[3]Woolf, A Room of One’s Own,63.

Ireland’s Fashion Radicals Exhibition

BA Fashion and Dress History graduate Emma Kelly reviews an exhibition at The Little Museum of Dublin

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Fig. 1 The exhibition space.

Back in September 2017, following an insightful lecture on the life and career of Carmel Snow, Editor and Chief of Harpers Bazaar at The Little Museum of Dublin, it was announced the museum would host a fashion exhibition in the new year. The exhibition: Ireland’s Fashion Radicals, continuing the museum’s focus on objects telling the story of Dublin, would be dedicated to Irish fashion and the radicals of the industry during the twentieth century.

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Fig.2 Image of the section dedicated to Mary O’Donnell.

The exhibition opened in January 2018 and I had no idea what to expect. How would the topic of fashion radicals be tackled? Would it be designer-focused or wearer-focused? Would the stereotypical Aran-knit jumper make an appearance? It definitely didn’t disappoint. Curated by historian Robert O’Byrne, it focused on the careers and creations of Irish fashion designers of the 50s, 60s and 70s: Sybil Connolly, Irene Gilbert, Ib Jorgensen, Clodagh, Michelina Stacpoole, Mary O’Donnell and Neillí Mulcahy. In Ireland these decades were defined by social and political turmoil. Yet several designers initiated their careers, striking out into the Irish fashion industry, seeking to make names for themselves.

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Fig. 3 Image of the green pleated linen gown by Sybil Connolly circa 1960’s.

The exhibition wasn’t laid out in the traditional way of mannequins behind glass, organised into rows, with text panels located under or beside the displays. Spread out across two small adjoining rooms, the exhibition was laid out in a more approachable way (Fig. 1), making use of the limited space. Each designer had dedicated wall space, with text and images including photos of the designers, promotional material and sketches. Examples of their work were on mannequins close by, such as the case of Mary O’Donnell (Fig. 2).  You could walk right up to the garments.

Walking round the room I was fascinated by the use of Irish textiles. It really added to the celebratory tone of the exhibition as not only was it celebrating Irish talent, many of whom have been largely forgotten, but the use of Irish textiles. Irish textiles are often discussed in relation to industries such as lace, linen and wool. The examples on show were more contemporary in style, examples of the adaption of Irish textiles for a new, international audience. For me they were emblematic of the Irish fashion industry moving forward, taking influence from international fashion but supporting industries in Ireland, without an Aran knit jumper in sight.

One of my personal highlights was a green pleated linen Sybil Connolly gown circa 1960’s. It was the piece I kept coming back to (Fig 3). Emblematic of Connolly’s work, it was romantic and feminine, created with Irish textiles. Pleated linen was her trademark, used time and time again in her designs. The Costume Institute at the Met Museum houses several pieces by Connolly, many  of which are of pleated linen. To see such a piece up close was phenomenal. Another Connolly highlight was a promotional photo, reminiscent of the works of Richard Avedon, who took fashion photography out of the studio and into the streets, showing fashion in action. Far from the streets of Paris Connolly’s model found herself  in Ireland on a typically cloudy day. I can only imagine what the reaction of passers-by would have been to such a glamorous (bare-shouldered) figure.

I love finding, through exhibitions, that there is more to a familiar object than meets the eye. In this one it was a photo by Cecil Beaton that took pride of place on the wall beside the works of Irene Gilbert. The image, printed onto the wall, is one of his most famous “Fashion is Indestructible” from Vogue 1941 showing a couture  model amongst the ruins of a building (Fig. 4). Her outfit was by Irish born designer Digby Morton, born in Dublin in 1906. I wasn’t ever aware of the Irish connection the photo had. The text also mentioned another designer, John Cavanagh, born in 1914 in Mayo and worked with Balmain and Molyneux before setting up his own label. The inclusion of Morton and Cavanagh, as well more recent designers such as Simone Rocha, shows the other side of the Irish industry, those who left Ireland to establish careers in other countries. Emigration is an integral part of the Irish story and it was very fitting that such designers be included alongside Irish born designers who set up their labels in Ireland as well as designers who made their homes and livelihoods in Ireland.

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Fig. 4 “Fashion is Indestructible “ photo by Cecil Beaton 1941.

