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museumaker - Eleanor Pritchard at Orleans House and Gallery

  • Date: 13 September 2012
  • Artform: Museums
  • Area: National
craft materials for an elaborate table setting Place setting by Eleanor Pritchard at Orleans House and Gallery, Photo: Matthew Andrews

museumaker was a prestigious national project involving 16 museums across the country. The programme encouraged museums and makers to collaborate by providing financial support and expert advice, which enabled them to draw on each other's rich resources, take creative risks and trial new ideas.

Orleans House and Gallery

This museumaker project was conceived as part of Richmond's celebration of the Cultural Olympiad, Heritage Now! Orleans House had recently created artist in residence space as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund capital project, and made a commitment to bringing in contemporary artists (makers) to help the public engage with the heritage.

The installation: Place setting

Place setting by Eleanor Pritchard was shown from June to September 2010. The installation consisted of a six metre banqueting table set for a fantasy guest list spanning four centuries. It referenced plasterwork, sugarwork, blackwork (an embroidery technique used to decorate clothing) and damask. Quilling (paper filigree) reflected the plasterwork ceilings of Orleans House and Strawberry Hill.

The process

Miranda Stearn, Arts and Heritage Development Co-ordinator, thought the process worked well. She felt well supported at each stage. She had a lot of experience with artists but less with the contemporary crafts. She valued the national profile and structure, and the opportunity to provide a paid pitch, so that makers could develop their ideas. The selection process took a long time but the curator came away from short listing session inspired. The original plan was that the maker, Eleanor Pritchard, would work from the studio, so that the public could see her work in practice. This proved impractical because Eleanor needed equipment in her own studio.

As part of their retail development project within museumaker, Orleans House worked with two retail consultants to develop new product lines for their shop. They commissioned Lush Designs, a design collective, to make a bag for the Museum. Orleans House ordered 1,000 bags, which will retail at £6 each. In addition, Kit Grover designed a set of small wooden building ornaments representing this part of the Thames. 2,000 sets have been produced and will retail at £10 a set. The retail consultant was very good at combining the crafts objectives of museumaker with the commercial realities.

Lessons

Miranda commented:

'You write a brief and have a picture in your head of what might happen. Nothing was exactly what we had anticipated, which was quite a good learning point. Then you work through the implications of that.'

The museum had assumed the brief would lead to a series of works, each individually reflecting a historic property in the area. Instead Eleanor took her inspiration from the different places, but made one large work, which had a strong impact in the space. Her proposal stood out. However, the larger piece is more difficult to show again, and more difficult to store. 'You can't pre-empt what someone will make. The whole point is a maker carrying out your brief in their way.

'Working with the maker was great. We were not just impressed with the idea and craftsmanship, but also trusted that it was well thought through and planned. She was brilliantly reliable, and brought a colleague to help on the community engagement.'

The main challenge was the way the project was structured. The maker held the budget for all items except the retail work. She was therefore responsible for the printing costs for a brochure, invites to the private view etc. If the project had been running over, the maker might have saved money on issues of importance to the museum. In the event this was not a problem.

Organisational impact

The legacy from the museumaker project was:

  • 'People have said that they loved the look of it, the way the space was transformed. Having a different person's creative vision was a brilliant opportunity for us. It raised our game in terms of what the space could look like if we gave it to another person'
  • 'The work was more accessible than you would think it was going to be. That is because it genuinely came out of the heritage material and most visitors understood that'
  • The retail products. The product lines were developed with a view to other local museums stocking them too in order to meet minimum order requirements for bespoke products
  • The retail consultancy transformed the look of the shop. The consultant was very commercial and advised them of gaps eg they weren't making enough of the children's market: school groups had nothing to buy. As a result the museum has created branded pencils and is developing other lines. The museum has looked at how the products are displayed and has started going to open studios and trade fairs. It has bought products from other makers at Cockpit Arts (where Eleanor has a studio)
  • 'We have learnt to commission products.' The museum has increased its confidence although funding is still a limiting factor
  • Orleans House is continuing its relationship with the children's centre which took part in community engagement. The centre commissioned the museum to come in with an artist to run summer holiday activities, which is quite a coup as it is paid work
  • Orleans House has maintained its relationship with Strawberry Hill, including running joint events with their education officer eg a programme of work placement for third year trainee teachers
  • Miranda is working as an advisor to Ham House on its contemporary commissioning programme, Trust New Art. Ham House will work with Orleans House on its dance festival, Locate

You can download the full case study by Annabel Jackson Associates Ltd, which includes feedback from participants here.

Copyright Annabel Jackson Associates Ltd and museumaker, June 2011. Not to be reproduced in part or whole without prior permission. Website: www.annabeljacksonassociates.com