Gunnersbury Park and a very unassuming frock

At Sutton House I run a community group called the Recycled Teenagers. They’re a group of over 55s, who started off as a short term project around 20 years ago documenting the experiences of Caribbean women living in Hackney. The remit of the group has since expanded, and anyone over 55 is welcome. The group largely comprises people in their 70s and 80s. We meet three terms a year for and for about 8 weeks each term we meet every Friday afternoon, and take part in activities such as dancing, singing, working with artists, life drawing, creative writing and loads more.

Last week, with the help of one of our volunteers, Sharon, I took the group across London on a trip to Gunnersbury Park, which is jointly owned by Ealing and Hounslow councils. I chose Gunnersbury Park partly because I’ve visited before and thought the Recycled Teenagers would enjoy it, and partly because my very close friend, who I met on the Museums and Galleries in Education MA, Ellie works there. She has a very similar role to me, and very kindly said we could come and spend the day.

We split the group in half, and took part in two activities, one was wandering around the park and hearing about the history and the community projects that they do at Gunnersbury, and the other was an object handling and reminiscence session led by Ellie, and Sarah Gudgeon.

The museum is currently closed for renovation, due to be re-opened in 2018, so the bulk of learning and community stuff happens in the Small Mansion next door at the moment. Gunnersbury House, which sits in the middle of the park was built in the late Georgian period and later bought by the Rothschilds. The house and land was sold in the 1920s on the condition that it was to be open to all as a place of leisure.

In the handling/reminiscence session, we learnt about the roles and life of the domestic staff in the house in Victorian times. We also handled a variety of objects from the collection, and reproduction objects, on the theme of domestic service, including carbolic soap, a bed warming pan, irons, a variety of brushes and polishes, a jelly mould, and a load more. A lot of them were unfamiliar to me (especially the wooden butter shapers!) but were very familiar to the Recycled Teenagers, for whom they weren’t just historic artefacts, but objects from their past. Led by Ellie and Sarah, we discussed the objects and they all reminisced about old jobs they used to have.

The item we spoke about most, both during the workshop, and afterwards, was a beautiful dress that Ellie showed us at the beginning. When I first saw it, I thought it was kind of underwhelming, but hearing the story about it changed my mind, and it really resonated with many of the Recycled Teenagers.

It’s a plain lavender print work dress, it’s hand sewn and would have belonged to a maid. It was donated to the museum in 1954 by a Miss Lilian Bottle, and came with a scrap of paper saying ‘working frock, belonged to aunt, died, 1891’. It’s dated as circa 1890 on the museum catalogue, but we can safely assume it was from earlier than that (thanks to Ellie for providing me more info about the dress!). That is all that is known about the dress. The stitching is so generous and beautiful, this was likely worn by a more high ranking maid who was ‘on show’ more. There are a few light stains on the dress, most probably because such dresses would have been passed down generations. Ellie told us that in spite of its humble and unassuming appearance, this dress is one of the most valuable items in the collection. The reason for this, is because most Victorian maid’s dresses would have been passed down until they fell to pieces, or were beyond repair, at which point they would have been cut into rags and used as cloths for cleaning. That one of these has survived, been looked after by its owner, and then cared for by a museum, is really remarkable.

The next time I saw the Recycled Teenagers, we spoke about the workshop again. Everybody was still talking about the dress. I said that I thought it was exciting that the dress was the most valuable item in the collection because – and Joan, one of the Recycled Teenagers, finished my thought for me – ‘it belonged to a normal woman’. It was such a lovely and rare treat to see an item that belonged to an everyday working woman, and to see it being revered, and spoken about with such tenderness and import. It was a lovely moment to see how this had resonated with a group of working class women from Hackney, who through a reminiscence session, had learned they had much in common with the kind of woman who might have worn this dress. I’m so excited to see how the dress is put to use once the museum transformation is complete, and I can’t wait to revisit it. Thanks to Ellie, Sarah and Sharon for hosting such an inspiring day!

“Get your acorns out!” – the National Trust at Pride

I’ve finally handed a full version of my thesis to my supervisors, so hopefully will have more time to blog, and I’m also planning on making the blog a bit nicer too, and adding more info about the exhibitions we’ve had at Sutton House this year.

