28 Dec 2017

North to South

I was born and raised in Doncaster to Jamaican born parents.

Doncaster and Jamaican...now there are two words you wouldn't normally see together in the same sentence!

My transition from Doncaster to Reading has been quite an adventurous one! Whilst my time down south is temporary, I have tried my best to make it feel like a home from home by getting involved in so many amazing projects here at Reading Museum, The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) and within my local community.
So let's rewind a little bit, so you can hear about how my journey to becoming a Museum Diversity Trainee began.

Relocating and exploring

Just over a year ago I found an amazing opportunity to gain invaluable experience working in not just one, but two museums, and experiencing all the areas of work they offer.
Reading was quite a distance from home and I didn't know a soul who lived there, but I didn't hesitate applying for the position! It was too good an opportunity to miss considering how enthusiastic I already was to work within museums, and recognising the wealth of training I would receive. My educational background is based in design and my previous role involved working for a fine art publisher and heritage and museum giftware supplier, so this was to be my first experience of working within a museum. To say I was excited was an understatement.

My role is focused on being trained in various areas of museum, archive and library work, and alongside this I’m part of the #digiRDG: Town and Country project, the aim of which is exploring ways of diversifying both Reading Museum and The MERL’s audiences partly through digital means.

Admittedly, prior to relocating my knowledge of Reading was quite dire – I was familiar with the Reading Festival but that was about it. Nowadays, when family and friends come to visit, I'm finding myself reeling off various fascinating facts about the town! My new appreciation and understanding of the town's history and present has been a result of working at Reading Museum, my general curiosity and exploring my surroundings.

Behind the scenes at work

Working at Reading Museum has opened my eyes to the hard work and dedication that goes into ensuring that the collections are preserved and displayed in the best way, out of respect for their donors, the artefacts themselves and for all of you that come to visit. I have the privilege of seeing what goes on behind the scenes, and no day is the same.

One of the first jobs that I helped with was taking out an exhibition, which was an all hands on deck job.

Two Reading Museum staffmembers on the left of the picture taking framed pictures off the white wall of an exhibition, with Charlene on the right of the image doing the same.

Earlier in the year I had the pleasure of assisting with organising and selecting the photography for Reading Museum’s brand spanking new website, which you see before you now.

Charlene and photographer Phil standing in front of an illuminated case of Huntley and Palmers biscuit tins, with a DSLR camera in the foreground.

Along the way I have developed some great skills in museum documentation through cataloguing artwork from the Reading Abbey Quarter: Then and Now exhibition. The amount of knowledge that I have gained about the history of Reading Abbey itself has been inspiring.

If you happen to pass by the Gateway, which is currently advertising the reopening of Reading Abbey, you will discover an audio clip where you can hear yours truly interviewing a member of the public on the subject matter.

I often get asked what my favourite gallery is and it’s a tough choice between the Atrium, which features the beautiful Caiger-Smith pottery, and the Huntley & Palmer gallery displaying an assortment of fabulous biscuit tins over the years.

This Art Nouveau inspired design presents the Huntley & Palmers Sandringham, St Vincent, Genoa, Fruit, Family and Iced Fruit cakes. The price list on the reverse is in Spanish, 1910s

One of my favourite things about working at Reading Museum is visiting their store (aka treasure trove of objects that have been acquired over the years). Through using my new photography skills I was able to capture this magnificent kimono.

An orage Kimono on a mannequin, standing on a table covered in white tissue paper. It is the only thing illuminated in a dark room, with Charlene crouched taking a photo in the foreground.

Fashion and textiles is also a passion of mine, so I was happy to hear that Reading Museum had a good textile collection when I first started. Fortunately I don't have to travel too far to find something fascinating from the collections.

Reading’s Collections and Culture

One thing that I have discovered for myself is that Reading truly has a lot to offer in the way of culture through art, food, music and museums (of course)!

One of my most recent projects involved launching Reading Museum’s Pinterest page. Pinterest is a great way to showcase more of the collection to a wider audience and particularly for those who may not otherwise get to view it. Through creating topical boards I’ve been able to spend more time searching the online catalogue and I have found some amazing objects in their World Collection such as this comb from Africa.

I took a particular interest in this object as it is something I can relate to. Whilst mine isn't intricately carved from wood, the wide tooth comb is certainly recognisable having Afro Caribbean hair- something which was often a talking point for me at school!

A wooden african comb on a white background.

I also discovered a selection of beautiful beaded accessories originating from places such as Kenya and Lesotho. My initial thoughts were that they were very pretty however it’s interesting when you look deeply into the meaning behind these objects and you find that their value is in more than their beauty but through the representation of a tradition, a way of life and an act of compassion for others.

On Reflection

Almost a year on and Reading no longer feels like a stranger. My northern roots have adapted well to the south and my admiration and enthusiasm for the world of museums continues to grow. This traineeship has opened up a wealth of opportunities and I am very happy with the experience and knowledge I have gained so far. I look forward to the future!