BA Curating and Art History – 2nd-year Placements (2019-20)
Castle Howard | Ferens Art Gallery | The Hepworth Wakefield | National Railway Museum
In the academic year 2019-20, the second-year students studying for the University of York BA in Curating and Art History carried out placements at museums and galleries across the region. Whilst some of the placements were curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic, all the students had an enriching experience, gaining insight into the practical skills involved in working with artefacts and artworks, as well as carrying out research for exhibition projects.
Naomi Lomax, who catalogued a collection of fans during her placement at Castle Howard, wrote the following about her experience:
My placement took place at Castle Howard, a stately home situated in North Yorkshire. The house was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in the early eighteenth century and has been lived in by many generations of the Howard family, descending from its builder the third Earl of Carlisle.
Castle Howard has a diverse collection, ranging from paintings and sculpture to textiles and decorative art objects. All these artworks, set against the interior design of the house and its baroque architecture, constitute an atmosphere that highlights how the house is lived in and evokes a feeling of Castle Howard’s past.
During my time at Castle Howard, my main task was to catalogue a collection of around 200 hand-held fans. This was a fascinating project, as I was dealing with an object that I was fairly unfamiliar with and had to learn new terminology. The fans differed in many ways, such as their size and style, the materials used to make them, and also their date and country of origin. These fans had previously been part of Castle Howard's costume collection and stored within the furniture store. In my role to catalogue these objects, I also helped to organise this space. As a curatorial student with an interest in fashion and textiles, it was captivating to handle these objects, not only paying attention to their material and condition, but equally questioning their history, how they were used, and how they could be displayed. This project highlighted for me the importance of cataloguing within an institution, and it identified what objects their collections are actually compiled of.
The house was closed to the public for most of my placement. The curatorial team take advantage of this period of closure to carry out tasks such as cleaning and conservation. It was interesting to see how the dynamic of the house changed, compared with the beginning of my placement, when it had been open to the public for their Christmas at Castle Howard event, one of the busiest periods within the house. This revealed to me some of the curatorial challenges that the house faces when open to the public, such as some level of deterioration, as well as the preventative measures that are put in place to reduce this concern.
As a curatorial student, my placement at Castle Howard was incredibly valuable. It not only gave me an exclusive insight into how an institution such as a country house is run, but it also taught me how diverse the role of a curator can be.
Main image: L-r: The National Railway Museum; Ferens Art Gallery; The Hepworth Wakefield; Castle Howard. Photo of Ferens Art Gallery: detail of 'Ferens Art Gallery, Carr Lane, Kingston upon Hull', © Bernard Sharp, reproduced under CC BY-SA 2.0; other photos M. Coughlan