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Mary Quant Crayons circa 1960s

Encountering the Archive: Object Handling Workshop

Written by Centre for Fashion Curation
Published date 02 March 2018

    The Im/Material: Encounters within the Creative Arts Archive Conference took place at UAL in May, 2016.  The handling sessions were an opportunity for material objects to speak.  Jane Holt, Senior Research Fellow, Archives, LCF, ran the Fashion Archives sessions and brought along six artefacts from LCF Archives which the participants were encouraged to handle. Here she talks about their responses.

    For my sessions each participant chose an artefact from a selection laying on the table.  Time did not allow for forensic investigation of the pieces instead the group were given five minutes to look and think about the piece.  They used a set of questions or prompts based on Mida & Kim (2016) Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion but were given no details or contextual information about the piece in front of them.  As well as looking up close the participants were encouraged to handle, turnover, open, smell and feel the artefact.  Each then described the piece and their responses to it to the group before I explained more about each artefact.

    Personal reactions were particularly interesting. One participant had a very strong personal reaction to a tin box of Mary Quant make-up crayons with card cover and printed instructions on how to use them, from the early 1960s.  She had immediately recognised the distinctive Quant daisy logo and the waxy smell of the crayons.  When she was young she had been annoyed by these crayons and the infantile nature of the design and the assumption that women were just playing with make-up.  This very personal reaction which shows the power of objects to illicit memory and emotional responses.

    Reactions to the ‘Pinpoint’ shoe from the Cordwainers’ Shoe Collection provoked interesting discussions.  This black leather man's shoe with a decorated sole depicting red roses creates interest as people study the upper part of the shoe in detail and often looking at the sole only as an afterthought.  Yet it is the sole that is significant being a good example of ‘Pinpointing’ work from 1930s, a technique used by shoe repairers to create exhibition and competition pieces to show off their skills.

    Two miniature leather shoes from the Moykopf Collection were favourites because, as someone said, they are so cute!

    And the bright pink glass bow tie made by Andrew Logan as a birthday gift to Percy Savage (Percy Savage Archive) attracted attention because it is glittery!

    One of the tie-dye notebooks from the Anne Maile Tie-Dye Archive looked very unprepossessing until participants actually opened it to reveal detailed hand written ‘recipes’ with stunning textile examples.

    One piece did not immediately attract interest until one participant looked more closely revealing a worn pair of 1920s stockings from the Hester Borron Collection.

    The sessions opened up lively conversations on a theme of the conference that of cultural issues of ownership and access. The nature of collecting, how collections manage offers of donations was also discussed. But of particular interest was the pedagogic value of learning by looking and describing before trying to make connections and speculations about the object.

    All the participants seemed to have enjoyed actually handling the artefacts and the conversations each piece provoked.

  • Visit the Centre for Fashion Curation page.
  • Related Stories: Renewal, Curation Students Unpack the Allure of the Archives.
  • Read more about the MA Fashion Curation course.
  • Read more LCF Stories.