Mary and the Guild of St George

Mary’s connection with the Guild of St George was revealed on our visit to Sheffield to see her nature diaries which are held in the Ruskin Collection.  Apparently Mary introduced herself to the Guild in the early 1930′s (the first letter from her to the Guild held in the Sheffield archive is dated 1935) keen [...]

The Herkomer Drawing

Just as Melanie told me she had unearthed a Herkomer drawing of Mary in the archive I came across a reference to it in the letters.  On Sept 11th, 1941 Mary writes about more things she is sending to the Art Gallery including …”a portrait in pencil – or chalk – of myself by H. [...]

Alphabet Counters

Whilst researching horn books I came across an article by W.S. Churchill, ‘Nuremburg Alphabetical Tokens’ in Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, (vol.20, 1902). Churchill talks about traders who worked at the mint in Nuremburg around the mid 16th century. They would make metal counters, usually out of copper or brass with each letter of the [...]

Value

I’ve been thinking a lot about value. It’s a common thread of discussion every time we meet. The value of the collection to Mary and the lack of value (or perceived lack of value) the collection has within the Art Gallery currently. I wondered if this was always the case. The letters certainly reveal that [...]

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In search of Mary

March 28, 2014 Uncategorized No Comments

A snippet for the blog from my ongoing PhD research into Mary and her collection. The more I find, the more fascinating she becomes.

A particular highlight last summer was my trip to Westmill, in Hertfordshire, where Thomas and Mary lived for most of their married life. A beautiful village, much of which is owned and managed by the T&M Greg Trust, on behalf of the Guild of St George.

When Thomas died in 1920, most of the family estate of Coles was sold. The house, sadly, was demolished in the early 1950s and little remains now but the outbuildings. However, he also bequeathed a sizeable amount of land and property to Mary, which she subsequently left to the Guild of St George, to support the promotion of its Ruskin-inspired philanthropic and educational work. Visiting Westmill last August, I was amazed at how visible their presence remains in the village, in the properties they had built or renovated, in the church and in the village hall, converted from an old barn.

St Mary’s Church, Westmill:

Dial Cottage, where Thomas and Mary Greg lived (when they weren’t in London), from 1895 to 1906 when Thomas Greg inherited the Coles estate. I’m not sure why the plaque is dated 1915:

Hope Cottages, built by Thomas Greg in 1911. Hope was Mary’s maiden name.

Other plaques spotted about the village:

And spotted from the car, almost hidden by ivy, as we drove out of the village:

Mary on Tour

March 20, 2014 Artist Responses No Comments

Those of you who have followed the development of my collaborative, creative response to the bygones spoon collection with weaver Ismini Samanidou, may be interested to know that the resulting piece has been exhibited at venues nationally and internationally.

Table Runner was exhibited in Utensil at the National Craft Gallery of Ireland, New Directions in Contemporary Craft at Mottisfont Abbey, National Trust and Pairings at Contemporary Applied Arts, London.

The collaboration was also featured in Samanidou’s solo show, Topography: recording place, mapping surface, touring from the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham to the Centre for Craft, Creativity and Design in North Carolina and the Weber Center, Utah, USA.

Table Runner (overview) – hand built ceramic and digitally woven cloth, 1500mm x 350mm

detail, three spoons, three voices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

acknowledging value in the damage and wear of everyday use

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the contemporary emerging from the historic

paying homage to the past, ceramic spoon placed within the woven shadow of it’s predecessor

The catalogue card

Two days ago I went to the Gallery for a bit of archive research. But instead of Mary’s letters I thought I’d look at some institutional stuff. Down in the basement office, tucked around a corner, there is an old index card filing cabinet. I don’t suppose anyone ever notices it, it is so redundant. Nearby there is a gathering of desks and other office furniture marked for disposal. One day I shall walk into the office and find the cabinet gone. I do hope not. Despite the fact that typed index cards have been replaced by the all-encompassing micromanagement of the relational database, there is material here that resists the omnipotence of the digital.

I know these cards well, they were my bread and butter when I first got involved in the Herculean task of digitizing the collections, twenty years ago. And I had a half-remembered notion in my head that there was unique information here, the trace of past approaches to the categorising of things, something I had not noticed elsewhere in the record. So I started to go through the cards. It may be corny, but it really did feel like seeing old friends, a little glimpse back to old times and my first excitement at working in a real, live, proper art gallery. I even said a quiet hello as I opened the drawer.

