Curatorial trainee: October update

Six months in London and Birmingham as a curatorial trainee – Helen Hillyard updates us on her progress in the Art Fund's training scheme for young curators.

A lot has happened since I arrived at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) in March. I have continued to research 17th-century paintings in the collection, but my research has now expanded into new areas: sculpture, works on paper and applied arts. Given the strength of these collections, I decided to make my re-display of the Baroque galleries more inter-disciplinary.

My aim is to represent visual culture across the arts during the period, revealing the close relationship between these different areas. I have also spent time in the city archives, examining reports and correspondence, in order to discover the reasons as to why these works were acquired in the first place.

I’m trying to make sure there’s a place for all this research, even after the project is over. I am updating all the museum documentation on the works and have produced collection surveys for the different areas I’m working with. I’ve also started a blog, as a more informal way to record the quirky facts I have come across during my research.

I have created a model of the two galleries I am re-displaying, and have started to think about how to group the works. Before I can decide on the final hang, however, I am organising a series of consultation sessions with schools and families to learn what they want from the galleries. One of these sessions asks visitors to the museum to curate their own Baroque gallery, hopefully getting people to think about the paintings in a completely different way.

I have tried to make the most of my time in Birmingham, visiting important local collections with Baroque artworks, such as the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

I have loved taking part in BMAG’s monthly Spotlight sessions – think Antiques Roadshow without valuations – and also organised BMAG’s Edible Masterpieces event, where I recreated Orazio Gentileschi’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt using chocolate Tiffin.

I am excited about the next stage of the project, and think the re-display is shaping up to be really special!

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