Q&A with our Exhibitions and Collections Officer, Helen Brown
Helen has worked at The Historic Dockyard Chatham for nearly 8 years and her most recent title as Exhibitions and Collections Officer, means she assists with the logistics and installations of our temporary exhibitions, predominantly in No.1 Smithery.
With our latest exhibition, Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, almost here, we used the opportunity to catch up with Helen to discuss what she has to do to ensure the exhibition is ready for opening.
Could you give us a brief overview of your role in assisting with temporary exhibitions?
Each exhibition varies with some being curated in house or sometimes externally. Nevertheless, here are some of the tasks I have to complete when an organising an exhibition install:
- Liaising with curators, lenders, couriers and the exhibitions team involved on all aspects from content and design to insurance and loans of objects.
- Working with the exhibition designer and our internal team to plot content to our gallery space. For example, where walls will go and how the visitors move around the space.
- Working with our team at the Dockyard to construct the build elements for exhibitions and get the space ready for displays i.e. for the Tattoo exhibition, we need to work with our Estates & Facilities team to build some recreated Tattoo studios within No.1 Smithery.
- Ensuring all necessary paperwork is completed and all departments involved are kept up to date.
- Completing background research and preparing objects for display including mounts and organising labels for items.
- Completing the installation and de-installation of the exhibition.
What is the timeline of getting an exhibition installed and open to the public?
Once the hire agreement for an external exhibition has been signed, the content list confirmed and design work complete there’s still a lot more work to do. Firstly, we must deconstruct walls and reconstruct them in the correct place for the exhibition. This also involves painting them. We must then allow time for the paint to off gas to ensure the environment is safe for objects.
I often organise transportation for any loaned objects to come to us. We must consider the vibration impacts of travelling on the object and the environmental conditions which they are in. All staff involved must be fully trained in object handling. Museums often send a member of their own collections team to courier any loaned items to the destination. Co-ordinating transport with lenders to fit our installation schedule can often be quite challenging! In the past we have had 7 couriers from national and international museums arriving over two days with loan objects. As soon as the objects/crates and boxes are at our gallery it’s time to check their condition and begin installing them.
What has been your favourite exhibition to install so far?
I really enjoyed working with Seven Stories on the Julia Donaldson exhibition ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’ which we exhibited in 2014. It was so colourful and fun to install! I also loved working on ‘Valour, Loss and Sacrifice’ in 2014. We used a lot of our own collection for this exhibition which explored the role of the Royal Navy and Chatham Dockyard during the First World War. We delved into our own archive and collections and uncovered poignant stories via photographs and letters home from naval ratings. One of my favourite pieces was a logbook of repairs to Royal Navy ships completed at Chatham Dockyard during World War One, this is now on permanent display in our Steam, Steel and Submarines gallery.
I’m really looking forward to installing Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed. It’s a vivid, thought-provoking exhibition and the “100 Hands” artwork is a particularly exciting piece to install.