Amongst the designer-wear on show was one ensemble with incredible provenance. The red woollen suit (Fig. 5) was made by Anne, Countess of Rosse née Messel. The unassuming suit has links to Ireland as well to my University town of Brighton. Many of Anne and her family’s garments are housed at Brighton Museum. You couldn’t study Fashion and Dress History at Brighton and not know of the Messels and their long and illustrious love affair with fashion and the crème de la crème of the industry over the decades. The inclusion of the suit was an interesting choice: an ensemble created by a woman who wore garments by some of the designers on show, including Gilbert and Jorgensen. Only steps away was the Irene Gilbert gown Anne Messel wore to Buckingham Palace.

It was amazing to walk round the space and see Irish fashion on show; fashion that wasn’t stereotypical, fashion that could stand amongst the fashion of the world’s fashion capitals, and yet still tipped its cap to Ireland and its culture, from the use of its textiles to the motifs of its culture. The radicals on show in the room were radicals in their own way. In the early years of the new state (from 1922), they forged careers in uncertain times. They took the road less travelled, creating fashion for their Ireland and countries around the world, creations that worked to celebrate the textiles and crafts we have.

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Fig. 5 Red woollen suit made by Anne, Countess of Rosse circa 1950’s.

Though the exhibition was small, at the end I felt reinvigorated to push on in my choice to focus on Irish dress history. For me, the garments in the room stood as testament to the fact that we did have a fashion industry and that we do have a story in tell.

A version of this post first appeared on the Costume Society‘s website in August 2018.

Object of the Month: September 2018

MA History of Design and Material Culture student Emmy Sale on an unknown photo album from the University of Brighton Dress History teaching collection

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Fig 1: Photo album with photographs dating between 1936 and 1949. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection. Photograph by author.

The Dress History teaching collection is home to a number of photo albums with unknown provenance. This album (Figure 1) has a faux leather cover with an embossed black border. The pages are thick brown paper, photographs mounted with corner tabs. It contains images dating from 1936 to 1949, with locations around Britain and abroad, showing that the family who made it travelled regularly.

When analysing the album I had the feeling, described by photography curator Verna Curtis, that ‘when you hold a photo album, you sense that you are in possession of something unique, intimate and meant to be saved for a long time. As you turn the pages and look at the images, you imbibe the maker’s experience, invoking your imagination and promoting personal memories’.[i] Inside the album are images of the family’s holiday to Clovelly, Devon. The village is near my hometown so these created an immediate connection between me and this unknown family’s past.

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Fig 2: Woman riding a Donkey at the Clovelly estate, Devon. Undated. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection. Photograph by author.

In one of the Clovelly images (Figure 2) there is a woman in the side of the shot passing a Box Brownie to someone. Although the first amateur cameras available were the Kodak No.1 roll film cameras in 1888, these were expensive and often only a toy for the upper and middle classes. It was not until the 1920s that lower class families were able to purchase photography equipment such as the Box Brownie, which cost 5 shillings in 1900. The original Brownie took images of a 57 millimetre square but the Brownie No.2 took photos sizing 57 by 83 millimetres, the proportions of the images in this album. Therefore, it is likely that a Box Brownie 2 was used to take the photographs whilst revealing that this camera was an affordable option for many lower class families in the 1930s, to capture images of day trips and holidays.

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Fig 3: Three women sitting on Clacton Beach. 1936. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection. Photograph by author.

The photographs from this album can be used as a source in dress history research. The images provide evidence of what people wore for special occasions or vacations, they show how garments were worn and what they were paired with. For example, images can be used to make sense of isolated garments in archives or even see garments that have not survived. However, the image of three young women on Clacton beach in 1936 (Figure 3), proves how difficult it can be to identify class differences in photographs due to the widespread mass consumption of clothing. It is difficult to tell from the photograph whether the bathing suits worn are expensive Jantzen suits that cost at least fifteen shillings in 1936 or a garment knitted at home with the use of patterns provided in two-penny papers. The exact details of the garments’ manufacture are locked within the photograph and would need the use of oral testimony from one of those photographed to identify them.