This week has been a pretty unusual week for me at work. On Wednesday we hosted a member’s event at Sutton House hosted by National Trust Director Helen Ghosh. I was delighted to be asked to chair the panel event, and the discussion was around making the Trust more diverse and inclusive. On Saturday, the Sutton House team led the National Trust’s presence at Pride in London. If you’d have told me when I started researching and volunteering for the Trust in 2013 that either of these things were happening I’d have guffawed. It seems a very appropriate way to bookend the uphill struggle that has been my relationship with the Trust (and frustrations with the heritage world more broadly), and my PhD.

I’ve ranted on here before about how problematic I find Pride, and haven’t attended for the past few years, opting instead for Queer Picnic, Black Pride or Trans Pride in Brighton, all of which embody what Pride events should feel like for me much more than London Pride.

I hate that Pride now presents an opportunity for institutions to stick a rainbow flag on themselves and be seen to be visibly supportive of a community they do shit all to support all year round. I hate that the organisers so consistently get everything wrong (as an aside I attended a winter club night they did at Scala and they had a men’s queue and a woman’s queue… yet they claim to be for the whole LGBTQ community…). I hated that a police man came up to me this year to ask for a selfie, I said no, and that he could have a selfie for every time the police have appropriately dealt with a hate crime I’ve reported… Pride is too corporate, too white, too cis, too homonormative, pats people and institutions on the back too much for being “allies” but for not actually doing anything, is hypocritical and blind to the genuine pressing issues that queer communities face around the country and the world.

 

So it was with a lot of anxieties and doubt that I agreed to march in Pride for the first time, and especially to march as part of a huge organisation. But I’m actually pleased I did. The Trust haven’t always got it right this year when dealing with LGBTQ histories as part of the Prejudice and Pride programme, but I know that those who worked on it, and helped put together the Pride march are all coming from the same place as me. When we were first talking about Pride, I said I wouldn’t be involved if we were selling memberships on the day- as I think it would be desperately inappropriate to do so. Instead, our presence should be to show support, to celebrate the work we have done over the last few years (especially at Sutton House!) and to celebrate our LGBTQ staff and volunteers.

This year at Sutton House, all of our programming has been related to LGBTQ themes. We have worked with (and paid!) exclusively LGBTQ artists, have given platforms to people that otherwise wouldn’t have had them from the Sutton House community (such as Victor Zagon, who I will blog about more fully at some point!), we’ve worked with a young LGBTQ support group, we have explored queer themes with school groups and in our family offers. My exhibition Master-Mistress in 2014 was the first ever LGBT History Month exhibition in a National Trust property, we were the first to launch gender neutral toilets, we’ve been hosting queer club nights with Amy Grimehouse and Late Night Library Club for years, and I know that we won’t stop just because the Prejudice and Pride programme ends. I’m very concerned about legacy, but for now, I was very proud to march as part of Sutton House in Pride, I have worked very hard to help educate a large organisation about LGBTQ heritage, I have called out staff in the Trust when they have got things wrong, and just because the Trust are now on the cusp of progress, I won’t stop doing either of those things.

I love the National Trust, that’s why I’ve spent over four years researching and writing about it, that’s why I volunteered with them, and why I’m so pleased to have a job at my favourite National Trust house. Marching in Pride also made me realise how much affection my community has for the Trust too, even if sometimes it seems very conservative, or inaccessible, people appreciate the aims of Europe’s largest conservation charity, and recognise our attempts to get better. Fear not- I will continue to hold the Trust to account and work with my equally passionate colleagues to ensure that this is just the beginning of making the Trust a better place for EVERYONE.

We met a lovely man called Martin from the London Gay Men’s Chorus, who had been part of the Save Sutton House Campaign back in the late 1980s- I’m looking forward to getting in touch with him to start recording his memories, some of which we were lucky enough to hear over a pint after the march.

Also: huge shoutout to the man in the crowd that shouted “Get your acorns out!” as we marched past.

all 126 LGBTQ sonnet videos now online

I have finally put all of the contributions to the 126 LGBTQ sonnet project online. You can view them all in this album here. I’m looking into potential ways of displaying them, perhaps with a dedicated website, but for now they are all there for your viewing pleasure.

