Monthly Archives: June 2013

Della Robbia Pottery in the 21st C – blog post by Juliet Carroll

Della Robbia Pottery in the 21C –  blog post by Juliet Carroll 



Words of policyspeak that indicate that essential academic skills in 21st century Britain include the ability to make research accessible and relevant in a way that can be computed and quantified – a daunting thought.

I was keen to attend the training sessions to learn these skills. Although I missed the first workshop due to a prearranged research trip I enjoyed the second one immensely. Three key points that I took from the session were

  • Simple, easy understood proposals with a straight forward execution are good
  • Good communication is paramount – keep in regular contact with cultural partners, supervisors and directors of study.
  • To be bold and confident in my thinking.

At that point I had not discussed the proposal with my cultural partner – I felt some trepidation about suggesting that the newly refurbished gallery should be turned into an amateur ceramics studio, complete with glazes and wet clay. However, the gallery was enthusiastic and supportive and offered to fund an extension of the project if it proved successful.

The proposal: to celebrate the work of the Della Robbia Pottery of Birkenhead by inviting participants into the newly reopened Williamson Gallery to work with a local ceramicist  to create and glaze a ceramic piece in the distinctive style of the nineteenth century studio pottery.

By recreating the studio of this Arts and Crafts pottery, the would-be potters and decorators will experience the ethos of the pottery, and indeed of the Arts and Crafts movement, that puts a clear emphasis on creativity and individuality, in which a precise manufacturing process with division of labour plays no part. Advice from the workshop was to limit my participants to an older age group – U3A, local history groups – rather than riotous school children. However, the director of the gallery is keen to extend the project if my bid is successful and the undertaking proved viable and would include school children in the future. Thus the project has an extended afterlife – this could become a regular event at the museum. I am also pleased that the reputation of the Della Robbia Pottery will grow in a practical and accessible way rather than being restricted by the academic confines of my PhD.



Kyra Pollitt on lessons learned from preparing her Research to Public events.

Kyra Pollitt on lessons learned from preparing her Research to Public events.

Of course I think my PhD is interesting. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davis, I would say that wouldn’t I? But I don’t foresee a queue forming outside Waterstone’s in eager anticipation of the submission of my thesis. So when I came across artsmethods@manchester’s Research to Public strand, offering guidance on making my research public-facing, I was immediately excited. After all, what’s the point of research if it’s not meaningful to reality?

Research to Public offered two structured and intensive full day workshops at the University of Manchester, supplemented by documentation and an online presence designed to prize open the rusty doors of the ivory tower and let the daylight of practicality flood in.

Eager applicants to the scheme were initially subject to a selection process before being invited to the first workshop. Then, after considerable input, we were sent forth into the big wide world and told to come back with an institutional partner- a gallery, museum or other public institution interested in our proposal and willing to play host. The second workshop honed our ability to co-operate with our partners and the resulting carefully budgeted and considered proposals were then submitted to a panel charged with distributing prize funding.

I am very fortunate to have had my proposal selected, and I write this on the eve of the first of the two events that I proposed. As you can imagine, the whole process has been challenging in lots of ways; some anticipated, some unexpected, but all very, very useful. So here are some of the lessons I’ve learned thus far. I apologise if you already know them, but some of us are slower on the uptake.

Lesson 1:  Don’t be precious

There’s wisdom in that there Kenny Rogers song about knowing ‘when to fold ‘em’ and ‘when to hold ‘em’. There may be some ideas that are worth being deeply precious about, but these are rare. Actively seek the opinions and contributions of others. Be honest with yourself about your level of commitment to the idea as it stands, and give due and respectful consideration to the tweaks others propose. Every contributor (from the gallery curator to the chatty passenger sharing your train journey) brings different expertise; learn to harness it.

Lesson 2: Network

Contributing to as many networks as you can effectively manage is good for your creative soul. It’s also kind of karmic. I had cold-called a number of institutions who were all enthusiastic but already committed to a schedule, before a network connection yielded an introduction to an institution that wasn’t even on my list. It turns out the institution was looking for something that would reach beyond its usual remit and demographic, and I could propose just the thing. Who knew?