Although the use of unknown photographs in dress history can be down to interpretation, with persistence it can lead to the discovery of an aspect of the photograph’s narrative.  This can be about the sitters’ lifestyle, their dress, or simply how the photograph was made. In my own research on knitted bathing suits in the 1930s, they have provided insight by showing how bathing suits were worn on the body and the ways in which wearers would imitate poses of glamorous images they saw in magazines. Such readings have lead to a questioning of how young women regarded their bathing suits and its role in the social aspects of beach leisure. The survival of these images is pivotal to this research because there are only a few hand-knitted garments that have survived and video recordings of beach scenes only show those wealthy enough to afford it. Although the Box Brownie camera was still a luxury to some, it was an increasingly accessible mode of photography and therefore the images provide a source that shows the ordinary life of people and what they wore.

[i]Posever Verna Curtis, Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography(New York: Aperture, 2011) 7.

On winning the Design History Society Undergraduate Student Essay Prize and cultural adventures in New York City

Emmy SaleBA Fashion and Dress History graduate 2018 – on visiting New York for the Design History Society conference

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Fig 1. University of Brighton delegates Harriet Atkinson, Emmy Sale and Megha Rajguru

In June, I was thrilled to receive news that my dissertation (supervised by Dr Charlotte Nicklas) had been nominated for the Design History Society Undergraduate Essay Prize. A few weeks later I found out it had won. The essay looked at hand-knitted bathing suits in the 1930s, with a focus on their making and wearing for the leisure and lifestyle of young working women. In their comments, the Prize’s reviewers said the essay contained new research that explored aspects of working class dress, alongside excellent theoretical arguments. An important aspect of my research was the acknowledgement that working class dress, women’s craft and the home-making of garments is often overlooked in dress history and sometimes, also, by museums. Winning a prize for this work underlines the value of such histories and gives me confidence to continue investigating beachwear worn by young women in the interwar period.

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Fig. 2 Jeremy Aynsley announcing the winners of the Student Essay Prize.

Part of the Essay Prize was a free place at the Design History Society(DHS)’s conference held this year at Parsons The New School of Design in New York City. With help towards travel costs as part of the award, I was delighted to be able to travel to New York. The conference theme was “Design and Displacement”, a historically and contemporarily relevant theme. The first parallel session I attended was “Objects and Meaning”, a discussion of the role of objects and design and their subsequent meanings to individuals and groups in situations of displacement and unsettlement. A quote from speaker Penny Wolfson summarised this: “Things are to be taken seriously. They matter. We save them and sometimes they save us.”

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Fig. 3 Celebrations in front of the Statue of Liberty at the Design History Society Gala Dinner.

During the conference, DHS held two social events for conference delegates to network and celebrate design history. The first was an opening reception in the Great Hall at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It was here that DHS chairman Professor Jeremy Aynsley formally announced the winners of the Student Essay Prize and Design Writing Prize. He spoke of how the Prize is one of the ways the Society supports and encourages the student research of design history. The second was the Gala Dinner, which took place aboard a dinner boat for an evening cruise to enjoy the sights of New York from dusk to dark.

Over the three days of the conference, I attended sessions examining Meet me in St. Louis (1944), American Modernism, Museology, émigré designers’ clothing and displacement. These sessions were close to my interests in dress, textiles and material culture but they also explored aspects of design history that were new to me. I was particularly intrigued by Selene States’ paper “Delineating Fashions Beyond the Bauhaus: Patterning Die Neue Linie After Politics in the Weimar and Nazi Periods,” which examined the shifting design of fashion illustrations in the Bauhaus Ladies’ Journal through the Weimar and Nazi periods. Her primary research compared the illustrated designs in the journal with international journals and dress patterns; a methodology I was intrigued by and had attempted within my own research.

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Fig. 4 “Mended and Altered” section at Fashion Unravelled, The Museum at FIT.

In the museology session, Colleen Hill, curator at The Museum at FIT, gave a paper examining the repurposed garments within the museums current exhibition Fashion Unravelled. Luckily, the museum was my next stop after the conference.  The Fashion Unravelled exhibition looked at garments that have altered, unfinished, repurposed, distressed and deconstructed. Each garment displayed had an intriguing history relating to their wearers or makers. Whilst I was in New York, FIT opened a second exhibition, PINK: The History of Punk, Pretty, Powerful color, which explored the meanings and definitions of pink clothing. It was an explosion of garments in every shade of pink fabrics imaginable in Euro-American fashion from 1850 to present. It did not just feature pink frocks, as one might have expected, but also lingerie, menswear, childrenswear and contemporary garments that use pink for conceptual or political meaning.

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Fig. 5: PINK: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color. Images features the juxtaposition of a 1750s Silk robe à la française and a pleather garment from Rei Kawakubo’s famous “18th century Punk” collection.

During fashion and dress history seminars at Brighton we often discussed the place of fashion in museums all over the world. Central to these discussions were the Museum at FIT and The Met. So an opportunity to go to New York was also a chance to experience museums I have only read about.  The Met’s latest blockbuster exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. featured the works of designers who, for the most part, were raised within the traditions of Roman Catholicism, suggesting how their relationships with religion influenced their work. Dolce and Gabanna, Yves Saint Laurent, House of Givenchy and Alexander McQueen were placed within the Medieval Sculpture Hall designed to resemble a Western church for an “Ecclesiastical Fashion Show.”

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Fig. 6: Dolce and Gabbana Evening dresses from A/W13-14 collection displayed at Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and The Catholic Imagination, The Met 5th Avenue.

When I began my dissertation research I would never have expected it to be the start of an adventure, which would end up in New York.

Emmy starts on the MA History of Design and Material Culture this month.

Barbie – The Icon at The National Museum of Finland, Helsinki

BA Fashion and Dress History student Charlotta Ruotanen visits an exhibition about a popular – but contested – children’s toy

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Fig.1: National History Museum of Finland. 23.07.2018. Personal photograph by author.

Love it or hate it, Barbie is one of the best known toys of the last sixty years and perhaps it’s for that reason that the exhibition Barbie – The Icon has been a hit. The exhibition, which was curated by Professor Massimiliano Capella and developed with toy manufacturer Mattel, originated in Milan and travelled to Rome, Bologna and Madrid before coming to Helsinki, where I saw it (Fig 1). It explores the history of Barbie from the late fifties to today.

Inside the Museum there were opportunities to pose with images of Barbie before entering the first room, which was dedicated to how the image of Barbie has changed over the years. There was a separate case for the original Teen-age Fashion Model Barbie Doll. This, the first ever Barbie, was introduced at the 1959 Toy Fair in New York. It looked sophisticated and was wearing a black and white bathing suit (Fig 2).

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Fig.2: Teen-age Fashion Model Barbie Doll. Press Photograph for Barbie – the Icon exhibition. Web. 23.8.2018. Mattel.

Looking at how Barbie had changed over seven decades prompted me to think about how the world and fashion have changed since the late 1950s. Even Barbie’s body and face have changed to comply with fashionable beauty standards. The original Barbie had strong cat-eye makeup with blue eyeshadow, hoop earrings and a tiny waist. This look stayed the same during most of the 1960s and Barbie had multiple different hair colours too. In the seventies Barbie’s hair changed to that long, blond, iconic hair that she still has. Also Barbie’s skin colour changed to become more tan as was fashionable and her face had a complete makeover. In recent years Barbie has been given even more makeovers and now there are even Barbies with different body-types to fit with campaigns about body positivity.

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Fig.3: Career Barbies. Press Photograph for Barbie – the Icon exhibition. Web. 23.8.2018. Mattel.

One exhibition room was dedicated to all the different careers Barbie has had. The first Barbie was a fashion model but since the 1960s Barbie has been an astronaut, doctor, veterinarian, air hostess, athlete and a lot more (Fig 3). The next room was about Barbie’s house and her family and friends, the next few rooms were about collectable Barbies. For example “Silkstone Barbies” were made to be glamorous and to have the face of the first Barbie despite being made in the twenty-first century. In the same room there were Barbies that had clothes inspired by famous artworks and, of course, there were also celebrity look-a-like Barbies. Some of these were characters from movies and some wore iconic outfits from celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Cher (Fig 4).

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Fig.4: Marilyn Monroe Barbies. Barbie – The Icon exhibition. 23.7.2018. Personal photograph by author.

The exhibition ended with a room full of Barbies that represented different countries and cultures. This was clearly the curator’s attempt to end the exhibition with a sense of unity, but was problematic as most of the dolls were heavily stereotyped and their costumes depended on cultural appropriation. This was a disappointing end to what was otherwise an excellent exhibition.

