This summer, undergraduate students Connie and Naim spent four weeks at the School of Art working with our museum’s collections. Here they describe their experiences and impressions in their own words:
Constance Elizabeth Hebenton (Connie)
One of the best things about Aberystwyth University is that it only seems to employ incredibly friendly, engaged and motivated people. There’s a fantastic atmosphere of supportiveness and inclusivity here, which I felt on the very first day I visited Aber, as a prospective student two-and-a-half years ago. It’s why, at the beginning of my placement, I had none of the nerves or anxiety that might be associated with starting a new job or internship. I knew that I would be welcomed by the staff at the School of Art.
We began on Monday 30th July, spending the morning up at the main campus taking part in induction training, before heading down the hill to the SoA. I met Naim, a 2nd-year Film & Media and Creative Writing student who is the other half of this year’s two interns in the Art department. Naim had never been to the School of Art before, so Phil Garratt gave us a quick tour, which helped to refresh my memory after over a year’s absence while I completed my study abroad.
I am just about to go into the 3rd and final year of a BA in Fine Art and Creative Writing, so it was great to be offered an internship so relevant to my degree. By the end of the first week I felt I had already gained a clearer idea of where I would like to be heading at the end of my course.
During the four week placement, I had the opportunity to pick up some skills which will benefit me in my career. I learned, amongst other things, how to size and cut mounts (which requires more dexterity and patience than I had realised), how to handle works of art, and how to frame them. It was great to be able to see the whole process from start to finish – scanning and cataloguing a print, before remounting, and finally framing the piece. Tasks like this really gave me an insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes in an art gallery/museum.
I also had the pleasure of working with Louise Chennell in the Ceramics archives. Aberystwyth University holds one of the largest collections of studio ceramics in the UK, and without the records kept at the School of Art, much of the paraphernalia (for example, gallery flyers, handwritten invitations, and postcards) would perhaps be lost.
It might sound odd, given that I did get to see a lot of artworks during my placement (my favourite, I think, were the highly detailed Stanley Anderson prints), but the most interesting aspect of the placement for me was helping to transcribe one of the diaries of Hugh Blaker. I’m a little biased, because Blaker was born in my hometown, Worthing, in Sussex. I was surprised that I’d not known that before, as there are plaques around town to commemorate the fact that Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen both stayed in Worthing briefly. There’s even one for Billy Idol, although he only went to high school there.
Hugh Blaker is most well known as advisor to the Davies sisters of Llandinam. He also held a large art collection of his own at his home in Old Isleworth, London. It was in Isleworth that he discovered what is known as the ‘Isleworth Mona Lisa’, which has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. I found his diaries absolutely fascinating to read through, even though his handwriting was quite difficult to decipher – it took me two days to transcribe around 5,000 words. The diary I had was written in 1931, so was almost 90 years old. Although I didn’t find any references to the Isleworth Mona Lisa, I did discover that Blaker had opinions on many, many topics – from George Bernard Shaw, to socialism, to fashion etiquette! It was really incredibly interesting to read, and I was most reluctant to put the book down at the end of the placement.
Although I was sad to leave Aber when the four weeks were up, I’ll be back at the end of September to begin my third year, and I can’t wait. The experience mounting and framing artworks has made me wonder about the possibilities for my own work – perhaps stretching my own canvasses, or even making my own paints. It’s also given me a new-found love for peeping into people’s diaries!
It also, of course, wouldn’t have been possible, or half as enjoyable, without the support and guidance of everyone at the School of Art, and I’d like to take the opportunity to say thanks to the team, especially Senior Curator Neil Holland, for giving me the chance to learn a bit more from you all before I come back in September and try to learn even more!
Muhammad Nuurunnaim Hishamuddin (Naim)
Working in the Art department for my internship has been a fulfilling learning experience. My exposure to different types of art has widened my understanding of the art world be it working with the Erich Retzlaff photography collection or handling precious artefacts – anything from Fijian weapons to instruments made of animal skin. This hands-on approach to objects made their histories come alive. I also had the chance to archive stills and background work from the film Mighty Joe Young (1949) enabling me to learn about the technical background to these early animated film productions.
In addition, I have been exposed to the wonderful world of pottery which can be designed in many different sizes and shapes; to master pottery takes almost two years of training. Two of the most fascinating potters that stood out were Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada as their extensive work intertwines through their multiple collaborations over the years, most significantly their help in building a climbing kiln in St. Ives.
Within the last few weeks, I have been given an in-depth view of the art world enabling me to realise that the definition of art is not fixed. It is clear that there is still much more to see and learn. This internship has been a positive and exciting experience and my involvement with the Art department has shown me the importance of preserving the vibrant histories of various artefacts.