The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The largest project I undertook during my traineeship was to curate a small area of the Museum as part of a Titanic Trail. To commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic a trail has been designed around The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. There is an important local link to the disaster as Captain Smith was born in Well Street, Hanley. His father was a potter who became a grocer. Smith followed his older half-brother to sea and worked his way up the ranks to become a Captain. He had a full and successful naval career and was a popular choice of White Star Captain, yet he is best known for his role in this tragedy.

I was given the following area of the museum.



I started to research my display knowing that I was going to focus the Brick Area on Captain Smith. I wanted to show visitors how Smith had worked his way from the bottom up and had passed all the necessary exams to gain command of his own vessel. This area is the start of the trail so I began with an introduction panel before moving on to Captain Smith.

I created a timeline of Smith’s life and placed a modern copy of his birth certificate next to it to show the local link. I also wrote a panel about the reasons he was chosen to captain the Titanic.





In the same area I also put a picture of Smith near the Loving Cup that was presented to him after he passed his masters certificate of competency which enabled him to captain a ship.




This part of the trail was completed with a large display case into which I placed a model of the Titanic and various items of memorabilia from the museum collection, the local archives and on loan from Don Smith.


Captain Smith was a popular and genial host. He was known as the ‘Millionaires’ Captain’ because the rich and fabulous felt safe on any ship under his command. Why then should the Titanic have been any different? Was the sinking of the Titanic completely Smith’s fault? I wanted to use the second side of my display area to invite visitors to cast their own vote in our ballot box after reading evidence from the inquests of the time and discovered since from analysing the wreck.

Next to the ballot I placed a DVD created by Ray Johnson at the Staffordshire Film Archive. He put together three short films to compliment the display. The first is about the maiden voyage of the Titanic, the second is the story of Eva Hart who was rescued in lifeboat no. 14 with her mother, and the final film is original footage of Captain Smith on the deck of the Olympic in 1911.

The final element that I felt I needed in my part of the Titanic Trail was to try to put the tragedy into historical context. I therefore found replicas of some newspapers from immediately after the disaster and these were scanned, enlarged and laminated before being put on display. I put these next to the original design for the plaque dedicated to the memory of Commander Edward John Smith which is in the entrance to the Town Hall.


I was recently in Derby to collect a loan and took the opportunity to visit the Derby Museum & Art Gallery. As I walked around I took photographs of pieces that caught my attention.




The museum is undergoing some redevelopment in the galleries which looked fabulous.



I enjoyed looking round the whole museum but my personal non-ceramic highlight was the Orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system which shows the movement of the planets around the sun.

I was asked if I would like to change the display in one of the cases in the Natural History Gallery called ‘Drawn From Nature’. The case held decorative arts objects that were influenced by nature such as a feathered hat and mother of pearl fan. My mission, if I chose to accept, was to create a new display showing ceramics that had been influenced by nature.

I accepted the challenge and spent a wonderful afternoon roaming the ceramics store for inspiration. I took lots of photographs of objects I felt would be perfect for the display.



Once I had a good idea of items I could use from ceramics I went to the natural history stores to see if I could find matching objects.


My next job was to take all the items I had chosen and see how they could fit together in a display. I used an empty case in the ceramics store to mock-up a display. At first I thought it might look good if the animals were on the back row and the geology and shells were at the front.

This didn’t really work as well as I had hoped so I started rearranging  and ended up with animals to the right and geology and shells to the left.

This seemed so much better to me that I decided this was how I would start when I installed the display in the gallery. I knew that this was not the finished arrangement because I was using different sized blocks and the case in the gallery is slightly smaller, but I was happy to have a starting off point to save time.

Before installing the display I took photographs of all the items individually for the labels.



I arranged a time before the museum was open for the old display to be removed and for my items to be installed. I started by setting everything out as I had placed it in my mock-up even though it didn’t fit properly.

