Saturday, 20 June 2015

Vivienne Westwood: Cut from the Past

Built in the 18th century, Danson House is showing a collection Vivienne Westwood's clothes very much influenced by the same period in history. As Vivienne Westwood says, "the 18th century embodies a high point in art and culture".
Before we saw this exhibition, Cut from the Past, we weren't really thinking 18th century high art and high culture, more 1970s, 1980s, and punk.

You could see how this era had influenced Vivienne Westwood, how she'd made it her own with her Portrait Collection, working with 18th century paintings from the Wallace Collection.

Corset and T-shirt,

and her signature orb worked into the gold frame of a shawl,

also embroidered onto this T-shirt, with the print inspired by 16th century Dutch delftware.

Not just inspired by paintings, furniture captured Vivienne Westwood's imagination too, with designs inspired by marquetry, printed in red foil. 

We read that she had this pattern printed on "leggings, bodies and stockings".
"I'd forgotten all about 'bodies'. Very 1980s".

This 18th century inspired gown below was once worn by Linda Evangelista. It really had been worn, there were dirty marks on the skirt.

One side of the gown was traditionally accurate with a sleeve, whereas the other was strapless.

Whether I should admit to this or not... I did A'level Needlework & Dress.
This is made somewhat more embarrassing because of my grade, I only just passed. But thanks to the most inspirational teacher, Joy (for some reason I can't recall her last name), I have a love for all things needlework. It's the details...

...applique and bound pockets,

 ...leg of mutton sleeves,


...and bows.

We had expected punk, and we got some. The Queen with her nose pierced.

"Have you got any piercings?" I asked absentmindedly.
"Yes three"
"My belly button"
The things you learn in museums. It's not always about the objects.

Wandering around Danson House, we perhaps found more of Vivienne Westwood's 18th century influences.
A nod to punk, off the shoulder, a touch of leopard skin.

Drapery to inspire any gown.

And wallpaper worthy of any dress.

Vivienne Westwood: Cut From the Past is on at Danson House until 31st October 2015.
Check out their website, here, for opening hours as it's not open on a Saturday.

When we went to Cut From the Past, the exhibition was a couple of pieces short. We were told they were coming. Hopefully they now have the wedding dress and 'glove' on display. We'd have loved to have seen more, plus music and photos. To hear the soundtrack, see the look, with Westwood inspired hair and makeup. To see who wore Vivienne Westwood.
"Margaret Thatcher could have been wearing that for all you know".

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


I don't usually write about myself, however I've been nominated  for the #MuseumTwitterati challenge by Sarah Kirkham, writer of Museum Curiosities, for writing this blog. The #MuseumTwitterati Challenge is a way of recognising the museum people you find inspiring and engaging on social media and I now get to to acknowledge those people who's museum blogs I read and admire the most.
Me and Emmeline Pankhusrt. Camera shy in the National Portrait Gallery.
I'm a museum educator and I've been blogging about museums for just over a year. I began blogging as a light-hearted way of sharing my take on museums and their collections, about what happens when visitors turn up and look at stuff. As my blog title says, it's about "encounters with objects in museums". I also blog with the aim of getting more people to visit museums. What better way to encourage people to visit a museum, than show them a little of what's inside.

I don't write academic posts about museum learning, I do enough of that for my sudies. I'm in the final stages of a PhD researching family learning. I write posts to be read in 3-4 minutes whilst you sit down with a cup of tea. Hopefully they are food for thought, and more than that, I hope you feel inspired to visit.


  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life (ex-colleagues are fine, it’s a small sector and we’d run out of people in no time otherwise).
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge or #MuseumTwitterati (a lot of colleagues have already been nominated so apologies for any unwitting double nominations).
  3. Copy and paste the ‘Rules’ and ‘What to do’ information into your own blog post and be sure to cite @TeacherToolkitsince they came up with the idea.

What to do:

  1. Within 7 days of being nominated you must write your own blogpost identifying the top-5 museologists that you regularly go to for ideas, support and challenge. Share this on Twitter using the hashtag #MuseumTwitterati and tag them in – they are thus nominated.
  2. If you do not have your own blog, write your list by hand or on a computer, take a photo/screenshot and upload it to Twitter, tagging the people mentioned (yes, you can do that) and using the hashtag #MuseumTwitterati – they are thus nominated.

My #MuseumTwitterati

I know that the rules state that you can't nominate people that have already been nominated but I need to break the rules, as these blogs below are the ones I turn to most and would like to publicly acknowledge them, rather than trawl the internet trying to find a blog(ger) not yet been listed.

  • Rebecca Herz (@rebeccaherz) - Director of the Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum, author of Museum Questions blog. Making time to ask and answer questions about museum learning. Rebecca's blog is a great place to read about and question current museum learning theory and practice.
  • Cultural Learning Alliance (@CultureLearning) - The Cultural Learning Alliance is an advocate for cultural learning. "A collective voice working to ensure that all children and young people have meaningful access to culture", including museums. I am particularly passionate about their work to keep cultural learning high on the National Curriculum agenda. CLA, run by Sam Cairns and Lizzie Crump, whether they have time for the #MuseumTwitterati or not, I want to acknowledge their work.
  • Tincture of museum (@TinctureOfMuse) - Tinc writes Tincture of Museum. I encourage everyone to read this blog whether they are museumy or not. Tinc writes about her experiences in museums and is a powerful voice for 'autism in museums' and volunteering. I love her writing. Her post on the Tower Poppies with her brother made me cry.
  • Museum Mum (@vykisparkes) - Vycki writes the blog Museum Mum about taking families to museums, a subject very close to my heart. Check it out for ideas of places to visit, especially if you have young children.
  • Jack Shoulder (@jackshoulder) He writes Jack's Adventures in Museum Land about so many museumy things. He seems to tweet and blog about them even before they have happened. I love his wit and imagination. Follow to keep one step ahead of the game with different museum initiatives.

There are many more excellent blogs I could mention. A special mention to Jenny Fuchs who writes Museum Diary and Nina Simon with Museum 2.0.
Thanks for nominating me Sarah Kirkham

Monday, 8 June 2015

William Morris Gallery

We went to the William Morris Gallery with the general election looming.
Should have clocked beforehand, this wasn't just about arts and crafts, but politics too.

William Morris was born in Walthamstow in the 19th century.
Not the Walthamstow we know today at the end of the Victoria Line,

...but a village in the Essex countryside, on the edge of Epping Forest.
We read that Morris was a social activist, becoming a socialist aged 50. But how did his anti-capitalist ideas fit into a life of arts and crafts?

William Morris, the eldest son, born into a wealthy family.

The kind of family who had their portraits painted.

Not necessarily the son they had in mind.
Marrying beneath him,

and rejecting the idea of becoming a clergyman to become an interior designer.

A designer of...


...ceramic tiles,,


...and textiles.

 Morris believed that beauty is a basic human need and created art for everyone.
Morris and Co built a brand that "only the most avant-garde bought from".
Bought by people with "rebellious taste".

That threw up a few questions. Today these quite mainstream designs don't strike us as rebellious and they're not necessarily that affordable. But Morris wasn't a fine artist, he applied his sense of design and values to household furnishings, bringing art into everyday life.

Morris hated the effects of industrialisation; slums, overcrowding, diseases and pollution.
His workshops were places where workers enjoyed clean air and rural surroundings.

Fabrics and wallpaper were block-printed, rather than use industrial rollers.

This was a time consuming process, making Morris & Co's products quite costly to buy.

William Morris set up shop in 1877 in Oxford Street and lived upstairs.
His major competitor was Libertys. That says something about his target market.

Choosing fabric today, little has changed.

The brand has endured and the William Morris Gallery has since embraced some higher tech 21st century printing techniques. On doors. I love good museum loos. 

Until our visit to the William Morris Gallery we hadn't associated these well-known designs with his political ideals, of art for all and a fight against the poor conditions of industrial manufacturing. This still rings true when you consider much of worldwide manufacturing today. Discussing the impending general election, we had heard plenty of politician talk about wages, taxes and the like, but what about the arts and cultural learning? It feels like the arts are being side-lined.
What would William Morris make of today's political parties? Art, manufacturing, marketing and workers conditions all came together under his socialist remit. I'm not saying he got it all right, but I'd like to see the arts given equal weight and consideration in the political debate, especially when it comes to education.   

The William Morris Gallery is open Wednesdays to Sundays.
A short walk from Walthamstow Central station. Details on their website, here. 

If you would like to see excellent advocacy on the value of arts learning, check out the Cultural Learning Alliance's website. Read their manifesto, here, for "The benefits for young people of participating in arts and culture". The CLA continues to ensure that cultural learning is part of political debate. Rightly so.
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