Lesson 3: Refining is a lived process

Like most other things in life – and unlike the fairy tales I’m still addicted to – perfect proposals don’t just appear fully-formed, ready-sprinkled with magic dust. Business proposals, academic theses, paintings, life – all require adjustments and rewrites.

Lesson 4: Plan and anticipate

Like the archetypal mum checking before her child leaves for school in the morning- Homework? Packed lunch? Gym kit? Keys? Hanky? Umbrella? It was quite fun spending time just thinking about all the possibilities and unlikelihoods surrounding the events I’d proposed. It was even more fun when the gallery curator was able to identify a few more.

Lesson 5: Make it real

Isn’t there some great quote from a famous person about the number of brilliant ideas that lie gathering dust in obscurity? Despite what I hope (with some effort) is a bubbly public persona, I’m actually ‘a bit behind the door’ so the process of taking an idea and making it real has been quite exhilarating. It’s both humbling and inspiring when other people believe enough in your idea to lend themselves to it. Ok, so I may have had to gather myself a little before plastering my event all over Facebook and Twitter but the whole R2P process has given me renewed confidence in my ability to communicate to others through writing, talking, thinking and sharing, and ultimately performing. I think it’s no coincidence that my painting and sculpting, as well as my academic writing also seem to have received a bit of a boost.

I’ve spent today having final meetings with the artists involved, gathering the hardware I’ll need for the space, making a Blue Peter style audience contributions box, monitoring the Twitter publicity spread (currently standing at 45 RTs, 7 mentions and 3 favourites), and checking the Bank Holiday weekend weather forecast (chance of rain, 13˚C).

What are we planning?  Will it work? Will anyone care? These tales will be told in the next blog. For now, let’s see what new lessons tomorrow brings…


Blog Post by Sarah Younan

Sometimes working on a PhD can be dry, slow, overwhelming. And then sometimes there are days that take yo by the horns and drag you forward. Today was such a day.

I met with Gareth Loudon ( for a tutorial in the morning. Gareth’s area of expertise is, amongst others, ethnography. I picked his brain on how to go about my intended research. I hope to extend the public impact of museum objects by 3d scanning ceramic artefacts from the collections of the National Museum of Wales, and then using these scans, to:

a)     create colaborative projects with artists working in digital media

b)     make copies of the original objects through 3d print and/or traditional craft techniques in order to emerge them in everyday live.

These copies will be handed out to volunteers, to take home, to use, to contemplate, to re-emerge museum objects in the wear and tear of everyday life. Life for objects, as for people, is fraught with risk. These copies might be apreciated and cared for, they might be neglected and forgotten, they might be used out of context, they could end up chipped or broken – either way new stories will be created. Stories about interaction with these objects, about what might be the fate of the original, where it not preserved in the museum, but thrown into everyday life.

This is what my contribution to the Afterlife of Heritage project, a story, a potential afterlife tale about objects from and beyond the museum.

My next stop was the museum, there I met with Andrew Renton, head of applied arts at the National Museum of Wales. We went to a storage room and I chose two objects to scan. I have worked with 3D  scanners before ( I am using a NextEngine tabletop scanner at the moment) and was aware that scanning two ceramic objects would take up quite some time. The objects I chose were a Meissen porcelain cup, with a basket-weave moulded border, and an ice cup and cover, the cover has a little squirrel sitting on it.

It took most of the morning and afternoon to scan these objects. I prepared them by spraying them with Talcum powder, as the glossy surface of glazed ceramics can confuse the lazer of the 3d scanner. I then did some test scans to find out the optimal distance, ambient light and scanner settings. For the cup, the ice cup and its cover I did a 360 degree scan each, and further single scans for areas that were difficult to see.

As I was working with objects from the collections Andrew stayed with me, to supervise and also to learn more about 3d scanning. We talked about museums, collections, about artist interventions and about digital strategies in museums.

