I received this message today from the V&A which I’m passing on.
Hi Marshall, we wanted to get in touch as saw you’d posted the petition against the proposed changes to the National Art Library at the V&A.
We have just shared an update on our website which might be of interest here https://t.co/ftqasrNcN9
To give an overview, The NAL service review will now be fast tracked to 6m, rather than a year meaning the closure period will reduced to the absolute minimum. A core library service will be maintained during the review ensuring those who need access to collections will be supported, and thanks to the extension of the govt furlough scheme, the 33 roles are no longer at risk. A new plan for the NAL will be shared by the end of the year.
Thanks for your interest
The Victoria and Albert Museum is £10 million down after COVID and they’re not the government’s top priority, so Tristram Hunt has proposed a re-organisation. Beyond his statement and a summary of V&A Future Plan it’s hard to find out much about it.
The idea is to arrange the collection by chronology rather than materials, presenting cross-sections of time. The number of curators will be cut and many fear a loss of expertise. But curators apart, displaying objects by period is a material-culture approach and has the advantage of revealing each item’s place in the culture of its age.
Museums change. The V&A was founded as a sort of sample-book for designers, with moral-aesthetic judgements about Good and Bad Design. We don’t look at it like that now, but its arrangement still reflects that purpose to some extent. There was once a time when the V&A didn’t acquire anything under 50 years old. Now its most successful exhibitions are about contemporary design. No-one could object to creating a department of Africa and Asia cultures, which is part of the plan.
The National Art Library (NAL) is another matter. The number of librarians is to be cut by two-thirds. The hitherto faultless service is bound to suffer. Uniting the V&A Research Institute with the NAL makes sense and with the removal of the archive from Olympia to V&A East (pictured), it might make sense to move the NAL there as well. I haven’t seen that suggested but it must have occurred to Tristram Hunt.
Tristram Hunt says he wants to open the NAL reading room to more users and to improve digital access so as to make the library accessible to audiences worldwide. That sounds good, as a friend in Yorkshire said who doesn’t get to London much. Hunt promises that a special-collections reading room will be maintained, which also sounds good, but it suggests that a general reading room will not. Anyone wanting to use the reading room now can apply to do so and use it free. How could it be more open than that?
Digitisation of the NAL’s million volumes won’t be cheap and will take a very, very long time. And as the digitisation of the National Census in collaboration with Ancestry shows, digitisation implies monetisation.
I found a picture of a figure by Jessamine Bray and Sybil Williams of the Dulwich Pottery, one of those lost works of art recorded in old newspapers that whet the appetite, an interesting example of the kind of portrait pieces that the figurative potters often made between the wars. The accompanying article answers my question about Bray’s and Williams’ relationship with Charles Vyse, whose work theirs so closely resembles, reporting that they trained with him. There’s little documentation about these potteries and Terry Cartlidge’s detailed study of Charles Vyse depended very much on the memories of surviving associates when he carried out his researches twenty-five years ago; but although he was able to identify some of Vyse’s workshop associates, nobody mentioned Bray and Williams to him.
One of the best of the potteries making figures in the 1920s and 1930s was the Dulwich Pottery, which was run by two young women, Jessamine Bray and Sybil V. Williams, but like so many of the modellers of this period almost nothing is known about them. They practiced together for about ten years, then marriage, the war and changing fashions in ceramics condemned them to obscurity.
Their work is quite similar to that of Charles Vyse, the only one of the so-called Chelsea Potters with a lasting reputation. There may have been a connection, yet to be discovered, because both Vyse and Jessamine Bray taught at Camberwell School of Art in the late 1920s. Jessamine was only in her twenties at the time, yet there is a self-assurance in her work and she clearly impressed the appointments panel of the school.