Gallery's collection of bygone spoons inspires contemporary art

Have you ever thought of using museum collections as a source of artistic inspiration? Sharon Blakey, a practicing ceramicist and Senior Lecturer in Three Dimensional Design at Manchester Metropolitan University, did just that when she came across the Mary Greg Collection of Handicrafts of Bygone Times in Manchester Art Gallery stores, where most of it had lain since it was donated to them in 1922.

In her own words: 

I was hooked the minute the first drawer was opened.  Spoon upon spoon upon spoon, a seemingly random assortment of shapes and sizes of no particular style or era.  No prized or polished silver here, but the tarnished, worn and broken.  A spoon box containing the wrong spoon, handles showing family initials but with no sense of belonging, a tablespoon used so many times that one side of the bowl is almost worn flat. 
Sharon Blakey and Ismini Samanidou, Table Runner, 2010-11

Sharon Blakey and Ismini Samanidou, Table Runner, 2010-11

Table Runner (detail)

Table Runner (detail)

Together with weaver Ismini Samanidou, she developed a creative response to the bygone spoons collection.  Inspired by the table runner that Mary sent out to the collection at Timaru in New Zealand, they collaborated on producing one that combined woven images of spoons in the archive and clay spoons with apparently worn surfaces and edges that she made in response to them. In addition, they played with the idea of incorporating some text from the letters they found in the archives, including an inventory of spoons.   

Table Runner (detail) - Three Spoons, Three Voices

Table Runner (detail) - Three Spoons, Three Voices

The spoons are only a very small group of the thousands of artefacts within the collection, which includes a wide variety of everyday domestic objects from the 1800s and early 1900s, e.g. toys and dolls houses, a lead cross from the time of the plague, keys for every type of lock, dance cards, scissors, pin cushions, thimbles and quizzing glasses. If you're interested in finding out more about the collaborative research project between Manchester Metropolitan University and the city Art Gallery from which Table Runner grew, why not take a look at their website