Each item in the collection has two index cards. The first, a dirty soot-grey with dense black type; the second more pristine, with bold handwritten numbers in red permanent marker and sharper type, possibly made by an electric typewriter? When do these two cards date from? Why was a second card written up, incorporating information from the first, but the first not discarded? Both are now rendered obsolete by the digital record, but still they remain. For now at least. Sometimes it’s better to go unnoticed.

 

typed museum catalogue card

typed museum catalogue card

 

What interested me was how much could be deduced and speculated upon by considering these two different records. Incidentally, I didn’t set out knowing I was interested in this, it just occurred to me as I was looking through and re-acquainting myself with familiar things, examined with the benefit of time and distance from my first encounter with them. I found myself considering them as artefacts in themselves, rather than simply as holders of information to be transcribed.

Immediate impressions:

  • How dirty the earlier cards are (from the days of smoky fires and air pollution?) and how they have a hole punched at the bottom in the centre, so they could be threaded onto a rod within the drawer, thus preventing removal and loss. I remember the index cards at the Central Reference Library used to be held by a device like this, again before the days of digital catalogues.
  • How curious it is that both remain. The second card deals with and builds on the information in the first (or on occasion discredits it) but still the first was considered significant enough to be stapled to the back of the second, for reference. This takes up twice as much space in the drawer.
  • The difference in type from one card to the other, from soft, dense, slightly fuzzy black, to crisp, efficient, delineated black.
  • Other markings – in pencil on the earlier card (temporary, subject to change) and heavy red marker pen (dominant, permanent) on the later one. Both in the top right corner.
  • The different prioritisation and layout of information on each card, what is left out and what is included, how it is written, the changes to headings, sentence structure and language.
  • The way typewriters don’t obey printed lines. Sentences float in the air, intersected by lines in the wrong places. There is a tension between the instruction of the printed card (write here please) and the self-determination of the machine (no, I will set my own line spacing, thankyou). Both cards exhibit this.

I have just been reading the introduction to Museum Materialities by Sandra Dudley. Susan Pearce, who has written so much on museums and collecting, likens the evolving study of materiality and museums to stages in a human lifetime, and this seems particularly pertinent to the evidence given by these two cards. She contrasts its ‘long, peaceful childhood with clear boundaries, rules and mealtimes, which allowed for the steady accumulation of understanding that was simple as it arrived’ with ‘a turbulent adolescence with dramas and departures in which complexities emerged and innocence was abandoned’.

The first of these cards is simple, to the point: ‘Key; square hole in centre; of Oxford Gaol.‘ Object; main identifying feature; source. No uncertainties, no questioning, it is what it is, for the purpose of the record. It is neatly fitted into the category ‘home fittings’, which comes first in the hierarchy of information, in capital letters and underlined. A place for everything and everything in its place.

The second card is rather different. There is no category heading and the dominant, shouty even, information here is the accession number, big and red. This object is predominantly its number. The description is scientific in tone, ‘Iron, oval bow with square-drilled hole. Three collars around top of solid shank, two collars around throating’. I recognise this approach, the way we are taught to describe things for the catalogue. The language is mildly technical (bow, shank) although part of me is brought up sharp by the way it ends with the word throating. Two collars around throating. In years gone by I would barely have noticed this, but today it strikes me as such a bodily thing, suggesting imprisonment or enslavement, a choking restriction. How appropriate for a key.

There is a loose and tentative attempt at attribution: ‘ENGLISH prob. early 19 th C‘, a new addition to the sum of knowledge, which was not given on the earlier card. And right at the bottom, at the lowest point in the information hierarchy, previous attribution is rubbished. What was previously given not only as fact, but arguably as the defining characteristic of this object, its story, has now been relegated to unreliable anecdote: ‘said by Mrs. Greg to be ‘the key to Oxford Gaol’. This is done not only by the implicit question mark within the phrase ‘said by’, but also by the use of inverted commas. In its defence, I can imagine past curators explaining the use of inverted commas as an objective approach, ensuring the preservation of Mrs Greg’s exact words. Although actually, these are not the exact words on the earlier card. Perhaps, though, I am influenced in my reading of this punctuation by the contemporary conversational habit of ironic speechmarks, two pairs of fingers wagging in the air to suggest a distancing of the speaker from what they are saying.