The exhibition at Sutton House has finished and it was a great success. I was sad to see it go, but looking forward to writing about it for my thesis, and I don’t think this is the end of the project, I am hoping to edit them in to a second version of the film and to continue to look for opportunities to screen it to make sure it can be seen by as many people as possible.

I want to extend my thanks again to the staff at Sutton House, but especially to the 125 (I was the 126th!) volunteers who gave up their time to contribute so creatively and generously to this project. I am overwhelmed and moved by the contributions, which range from funny to really moving. All of them are brilliant. Visibility is still really political for queer people, so we have all done something towards ensuring that we are seen and heard, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I’m also delighted to have met so many of the contributors since, at Sutton House, the V&A and various other queer events. I never imagined this project would help me feel so much more a part of the queer community, and that I would make so many friends through it.

I’m really excited that the exhibition had a brief mention in an article in the Independent. Unfortunately it was only two days before the exhibition ended, meaning that it wasn’t an effective marketing device, but still great to have been noticed, and I hope the higher ups in the National Trust are paying attention to our success.

Special thanks to Alex Creep, who has put up with me being quite insufferably stressy during the build up to the exhibition! and who also made the beautiful poster for the exhibition.

‘126’ press

The private view for ‘126’ took place on Thursday 5th and was a huge success. It was great to meet so many of the participants of the project, and we had over 100 people turn up!

There is a little feature about the exhibition on the Exuent blog.

Plus it features in ‘Hackney Today

I’m also really pleased that the exhibition featured in the National Trust members magazine (which apparently has an absurdly high readership of 4.5 million…) a friend of mine pointed out that in his many years as a member of the National Trust, this was the first mention of anything LGBTQ he’d ever seen in the magazine, which isn’t hugely surprising, but a great honour to be the first if that is the case. Unfortunately the text for the magazine needed to be done quite early, so it features the artwork from last year’s exhibition instead of for ‘126’:

I’ve written a piece that will be published soon on the Notches blog, which is a great blog about the history of sexuality. I’m also planning to storify the tweets about the exhibition at some point, and will also be sharing some of the feedback gathered in the comment books at the exhibition, my favourite comment so far said ‘Beautiful. Made me laugh and cry. Everyone should see this especially younger visitors to Sutton House’. This is particularly interesting as one of the complaints (yes, there have been a few…) was concerned about children seeing the exhibition. A particularly surprising claim, since the complaint arrived before the exhibition had opened…

‘126’ and ‘Queer Season’ at Sutton House

We’re less than a month away from the exhibition that I (and 125 volunteers) have been working on. I’m delighted to unveil the trailer here:


‘126’ LGBTQ exhibition trailer from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I’m also delighted to announce that owing to the success of last February’s exhibition Master Mistress, the staff at Sutton House have decided to eschew the confines of LGBT History Month by hosting a two month long Queer Season throughout February and March. Below is the exhibition blurb and more information about the other events taking place throughout Queer Season:

Queer Season at Sutton House

Starting in LGBT History Month, Sutton House is hosting its first Queer Season, a series of exhibitions and events celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer communities.

National Trust’s Sutton House presents:

126 
5th February to 29th March,
Weds to Sun 12pm to 5pm

Building on February 2014’s exhibition ‘Master-Mistress’, the first LGBT History Month event to be held in a National Trust property we think, ‘126’ is a crowd-sourced audiovisual experience featuring all 126 of Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sonnets as read by members of the LGBTQ community. Each sonnet is self-recorded and is accompanied by video portraits of the contributors.

Admission: Adult £3.50, Child £1, Family £6.90, National Trust Members FREE.

The Amy Grimehouse and National Trust’s Sutton House present:

The Craft Valentine’s Massacre 
14 February 7pm to late

 Join The Amy Grimehouse for their special presentation of that 90s classic, The Craft. Explore Sutton House and participate in some anti-Valentine’s spells, Hex-Your-Ex, the Nancy Booth, The Craft Craft Room with binding and poison pen Valentine’s cards and more. All before the pre-screening show with the Bitches of Eastwick. The screening will make way for the ‘Invoking the Spirit of Manon Ball’ with Connie Francis on the jukebox and more til late. “Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power.” 

