Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Amulets, Art and Outreach

Back in April, local artist Emma Reynard was invited to take the Small Blessings project out into the community. She decided to work with a group of adults from Mind (a mental health charity) to discover more about the amulets, charms and votives in the de Mortillet collection and create their own pieces, which are now being prepared for display in the Museum. 

Here Emma recounts some of the first days of the collaboration:

"The de Mortillet collection belonged to Adrien de Mortillet (1853-1931) and contains examples from all over the world. I am trying to find out more about de Mortillet, but so far have not been too successful. I do know that he had many careers including a perfumer and a balloonist!

From observing the amulets, charms and votives at the Museum they are mainly made out of the following materials:

  • clay
  • plaster
  • wax
  • natural materials such as seeds, bark, fruit, grasses
  • parts of animals and human including hearts, bone, teeth and skin
  • metal
  • textiles
  • food

  • Plaster moulds with wax casts on display

Magic bundle for laying a curse on a village (PRM 1928.69.1584)

I decided to try and keep to these materials...although I won't be using any human hearts! Initially, I will be experimenting with plaster moulds, clay, metals and textiles and see where that takes me. It's an exciting project to be involved in and I am looking forward to seeing what we come up with.

Day One 
The members from The Mill arrived at the Museum, ready to begin the new project. The session started off with a quick slideshow of some of the charms and amulets in the de Mortillet collection, from coral hand charms to wolf's tooth teething amulets and even skin from a hanged man! The objects in the collection are small in scale, no doubt mainly because these things would be worn or carried about the person. We need to keep this in mind when we come to create our own pieces.
Emma's 'ephemera'

After digesting some of the stories behind the other amulets on display, we had a short discussion with the group to see if they had any charms of their own. One person said he always has a penny in his pocket and Susan (the museums' Community Education Officer) described how, when she got married, she wore her grandmother’s wedding ring (who has been married for almost 50 years).

We then had a very interesting tour of the Cons
ervation areas upstairs. It was wonderful to see what goes into the cataloguing and documenting of all the objects. Approximately 5000 objects form this collection and each one had to be unwrapped and identified (and researched if necessary), then the object was given a unique number, photographed and then wrapped up and stored. If any of the objects show signs of pests or corrosion, they are put into deep freeze and cleaned or restored to enable the object to survive a longer life in the Museum. It really makes you think about all the effort that goes into one tiny object!

After this tour, I explained to the group about the things that we would be doing during the project. I asked for people to bring in anything which they may have at home which they feel would be relevant.

Day Two 

We had a new member today. He arrived already knowing quite a bit about the project and showed me an amulet he made when he was at school and which he'd had with him ever since. It was an etching on tin of a pentagon (he told me he was pagan). The project seems to be evoking a lot of personal stories, which is really nice to listening and share.

Another member brought along two coins/medals that belonged to his grandad. One was dated 1902 with King George V on the front. I suggested that next week we could take a mould from it and have a go at casting. He said he'd also bring along some old fob watch keys.

We started by having a look at some books that I had brought in, including Superstitions of England and Ireland, Saints, Signs and Symbols, Inspirational Objects, and The Language of Flowers plus two books from The Foundling Museum in London. We also had a look at two scrapbooks from the 1950s, which contained old wedding cards, birthday cards, and tokens such as a silver '21' key. Looking at these objects encouraged the members to talk about their own personal and family possessions. 

Emma's drawings

Next we did some drawing, I had made some folded sketchbooks for everyone to use. I kept them small scale to fit in with the project but also I thought it would be less intimidating than using large pieces of paper. We used fine-liner pens and pencils, and some people also photographed objects that they didn’t have time to draw. I encouraged people to write down the information about each object they drew/photographed. We finished off the session by printing out some of the photos and the group seemed really pleased with what they had done. 

We’re all looking forward to the next session, which will be a messy one - I have purchased my own 'ingredients' and we'll have a go with the plaster and the clay!"

Emma Reynard, artist

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