There is also, of course, the change from imperial to metric measurement. ‘Length 9 1/2 inches’ has become ‘L 24.0 cm.’ How exact! I could overindulge myself here, getting really stuck into the tiny detail and possibly romanticising it. 9 1/2 inches has a fuzzy quality that reflects the softness of the ink on the card; the use of full words, length, inches, and the approximate nature of the measurement itself. L 24.0 cm, on the other hand, is clipped, accurate, abbreviated.

The later card also includes a brief condition check of the object, missing on the earlier. This makes me smile briefly, as there is a mistake on the card! Whoever typed this up accidentally typed ‘o’ rather than ‘l’ in the word ‘slightly’ and had to go back over it.  O is immediately above L on the QWERTY keyboard, an easy mistake to make as a touch-typist would use the same finger for both keys, but one which must have caused a cross moment. Wouldn’t happen now, all mistakes are cleaned up by the magic of the word processor. But I digress. Is there anything to be deduced from the addition of ‘bow slightly bent’ on the later card? Again, I’m slightly anxious of the potential to over-interpret. But what the hell, here goes.

I notice that the earlier card includes information of a temporary, extrinsic nature to the object, information which pertains more to the institution than the thing: the category into which this thing has been put (home fittings) and its current location written in pencil in the top right, not all of which I can decipher (Now at: ? on show). Looking closely at the pencil marks, I can see the traces of an earlier location, rubbed out and replaced with this. On the back of the card, there is the typewritten inscription ‘Transferred to Fletcher Moss Museum 24th February 1939′. Does this contradict the ‘on show’ location given on the front? I suspect it does, but I will have to check. Did the system of location management via catalogue cards fall down at some point, leaving this final location frozen in time?

By contrast, the later card deals exclusively in information intrinsic to the object and its known history. No location or movement history, no interpretive headings or categories, the reluctant inclusion of Mrs Greg’s previous attribution presumably legitimised as pertaining to its collecting rather than use history. All the information on this card seems to me to be about fixing the object, pinning it down. In this context, the inclusion of its condition, ‘bow slightly bent’ would seem to be an attempt to freeze its physical state. It is not a perfect, mint-condition object, but we can differentiate between historic damage (intrinsic to the history of the object and therefore legitimate) and the potential for further deterioration which must be prevented.

Having just read this through and then glancing back at the pictures of the cards, something else occurs to me, which I do not think I would have noticed if I hadn’t already written this. The difference in how the acquisition of this object is described on each card.

Earlier card: ‘Presented by Mrs. T. T. Greg.’
Later card: ‘Gift of Mrs T. Greg (1922.720)’

Verb versus noun. The earlier card describes an act of donation by an individual. The later card reframes this as part of the nature of the object. The act is gone, the object remains. And is reinforced by the bracketed repetition of the accession number. As if we needed reminding! Does this card suggest a subconscious anxiety about the nature of this object? The earlier card certainly seems more relaxed!

So much to be considered, from two apparently straightforward documents. And I haven’t gone into other things I notice. The later card is flimsier than the earlier one and is correspondingly dog-eared along one edge. The later card is inconsistent in its approach to punctuation and grammar; descriptive sentences with capital letters and full stops (but no verbs) at the start, capitalisation of ‘Gift’ further down but no full stop, then just free-floating phrases, no punctuation at all (apart from the MG quote) at the bottom.Tippex! I’ve just noticed it, on the later card. The ‘i’ of ‘drilled’ in the first sentence has been retyped over Tippex. And yet, the typo below has been left. Oh dear, this way madness lies.

Some questions that arise from all of this. Firstly, how can I work out when the second card was produced? I notice that other cards have book references on them, the latest of which (so far) seems to be a publication from 1974, so they must have been produced sometime between 1974 and 1993 when I first started work. I can probably narrow this down. Secondly, why were new cards written at all? It must have been a considerable, time-consuming task. Contrary to my received knowledge (that the MG collection was pretty much forgotten after 1949) it suggests an attempt to re-value the collection, to bring it into the modern museum world. The cards reveal quite a bit of research – new descriptions, condition assessments, attempts at a more scientific attribution and bibliographic referencing. Was this project specific to the MG collection or did it take place across the entire Gallery? My memory suggests it did actually; I think there are new cards across other areas as well, but I need to check. If so, what prompted such an ambitious exercise?

