The plan was for everyone to congregate in the downstairs Studio, before going to see the small Rhoda Gray exhibition (3 showcases) curated by MA Museum Studies Students. Then we would pick up our Home and Away theme, everyone would individually choose a ‘home’ object and an ‘away’ one from the Sainsbury Centre, then after the break we would spend time in our small groups talking about our choices.
It didn’t work out quite like that.
Rhoda Gray’s collection, introduced by curators Nikki Grout and Emma Reeve, was compelling, and everybody chose to focus on objects she had gathered together and donated to UEA in 1981 for reasons she inscribed on a satinwood dedication letter:
Dear Honourable Members
Bequeathing 124 items to “the University” will no doubt raise eyebrows. During my working life time = the contact I’ve had with The University was to help students on their travels = Worldwide, also contribution of public notes. 75% of the miniatures have become individual interesting antiques in own rights. Enclosed is description catalogue. Use everything to benefit the ” University of East Anglia” and International reputation, the time slip comes to (Us All) when we least expect. My Motto = (Be prepared at all times, this World is not conclusion = A sequel stands beyond = Invisible = but sweet music = Yet positive as sound. Courage everyone needs = Whatever race=colour-creed = think this wafer thin British satin ash appropriate for occasion = ars – longa – vita – brevis,
Signed = Miss Rhoda B. H. Gray
(aged 60 at time of writing)
Here is everything that is known about her so far, though appeals for more information in the EDP and Great Yarmouth Mercury have elicited some response.
Many people recognised things they had known in their own lives, that they had grown up with, or bought and sold themselves. Things that reminded them of where their mothers came from (away) or had passed down to them (home), carefully labelled so the memory of why it mattered was kept. Or things that had been destroyed as a result of dispute over how to behave at home and away.
Thinking about value, investigation, mystery, intention, biography; who was Rhoda Gray? We will never know. You do a lot of pointing when you can’t touch and you want to talk about particular objects.
Nell noted things people said in both the smaller groups as she moved between them,and that will be part of our Action Research work. I facilitated one small group so can’t report on what was chosen and said in Veronica’s group, but here is a quick snapshot of what I heard.
A coronation cup and saucer; A cup of tea, coming home. Seashells, thousands at home, from away, gifts of nature. Perhaps we should take a trip to Glandford Shell Museum?
A cracked cup must have meant something as it was worth mending.
A hag stone, she cut her foot. But was it sharp enough to do that? Home, a reminder of beaches. A bookmark from Texas, away.
A miniature enamel cup and saucer. Parents’ china collection, Richard Scott’s shop in Holt. Home.
Coins, six pence, penny, shilling, halfpenny, one with a hole in that may have been used in a fairground machine. Coins used for buying sweets in childhood. The hag stone, away, it calls out to you.
A teddy bear christmas decoration from Canada, and a souvenir mother of pearl broach from the Philipines; away. Home, a fan, like a collection of fans at home, like one in a bag right there and then. People give you things when they see you are interested, other people make a collection for you.
A maori souvenir from New Zealand, reminder of away, but also of being welcomed and made to feel at home, time and place to recover.
At the end of the session some people went off in the taxi and others stayed on to help plan our Community Event at the Norman Centre on 1st July. More to follow about that.
Veronica, Toni and I met two researchers in the Health Geography Unit department of UEAs Medical School who are scoping the evaluation of community health projects, funded by the Clinical Academic Reserve which is money from Clinical Commissioning Groups. Sweet Arts would like to benefit from Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group funding.
Our next meeting will be at Sweet Arts on 3rd June, making art reflecting on today’s experience.
Please add anything you would like to record about the session by commenting on the post. Or send it to me by email and I’ll post it.