Nick Fox and National Trust’s Sutton House Present:

Bad Seed 
5th February to 29th March,
Weds to Sun 12pm to 5pm

 This will include the first comprehensive survey of work by South African-born artist Nick Fox. Arranged over seven rooms, the exhibition brings together artworks created over the last ten years, principally painting but also films, installations, cyanotype prints and intricately laboured object d’art from his celebrated Nightsong and Phantasieblume series. Fox has also chosen Sutton House to launch a new artistic project called Seedbank, which invites members of the public to select seeds linked to a veiled dictionary of floral meanings to give as long term and living tokens of love and loves loss. Bad Seed will be shown simultaneously with Fox’s International touring exhibition Nightsong, at Angus-Hughes Gallery (7th February – 7 March 2015), which is also located in Hackney.

Admission: Adult £3.50, Child £1, Family £6.90, National Trust Members FREE.

2nd call for volunteers for ‘126’ LGBTQ exhibition at Sutton House

[EDIT: thanks for the overwhelming response to this second call out- all sonnets have now been assigned!]

Hello all!

I am currently working on an exhibition for LGBT History Month (and beyond- it will be running until the end of March!) at Sutton House, a National Trust house in Hackney.


(the dates on the poster are wrong- they will be amended when the proper posters are made! It actually ends on the 29th March!)

I can now announce that the exhibition will be called ‘126’. It will be an audio visual exhibition featuring crowd sourced recordings of LGBTQ people reading one of Shakespeare’s 126 Fair Youth sonnets, and short video portraits of the contributors.

I have been overwhelmed by the quality of the submissions so far, but alas- there are still between 20-30 sonnets to be assigned to volunteers!

If you wish to get involved, it only takes 5-10 minutes to record, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home, and it’s a great chance to be involved in a huge community effort to raise the visibility of LGBTQ identities in historic houses, and in the National Trust, you will also receive an invite to the private view!

You can see some examples of the contributions so far here. And read the original call for volunteers here.

To get involved or for more information, contact SuttonHouseLGBTQ@gmail.com and I will assign you with a sonnet!

I need all of the sonnets and videos to be recorded by the end of December, so please share widely with your networks!

Sutton House LGBT History Month exhibition- updates!

Just thought I’d share a few updates about the LGBTQ sonnet project exhibition to be exhibited at Sutton House in February 2015.

The exhibition will open on the 4th February, which is also when the house reopens after the closed season. The private view will be the following evening, on the 5th, and we’re toying with holding a second event to follow up on the success and interest of this year’s panel discussion. I’ll keep you posted!

Here is another teaser of the exhibition, featuring snippets from 5 of the contributions so far:


126 sonnets – teaser video [three] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I really can’t express how pleased I am with all of the contributions so far! You can listen to the sonnets so far here.

The exhibition will be taking place in the chapel, here are a few pictures of the space for those of you who have not visited yet (obviously it will look very different once the exhibition is in place):

I’m also delighted to say that the posters and promotional material will be designed by a super talented queer artist, more on this soon, but I’m really excited about it! In other great news, this year’s Master-Mistress exhibition and the upcoming follow up will receive a brief mention in the National Trust magazine that goes out to members, a readership of approximately 4.5 million…

I’m also hoping to soon be able to reveal some other LGBTQ related things that will be taking place at Sutton House during February and beyond, it’s really great that the success of this year’s exhibition is increasing the visibility of LGBTQ identities and narratives more widely throughout the property, I can only hope that other National Trust properties follow the lead soon.

By November 30th I should know for sure exactly how many more contributors I will need as, for various reasons, some of the original contributors are no longer able to commit, so I will be posting a second call out in an attempt to fill the final few spaces by the end of December, so that I have plenty of time to experiment with how the audio and the videos will work in the exhibition space.

A huge warm thank you to those who have already contributed and those who are planning to, this exhibition would literally be nothing without you all!

