Humidity recorder

As well as the work with the collection itself and with school and college groups, project team members have been invited to speak about the project at a number of seminars and conferences. This, and contacts made via this blog, has enabled other partnerships to develop and opened up the opportunity for future creative interactions with the collection. We’ll focus on these developments here.

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Fragments and snippets

From now on, I intend to spend every Tuesday at Platt Hall, exploring different aspects of the collection. This is what I looked at this week.

Patterned cloth bag

Patterned cloth bag with patchwork pieces

Patchwork piece with handwritten paper template


Patchwork piece with transcribed text from template


Patchwork piece with transcribed text from paper template

I am fascinated by these patchwork pieces, by the snippets of letters and notes that are tucked away under the fabric. Am currently thinking about the relationship between the Mary Greg Collection of objects and, what is really the Mary Greg Collection of letters that sits alongside. Is it too sweeping to say that in museums and galleries, the objects are what counts and the archive material that documents their acquisition is secondary, often ignored?

But Mary’s letters give the collection a whole new dimension, lifting it from being bits of stuff in the museum, to something that is only here because someone once thought about it, discussed it, shaped and imagined it and valued it sufficiently to want to share it. And recorded her thinking through the letters. Mary’s voice, her motivation, reasoning, opinion and emotion, come through so strongly, because of the extraordinary correspondence she maintained with curators. It’s a hugely evocative reminder that stuff is only here because individual people once put it here.

These humble little patchwork pieces are somehow both object and text, hinting at other aspects of life (I do hope Humphrey made a quick recovery).  Random bits of writing that preserve moments of life otherwise lost (oh dear, in danger of getting a bit purple). It also hints at a time before email when people wrote and received letters, presumably accruing vast amounts of paper, not all of which needed to be kept, and was therefore put to other useful purposes. Many more thoughts on this, but have to go to a lecture now, so will think on.

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It’s been rather quiet lately

Looking at the collection at Platt Hall Gallery of Costume

On this blog at least. But the Mary Greg project continues to send ripples out across the pond.

At MAG, the Learning Team have been working with the Mary Greg Collection ‘on tour’, thanks to a travelling case made by Karl and Kimberley Foster of Hedsor, and the work of educators Joanne Davies and Amanda McCrann. I hope Joanne’s going to put something up about this project soon.

The collection is also out there in Mouseion, an exhibition in the School of Museum Studies at Leicester University, curated by Alex Woodall and including work by Hazel Jones, both contributors to this blog. Alex was one of the team at MAG who worked on the original Mary Mary project and is now a PhD researcher at Leicester, investigating material approaches to art museum interpretation. The exhibition looks at artists responding to museum collections.

Back in May, Sharon Blakey showed collaborative work made with weaver Ismini Samanidou in response to the collection, in Pairings II at Stroud International Textiles. Last year, Sharon and I presented a paper about the project at the international conference Pairings: Conversations, Collaborations, Materials at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Research continues in partnership with MMU, through Hazel and Sharon’s ongoing investigations and my own. I have just embarked on a PhD which will focus exclusively on Mary’s collection, looking at material across different museums as well as Manchester and exploring different notions of value within the institution of the museum. Hugely exciting, very daunting, and two weeks in, not entirely sure where to start. But looking forward to sharing research over the coming months and contributing to the revitalisation of this space. More to come…


Looking at objects from the collection

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Learning at the interface case study

Learning at the Interface is a conference being jointly held by the University of Brighton and the V&A on 1-2 July this year. It is all about collaborative projects between universities, museums and galleries and seeks to address the question of how institutions can work together to enhance the learning of higher education students. I put forward a case study about the Mary Greg project which is available online.  It has been selected to form a publication and will be discussed as part of the networking event which Sharon and Hazel will hopefully be attending at the V&A in July.  We will feedback after the event!  Alex

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Ghosts in the attic: Platt Hall

Shoes including two pairs from Mary's collection

Box of shoes at Platt Hall

Today I saw some of Mary’s collection of costume, textiles and shoes for the first time.  It felt so ghostly: up in the attic at Platt Hall surrounded with boxes and boxes of clothes which were once full of life, real people, playing children, sleeping babies.  But now they are laid to rest in boxes, no more life, just memories that we can only guess at.  Dead.  But it was one of the most evocative days I’ve spent rummaging about.  Was the bonnet one that Mary herself had worn?  Did she really wear the beautiful dresses, the ivy leaf embroidered wedding dress?  Perhaps not, but it really felt like she was in that collection.  A fabulous collection of shoes, both highly decorative (not Mary Greg 1922) but also the humble plain leather children’s shoes (very definitely Mary), with cracks and crevices where someone’s tiny feet moved as they walked, danced, played.
Wedding dress with embroidered ivy leaves

Wedding dress with embroidered ivy leaves

And so many ideas about how we might exhibit some of these things in this amazing space (especially following our visit to Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace, and the Concise Dictionary of Dress at Blythe House).  A giant dolls’ house in itself…  Where will these thoughts take us?  We shared some interesting comments with Miles too about whether Mary’s collection only came into the gallery because of a desire to have the ‘grander, more important’ ceramics collection of her husband.  Miles always refers to Mary as ‘Mrs Greg’.  I like that.  I wonder if there is a difference in the generalised contrast between the ‘scientific’ collecting of men (e.g. the costumes of Mr Cunnington who apparently could have been a ceramics collector had ceramics been more affordable – instead he looked to something affordable and other – e.g. costume – that he could catalogue, collect specimens and almost finalise) and that of women – Mary who collected what she loved because it was beautifully crafted, domestic, just a lovely thing that she wanted to share with others, particularly children.

