Danielle Sprecher, Report from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service

Costume Society Museum Placement Award

Danielle Sprecher, 29 September 2010, Report from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service

Katrina O’Brien, a fashion and textile design student at the Colchester Institute, has been working with the Colchester costume collection at Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service from July to September. During this time Katrina has assisted with our project to improve the documentation and storage of the costume collection. Katrina also assisted with the preparation and installation of a small exhibition of hats in Hollytrees Museum.

The Colchester costume collection was moved in March 2008 from unsuitable and crowded attic storage in an eighteenth century building to a new museum store. As a result of this move a full inventory was undertaken and a (still ongoing!) project was begun to fully document, photograph and repack the collection.

For this project Katrina concentrated on the 120 women’s hats and bonnets in the collection. They were especially vulnerable because of their previous overcrowded storage. The hats had been assessed by a hat specialist with particularly good examples being identified and advice given on how best to repack the collection. Working as part of a team with other volunteers, the curatorial assistant and curator, Katrina organised the hats into chronological order, photographed and repacked them.

Katrina quickly understood the sensitivities required to handle fragile objects and had a practical approach to problem solving. This was especially important when assessing how best to support the hats in the storage boxes.

Along with the hands-on project working with the objects Katrina did a tremendous job processing documentation images of hats and other items of costume and adding them to the museum catalogue. This involved working with the images in Photoshop so that the photographs accurately and clearly represent the objects. 

At the end of the documentation project Katrina had the opportunity to help with the exhibition Straw: Bonnets to Boaters which opened in Hollytrees Museum on the 25 September. This included taking photographs of the objects going into the exhibition, painting panels and installing objects.

As a result of the Museum Placement Award and Katrina’s work all of the women’s hats in the Colchester costume collection have now been fully documented, photographed and repacked in suitable storage. Without the award this part of the project would not have been possible. Katrina’s work has significantly contributed to the costume collection documentation project, the accessibility of the collections and the opportunity to display previously unseen pieces from the collection. 

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