Includes interesting stories from the world of leather and updates on the Museum. Issued periodically.
“The visual arts are one of the manifestations of quality by which a nation is judged, and no society can afford to dispense with their humanising influence…”
A bold opener from John Waterer, writing in 1948 for the Design and Industry Association on the topic of ‘Design in the museum’. Nonetheless one which is right on line nearly seventy years later as we embark on the next stage of the Museum of Leathercraft’s journey. Last week we became tenants of a 12,000square foot space in the town centre of Northampton. Now we begin to put a National Museum of Leather back into the the spiritual home of the U.K leather industry.
So what are the ingredients of a modern museum? What purpose will ours serve? How will it serve, more to the point.
Waterer in 1948 was keen to highlight what he felt was a disconnect between the educators and the educated, or rather that those planning and managing museums had forgotten who their target audience were. Curators were too close to their subjects to offer a broadness of vision with which to engage everyone who wished to visit. Worse still he postulated that maybe a national urge for education had been ‘sopped up with the pink blotting paper of a bureaucracy!’
How to encourage those responsible for industrial production to be led to the principals which underline all good design?
A new kind of establishment needs to be made, one with a popular appeal, concerned primarily with industrial art but not excluding the whole field of the visual arts, and although concerned with contemporary work, not neglecting that of other days. The sort of place where Everyman with his wife and family will be irresistibly drawn as to “Britain can make it”, knowing that there will constantly be something fresh and stimulating to see.
Flexibility and enlightened enthusiasm should inform the whole policy.
It should be a ‘live’ thing free from Civil Service procedure and departmental exclusiveness.
Yesterday, as I stood in the emerging shell of the space our builders are stripping out (see photo.) and reflecting on the months of design and planning ahead, I was heartened by Waterers’ words. I was glad to be ‘nagged’ to complete my June blog on time because it forced me to look back and ask some fundamental questions about the purpose of our museum. It focused me on a study of the past, looking to see what others thought, what has been tried before. What worked well and what didn’t. To discover a pamphlet in which Waterer wrote his thoughts on the meaning and values museums have in society was most encouraging.
Design and creativity are part of what makes us human. They are God given instincts to build others and ourselves up. To make use of our talents to the greater good of others. Or as Waterer puts it
‘Even the most hard-bitten can scarcely be satisfied with the present unhappy condition of mankind, and unless we recognise as a prime cause of this state the suppression of the human element, and perceive this failure as due, in part at least, to the divorcement of man from satisfying and creative work, we are heading for disaster.’
In the next six months it is my confident hope that we can make some steps in the right direction. We can bring on line a new National Museum for the Leather Industry and its associated crafts. We can create a space that is free for entry and that reminds and inspires people that creativity and craftsmanship are core parts of what makes us human. It’s not about money, power or self gain. It’s about making the best of the talents that each one of us are blessed with from birth.
This will be your museum, full of treasure for you to view and react to. Full of opportunities to try new things and learn new skills. Most of all it will be a space where ‘we’ who manage it , know our place. Ours is the honour to welcome, talk to and form relationships with,all who make contact. To share these wonders and the knowledge that has been diligently accumulated by industry professionals over the past 70 years.
In conclusion I will again side with John Waterer who believed faithfully in the artists creed so eloquently put by George Bernard Shaw
‘I believe in Michelangelo, Velasquez and Rembrandt, in the might of design, the mystery of colour, the redemption of all things by beauty everlasting and the message of art that has made these hands blessed’.