Friday, 2 August 2013

Beatrix Potter

Day 28:

On our last official class day, we headed to one of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum's storage facilities to see their special collection about Beatrix Potter.  Blythe House houses the extensive children's book collection (over 100,000 items).  The building wasn't originally built to be a library storage area, instead it was built in the 1900s as the headquarters of the post office.  It served this purpose until the 1970s when the British Museum, the V&A, and the Science Museum acquired it and began to share it as a storage facility.

Although it is mostly used for storage, they do have a reading room available for accessing archival material.  The public also has access to the online catalog which allows them to search the collections.  The museum has an online object database.  One challenge for the archivists is to determine the best way to catalog the items and link the object database to the archival catalog to best serve the public's needs.

The representatives of Blythe House showed us examples from the 19th century before we got to see the Beatrix Potter collection.  We saw a loan record book from the V&A from the 1860s.  The book included an entry from Queen Victoria about lending stained glass windows to the museum.  Additionally, we saw posters from advertising agencies showing the graphic design concepts from 1988.  The marketing ideas were a bit racy, and some people found them controversial.

Ad Posters from 1988
We also got to hear from an archivist who focuses her work on art and design.  They collect archives from British or Britain-based artists and designers, and the majority of their collection is from the 20th and 21st century.  However, they do have some archives and items from earlier, such as the archives from Garrard & Co. (the company who designed the crown jewels) which dates from the 1730s.  They concentrate on design and decorative arts, and their collections include anything related to art, design, interior design, stained glass, fashion, etc.  They focus on big-name designers and on everyday ephemera related to art and design.  They do not include archives about fine art (that would be the Tate Museum) or architecture.

She showed us examples of some of their collection including archives from Lucile Dove Gordon (a fashion designer in the 1890s-1930s).  Gordon had fashion houses in London, Paris, New York City, and Chicago.  She was an early developer of the catwalk show.  Also, she was known for naming her dresses instead of just numbering them.

Lucile Dove Gordon's exhibition pamphlets

Pictures from a runway show
Some of Lucile Dove Gordon's Designs
Student Designs Based on Lucile Dove Gordon

We also got to hear about the children's literature collection, including the 80,000 books that were donated by the Rainiers and were collected between the 1950s and the 1970s.  One of the gems of the collection is the Beatrix Potter archives, which is the largest archive of Beatrix Potter in the world.  The majority of the archival items were donated by Leslie Linder and includes watercolors, sketches, manuscripts, photographs, etc.  

Beatrix Potter's sketch of her pet rabbit
Beatrix Potter's Hedgehog Sketches

Beatrix Potter's Sketches

Beatrix Potter and her husband actively distributed her work to different institutions across the United Kingdom so that it was spread out and more people could access it.  One of the items we got to see was a original, privately printed version of the Tale of Peter Rabbit from 1901.  It is in Beatrix Potter's handwriting and includes black and white line sketches as illustrations.

1901 Version of Peter Rabbit that was privately printed

Following the presentations by the V&A archivists, Leslie Linder's neighbor Andrew Wiltshire spoke to us about his relationship with the Linders and their importance to the resurgence in the popularity of Beatrix Potter.  Linder was the one who decoded Potter's diary, which led to more information about her life and work. Linder also is the one who donated much of the archive to the V&A.  

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Following our time at Blythe House, we headed home for lunch and fortuitously ended up in Trafalgar Square because our bus ended its service.  We visited the lions and touched them to be sure that we would return to London one day (according to tradition or superstition).  Then we saw that the National Gallery had changed the sculpture to the big, blue chicken.  Finally, we decided to take advantage of being near St. Martin's in the Field and eat lunch at their restaurant in the crypt.  The meal was delicious!

Proof that I will return to London!

Big, blue chicken statue

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Tonight all of the British Studies Program students, faculty, and staff gathered at the Research Symposium and learned about what all of the classes have been studying throughout the month.  It was really interesting to hear about the research that the other students were working on and what their classes have been doing while we have been in London and our other LondonAway cities. 

After the Research Symposium, we went to Nando's for dinner and ate in a nest (which is appropriate for a chicken restaurant).  Once we were finished with dinner, we decided to go down to the Thames to hang out by the river and enjoy one of our last nights together in London. 

London Eye all lit up for Prince George's birth

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