LGBTQ sonnets exhibition

When I first suggested collecting all 126 sonnets read by LGBTQ people to the staff at Sutton House I was half hoping for them to suggest it was a bit too ambitious. However, with almost all of the sonnets now assigned to willing volunteers (there are still a handful left!), and the contributions coming in thick and fast, I’m delighted that they had faith in me!

Here are two little teaser videos of two of the contributions, I’ll be posting more in the build up to the – as yet unnamed (I have a few ideas) – exhibition, which will take place in February 2015. As well as the recordings of the sonnets, I am also asking contributors to record a ten second video portrait, or a moving “selfie”. In the exhibition, I don’t think the sonnets will be matched with the videos, but rather will all run into each other, but I will have to wait until I have received them all before I experiment with the best ways to exhibit them all.


126 sonnets – teaser video [one] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.


126 sonnets – teaser video [two] from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I can’t tell you how overwhelming I am finding the generosity and creativity of the contributors so far, and it’s a real treat every time I receive a new submission, it really strengthens the love I have for a community I’m so proud to be a part of, and it feels like we’re all part of something really big and meaningful!

I’ll continue to document the progress of the exhibition, and in the next few days I’ll blog about my experience of volunteering at the Balfron Tower with the National Trust.

Sutton House LGBTQ exhibition update

I’ve been really moved and delighted by the number and quality of submissions from volunteers to the LGBTQ exhibition I’m working on for LGBT History Month 2015 at Sutton House, Hackney. I thought I’d share a few examples of some of the contributions I’ve received so far.

Just a reminder, I’m aiming to collect recordings of all 126 of Shakespeare’s fair youth sonnets, in a crowd-sourced collecting project where contributors record their own readings on their phone. I’m also asking for each of the readers to submit a 10 second video “selfie” clip too, and both sound and video will be used as part of an audiovisual experience at Sutton House in February 2015.
Here are a handful of the sonnets that I’ve received:

and here is a small selection of the video clips I’ve received so far:


126 Sonnets – video teasers from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they will whet your appetite for the exhibition, or even better- inspire you to get involved, there are still spaces for contributors! If you want to get involved, email SuttonhouseLGBTQ@gmail.com. There’s more info available here.

call for volunteers for LGBTQ exhibition

Following this year’s Master-Mistress exhibition, the staff at Sutton House have invited me to curate a follow up exhibition in February 2015.

In Master-Mistress, four brilliant volunteers contributed their voices by reading from Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sonnets. For Master-Mistress Take 2, we’re going to have all 126 of them read and recorded, and exhibited at Sutton House. This might sound very ambitious, but this is where you can help!

I’m looking for 126 people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer or intersex (or any combination of) who would like to take part in this.

What I will need from you:

  • a self recorded reading of a sonnet (I will assign the sonnets to make sure we have no duplicates), if you have a smart phone you will be able to do it on that, if you are unable to, or don’t have a phone that can record sound, then I can help you record it. The sonnets all take approximately 1 minute to read.
  • a 10 second ‘moving selfie’, a video (again, just use your phone, and again if you don’t have the technology, we can help you out) that serves as a portrait of you, of your face or your full body, or if you’re not comfortable showing yourself, you can send a clip of something personal that captures an element of you, an object, an item of clothing, a place, or whatever you want (get in touch if you’re short of ideas and I can help).
  • Your permission to use both the sound recording, and your videos in an exhibition, promotional material for the exhibition and online.

The sounds and clips will help to create an immersive audio-visual experience at Sutton House in LGBT History Month in 2015. Once the exhibition is over, there will be an online space to bring all of the material together, so that together we create a legacy that lasts beyond LGBT History Month.

Please email SuttonHouseLGBTQ@gmail.com If you want to contribute- get in touch and I can assign you with a sonnet to read, or if you want any more information, or have any questions, get in touch too.

We’re aiming to have collected all 126 sonnets by November, so get in touch as soon as you can!

Also, please share this post widely with your networks, it’s a really exciting opportunity to be involved in a ground breaking community sourced project and exhibition in a National Trust property!

Here is an example of one of the readings from last year:


Sonnet 93 from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

You can hear the other three here.

I visited the house today, and was shown around the new breakers yard, which is gorgeous, do go and visit, here are a few pictures from it: