Curator’s Blog – Rediscovering Our Collection

Curator’s Blog – Rediscovering Our Collection

Odd title I know but hopefully the reason behind this title will soon become clear. Rediscovering Our Collections is a project that I’ve been working on for just over a year now. It sounds strange that we’re rediscovering but the truth is that we don’t know exactly what is in our collection and this is because The Atkinson’s collection is a merger of three different collections that are now one. The project focuses on our works on paper (prints, drawings, watercolours) collection and is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which is a fund administered by the Museums Association.

Right, back to the three in one collection: The Atkinson collection is basically a collection of the Atkinson Art Gallery, which is really well documented in a lovely accession register J; the Botanic Gardens Museum collection, which is not quite as well documented as there are unexplained gaps in the accession register; and finally the Bootle Museum and Art Gallery collection, which is really poorly documented and is going to involve a lot of detective work to piece together what exactly was in this collection before the museum and gallery closed in 1974. When it closed in 1974 the majority, but not all, of the collection transferred to the Atkinson Art Gallery and most of it has been sat in drawers and boxes and not really studied properly – until now! Like I said, I’ve been working on this project for just over a year and I’m almost at the end of a condition survey where I’ve been working with a specialist conservator to do a full audit of the collection to assess conservation needs. This has created a mountain of paperwork for me to file and input on the computer (which is very boring!) but has also enabled me to actually physically see for the first time exactly what we have in the collection and that has been amazing!

I haven’t just been working on the condition survey as part of this project. I’ve also curated the First Ladies: Pioneering Female Artists exhibition (now finished) as part of the project and have appointed a freelance curator to curate a watercolour exhibition, which will be on display after First Ladies. These exhibitions have been brilliant opportunities to display some of our lesser known artworks. I’m very excited about the watercolour exhibition as we are working in partnership with the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead who are kindly loaning us some of their best watercolours including a watercolour by JMW Turner and a gorgeous little watercolour by Constable, which is my favourite!

The exhibitions are the public side to the work that has been happening but behind the scenes I have just started working with two fantastic photography students from Southport College who are going to work with me one day per week in the art store photographing the whole works on paper collection. I can’t wait to get the whole collection digitised and then we can start putting images on our website and show the whole world how fantastic it is.

The main image I’ve used for this post doesn’t look like the most exciting image at first glance but this work actually only came to light during conservation of the pencil drawing of horses by Lucy Kemp-Welch that is in the First Ladies exhibition. This sketch of bison was on the back of the drawing but wasn’t discovered until the conservator took the acidic backing off the paper ready to clean it and put it in a new archival mount for display. This image isn’t just rediscovering the collections but actually discovering!

Nicola Euston

Museum Manager


Posted on 20 July 2016 under Museum

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