My First Month: Collections, Colleagues … and Cake

Drawing of a girl seated at a desk with her hands clasped under her chin

Dr Hannah Lyons reflects on her first month as our new Curator of Art Collections.

As with any new job, my first month as the Curator of Art Collections at the University of Reading has been very busy. I’ve started getting to know my colleagues, our art collection, and the culture at the University’s Museums and Special Collections department (which rather wonderfully includes a lot of coffee and cake!).

A piece of flapjack on a plate
It’s not just in the staff room … there’s cake everywhere!

For many years, the University’s Art Collections were best described as a hidden gem. Like myself, some of you might also be new to the Collection, so (if you’ll indulge me) I’ll provide a very brief introduction. The Art Collection was formed in 2015, and comprises of around 1000 rich and varied works, including paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures. Some of our earliest artworks are Old Master drawings that date from the sixteenth-century, but the collection is notably strong in twentieth century British works. Excitingly we also commission and collect contemporary art. Many of the works are of national and international importance – you can see this for yourself as you browse Art UK and via our online collections database.

As a first port of call, I’ve wanted to familiarise myself with these artworks, so I have been spending some time in our Art Collections Study Room (where you can also book appointments to view the collection.) Sifting and close-looking at these artworks in-person has allowed me to observe the sheer range of artists, subjects, materials, and techniques that our collection covers. Over time, I hope to build up some real knowledge of the items in our care and feed this ongoing research into temporary exhibitions and semi-permanent displays.

Two drawings by Minnie Jane Hardman; one of the complete sculpture, while the second has been anatomised to the skeleton.
This isn’t actually me, but I’ve been busily working and avoiding cameras. So just pretend it is me … pretty please.

My own specialism is on late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century printmaking, particularly the role, status, and output of professional, British women printmakers. However, Curators often have to expand our expertise to encompass all the wonderful (and weird) artworks in our eclectic collections. In this vein, I’m particularly excited to be able to facilitate and promote access to the University’s Art Collections, and dive into some areas outside of my field, like our Max Weber (1881-1961) collection – the largest body of works by this revolutionary Cubist artist outside of the USA. And I’m also looking forward to learning more about artists who have long and intimate connections to Reading’s School of Art, such as Stephen Buckley (b.1944), Clyde Hopkins (1946-2008) and Marilyn Hallam (b.1947) – to name just a few!

For me, working as a Curator is as much about working with people as it is working with objects. I’m very much looking forward to collaborating with individuals across the University and the town to unlock the stories in the Art Collection. Given the wonderful reception that I’ve enjoyed so far, I’m looking forward to getting stuck in!

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