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Volunteering with the Barbara Sawyer Archive

A page from one of Barbara Sawyer's scrapbooks.
A page from one of Barbara Sawyer's scrapbooks.

Written by
Mark Harding
Published date
29 April 2019

I have been volunteering at the Archives and Special Collections Centre at LCC since January 2019. I’d been considering a career change into information management for several months. I wanted to combine the customer focus of my work in access technology for the visually impaired with a personal interest in media, history and academic research which I’d immersed myself in whilst studying for a BA (Hons) in Film and Media with Japanese. It was something of a step into the unknown, but I quickly realised that my interests were reflected in the day-to-day work of archiving. The team at ASCC have been really supportive, encouraging me to explore a number of tasks which have enhanced my appreciation for, and understanding of, the role of a busy archive.

My first task was to transfer data about various comics (including DC and Marvel) onto the ‘CALM’ collections management system. Some of the items required a brief description necessitating research into the authors, publishers and characters. Later I was offered the opportunity to assist in preparing costumes from the Kubrick archive ahead of being photographed. In the course of this session I was able to assist another volunteer in measuring the items and then had the opportunity to observe the photoshoot.

Example of teaching material from Barbara Sawyer's archive.
Example of teaching material from Barbara Sawyer's archive. Caption

I am now working on a personal project to box-list the uncatalogued Barbara Sawyer collection. Sawyer was a textile artist who taught at Camberwell College of Arts in the Textiles Department from 1950-1982. It is through this association with Camberwell that her collection eventually found its way to ASCC. Being a textile artist, one might expect her collection to consist primarily of samples of her work. However, what makes this collection so fascinating are the diverse contents from her student years and professional life. There is prose she wrote in her early 20s and sketches and water colour studies from her student days. The range of magazine clippings and pastel copies of patterns span a variety of cultures. Numerous booklets and factsheets detail the development of the wool industry and production of textiles. Teaching materials cover the history and techniques of spinning and weaving. These are accompanied with trade catalogues, letters of invitation and requests for various items. Finally, of course, there are some beautiful examples of her textiles work.

A textile sample from the Barbara Sawyer Archive
A textile sample from the Barbara Sawyer Archive. Caption

Through this work, I’ve gained an insight into the life and inspirations of an avid collector, teacher and artist. Quite aside from the privilege of being involved in such a project, it occurred to me how valuable the collection will be to researchers wishing to trace Sawyers development as a practitioner; investigating the textile industry of the period or looking for samples of work from a skilled weaver.