15 November 2017
From 18 – 26 November 2017 we will be celebrating the recorded history of Kettle’s Yard as part of #ExploreArchives. Our archivist Frieda Midgley helps us make full use of this rich resource. Read on to find out more about what she does and what makes archiving so interesting.
How did you get into archiving?
I came to it through using archives for research while studying mediaeval history, and then tested my dedication through a holiday job cataloguing railway records. I wanted to share my enthusiasm for the material and its study, so I did consider museums and teaching as possible alternatives – and my work at Kettle’s Yard unites all those elements rather nicely!
What makes the Kettle’s Yard archive unique?
The Kettle’s Yard archive is relatively small, but highly focussed and dense in its content. It documents the development of the House and collections; Jim Ede’s activities and interactions with artists and other key cultural figures of the twentieth century; and the ongoing work of Kettle’s Yard as a leading centre for modern and contemporary art.
It’s a real pleasure to work with a collection that relates so closely to its surroundings, and to the continuing work of the organisation, but it also fascinates me to see so many aspects of the cultural, social and political life of the twentieth century played out through the lives of a handful of individuals.
Why is archiving so important?
In the broadest sense, it’s about assembling, protecting, and making available the evidence that allows us to understand and [re]interpret human experience – and yes, that is both complex and political!
In the context of Kettle’s Yard, the archive is fundamental to understanding the intent and the the wider philosophy that underlay its creation. It allows us not only to be true to Jim Ede’s vision, but also to draw inspiration from that and use it to underpin and inspire our wider work in projects such as Open House, as well as our offering to academic researchers.
None of this is possible without the work of an archivist in actively gathering and preserving the material and its context, and enabling it to be searched and used.
What can we learn from archives?
That’s an interesting question, because the answer changes over time. One of the wonderful things about archives is that records that are created or collected with one purpose in mind, can be used to shed light on completely different things when they are interrogated from different perspectives, and using different methodologies or technologies.
My time at Kettle’s Yard has taught me to interpret that word ‘learn’ in very broad terms too – I have seen the archive inspire work as diverse as an examination of Donald Winnicott’s psychoanalytic theory of ‘potential space’ in relation to Kettle’s Yard, and Anthea Hamilton’s Reimagining of Kettle’s Yard at the Hepworth Wakefield.
Is there anything that you’ve found at Kettle’s Yard that is surprising?
The archive is forever delivering little surprises – not many people know, for example, that Jim Ede struck up a long-running correspondence with T E Lawrence, or that our collection includes a monogrammed section of one of the artist Christopher Wood’s shirts.
Through letters and materials you must know Jim Ede quite well.
Jim is very present in the archive – just as in the House, everything has been selected and placed as it is for a reason, so you see a process of careful and deliberate assembly in the papers he placed in the archive. He often annotates documents to explain their significance or draw things to our attention.
What are you most looking forward to in the new Kettle’s Yard?
Ooh, so many things! Our new purpose-built research space and archive store will give us the space and facilities to do so much more – we will be able to offer researchers and students, young people, and the wider community the opportunity to explore the archive, and we will have somewhere to display the results of projects where everyone can see them.
Follow along as we #ExploreArchives on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook over the next week. Join in on the conversation, let us know if you have any burning questions about what treasures the Kettle’s Yard archives hold and come and visit us in the new research spaces next year!