Placement Day 9 – Documentation / commemorative ceramics

For the 9th day of the placement with the decorative arts department at Walker art Gallery we begun a documentation project.

The Walker use collections management software called Mimsy XG, a database in which every object in the collection is recorded. According to Mimsy is used to:

Manage all your collections data quickly, reliably and safely. Whether cataloguing, managing acquisitions and loans, managing movements, storage or conservation, or organizing events, all these processes and more can be handled with ease.

From what I can gather initially, the 2 main issues the Dec Arts Department have with documentation are due to human error, with staff members changing over the years, leaving work incomplete, and the changing from one collections management software to a new one, leaving collections documented in different or multiple places. A lack of resources and staffing can lead to these issues.

The software used previously is called Microsoft access. There is a backlog of objects that have not been entered into Mimsy during the process of transferring object records from Access. This includes a collection of commemorative ceramics that have yet to be transferred from Access.

Commemorative ceramics in the decorative art department stores

The records for the commemorative ceramics are incomplete on both Mimsy and Access, it will be my job to update these, create mimsy records for them and research the objects. I was allocated a shelf of 22 objects (pictured at the beginning of this blog post).

Photograph showing the accession number on the bottom of a teacup 55.115.30B

I will initially populate a spreadsheet with the following information for each object: accession number, Object, Who made it & Where, Date, Material, Measurements, Description, Donor, Location, and a column to tick when it has been entered into mimsy. This allows us to capture as much information as we can about the objects. Key terms / categories will be used to search for items in Mimsy. Such as ‘Queen Victoria coronation cup and saucer’. Until now if the curators needed to access an object that is not currently on mimsy, they would rely on the senior curators knowledge and expertise, and by physically looking in the stores.

As seen in the photo above, the accession number is written in the centre of the base of this teacup, in the bottom. On all ceramics, the accession number can usually be found on the bottom of the item. Objects are marked without damaging the object or intruding the view of it. The ink used can be removed with acetone.

It is important that not only details of the object are recorded, but also the location of the object in the store. External auditors will occasionally test the department by asking where an object is located. It is important that if an object is moved, that the location is updated immediately.

Some details will be unclear and will require research, such as who made items. Google has been a helpful resource to curator Nicola in the past, but she has also suggested we use Encylopedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks, and refer to books on commemorative ceramics. Importantly, they do not want inaccurate information entered into Mimsy, if the information is in the collections database, people take it as fact. Any research i do that I am not 100% certain of will be confirmed by Nicola. She also suggested searching for similar objects online, to see if there are any with confirmed info, from a reliable source. Other resources include internal documentation systems – files I used to check the acquisition documentation for the costume items may also exist for the ceramics. It does seem as though the files are less complete for these objects, however, so may not be a very useful resource. Prior information that could be incorrect can be updated if our research is successful.

One book that could be a useful resource.

Any information discovered in addition to the items description may be used on the Walkers online ‘label’. Language used would need to be considered to made accessible for the public.

In terms of object handling, I used the same trolley lined with tissue paper ‘pillows’ to transport the ceramics from the case to the table. The table was lined with a protective foam, then a layer of tissue paper. This was attached with a strip of masking tape, which also acted as a visual indicator of the edge of the table. We were instructed to hold the objects with two hands, or from the inside of cups and bowls. Handles were strictly not to be held or used.

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