And the big one, of course, is what does this contribute to our understanding: of the collection, of the institution, of the wider world and our relationship with stuff? Honestly, I don’t yet know. But what it does do is add colour and texture to the picture that is forming in my mind, suggest avenues of research I might follow up, chime with some of the things I am reading (be wary here though, not to just pick and choose what fits nicely) and provide me with the opportunity to practice looking, thinking, writing, thinking, looking some more, etc. etc.

Back to the Gallery tomorrow, to continue my original task, which was the collecting of categories – the Home Fittings and other typologies given by the earlier cards, which don’t seem to appear elsewhere. But whilst doing this, I shall also be thinking about my  observations to date and where they might take me.

Inspired by Mary Greg’s Watch key

February 12, 2013 Artist Responses 1 Comment

Small stylus for texting

 

A page from my sketchbook, January 2013.

A quick update, I am not getting much time in my workshop at the moment, so I have started a mini project inspired by Mary Greg’s watch key collection. Trying to make some objects using the minimal amount of processes. One bend and one solder and some word stamping. The first one I have made I use to text on my new phone as I keep hitting the wrong keys with my fingers…I might make more texting “keys”. Old technolgy meets new.

Hazel

Turning the tables

January 21, 2013 Uncategorized No Comments

At today’s Talent Incubation Network meeting, staff from Manchester Art Gallery gave a series of presentations about the Gallery’s collections, exhibitions and learning programmes, to an audience of early career researchers (including me) from universities across the region. I quote (more or less)…

‘In the 1920s the Gallery received a collection of English pottery from Thomas Greg, husband of Mary’.

The first time I have ever heard him described thus. Redressing the balance!

No disrespect intended to the venerable Thomas, but it’s nice to hear it the other way round for once.

Liz

Xmas 2012, visit to Platt Hall

January 9, 2013 The Collection No Comments

Just before Xmas Liz, Sharon and I met up to spend a lovely morning looking at the OPUA (Objects of Personal Use and Adornment) Collection. We ,as always, were focused on the Mary Greg objects. But these wonderful “Veil adjusters” caught my eye. The joy of being allowed to “rummage” in the collection has allowed us to find things we could never plan or expect, and this packet links in well with a Mail Art project I am launching this year on “How to Market Bent Wire”.

http://howtomarketbentwire.blogspot.co.uk/

Hazel

Instructions on how to use Veil adjuster.

Veil Adjusters from Platt Hall OPUA Collection.

 

Sort of connected..Fletcher Moss Art Gallery and 2 keys

November 16, 2012 Artist Responses No Comments

A second year Interactive Arts Student, John Lynch, has organised an exhibition at Didsbury Parsonage (Fletcher Moss Art Gallery) for this weekend. I was kindly invited to be part of it and after a whistle stop visit a month ago , where I took a number of photos of keyholes, I decided to make a special  Escutcheon to cover one of the bare key holes and commemorate some  part of the history of the Fletcher Moss Art Gallery.

Research for Escutcheon for Didsbury Parsonage.

The connection is, that Liz found this entry in the MAG archives just last week and sent me these photos.

Two keys exist in the collection, alongside Mary Greg’s keys, but donated by Alderman Fletcher Moss.

MAG records

MAG record book

Nice picture of a list

To go with all the words, one I found on Tuesday. A list of the people Mary wanted to be sent catalogues of her exhibition of Bygones at Heaton Hall in 1922. Note the addresses in Siam and New Zealand. I like to think of her writing this down, whilst at her club.

Handwritten list of people

the fossilised eye of a fish

In response to Hazel’s beautiful to do lists.

Lists are everywhere. I have found myself increasingly fascinated by the list, partly because of Mary’s rather peculiar inclusions on her lists (hence the title of this post) and because in order to keep myself on the straight and narrow in my brave new world of PhD-dom, I am constantly writing them. Now I see lists everywhere, it is a form that is universally used. There are different kinds of lists, each with its own narrative quality; the mundane and everyday – shopping list, packing list, ‘to do’ list; the exclusive/inclusive – A-list, guestlist, blacklist, hitlist; the structuring and creating of order – playlist, tracklist; the competitive – longlist, shortlist. And Hazel’s ‘to do’ lists just show that even the apparently ordinary can be precious. There is the roll call, from the school register to the list of names on a cenotaph. How can such a raw and bald form of words have such poignancy?

