The first of two blog posts by current third-year Art History students about recent work placements or AHVS related courses undertaken in recent months. If any undergrads wish to offer similar posts, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org . Martha Craig reflects upon her time at the wonderful Soane Museum, London …………..
“This summer I spent three weeks at the Soane museum doing a curatorial internship. The Soane Museum is an extraordinary and marvellously eccentric place and I couldn’t recommend a visit more highly for those who have never been.
Sir John Soane was England’s leading neo-classical architect of the Georgian era whose famous commissions were the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery. However, Soane’s true masterpiece is the home and museum he built out of No13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields; the Soane Museum. Walking around the museum feels like delving into his very mind; the Museum was his pride and joy where he housed an extraordinary collection of curiosities, antique sculptures, natural objects, and paintings. Before my internship I was already enraptured by the place, but experiencing it ‘backstage’ gave me a new found respect for both the museum and the dedicated members of staff who make it one of London’s best kept secrets.
Whilst working there I did a variety of projects that enabled me to experience what is involved in the steady running of such an institute. I created a timeline for the website using a new program where I could create categories for Soane’s personal and professional life and the life of the collection which he built up. Interestingly, both he and his wife Eliza, acquired many of his most important paintings such as Hogarth’s series ‘The Rake’s Progress’, through Christie’s Auction house rather than abroad during the traditional grand tour taken by artists at the time.
Other projects I was involved in were editing and testing trails which had been created by the curators and director as more specialised tour guides for exploring the collection with a particular theme. These included exploring the conservation of the objects in the collection, Soane’s modern style and miscellaneous marvels dotted throughout the rooms heaving with objects. I think the digital resources available online show an increased effort to aid the visitors in a more concise understanding of Soane’s intricate methods of collecting and display – without which one can find the experience of hundreds of objects bearing down at you from ceiling to floor slightly overwhelming.
I also created a data base of the index for the archive, a fairly laborious job but of great importance to the museum and a job which allowed me to explore the original journals, account books and day books that document the day to day events of Soane’s work and practise. Another of my duties involved compiling some initial research for future exhibitions in their new gallery space and transcribing Soane’s personal journals to be posted on their twitter account. Each project allowed me to learn something completely new and use the large resources found within the research library, as well as the fantastic minds of the Soane experts.
I could not have chosen a better time to spend at the Museum as it was in the completion stage of phase one of its large project ‘Opening up the Soane’. Upon my arrival they were putting the finishing touches in No.12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields which they have restored to the condition it was in when Soane first lived there before acquiring the neighbouring buildings. I was lucky enough to work on an evening event where patrons and trustees were invited to explore the restored building. It was a pleasure meeting representatives from all the museums and galleries across London, all of whom were equally as astounded as me by the work in the new building. The development of the online resources as well as the extensive work done on No.12 has enabled the Museum to open up Soane’s house and it’s collection to an ever expanding number of visitors. It is also increasing the ways in which they can interact with the collection and thereby better understand the enigmatic and mysterious character of its maker.
Having had the experience of a working environment in a museum I hope that I have expressed the benefits and importance of students doing internships. In so little time, just a few weeks, so much can be learnt – even if only to realise what you don’t want to do with your career. I encourage any student to explore the expansive art world through gaining experience in volunteering, doing internships, or work placements. I look forward to returning to the Soane Museum many more times and seeing it continue to flourish and develop, almost 200 years after the death of its creator.”