Decant Day, 26 October 2016: A Passion for Porcelain

by Emily Goddard, Volunteer on the ‘Passion for Porcelain’ exhibition project

I joined the ‘Passion for Porcelain’ project in early July 2015, having been given the opportunity to undertake a work placement project as the final module of my MA in Heritage Management at Bath Spa University.

I decided to do this in place of a thesis to get more practical experience in the heritage sector. The chance to get involved with ‘Passion for Porcelain’ at Wheal Martyn was one that I was immediately very enthusiastic about. It meant being able to work in a museum environment and learn new skills. It was a fantastic opportunity that I didn’t want to miss out on.

When I began my research, I didn’t know much about porcelain or china clay, apart from the fact that the china clay industry was huge in Cornwall, William Cookworthy was the first to discover it and china clay is an ingredient in the porcelain paste. Luckily, I had a lot of guidance from Jo Moore, the Curator and Collections Coordinator at Wheal Martyn about the storylines and themes that needed to be explored. I was also given a lot of information from Alison Cooper, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery’s former Curator of Decorative Art, about the loan items from Plymouth.

Emily packing some of the porcelain objects in preparation for the 'Passion for Porcelain' install.
Emily packing some of the porcelain objects in preparation for the ‘Passion for Porcelain’ install.
A Plymouth Porcelain lioness nestled for packing.
A Plymouth Porcelain lioness nestled for packing.

I really enjoyed learning new things about porcelain itself, and the European discovery of how to make it. During my research, I was not only able to learn about the processes involved and how they related to the china clay industry in Cornwall, but also the history of various porcelain manufacturers and the wares they produced.

I was lucky enough to not only gain more knowledge about the subject, but also have practical experience of working with these items. I first met Lottie Clark, Curator of Art at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in August, when she delivered the first set of loan items to Wheal Martyn. I was pleased and excited to have the opportunity to unpack these items and condition check them, seeing how collection items can be protected during transportation in situations such as this, and how different museums use and write condition reports.

Lottie was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to visit Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery to help pack and transport the remaining loan items. By this point the museum had closed to the public. I was able to see some of the decant and even be part of it, which was really exciting! I was also able to learn more new techniques for handling and packing the objects, and see even more of Plymouth’s ceramic collection.

Lottie Clark and Emily packing at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.
Lottie Clark and Emily packing at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

The final week of installation was very hectic, but very rewarding for everyone – especially when the exhibition opened for a private view on Thursday 20 October. I learnt many things about display cases, including the fact that many of them are designed to look pretty but are not practical or easy to assemble! When everything came together, the exhibition looked really professional and better than I could have hoped for!

The 'Passion for Porcelain' private view at Wheal Martyn on 20 October 2016.
The ‘Passion for Porcelain’ private view.

Overall, my experience of working with both Wheal Martyn and Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has been an overwhelmingly a positive one. I have learned so much about exhibitions and collections and have been given many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere.

‘Passion for Porcelain’ has been a wonderful project to be a part of, and has hopefully forged strong links between Plymouth and Wheal Martyn. It means Wheal Martyn have a new temporary exhibition with many beautiful items from Plymouth’s collection, widening audiences and giving visitors a new experience. It means Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery can display a significant part of their decorative art collection while their building is closed for redevelopment.

‘Passion for Porcelain’ is on display now and is free to view. Visit the Wheal Martyn website for details of opening days and times.

See more images from the private view at Wheal Martyn here.

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