Over the past several months, I have been organising an exhibition for the Bexley Wing of St James’ Hospital, Leeds. Each year an exhibition is organised for the cancer ward at the hospital by a curatorial trainee, with a different theme that is open enough to draw from the entire museum collection. My theme is symmetry and, on 2nd February we installed ‘Mirror Image Museum’ – a collection of symmetrical objects and photographs incorporating natural, social and industrial history.
Step 1: Choosing the objects
Once the theme of symmetry had been chosen, I asked each curator to send me a list of objects that they would like featured in the exhibition. Over 100 objects were suggested, ranging from porcelain dishes to glass cinematic prisms – the natural history objects I chose myself. I selected those I felt best suited the exhibition, either due to aesthetics, interest or practicality.
Step 2: Condition checking and photography
Each object chosen for the exhibition was forwarded to Emma, our conservator, to be condition checked. After Emma had cleared each object for use (or rejected some due to the bright environment of the hospital being unsuitable – light damages objects over time) I arranged for a professional photographer, Sara Porter, to take photos of the objects that could not be displayed physically.
Step 3: Writing labels and planning the space
I requested label text from each curator and started writing up the natural history text. As the physical objects were still in quarantine at this point, I used Sketch Up to create a 3D model of the exhibition space (pictured left) – a great help for planning and ensuring things fit where I wanted them before getting my hands on the real things!
After the label text had been sent to graphic designer Steve Mann for production, finally I gave the top surface of the cases a fresh coat of paint and applied the magnetic wrap around covers Ruth, Exhibitions Curator, had ordered to give them a more professional look.
Step 4: Installing the objects
Fellow trainee Adam gave me a hand setting up a ‘trial run’, laying out all of the objects in the cases to ensure that there were no nasty surprises on the day! Thanks to this the installation went very quickly and smoothly when Ruth and I set the cases up in the Bexley Wing.
Seeing months of planning come to fruition was greatly satisfying, as was seeing the interest of passing visitors. I hope that ‘Mirror Image Museum’ entertains visitors and staff at the Bexley Wing during the three months of the exhibition.
By Glenn Roadley, Natural Sciences Curatorial Trainee
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