Collecting 20th Century Rural Culture
What's your favourite image of the countryside?
This four year project began in the autumn of 2008 supported by Lottery funding of £95,000. The purpose was to acquire material that builds, decade by decade, a picture of the countryside in the twentieth century. We looked for signal items that speak powerfully of their day and illustrate the wider cultural influence of the countryside on English society.
We collected over four hundred objects, ranging from Glastonbury Festival programmes and Corgi toys to Arts and Crafts furniture and industrial chemical advertising signs. As well as filling in gaps in the 'timeline' of objects at MERL, Collecting 20th century rural cultures has enriched the collections with objects that have a greater focus on ideas, opinions and perceptions within and about rural places and people. To find out about the objects acquired as part of the project, go to the Collecting Rural Cultures project blog. We would be pleased to receive your comments on what we have collected so far.
A major output of the project is a temporary exhibition which can be loaned to other institutions. It draws out five themes - interactions, inspiration, representations, modernisation, and conflict - through interpretation banners which can complement each Museum's selection of objects from their own collections and from MERL's. There are six banners in total, but they have independent narratives so that any number or combination can be borrowed to suit each venue. A free booklet is also available which explains in more detail the project at MERL, the objects we collected, and our experiences of contemporary collecting.
The Heritage Lottery Fund's Collecting Cultures scheme is designed to help support acquisitions, curatorial skills, research and increased public involvement. The MERL project is one of 22 that are being sponsored in museums and galleries across the UK.
Isabel Hughes, MERL Curator, presented a paper on the project at the Museums Association conference in November 2013. Read her latest blog post for more details and information about the new round of HLF funding announced at the conference.