So many ideas.  So much that we still haven’t seen.

In the meantime, look here on Flickr for further pictures I took today…


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Volcanic ash

Who could have predicted this?  Sadly Hazel and I are no longer going to present our paper ‘Lost and Found: The Mary Greg Collection at Manchester Art Gallery’ at the AAH10 conference in Glasgow.  All internal flights have been cancelled today due to the volcanic ash from Iceland.  We are really upset as we were looking forward to sharing our project and were raring to go, having packed and got everything ready.  Apologies to the organisers, particularly Heather Birchall, who has worked so hard, and, I fear will have quite a few apologists (is that the right word?!)

If anyone at the conference was particularly interested in hearing us speak, please do get in touch via the blog.


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Blog maintenance

Over the next few days we’ll be updating the structure of the blog which may mean that some posts may be temporarily unavailable, or not where you found them on a previous visit. The continued growth and diversification of material added to the blog has moved us to attempt to organise content in a more meaningful and accessible way. We’re sorry for any temporary inconvenience this may cause.

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A Fabulous Research Contribution!

A big thanks to Dr Stuart Eagle who got in touch following the Guild of St George post.  Our subsequent email correspondence has revealed some new leads for our research and provided us with some fantastic contacts with The Guild and The Ruskin Review who we hope will help publicise our project.  Stuart is about to publish his doctoral thesis “After Ruskin: the social and political legacies of a Victorian Prophet”  and was kind enough to forward us his chapter on Ruskin and the Companions of the Guild of St George.  He also brought to our attention an article by Mary B  Rose “Diversification of Investment by the Greg Family 1800 – 1914” which provides us with background information on the Greg family’s finances. This gives us some insight into Mary’s financial status which of course provided the means to fund her collecting.

Stuart has also recently been to Westmill and forwarded me some images of the church and Mary’s tombstone and memorial tablet which I post here for you to see.  This wonderful sharing of knoiwledge is what the project is all about, so if  anybody else out there  has anything to contribute please do get in touch.  Sharon

The church at Westmill, Buntingford, Hertfordshire

Mary and Thomas Tylston Greg Tombstone

Mary and Thomas Tylston Greg Memorial Tablet

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Our Blog

Over the weekend I did a bit of tidying up on the blog regarding categories and tags, which meant I had to read every post. It was so lovely to read them all and see how the project has developed and grown. It was so interesting and made me think about Mary Greg again (I have missed her!) It was lovely to read how Sharon and Hazel are developing their work and to see the photos from workshops, as well as new users that have left comments on the site. If you have a spare few hours I strongly suggest reading it all. It was brilliant reading about excitement when someone discovered something new about Mary, the objects or those amazing Crompton threads. Jolly good fun.


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On Tuesday 15th December 2009 Liz, Alex, Sharon and I went to a conference in Leicester. It has been a LONG tiring term at MMU and I wasn’t sure I had enough energy to join them on the drive there (Thank you Liz for driving). Glad I did, see the link below to read all about it. I also picked up a word which I will use more often as it is vital to teaching and learning.HAPTIC.

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Crowdsourced Treasures

In truth this post should have been written last Wednesday following Tuesday evening’s Social Media Cafe (smc_mcr) when, along with David Edmundson-Bird from MMU Business School, I presented a ‘What-if’ idea to a group of about 15 keen social media types. It was a conversation with David almost a year ago at an earlier smc_mcr that had kicked off the idea of crowdsourcing the documentation of Mary Greg’s collection in the first place. The presentation was called Crowdsourced Treasures, a social media action to open up access to the city’s art collections.

David has much loftier ambitions than me around increasing public access to the collections in storage and very much played devil’s advocate in the discussion that followed. And there was some genuinely engaged discussion too. Not everybody was convinced that unmediated access to photograph, record or write about objects from the collection would be a good thing. Surely, it was argued, the role of the gallery was to provide the authoritative context to the objects, providing a way-in for the uncertain viewer. The hierarchies and taxonomies developed over the last century or more have an important place and help provide threads of meaning and connection between disparate objects, documentation without these wouldn’t really be documentation. Or, would it?

Ben’s photographs helped bolster the proposition enormously, here was a purely visual record that elevated the object to a different aesthetic realm. Does it matter that you don’t realise that what you are looking at is a thimble if you are entranced by the sheer quality of surface or by its simple form? Is it always necessary to know everything about the object, or can you take from it what you want or need? There was some agreement that any social documentation produced would be supplementary to the ‘official’ documentation, it couldn’t replace it.

The idea of producing an open invitation to the stores to take part in a crowdsourced action did hold some appeal and there were a number of people in the audience who would be keen to take part if it did happen. Perhaps the single most interesting idea came up in discussion after the presentation. Natalie Ireland, Manchester Science Festival Director at MOSI, suggested that perhaps the best way to test the idea would be to hold an smc_mcr in the stores themselves, bring the social media advocates right into the collection as a piece of action research. This seems like a real way forward and we will plan how we might make it happen early in 2010.


Social Media Cafe Manchester smc_mcr
David Edmundson-Bird @groovergenerator
Natalie Ireland

Sarah-Clare Conlon, author of the Words & Fixtures blog, has posted about the proposed social media action too, Rumble in the Jumble. Ignore the apparent initial cynicism, the collection worked its magic on Sarah-Clare too.