I then rearranged everything to make it fit into the case with the help of Helen Cann, the museum’s Design Officer. We played around with the blocks and stands to ensure all the objects can be seen clearly.



The finished display is full of wonderful items and I had lots of fun looking for unusual and interesting facts for the labels.

I spent a week at Coalport accessioning a bequest that the museum had received in 2010. An accession number had already been given to the whole bequest but each item had yet to be catalogued and numbered. My first job was to unpack everything and check them against the original list of the bequest. There were 83 pieces in total.


I sorted the items into groups and allocated each an individual number. I then worked through the bequest making sure everything was labelled with a unique number then filling in a form with general information, description, condition report and measurements.


The records will eventually be put onto the computer catalogue so that everybody at Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust has access to the records.

There are some really interesting pieces in the bequest including items that are unfinished or unusually decorated. There were a lot of items decorated with ‘Indian Tree’ and a few of these were unusual shapes including a triangular dish and a cup and saucer in the shape of a clover.


There were even a few pieces that turned out not to be Coalport but were made instead by Charles Ford of Hanley, Staffordshire. They are decorated with the ‘Belfort’ pattern which is a typical Coalport pattern.


The final items in the bequest were pieces of modern Coalport.


I arrived on Monday morning to be met by Becky Wallis who took me to get an identity pass and key, which was very exciting. We then spent the morning touring parts of the museum with Becky highlighting key pieces and explaining her involvement with different galleries and displays.




I even had the chance to try on a gauntlet, which was rather heavy, and visit some of the fantastic room sets.



In the afternoon we went to the Postmodernism Exhibition which is fabulous. The atmosphere and design compliment the objects and ethos of the movement. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have been on the V&A website to look at the blog on how the exhibition was put together, it is very inspiring. I was also able to look around the Power of Making Exhibition which was fantastic. It included such wonderful objects as spray on fabric, a Crochetdermy Bear and a Lego dissected frog!


Tuesday we catalogued part of a new acquisition of furniture rests. A new book has just been published which we were able to use to help us try to identify subject matter. Some were based on Wellington whilst others may have been Princess Charlotte.


In the afternoon I was shown around Conservation and given a general introduction to the work carried out by the team. This includes a wide range of tasks such as the conservation or full restoration of objects, advising on how to display items and writing condition statements. I was shown their current projects and told about the tools and materials they use. It was a brilliant introduction to an area I had not previously been shown.





I spent Wednesday at Blythe House with Becky and Catrin Jones.

Their department is swapping storage rooms with another and they have been organising everything ready for an efficient move. We looked at a miscellaneous case and used labels left with the items, the database records and our knowledge to organise the objects and move them to the correct places in the store.



It was a fantastic chance to handle an odd mix of ceramics and to have a look at the reserve collection that didn’t make it into the dense store in the ceramics gallery. It was also exciting because there was a film crew on site for a new BBC2 production called Dancing on the Edge. It was interesting to see how the museum staff work around filming as there were lights and scenery on the stairs leading to the stores.

On Thursday Becky took me to see the Grayson Perry exhibition, The Tomb of The Unknown Craftsman, at the British Museum. I had seen the documentary about it and was very excited. It exceeded my expectations and was made even better by the fact Grayson Perry himself was there leading a tour around the exhibition. Hearing him speak about the items in the exhibition and his reasoning behind his choices was excellent.


We then moved on to look around Grays Antique Market where we had a chat with some of the ceramics stall holders before moving on to Christies for the Centuries of Style Viewing. It was interesting, after having had a behind the scenes viewing with Aileen Dawson at the Kensington site, to see their other building and how they hold open viewings and how they display the items. I was able to hold an 18th Century German gold box by Christian Neuber that was in the catalogue at £150,000 – £200,000! It was gorgeous and I think viewings like these are such a wonderful way for people to see and handle items they would never normally come across. 

In the afternoon we went to see the Ceramics Artist in Residence, Clare Twomey, who gave us a tour of the studio and showed us her works in progress. There is a lot of emphasis in her work on the meaning of making and on the skills needed to make or decorate ceramics.


