Written by Alex Hewitt
We have now entered week 15 of our Cultural Intern placements and when I first started at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust I had not anticipated just how varied my work would be! One day I might be wading through the mud at Mary Arden’s Farm, and the next I might be down in the stacks hunting for Elizabethan documents. I feel like I have been doing a little bit of everything, whilst gaining a load of experience!
During the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of great projects, relating mainly to education, interpretation and collections care. Towards the end of last year the Trust took part in an event run by the Kids in Museums organisation called ‘Take Over Day’ where pupils from a local primary school were invited to essentially ‘take over’ the Trust. They dressed up in Elizabethan clothing and took on various roles, working alongside staff and volunteers. They acted as tour guides, worked on the tills in the gift shop and put on their own mini exhibition. I worked with some of the children to put together a small exhibition made up of pictures from our local collection. The children had to do everything from selecting the pictures to writing the captions, however their favourite part of the day seemed to be using the photocopier!
As my internship is with the Interpretation Team, I have predominantly been working on exhibitions. At the end of November, we installed the new Shakespeare’s Treasures exhibition into the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street. It was inspired by the sealing of Magna Carta, the 800th anniversary of which is coming up in June 2015. This theme gave the Trust the chance to display items relating to the political, legal and financial world in which Shakespeare lived, such as the great seal of Queen Elizabeth I, a deed box and a ceremonial mace from Stratford-upon-Avon. This was my first experience of installing an exhibition. It was a very busy week but also great fun. I had never really realised how much actually went into the planning and installing of an exhibition. From picture hanging to environmental controls, there was so much to think about!
Christmas at the Trust was a really lovely experience; I don’t think I have ever eaten so many mince pies in my life! They really went to town on the decorations this year and each house was decorated for Christmas in a different time period. Hall’s Croft had a World War One theme to their Christmas decorations, with haunting wartime Christmas cards on display. The Trust also held numerous festive events including a carol service in the Guild Chapel and its wonderful annual lightshow at the Birthplace.
Another aspect of my internship involves collections care and environmental conditions. This was an area in which I had no prior experience but is one of the most fascinating parts of the placement. Light exposure, temperature, humidity and pests are among the things I am being taught to understand and consider when putting on an exhibition. The locations of the upcoming exhibitions are in some of the Trust’s 500 year old properties where damp and pests can be a real problem. Some objects simply cannot go on display because the environmental conditions are too bad. I am also being shown the correct way to handle and pack delicate objects which might seem like common-sense but actually requires real consideration and concentration (especially if you are clumsy like me).
Finally, a lot of my time has been taken up with research. Not only background research and object lists, but also exhibition design and layout. The Interpretation Team have been on a number of research trips to other museums to consider how technology and art installations, for example, might be incorporated into exhibitions. This has included visits to the RSC, Birmingham Museum and Hampton Court. However, right now everyone is very busy researching and planning the new exhibitions at Mary Arden’s House and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. We will be installing at the start of Spring – just before I leave!