The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) has been awarded a £7000 grant from the Radcliffe Trust for the project Stakeholders to explore MERL's basketry collections.
MERL has one of the most significant collections of basketry in the UK, with over 620 baskets, basketwork objects and basketmaking tools. Of these, approximately 100 baskets have never been studied by a specialist, meaning there is a significant gap in knowledge about these baskets. Stakeholders will build on previous work with the basketry collections to address this gap and provide much-needed enhancements to the knowledge we hold in relation to the collection, and to the collection itself.
Stakeholders will entail an intensive two-day hands-on workshop at MERL with established and up-and-coming makers to examine this subset of un-studied baskets, which will support two strands of activity.
The first strand will facilitate peer to peer (i.e. established maker to up-and-coming maker) and specialist to non-specialist (i.e. maker to Museum staff) sharing of skills- and materials-based knowledge, relating largely to basket construction, history and use. Resultant information will be recorded in the Museum's catalogue, which is available online, adding to the collective knowledge relating to the heritage and practice of basketry in the UK.
The second strand will result in the commissioning of new pieces from emerging makers to address gaps and/or produce replicas of vulnerable baskets in the wider MERL collection. These items will be accessioned into the MERL collection.
From the commencement of Stakeholders through to its completion, related content and progress will be posted on social media including the MERL Facebook page and the MERL projects blog. These will also provide an additional forum for knowledge-sharing with other basketmakers not engaged directly in the project, and with the wider public.
Stakeholders will contribute understanding of MERL's unparalleled basketry collection, enabling the Museum to enhance resources, inspire creativity, and foster community stewardship amongst emergent makers.
Assistant Curator Ollie Douglas said: "We are grateful to the Radcliffe Trust for this generous support, which will enable the Museum to work closely with a number of leading basketry specialists. Using inventive and co-creative approaches to explore MERL's extensive basket holdings, this collaboration will help to foster a new generation of skilled makers whilst also shedding light on older collections."