Changing perspectives

MA History of Design and Material Culture graduate Harriet Parry reflects on contributing to the recent inaugural Fashion, Costume & Visual Cultures (FCVC) conference in Zagreb

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Fig. 1: Jenna Allsopp (L) Harriet Parry (R) at The Museum of the ’80s, Zagreb. Photograph: Harriet Parry

When I first embarked on an MA in History of Design and Material Culture at University of Brighton in September 2016, I could never have envisaged that two years later I would be sitting with my colleague Jenna Allsopp, listening to the opening introduction of FCVC 2018 in Zagreb. The excitement of visiting a new city, and the curiosity of being at the University of Zagreb within the Faculty of Textile Technology, which could have been any lecture theatre in any city in the UK, was quickly drawn into focus by the opening welcome made the University of Zagreb’s Dean, Prof. dr. sc Sandra Bischof. Her speech was heartfelt and emotional, and it soon dawned on me that this conference being held at their institution meant a considerable amount not only to the University, but to the arts community of the city as a whole. I quickly felt the privileged position that we hold as scholars within a British institution such as the University of Brighton, and my perspective was immediately shifted by a sense of how, as academics, we might relate to one another on an international platform.

Dr. Sarah Gilligan, and her colleagues Dr Simoncic and Petra Krpan, the organising committee of FCVC 2018, had worked incredibly hard to create an interdisciplinary conference with an intention of creating a ‘collegial’ and ‘collaborative’ platform not only for established academics, but also for early career and emerging academics such as myself. This they achieved admirably, and although I was on a panel with three well-established academics, at no point was I made to feel the lesser of the four. Our panel ‘The League of Extraordinary Makers: Crafting the “Real” in Fantasy and Superhero Costuming’ had come together through the impetus of Professor Clare Wilkinson from the Department of Anthropology at Washington State University. I had recently had an article on costume breakdown published in the Intellect journal Film, Fashion and Consumption,[1]through which I had been introduced to a piece written by Professor Wilkinson with Vancouver’s doyenne of costume breakdown Anthea Mallinson. Under Clare’s direction, we presented papers that, I believe, truly synthesised the voice of the craftsperson with that of the academic. Alongside our three papers we had the added privilege of presenting with Dr Cathleen Lewis, Curator of International Space Programs and Spacesuits at the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum. As Dr Gilligan remarked, “quite possibly the coolest job title in history”.

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Fig. 2: FCVC 2018 programme description. Photograph: Harriet Parry

There is not space here to describe the variety of voices that were offered a platform at the conference. The diverse subjects and nationalities represented offered opportunities to shift perspectives on how we might interpret and communicate visual cultures. Delegates attended from as far afield as Australia, Canada, Turkey, Iran, Belgium, North America, Russia, France, Scotland, Finland and Israel. As is ever the case, I went away wishing there had been more time to talk to other delegates, and was disappointed to have missed some of the panels. But realistically I couldn’t have absorbed any more.

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Fig. 3: ‘The League of Extraordinary Makers’ From L to R Harriet Parry, Anthea Mallinson,
Prof. Clare M. Wilkinson, Dr. Cathleen S Lewis. Photograph: Dr. Lara Kipp.

The principal value that came from this experience was that after having spent two years with my head firmly planted in a small microcosm of academia, it is vital to remember that there is a whole world out there of voices and perspectives that cannot always be felt through the pages of a book. I was privileged to have the opportunity to take part in this conference, a tall order financially even on a shoe-string, but we can still be reminded that London isn’t the cultural centre of the world, and will I’m sure become less so as political events unfold. It is not just about acknowledging that there are other cultures to be explored, but that people may see the world in very different ways, and our work will, as always, be richer for trying to understand other’s perspectives.

Fig. 4

Fig 4: Image from Anna Kleiman ‘Dress to Oppress. Israeli Culture Minister Wears Jerusalem.’ Photo: Harriet Parry


From October 2018 Harriet Parry will be an AHRC Design Star PhD candidate at University of Brighton.

[1]Harriet Parry. ‘Moon: A sensuous scholarship of the art of costume breakdown in film’. Film, Fashion and Consumption Volume 6, Number 2, 1 December 2017. 89-103


Fig 6.

Fig 5. University of Brighton delegates (from left to right): Jenna Allsopp, Harriet Parry, Liz Tregenza, Dr. Marie McLoughlin. Photograph: Jenna Allsopp

Object of the Month August 2018

First year Fashion and Dress History BA student Milly Westbrook explores a dangerous top hat currently showing at the V&A’s exhibition Fashioned from Nature

Fig 1.