Andrew likes to push the boundaries of his work. As a currator he has on several occasions collaborated with artists. This has led to the production of work and exhibitions, which challenged the notion of the museum and proposde new ways of experiencing museum artefacts. Two artists who have interacted with the ceramics collections in ways, that question and challenge the museum’s traditional practise of preserving artefacts, by removing them from interaction and lived experience are Edmund de Waal and David Cushway. De Waal investigated and re-displayed objects from the ceramics collection alongside his own pieces in 2005. He removed the museum objects from their glass cases and displayed them on a large plinth, unprotected and within reach of the audience. His own work took the place of the museum objects in the glass cases.

Cushway’s project in 2012 went even further. Together with Andrew the artist removed a porcellain tea set from its glass case and the two of them sat down to drink tea from these pieces. This performance was filmed and is now available on Cushway’s website:

I see these artist’s projects as a genealogy of my own involvement.

In the digital realm any transgression is possible. Objects no longer need to be preserved; the touch of a button is enough to restore digital models to their previous state. The former observer of museum objects can become and actor.

Safe. Edit. Delete. Undo. Merge. Distort. Send. Print.

3D printers can make the digital file physically manifest, once, twice, many times, and copies of museum objects, not quite the original, but more than souvenirs, can find their way back into everyday life.

It was with some trepidation… – Blog Post by Julia Bennett

Julia Bennett: Afterlife of Heritage, Research to Public Blog No 1

It was with some trepidation that I approached the first Research to Public workshop at the end of January. I had applied for the funding under both this and the Research to Profession strand on the basis of ‘if you don’t apply, you won’t get it’. As a sociologist I thought I was perhaps entering into alien territory by applying for AHRC funding. However with a PhD littered with references to the work of anthropologists, architects and archaeologists, as well as sociologists, I felt it was worth a try. Actually attending a workshop with artists and poets and people who seem to be spending their PhD years researching things rather than talking to people, as I had, was still pretty daunting though. Name tags were laid out on the tables so I didn’t have the option of scanning the room for familiar faces (there weren’t any). I needn’t have worried – everyone was friendly and the variety of research topics intriguing. I sat with Daisy studying Mystery Plays; and Lauren an anthropologist from Texas via Belfast studying dance (I didn’t know that was anthropology too); and Charlotte looking at old photos which sounds fascinating too.

The workshop itself was engaging and interactive. I loved the envelopes full of words and have resolved to use that idea when teaching. The importance of reflective practice was a timely reminder – I always start out with the best intentions to write a research diary every week, but it often slips from view with other tasks taking priority. Loved the idea of the onion too and have already used that in my ‘day job’ as a research associate to focus on impact on the schools we are working with.

Leaving the first workshop full of enthusiasm I emailed my proposed cultural partner shortly afterwards. The first person I contacted couldn’t help, but she would pass on my request. I waited for a reply. Let a week go by. Emailed again, trying not to sound too worried (did no reply mean they weren’t interested?). No, just that the boss is on holiday for a week. Waited another week. Eventually the response was that we love your ideas but are busy restructuring our organisation and wouldn’t be able to work with you in the timeframes needed. By this point my enthusiasm for the whole thing was waning a little. I had also contacted another organisation with no response from them either. By now it was late February with the second workshop looming. Shall I go, or is my proposal dead in the water through lack of a cultural partner? Oh well, it will be nice to see people again and catch up and there’s a free lunch …


So the second workshop. I sat on a table with lots of ‘unattached’ cultural partners, it did feel a bit like speed-dating (I’m guessing, I’ve never been speed-dating).  We introduced ourselves so I was able to get an idea of who might be interested in my proposal, which I had conveniently brought with me. I was looking for an organisation in the right kind of place or community, as my research is all about place and belonging. Saskia from Z-Arts in Hulme seemed nice, and didn’t have a partner. Hulme – I knew it was in Manchester, but that’s all. So I asked Saskia to look at my proposal during the coffee break. And yes, she thought there were some good ideas in there, as well as some, such as the competition element I’d suggested, that wouldn’t work too well. So after lunch we sat down together and clarified our ideas, thinking about what the impact would be and coming up with some rough costings.

I went home again reinvigorated with enthusiasm for the project and wrote up our revised proposal, sent if off and waited. And then, just in time for Easter, got the fantastic news that we had the funding!