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The Museum of Everyday Curiosities

My museum of Everyday Curiosities is inspired by a drawing retreat where I explored the Pitt Rivers and Natural History Museums in Oxford. My work combines influences from both. I was interested to see how items on display are curated at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  Rather than presenting items by country of origin or period of history, the collection is actually arranged and separated by its uses – all the tools for particular jobs are displayed together from all periods of history and country of origin.  Often, this means there are similar items contained within a cabinet.  I have always been drawn to multiples and ordered layout of same-but-different items.  In the Pitt Rivers I found myself drawn - not to the exotic and strange items like the famous shrunken heads - but to the mundane and ordinary.  It made me think about how the things we use in our homes today might be seen as treasures in the future.  It is interesting to note that all of the items in the museum are hand crafted.

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The TREE Project

I put out a request for ‘everyday explorers’ to contribute their collections to a Tree Museum, and this is the result.  I chose this subject because I wanted to identify something that everyone can connect with – we all have experience of trees, either by sight or climbing, or picking up sticks, leaves and seeds from the ground below.  Trees also contribute to our wider lives, not least by the oxygen and food they provide, but also as a construction material or as the pages in our books.  Joni Mitchell sang about a tree museum and I really like the idea of being reminded how essential trees are to humanity.

Bell jars are traditionally used to display collected items; elevating the item to ‘treasure’ by putting it in a glass bubble.  I wanted to reflect the display of traditional Victorian cabinets of curiosities without directly replicating a dusty old museum.  Here, in the TREE Project jam jars are used in ordered grid formation.  Chosen for their familiar ordinariness; they act as humble bell jars, but also make reference to scientific pickling vessels and the first rudimentary collecting jar one might use as a child – scooping up insects or tadpoles to study more closely.


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Thirty days & thirty spoons

For this exhibition, I challenged myself to gather together a collection of spoons – some found, some borrowed, some given to me and others made and altered by me.  I gave myself thirty days to produce thirty spoons.

I spent hours looking through the ‘cutlery’ drawers [and drawers and drawers] at the Pitt Rivers, full of handmade spoons – some were decorative and patterned, others were basic and crudely fashioned from natural materials.  I kept thinking about how these spoons represented humanity, the hands that made them and the mouths they feed.  The spoon is ultimately a symbol of nourishment and love. I wanted to meditate on the most recognisable and most used tool across all cultures – the spoon.

It is striking and perhaps not surprising that all the items in the Pitt Rivers are hand crafted.  One wonders whether the craftspeople were considered artisans and masters of their craft or whether these were domestic crafting skills required by all to survive.  During a weekend camping trip, I attempted to whittle a spoon.  I had no instruction, but used instinct and trial and error to produce it.  I didn’t have the right tools for the job and the results are basic, but I found the process immensely satisfying and resolved to make another spoon when I returned home. It’s got a bit out of hand now, it turns out to be rather addictive!

I recently remembered a seemingly insignificant moment in time over 15 years ago that I realise retrospectively has informed the work I make today.  I wrote a poem about it.

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Treasure to me
Walking, heads bowed, eyes scanning,
We combed the beach.
Looking for the perfect pebble or something
Curious in the sea spew.
I found a small, worn and fragile spoon.
Salt-tarnished: turned a shade of turquoise.
Ordinary and familiar. So beautiful.
Treasure to me.
We displayed our finds.
The curved red staircase our museum.
Each step a new cabinet of curiosity.
Slate-grey pebbles spaced evenly on one step.
Orange crab claws on the next.
Mussel shells all together.
My tiny spoon stood alone.
Treasure to me.
Each time I went up or down
Its sea green hue told stories
Of shipwreck adventures.
The neck was wave-worn.
A tenuous, tender join that
Made the spoon all the more beautiful.
Once useful, now use less. Now precious.
Treasure to me.
I wanted to keep the spoon for ever
But this tiny muse
Somehow was lost on our journey home.
Like a Selkie called back to the sea.
I can’t touch it.
I can see it.
This transitory find and the curation of our humble museum.
Treasure to me.