At the core of every museum in the world is a ‘superlist’ – the accessions register. Kept under lock and key down in the depths of the basement, it is the heart of the institution, holding within itself the museum’s past, present and future, not just in the items it describes, but in the descriptive language used for each new acquisition; in the changing conventions of date, name, title (who uses ‘Esq’ any more); in the handwriting, from the inked copperplate of the earliest pages to the more idiosyncratic black biro entries of more recent times. And it is never complete. More on this shortly.

People understand the concept of a list, it is deceptively transparent, even objective; the reduction of thought/information/knowledge to its barest bones. Guidelines for writing for the web often advocate the use of bullet points rather than paragraphs – easier to read and a more efficient way of transmitting information quickly. A comment from Tom; lists are a product of fear – fear of loss, fear of forgetting, fear of distraction and disorder, fear of incompletion. To list is to control the material you are listing, to set parameters around it and to put it in order. It is a very explicit statement of control, there’s nowhere to hide in a list. Another comment from Tom; this is why politicians don’t like them. It’s much easier to obfuscate and hide woolly language and empty promises in a conversational format of words. Back to the writing for the web guidelines.

And yet. If a list is made of explicitly constituent parts, there is a clear path to dismantling it. It’s like lego, just take it all apart and rebuild it into something else. And when you do that, your list says something rather different, which suggests it’s not such a transparent format after all. There is fun and subversion to be had from taking a list apart and rebuilding it differently – Tom Lehrer reworked the order of the Periodic Table to form his brilliant song The Elements, set to Gilbert and Sullivan. My son’s Year 5 primary school teacher used to mix up the alphabetical order of the class register from time to time, as he had noticed that the children often answered before their names had actually been called and he wanted to wake them up a bit. Disrupting a list is provocative. This relates to a thought I keep coming back to about value and meaning in the collection and my current pre-occupation with inscribed objects. What if I were to re-catalogue the collection according to all the names that have been written on it?  What kind of a collection would it be then? More like the cenotaph perhaps. The list could be read as the ingredients (ooh, there we go, that’s another one – the instructive list), setting up the reader to imagine the story in the spaces between the entries.

This came up in conversation with my Mum yesterday. She writes, but was rather sceptical of my new-found fascination. And yet, soon found herself telling me about the day she sat in a cafe and decided to write 500 words about the menu, without actually mentioning anything on the menu. She wrote the story of the list, hidden in between the sequenced elements, flipping the whole thing round so the story emerged as the list disappeared.

So, although the concept of the list suggests containment, control and completion, it actually has infinite possibility. I discovered the other day that there is a book by Umberto Eco, called The Infinity of Lists (haven’t got hold of it yet, but it’s on my Christmas list). Found myself thinking of the list more as a runaway train, accelerating and decelerating under its own momentum until it finally runs out of steam. The empty pages of the accessions register will go on forever, as long as the museum lives. There is something of this quality in Mary’s collection and the lists that go with it; a sense of uncontrolled proliferation. This I think has something to do with the sheer size of it – in marked contrast to the smallness of the individual things themselves; the simple heartbeat of repetition – page after page of ‘key, 19th century’, ‘key, 19th century’; and the unexpected juxtaposition of the supposedly ordinary and the bizarre – ‘the fossilised eye of a fish’.

Liz

List Spools 2012

November 3, 2012 Artist Responses 1 Comment

I also made another new set of list spools over the summer, the idea initially came from the roll of paper in a metal tube in the Mary Greg Collection, but I also was inspired by a roll of tape on a simple stamped tin holder which is now part of the A1 Scrap Metal collection. The lists have become archives of very special days in my life this summer, my wedding and my son going off to college. Lists had to be written for both events and thus two archive spools of “to do” lists. The numbers were printed using Letterpress at MMU. Hazel

Ready to Use List Spool 2012

"Diary" List Spools Summer 2012Ready to Use List Spool 2012

Want to get involved?

Mary's Hospital Ark

If you are a maker - in whatever discipline - and are interested in contributing to the project through your creative practice, then we'd love to hear from you. Please contact Liz Mitchell: Email: mtchelzbt@aol.com

Comments

  • Anthony J B Hope: Hello, re post by Joan Borrowscale regarding connection betw...
  • Alex Woodall: I like these very much! Can you use them to actually do the...
  • Agnieszka: Hi, nice to meet you. I would like to invite you to My Thimb...
  • Joan Borrowscale: Hello Melanie I would love to look at the Hope family tr...
  • Joan Borrowscale: Hello Melanie and sorry for not replying sooner. I am writ...