It was fascinating to watch her install a display of some of the work that had taken place to show a paintresses skill at Wedgwood. The difference between how an artist arranges ceramics compared to how museum staff would approach the same items is brilliant to see.    



On Friday I took a trip to the V&A Museum of Childhood to have a look at the difference between the two sites. Unfortunately Becky was off sick and so I was on my own but I enjoyed the experience.

The space is so different, it is a big open space to fill and is definitely aimed at children and families. Looking at the differences in interpretation and display was enlightening.


They also have a Magic Worlds exhibition which overlaps on some of the fairy tale themes that were in Once Upon A Time at PMAG and it was interesting to see how they differed.


In the afternoon I helped Catrin locate and move items ready for the Caughley Society to photograph the following week. Having helped at Coalport it was fun to see the items they had chosen at the V&A.


It was a wonderful week and I am very grateful to the Ceramics and Glass Department for their fantastic hospitality.

Worcester Porcelain Museum hosted a fantastic training event on the True Origins of the Willow Pattern with curator Wendy Cooke and guests Rose Kerr and Luisa Mengoni.  Wendy started the session by presenting the fascinating background of the Worcester Porcelain Factory and how it interpreted the willow pattern. In the pattern books there are 74 variations of the Willow Pattern. From 1820 onwards each pattern needed a copper plate for transfers and apprentices would learn by cutting new plates when the old ones became worn. I think it is brilliant that sometimes they would add their own extra bit, for example an extra leaf, and so the pattern developed each time a new plate was made.


Rose took over after lunch with comparisons between the Chinese origins of the designs and the European interpretations of them. These included the interpretation of landscapes and the importance of water and mountains and the reasoning behind the fisherman figure. In China scholarly gentlemen would retire to the mountains to write and would fish while they were there. Therefore the image of a fisherman in Chinese images would be shorthand for a scholarly gentleman, something us Europeans didn’t understand but copied anyway. Luisa finished the presentations with a look at traditional elements found in willow patterns such as rocks, houses and water.

The day ended with Rose leading a brilliant handling session with pieces from her own collection and pieces from the museum collection, which included items in the Mimicking the Orient Exhibition.


I had chance to look around the whole museum before we left and it is brilliant. Here are a few of my highlights from the 82 photographs I took!




The Caughley Society are in the process of producing a new book on Caughley blue and white patterns. They arranged a photo shoot at Coalport China Museum to get images for the book. I helped set up the AV room and remove the relevant pieces from display before getting them ready to be photographed.





It was fascinating to watch and I can’t wait to see the book when it is released. It can be pre-ordered on their website


The second site we visited was the AirSpace Gallery. Here we saw Stick –Up, a collaboration of projects by the AirSpace Gallery Studio Artists developed during three days of experimentation and investigation resulting in a new-found relationship between Ceramics and Contemporary Art. It was great to look around and we enjoyed participating in Wall of Secrets.




Our final destination was The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery where we looked at Award which I helped to install.




Caroline Tattersall and Rosa Nguyen installed smaller versions of their work at PMAG whilst their original pieces were displayed at the Spode factory.



I enjoyed looking in the House of Keys whilst at the Spode factory.

Twenty-four artists and designers were selected for Award and the winner, Pheobe Cummings, was presented with £10,000 generously provided by Spode (part of the Portmeirion Group).


The British Ceramics Biennial closed last weekend at the Spode factory and AirSpace Gallery but Award at PMAG remains open until 11th December.

About the traineeship

My name is Jemma Tynan and for the next year I am the ceramics curatorial trainee at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent and the Coalport China Museum in Telford.

This blog is a way for me to share all the exciting and interesting things I shall be doing as I gain experience as a curator. The views expressed in this blog are my own and in no way reflect the opinions of my host institutions.

Photographs are courtesy of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Coalport China Museum.