Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Class 13: Blythe House (25/07/2013) 

It is with much sadness that I sit down to write this blog entry. Today’s class is out last in London. After seeing, hearing and meeting so many new people and new things, I cannot believe our time here has come to an end. I swear it was just yesterday that I was getting on the plane at JFK. However, before accepting the fact that this amazing time has come to an end, I will talk about the actual last visit to the Blythe House, an extension of the V&A archives. 

If you’ve been reading this blog post for post, you may recall that my class had previously visited the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, a few weeks back. The Blythe House  is an outside storage facility that houses more materials. Originally built to be used as a post office and then a bank, this building was eventually handed over to three national museums, the V&A being one of them. Known for housing the world’s largest collection of Beatrix Potter archive, the Blythe House has over 100,000 pieces of work. But before I get into all things Potter, I’ll talk about some other items in the archive that were amazing. 
Sketch Designs from the collection
Done by Lucile Ltd. 

Christopher Marsden, the senior archivist, began our tour by telling the class all about the V&A archives. We learned about the filing systems, the detailed records staff are encouraged to keep, data protection legislation and what this department does to ensure all FOIL laws are adhered to. There are challenges which are presented to this hard working team like electronic records and the e-registry that has to be created with it. The team is forced to consider what gets kept, where do they have space for physical records, what can get digitized and how is the best way to ensure preservation and continuity. Then there are the issues of preventing a catalogue from appearing on-line, how patrons can have access to search the collection and trying to link the archives with this so that it can all be in one place. There are a lot of things to consider in this department, I don’t think I ever realized it until hearing all of this. 

Another Lucile sketch from the 1920s. 
After hearing about the technical details about the archives, our class then heard from Alexia Kirk, an archivist of arts and design. She gave a look at some of the fashion collections that the V&A has. With a mix of British designs and British based designers, there is a lot of material that needs to be looked after. With a big chunk of materials from the 20th and 21st century, there are records of designers, artists, photographers, etc. that can be found as well. Each year, between 5 and 15 new items are acquired to add to the collection. What’s great about this collection is it really tells a lot about Britain and how it has changed in style and taste over this vast period of time. I have to say, personally, some of these items were my favorites to look at for the day. 

Finally, the time most of the class had been waiting for, we heard all about the Beatrix Potter collection. Frances Willis, the curator of children’s literature, gave us a brief overview of all the children’s materials which are housed here. With over 100,000 books, the Beatrix Potter is their most famous and widely requested. With most of these materials being collected between 1950 and 1970, this is when the collection started to be developed. There were first edition prints, letters written by Potter with illustration ideas for characters, other handwritten items, pretty much if you name it this archive has it. We learned that most of this collection came from a team of two, Enid and Leslie Linder (more about them in a second). Never having been a huge Beatrix Potter fan, I got swept up in many of my classmates excitement at seeing this amazing and rare items and couldn’t look away. This was truly like being in the presence of greatness. 
Leslie Linder working on the journals.
Photo courtesy of www.vam.ac.uk

Lastly, our tour had the distinct pleasure of having a special guest speaker, Andrew Whiltshire, speak to us about the Linders and his personal connection with them. Leslie Linder is most known for being the one to crack Beatrix Potter’s journals. Written in her own code when she was a young girl, it took Linder 10 years to decipher and transcribe much of this author’s childhood. It’s because of him that biographies could be written, films were made and more information than ever was known about this beloved children’s author and how she grew up. Mr. Whiltshire was able to tell us all about the Linder family, their wealth, their interest in Potter and how his own mom knew the family. It was a fantastic personal account that really drew the class to a perfect close. 

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