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museumaker - Laura Thomas at Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

  • Date: 2 January 2013
  • Artform: Museums
  • Area: National
red artwork with wavey patterns made by Laura Thomas as part of museumaker for Beaney House of Art and Knowledge Architectural glass by Laura Thomas for Beaney House of Art and Knowledge as part of Museumaker, 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.

Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

For this museumaker project, artist Laura Thomas designed architectural glass for Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury.

The Beaney comprises Canterbury City Council's main art gallery and museum, and the Kent County Council-run Canterbury Library. Founded in the late 19th century, it houses a rich and diverse collection including decorative arts, paintings, world cultures and natural history.

museumaker provided a national commissioning opportunity that would attract high calibre makers who might not otherwise respond to a call for proposals.

The installation: architectural glass

The brief was to use glass to create a visual link between the Beaney's historic Tudor-bethan building and its dramatic new extension. A public consultation found that the building was seen as old and drab, in part because it is dark, so the commission was an important opportunity to add colour and light.

Laura Thomas proposed creating large-scale versions of her recent work encapsulating open-weave coloured threads in Perspex. Architects, Sidell Gibson, proposed that she create new panes for an existing tripartite window that would be part of the junction wall between the old and new building. The panels were made in warm reds and oranges, colours which reference the historic stained glass in the old building. Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz, Art and Exhibitions Manager at the Beaney, said the commission exceeded their expectations.

The process

The team found the main challenge with the process was slotting a commission into a building schedule already in progress and involving a wide range of partners. Arriving at an agreed location and design took time, as did getting measurements from windows that were part of a construction site.

The community engagement strand of the project was led by artist Neil Kelly and had two main elements:

  • Canterbury College. A group of students from and tutors interviewed Laura in her studio and reported back to their wider peer groups in Canterbury. A media student filmed the visits. Second year National Diploma in Graphic Design students researched and developed ideas for posters to promote Laura's commission for the Beaney and museumaker, ten of which were selected for production. Fine Art students researched and developed ideas for making work inspired by Laura's commission. Performing Arts students developed, choreographed and practiced a dance piece. Work was presented at a showcase event
  • Whitstable Community College. Teachers saw Laura's perspex pieces and developed ideas for work with their pupils. Year 7s took part in a cross-curricular day, in which they learnt about geography between Whitstable and Canterbury, tracing contours with string, used descriptive words for the landscape in English, and used coloured threads to make images in Art inspired by Turner's seascapes. Work was laminated, capturing threads in a similar way to Laura's work

Lessons

The Beaney used a two stage contract with Laura since the form of the installation was not clear from the beginning. Krystyna valued the advice from central team, but felt there were too many layers of administration in museumaker. She found there was some duplication in layers of reporting and some micro management. However, Krystyna emphasised that museumaker had been well worth doing, despite the administration.

Organisational impact

The legacy from the project was:

  • raising the profile of craft: pushing it to the top of people's agendas. museumaker came at just the right time and the team found working with Laura to be inspirational
  • the retail element was more significant than originally envisaged. Consultancy advice through museumaker has come at a useful stage of retail development at the Beaney
  • Laura got a commission to produce work for a new hospital using the same glass lamination technique. The cachet and scale of the museumaker commission gave the hospital confidence in her as a maker

You can download the full case study by Annabel Jackson Associates Ltd 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