Gaining an Insight into Archives

My name is Jessica Skidmore and I am an art student at Birmingham City University. Work placement is an important part of my Art and Design Honours degree. It's important to choose a placement that is enjoyable and fascinating for you, which is what I did.

I have been working in the Art & Design Archives in Parkside for two days now and have picked up many skills that go along with my studies and my passions. I have been taught how to mount different types of work in different ways for both display cases and wall-mounted frames. This has involved working on a display for the showcase at the bottom of the main stairs in a way that links in with a larger exhibition called Cabinets of Costume that's soon to go in the Parkside building. This will explore the contribution that costumes have made to different cultures over time. As we had to keep this theme running throughout all the displays, Fiona and I began to look through the archives to find artworks relating to theatrical costumes and the stage. Our main focal point was a large volume, André Levinson’s Bakst: The Story of the Artist’s Life from the Library Treasures collection as some of Bakst’s drawings of costumes in this book had already been selected for the display. One of these was Stravinsky’s Bird of Fire featuring bright and bold colours that would be eye-catching to an audience member seeing it on stage. We chose images from the collections that featured similar colours such as orange. These were some paintings that had been done by a group of children depicting a play being performed on stage. These children created their drawings after hearing their teacher Marion Richardson describing her many theatre visits in vivid detail. They drew the mental images she had inspired in them. By giving the display a colour theme, we hoped to draw the eye of people passing the showcase.

A Costume: "Narcissus" Ballet. Plate No. XXI, André Levinson’s Bakst: The Story of the Artist’s Life,The Baynard Press: London, 1923.

A Costume: "Narcissus" Ballet. Plate No. XXI, André Levinson’s Bakst: The Story of the Artist’s Life,The Baynard Press: London, 1923.

My second day in the Archives has been spent learning an entirely different skill. Before my placement began, I was taught to search the archive cataloguing system for things needed for a project of personal interest. This learning continued with photographing several files containing many different pieces as a first step in setting up a way for people to gain greater access to the Archives. This was an interesting and useful skill to pick up as it gave me the chance to research the different subjects that could be found here and the opportunity to log into the records for many different pieces of work using the cataloguing system. The code for each piece was insightful and interesting to learn.

What was particularly exciting was exploring the files depicting old stained glass designs and religious imagery as that is my current field of study and of great personal interest. It was important to keep checking how far through the work I was as I ran the risk of getting lost and losing my place in the lists I was making but doing this job unrushed was definitely a skill worth learning. It also gave me the chance to research pieces of art or artists that I like and to learn more about them and their work. What I found fascinating in doing this was seeing how students from many years ago were so well equipped and skilled in basic drawing and painting techniques and how they applied these skills to different things later in their studies and careers.

Florence Camm, Head of Christ, 1903. Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives.

Florence Camm, Head of Christ, 1903. Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives.

Florence Camm, Study for a rectangular stained glass panel of St Francis of Assisi and the birds. 1898. Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives

Florence Camm, Study for a rectangular stained glass panel of St Francis of Assisi and the birds. 1898. Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives

The past two days have been insightful and I have had many opportunities to fuel my passion for the history of art and pieces of work from years into the past. I enjoy researching history in any form but art history is something I always return to and one of my main enjoyments in my studies. I have one day left at the art archives and I look forward to what that brings and what more I can learn that I will value in my career as an artist.