Creative process in response to a museum commission.
We were absolutely thrilled when the incredible Dr. Abi Glen invited us to collaborate on the Museum in a Box project with the AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Our brief was to create a visually interesting paper sleeve for their first Museum in a Box subscription collection.
Museum in a Box produce 3D renderings of objects from museum collections that have electronic codes in them which, when scanned on a special box, tell you information about that object. This allows museums to share their collections more widely providing boxes and objects to schools, hospitals, libraries and other areas where museums are not available in real.
The Fitzwilliam’s pilot ‘Fitz in Bitz’ Museum in a Box collection: Feast and Fast: A Smorgasbord has been created alongside the exhibition to be held at the end of 2019, Feast & Fast: The art of food in Europe, 1500-1800.
At the beginning of the process Dr. Glen showed us a variety of the exciting pieces expected to be exhibited, and then 3D rendered, or postcard printed, for the Museum in a Box collection; a capon tureen, the Fat and Thin Kitchens by Pieter van der Heyden, the Wisbeach Swan Register, sugar flower tools, baroque pies…a whole range of unexpected food related curiosities that certainly got our creative juices flowing.
Back in the Cambridge Art Makers’ Studio we got straight to work contemplating the plethora of options available to us. With such diverse inspiration and our own variety of skills and resources available, we were wondering how on earth we would come to any kind of decision! Though tempting to get carried away, we were aware that there are budgets to consider as well as logistical practicalities.
Our brief was to create a sleeve for the box that would contain the, 3D and postcard, printed collection of items from the exhibition to be sent out to MiaB participants. We had dimensions for the box and knew we only had to generate 10 pieces in the first instance, but that they may need to be replicated on masse. Scale was therefore important and we knew we couldn’t go too wild with production techniques; thoughts of origami, cut outs, dot to dots, were sidelined for now.
We started sketching the various objects and images we had seen, all the while talking about what materials might complement the designs and requirements. We drew tureens, we explored the details of the fat and thin kitchen images, we oggled at the extraordinary exuberance of the baroque feast and drew pies and birds and imagined how to reproduce them in stitch, paint, food! Everything had so much potential but we knew we needed to get focussed as soon as possible.
Drawn by the simplicity of patterns and bold colours of the swan register Susannah was exploring how she could layer the shapes and create pleasing geometric patterns with lino cuts, they looked like doors, could they be doors into the box? into the world of the museum?….and then it clicked. They are swan beaks from above! We know, it’s obvious, and of course, in amongst the wealth of knowledge Dr Glen shared with us she had in fact already pointed this out!
So of course, just as this project is all about connections; bringing museum collections back to the people, relevance, creativity, collaboration; we could bring the beaks back to the swans. The swans a perfect motif; a bird with Cambridge stories, a bird with histories, a bird also very much a part of baroque feasts, and visually a very beautiful image. It couldn’t make more sense. We would be able to tailor the beaks to the audience receiving it (the Earl of Norfolk’s brand for the Norfolk museum, the Cambridge Duke brand for the Fitzwilliam’s own collection). The museum collection is suddenly brought back to life through an accessible reference, with relevance, creativity and visual beauty. Perfect synergy!
The Fitzwilliam’s own blog on the collaboration can be found here: https://creative-economy.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/news/meeting-with-cambridge-art-makers