Wednesday, 14 January 2015

From Toothbrush to Typewriter

Researching the Collection

As with any new project, the starting point is research and since my last post I have been spending time behind the scenes at the museum and getting to know more about the variety of objects and the variety of plastics that are included in the Museum’s vast collection.

Whilst there are unusual and unique items, the main thing that strikes me about the MoDiP collection is that it represents the mass produced, seemingly worthless, “stuff” of our everyday lives. It is not things that you would initially expect to be worthy of a museum, but as a whole, the collection shows the value of, and our dependence on, plastics in every aspect of life today.

The Museum’s online resources contain a wealth of information about the historical development of plastics as a material. The timeline shows how just how far reaching the use of plastic has become over a relatively short period in history.

I have also spent some time learning about how a museum collection is administered. With over 12000 items in the collection it is vital to have a system in place which enables the museum to keep track of the location of all the objects at all times, for example, when they go on display in an exhibition, or are returned to storage.

As each new object is added to the collection it is given a unique reference number and its details are recorded in the latest volume of the accession register. There is also a digital database that holds more information, but these handwritten books are still used to maintain the basic details and references and provide a complete history of the way the collection itself has developed.

Looking through these books you can see when a large donation of objects has been received, for example from the Worshipful Company of Horners who have loaned their whole collection of items made from horn which is a natural plastic, or just a single item purchased because of its special design qualities

Finding Objects

I often use found objects as a starting point in making my artwork so my first task is to “find” some objects amongst the 12,000 plus items in the collection that I can use as my starting point for making the book and prints that I outlined in my proposal.

Instead of just choosing my favourite items in terms of design or classification, I devised a method of randomly selecting objects from each of the seven volumes of Accession Book, the Loans Out book and the two lists which record the whole collections belonging to the Worshipful Company of Horners and Plastics Historical Society which are now on long-term loan to the Museum.

My aim was to select ten objects that show a good representation of the how the collection was put together over the lifetime of the Museum, as well as reflecting the diverse uses of plastic and some variety in design style.

I selected a plastic carrier bag, manicure machine, nylon stockings, a toothbrush, toy typewriter, stool supported by “Attila” the Gnome, a moulded horn snuff box, butter dish, dictating machine and an Olympic beaker. 

These items will all appear in my artist book. I am pleased that the key classifications of house and garden, health, care & grooming, fashion &costume, toys & games and packaging are all represented.

Along side the research I have been learning how to use plastic as a material and have been using the thermo vacuum forming machines in the 3D workshop to heat and form plastic to test the process that I will use to make embossed plastic pages for my book. The materials I need for the book pages have been calculated and ordered and I am looking forward to using plastic as a medium and combining printing techniques with plastic manufacturing techniques to make the book.

I have also been working on designs for the series of prints that will accompany the book. I am planning to use one or two of the objects that I have selected to develop into the prints - at the moment I am favouring the toothbrush and the typewriter, but this may change!

Carrie Mason (Student Creative)

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