Hi! My name is Yiran Zhang and last week I just finished my 8-week placement at the Charterhouse as part of my MA course at the University of Leicester, Museum Studies.
The initial motivation for me to choose the Charterhouse as my student placement was that I found the Charterhouse had a super fascinating history and they were continuing to make history nowadays. The Charterhouse was not only a museum, but also a heritage site, and moreover, a living almshouse. How could they balance these three functions and how could they deal with the conflictions while still receiving a high satisfaction rate from the visitors made me really want to join this institution to explore.
My work at the Charterhouse was mainly about collections management. In the 8 weeks, I worked alongside the Museum and Collections Manager Ellie (also my supervisor) on condition checking, generating condition reports and updating the database. Most of the objects that I had been working with were paintings, drawings and prints. I have learnt a lot about the aspects that I need to pay attention to when dealing with paper works. For example, a poor-quality mount might cause brown discolouration around the work in the future, gaps in the bevel edge of the frame might let dust get inside the glazing, grey or dark spots on the paintings might indicate mould, which means we would need to consult the professional conservator. Also, by helping to repackage and clean the objects and the storage room, I gained a lot of hands-on experience, which would benefit me a lot in the future.
Condition checking was not only about deciding the object’s current condition, but also involved classifying and categorizing. One of the most interesting parts of doing the condition checking work for me was working with the prints that had many duplicates. For example, the prints named ‘Old Porch’, as you can see below, had at least two versions depicting exactly the same scene. This could be problematic sometimes, but also trained me to be more familiar with the objects that I have checked, and it was a valuable experience for me to understand which versions were most ‘original’ and needed to be classified as core collection.
Furthermore, as this was my first working experience in a museum, I wanted to explore as many aspects of museum management as possible, it was really kind of the Charterhouse and my supervisor to allow me to get involved with other tasks. In my first week, I supported the Learning Programme Manager, Cynthia, to design a family activity called ‘Making your Own Coat of Arm’. In the later weeks, I worked with our Volunteer Coordinator, Sara, to develop a project about volunteer highlight talks. In the last three weeks of my placement, I helped to research about how to make the Charterhouse better engage with audiences by designing a new specialist guided tour and improving the collection webpage.
This placement experience has been so educative to me and I am more than excited to being able to apply the theories I have learnt from classes to practice. The Charterhouse has been a hidden gem in the central London for such a long time and I am honoured to get involve into the project to reveal this fascinating site. After my student placement, I am willing to still work here as a collection volunteer for few months and I can’t wait to start my new volunteer work!