Fig. 1. Fashioned From Nature at the V&A. Grey top hat sealed within a hazmat bag. Photo by Author

The items on display at the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition are consistent with what one would expect from the theme of the exhibition. Items inspired by nature, examples of natural fibres compared to synthetic, and how these fabrics affect our everyday lives and morals. However, one object particularly catches the eye and intrigues the mind: a grey top hat concealed within a plastic hazmat bag, with three warning symbols stuck on top. The first question that comes to mind when seeing this object is of course: why on earth is this hat so dangerous?

The story behind this hat is common amongst eighteenth century top hats: it cannot be touched, as mercuric nitrate has been used in the felting process. Hatters, when working with some furs such as beaver, which does not bond as easily as wool, would use chemical intervention to make the bonding process easier. Mercuric nitrate was often used for this. Although it was effective in bonding the fibres, it was also highly poisonous and made the hat makers distinctively ill. The symptoms of mercury poisoning called ‘erethism mercurialis’ included: shaking, anxiety and visions. This led to the phrase ‘as mad as a hatter’. This item opens our eyes to the devastating effects fashion has had. Just as today there is often pain and suffering behind the clothes we buy.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2. Fashioned From Nature at the V&A. Information card. Photo by Author

Overall, this particularly stand-out, thought-provoking item sums up the takeaway messages of the exhibition: the impact of fashion on nature, and the impact of nature on fashion. It also provides a very novel take on Alice in Wonderland!

To read more on the subject, the Royal Society of Chemistry provides a concise article on ‘Hatters Disease’.

From Fine Art and Anthropology to Local History: working my way through museums

Visual Culture graduate (2013) Anne Nielsen writes about developing her career in local museums


Fig.1 Delivering a guided tour at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery.

I chose Visual Culture as my BA at Brighton because I liked the wide scope of the course. Throughout my degree I kept choosing options and essays that were related to museum studies – this surprised me because I hadn’t thought of a career in museums. The option ‘Behind the Scenes’ enabled me to do a placement in the Fine Art Department at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, which introduced me to the practical side of museums. I stayed on as a volunteer and had the opportunity to assist with exhibitions and write interpretation labels. The experience led me to pursue a career in museums and helped me secure other opportunities in the sector.


Fig. 2 Treasures from the waistcoat collection. Costume display at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery. Author’s photograph.

After my BA, I took a year out for travelling and working. Although I worked in retail, I kept my museum connection alive by volunteering as a gallery steward at The Holburne in Bath. This was my first introduction to visitor services, which I really enjoyed as I got to engage with a variety of visitors.

I then went on to complete a MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology at University of Oxford. I chose the course as it offered critical engagement with the origin of museums and their collections, their purpose and relationships with source communities. It also introduced me to a new discipline: anthropology, which gave me a fresh perspective on material culture and museum studies. The course was based at the Pitt Rivers Museum and some of my tutors were curators there, which offered an interesting insight into working with ethnographic collections. During my MSc I completed a paid internship in the Photographs & Manuscripts collection at the Pitt Rivers. I catalogued and digitised a collection of early 20th century photographs taken by a German geologist during expeditions in Asia. The internship developed my skills in documentation which are essential for collections management. It was also very satisfying as the digitisation and cataloguing made the collection visible and accessible.


Fig.3 Original receipt for wedding waistcoat, 1742/3. Author’s photograph.

After graduation, I got a job as Visitor Services Assistant at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery – I was only meant to be there for three months but I’ve ended up staying for more than two years! I’ve had three jobs since I started here, and currently I’m part-time Documentation Assistant and part-time Visitor Services & Admin Officer. There is still a strong disconnect between Front of House staff and ‘Behind the Scenes’ staff in museums so my two positions allow me to bridge the gap. Working in a small museum can be incredibly rewarding as the workload can be very varied, which is perfect for developing skills in new areas. Since I started working here, I’ve been involved in exhibition installations and collections work even before I started my collections job. I’ve had the opportunity to give guided tours of the collections which has boosted my confidence in public speaking (Fig.1). Another aspect I’ve enjoyed is supervising volunteers and work experience students, as you get to pass on your passion for museums and support others in developing new skills.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4 Stages of mounting the wedding waistcoat. Author’s photograph.

