ARTISTS RESIDENCY AT
MAIDSTONE MUSEUM, KENT
DURING 2003 JANE WILDGOOSE developed an artists residency at Maidstone Museum with visual artist Mary Hooper, leading to the exhibition Human Nature in the Museum's Bentlif Art Gallery from January - March 2004.
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The residency was developed in close collaboration with the museums curators who gave Jane and Mary guided access to the stores of the Costume, Natural History and Human History collections. Themes in the artists work (including an investigation of the world of Charles Dickenss Miss Havisham - the jilted bride who stopped the clocks as she received a letter of rejection on her wedding morning in Great Expectations) became a starting point for numerous visits to the museums stores, where Mary and Jane drew, photographed, and selected items to include in the exhibition - some of which have not been exhibited in living memory; many of which are damaged.
Damaged items in museum collections - or those with little information known about them - can be consigned to storage for long periods; their exhibition cannot usually be considered without extensive (and expensive) conservation or academic investigation. Human Nature, however, allowed such items to be shown with their wear and tear as an integral feature of the thematic development of the exhibition. Alongside the museums objects, Mary and Jane exhibited a series of new artworks they have made in response to the collections (including Miss Havishams wedding dress - a combination of antique costume and newly produced textiles), as well as work made during a previous residency together at Bexhill Museum of Costume & Social History during 2000-01 (one of the Arts Council of Englands Year of the Artist projects).
As part of Human Nature, the artists worked with tutors and students from the sugarcraft and pattern cutting courses at Maidstones St. Faiths Adult Education Centre. Together they made items for inclusion in the exhibition which pay tribute to Miss Havisham: roses, lilies, and orange blossom - flowers traditionally associated with women and weddings - crafted from icing sugar paste in reference to Miss Havishams bridal cake, and displayed on the gallerys fine late 19thc. fireplace; delicate paper sculptures, based on garment pattern cutting methods, that encase dried flower petals and butterfly wings, reminiscent of Dickenss description of Miss Havishams dress resembling "earthy paper". Janes Moths that nested in Miss Havishams trousseau (made from skeletal leaves, diamanté and beads) hovered in cabinet displays with fans and gloves, alongside drawers of specimens from the museums 19th century Lepidoptera collection; Marys photographic studies of hedgerow flowers emblemising the passing of the seasons were displayed alongside floral embroideries and samplers from the museums applied art collection.
Human Nature explored the poetic relationship between women, nature and time, using traditional floral symbols to be found in dress, textiles and embroidery. It also examined the use of natural history materials: ivory, bone, feathers and fur, in the history of womens costume and accessories, and addressed the way in which museums themselves attempt to stop the clock through the collection and conservation of objects.