Having just finished my penultimate year of school, I applied for a week of work experience at Burgh House in July, and was very happily told that they would be glad if I could come for the last full week of August. I would be given a crash course in how the museum was run, right from checking humidity sensors and pest traps to the management of functions and events to planning future exhibitions and auditing the online collection database- in short a full picture of museum life, perfect for someone (like me) who is eager to soak it all up and looking for something to lead them a little bit further toward knowing what they’d like to do after school or university. I looked forward to it…
Now that that ‘last full week of August’ is over, what happened?
I arrived at 10 and was shown around the collection - the house was closed to the public so all was quiet, but the sweet smell of baking was wafting up the stairs from The Buttery café in the basement… Today it was all about education and activities, from things like arts and crafts afternoons for primary school children to bridge afternoons for local pensioners, the importance of engaging and exciting all age groups about the museum made very clear, its importance further stressed by the fact that Burgh House receives not a penny from the government- the museum lives and dies with the people who visit and give generously towards its future. After having my lunch break in The Buttery (where I could stare at the cakes from up close), I was on research duty, first to find art materials for a craft event, comparing and matching prices I became a bargain hunter scrolling through pages of supplies, then afterwards to get my hands on any Hampstead ghost story which could be linked to objects in the collection I could for the adult’s Halloween party here in October. There turned out to be a lot. Walking back to the train station at 4 had now become a mission to avoid the spirits of highwaymen and spectres of evil barmaids.
After walking around the first-floor collection and learning about disaster kits, pest traps and how to prevent light and humidity damage, now it was time for initiation into the sacred mysteries of museum documentation and object records. It felt like exploring the matrix (a rather more exciting one because this one had watercolours and pearl brooches), and I was set the task of logging the locations of various objects in the collection not on current display. One false move, I felt, and the whole museum could descend into chaos- with desperate attempts to find paintings and china sets which I had mislabelled as being in Room 4, Shelf 3 rather than Room 3, Shelf 4. However, no such disaster (it seems) was triggered, and I was told that if I looked through the collection, and had a think about what really interested me, I could plan and organise my very own mini exhibition on the first floor landing! I got to work…
I spent my penultimate day at Burgh House finishing my plans (about poets and their relationship with Hampstead) and writing up (with the help of HootSuite) Facebook posts and tweets to promote it- it all felt a little surreal, but very exciting. My little exhibition, comprising just ten objects, and a few quotes and excerpts of poetry is due to appear in late January and continue on to early March (as you’ll soon know if you follow Burgh House on Twitter or Facebook) and it took a while to get all the info shipshape- I can only imagine what a process it must be when arranging much bigger installations and projects.