One of my highlights this year has been the costume display I curated and mounted. Costume is a new subject area for me so it has been exciting to expand my knowledge and learn how to mount costume. The museum has an excellent costume collection – I chose men’s waistcoats to highlight men’s fashion and to showcase some of the treasures in the collection (Fig.2). The selected Georgian and Regency waistcoats are all highly decorative but they also illustrate changing shapes and styles. The star of the display is the silk wedding waistcoat (1743) complete with original receipt (Fig.3). The latter not only tells us who commissioned it (the bride) but also who made it (Mary Bampton) and how much she was paid (the equivalent of a month’s wages). It is extremely rare for women makers to be documented which is why it is so incredible that this receipt has survived. The wearer had very narrow shoulders which made it a challenge to mount the waistcoat. All our male mannequins were too broad so we had to be creative and use a female mannequin instead. We created a flat chest with wadding and then filled the sides and padded the upper back with wadding to mould it into a male shape (Fig.4).

The museum is about to start a big project as we have received HLF and Arts Council funding to expand and redevelop the building and galleries and integrate services. We are now gearing up towards decanting the collections to off site storage which will be my priority for the next 6 months. My future plans? I want to keep developing my expertise in collections and curation and a PhD is also on the list!

On winning an award from The Costume Society

MA Design History Material Culture Victoria Haddock reports on receiving the Costume Society’s 2018 Yarwood Award

Fig 1.

Figure 1: Easy Lessons in Dressmaking article from Fashion Service: Woman’s Institute Magazine (January 1931) from the collections of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Photograph taken by the author.

I am currently writing my History of Design and Material Culture MA dissertation on the topic of dress patterns, and the influence that Hollywood film costumes of the 1930s had on the pattern industry. I am particularly interested in film costumes worn by the actress Katharine Hepburn, and am focusing my research on two of her films from the 1930s, Christopher Strong(1933) and Alice Adams (1935). Both of these films featured costumes that were produced and sold as dress patterns by the Hollywood Pattern Company and Butterick Starred Patterns. By analyzing these dress patterns, and recreating the jacket from a copy of the Butterick Starred Pattern that I have been able to purchase, I hope to discover more about the dressmaking skills of women of the period and how easy these patterns were to construct. I aim to find out how much of an influence Hollywood stars such as Hepburn, were on women and whether the designs had any impact on the fashion trends of the decade.

Fig 2.

Figure 2: Can the Stars Choose Clothes? by Pat Wallace, The Picturegoer (February 1930) from the collections of the Bill Douglas Cinema Archive, Exeter University. Photograph taken by the author.

My research so far has taken me to varied museums and collections across the country, and even to one in America that I’ve been able to access from the comfort of my own home! I have been to look at 1930s film magazines in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum Archive at Exeter University, read through first hand accounts of 1930s fashion and dressmaking trends in the Mass Observation Archive at The Keep and researched the impact of celebrity dress in the V&A’s Vivien Leigh Archive at Blythe House. I have also investigated examples of 1930s Hollywood ‘tie-ins’ in the V&A’s costume collection, looked at patterns and sewing magazines at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and viewed examples of 1930s dress in the costume collection at the National Trust’s Killerton House in order to find evidence of Hollywood’s permeation of 1930s fashions. The online Commercial Pattern Archive from The University of Rhode Island has proved to be an extremely useful database for searching patterns and looking at the different styles of garments that were produced for home sewers. I was introduced to the archive through Joy Spanabel Emery’s book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution.

Fig 3.

Figure 3: The Glass of Fashion article, Picturegoer Weekly (May 14 1932) from the collections of the Bill Douglas Cinema Archive, Exeter University. Photograph taken by the author.

I am very fortunate recently to have received The Costume Society’s Yarwood Award, 2018, which commemorates the work of costume historian Doreen Yarwood, by helping an MA student with expenditure relating to their dissertation. Through getting this award, I can now finance more research visits to collections that I have since discovered have links with my dissertation topic and I am planning to visit Worthing Museum and the Museum of London very soon. I would like to find more examples of dress that I can match to patterns produced in the 1930s and I am also on the lookout for any rare examples of clothes copied from film costume designs that were manufactured and sold through tie-ins with the big Hollywood studios. I would appreciate any advice if anyone knows of an archive or collection that would be particularly useful to my research.

Fig 4.

Figure 4: Vogue Pattern No. 6648 from the collections of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Photograph taken by the author.