During our January visit to The Peace Museum in Bradford we discovered their incredible collection of First World War propaganda and tested out archival systems ourselves. Our New Focus group had gained a foundation of knowledge on the war and was ready to move our project on to the next stage; a trip to the Leeds University Special Collections. The Brotherton Library’s public ‘Treasures Gallery’ shows many samples of their expansive historical and literary collection to the public, including a rare copy of some of William Shakespeare’s early plays.
After being shown around the Leeds University Libraries grand reading room and seeing its stone pillars and old books, we went to view the Special Collections section which we were glad to find out can be used by anyone through booking an appointment. We headed back to view the material Professor Alison Fell and Laura Wilson Learning and Engagement Officer (Treasures Gallery) had helpfully found for us.
We wanted to find out more about women’s perspectives and experiences of the war, and so our concern was with the ‘Liddle Collection’ curated by Peter Liddle, a preacher from Sunderland, who in the 1960s realised that important memories from the First World War were being lost. He collected material relating to five thousand people, including many women. These were recollections as well as contemporary papers, diaries, registrations, and of most interest to us, loose photographs and photo albums. In order to handle the precious material, we were instructed to leave food and drink out of the room and that it was best to use clean, dry hands (a few of us were surprised we wouldn’t need gloves for handling such old paper) and to be as delicate and careful as possible.
The variation in nature and mood of each album was incredible and revealed much about how diverse women’s experiences of the war were. Some albums we found to be sombre and serious where as others contained photographs of uniformed women at work alongside very personal photos of fun days out with descriptions underneath like ‘enjoying the sunshine!’ It was clear that some women were experiencing more freedom than they’d ever had during the war and it was fascinating to see these small moments of happiness of the everyday lives of women. However, other albums were more sombre. Elsie Gledstanes, an artist who became a truck driver during the war, had organised more serious newspaper articles and photos chronologically. It was also sad to see photos of nurses treating men suffering with serious war injuries.
We had found plenty of fascinating photographs for our publication and exhibition! One of the most interesting parts of the day was comparing the style and form of the photo albums. Some had intricate, colourful patterns surrounding black and white, faded images where as others seemed like they were made out of address books and notebooks. Seeing these differing types of albums gave us inspiration for our own publication we will be producing on women’s perspectives of the war which we will be putting together after our next visit to the Imperial War Museum in London.
By Emily Coghlan
This project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Young Roots’ scheme
On the 23rd of February we made our first archive visit, to the Peace Museum in Bradford city centre. The session began by a discussion led by learning and administration officer, Shannen Lang about the significance of archives and the need to preserve artefacts in an age of digital archives. Following this discussion, we split into groups and were taught the MODES system by Charlotte Hall, Collections and Outreach Officer and Sarah Bartley Museum Assistant. We were then given a chance to look up items related to WW1 using MODES to locate them in the archive. This was a fun thing to experience as it is something we wouldn’t be allowed to do on visits to larger archives. New Focus member Olivia commented on the morning saying “It was great to be able to see the actual things that were used in protest”. Looking through the items was also very interesting, as we learned about groups and looked at propaganda we wouldn’t necessarily have known anything about before the visit. Notes were made about pieces we thought were more relevant to our publication focusing on roles of women in the attempt to bring about peace, and how women were portrayed in propaganda messages and leaflets. Perhaps the most interesting and relevant group we learned about were the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom who believed in “Negotiation not War”. In 1915 a group of delegates from the WILPF were due to attend a conference in The Hague, however only a select few made it there, due to ferries being stopped. Images from a similar conference in 1919 are kept in the archive in the form of printing blocks.
The rest of the time at the museum was devoted to looking at the exhibitions. After a long lunch and many cups of tea, we sat down to discuss our findings from the museum and share what we had found in the archives. All of the artefacts we had found we photographed, and the day ended with a vote on the relevance of the things we found and a decision on what we thought should be included in the publication. There was a unanimous decision that the printing blocks from the WILPF conference should be considered. Overall the day was enjoyed by everyone as we were able to put some of the skills we learned in the previous workshop to use.
By Abigail Brook-Petty
This project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Young Roots’ scheme
It is a very exciting time for the New Focus team right now; we have just begun an exciting new project entitled, No Man’s Land-Young People Uncover Women’s Viewpoints on the First World War. For many members including myself, this will be our first project as part of New Focus and we are all very much looking forward to getting involved.
On the January 22nd at Impressions Gallery, we had our very first workshop. It was a great evening and it provided us with a solid grounding of knowledge and skills that will help us with our project. The first part of the session was led by Co-Director of the Gateways to the First World War project at the University of Leeds, the wonderful Professor Alison Fell. The Professor provided us with an interactive introduction to ‘Women and the First World War’. Many of us had to question ourselves to dig out what we already knew about the ‘Who? What? When? Where? and Why?’ of the First World War.
However, from the Professor we learnt a great deal about women’s roles before the War, and how these changed during the War. We learnt that lots of women took on new roles and job opportunities that were previously unavailable to them. This included the introduction of a small number of pioneering women working in photography, which at the time was a well-respected male dominated profession. This in turn led us to look at portrayals of masculinity and femininity in propaganda posters. For example, we discussed how women were shown as caring mothers, and campaigns appealed to women to use their skills to volunteer as Red Cross Nurses. On the other-hand men were shown to be brave and chivalrous, with many campaigns implying that if they did not sign up to fight, then they were not ‘real men’.
The second half of the session was led by the brilliant Dr.Pippa Oldfield, Curator of the upcoming No Man’s Land exhibition at Impressions Gallery. Pippa taught us key skills in reading photographs. We learnt to stop and look in detail at photographs and ask ourselves questions, to develop a deeper level of understanding. For example: What are people wearing? Why was the photo taken? Was the image taken quickly or planned? We practised our newly learned techniques in small groups with some photos from the First World War that we knew nothing about. I found this part of the evening particularly enjoyable and rewarding, as it is something I have never done before, and I felt I learnt a lot. Now I just can’t wait to put my newly acquired knowledge and skills to use!
By Sarah Bartey
In hearing about the official opening of ‘Painter of Honest Portraits’ by Maggie Glover at The Peace Museum, Jennifer, Pippa, myself and two New Focus members; Sonal and Danielle decided to attend the event, as there would be some never before seen items on display. I felt that this exhibition opening was the perfect opportunity for Danielle and Sonal to see what The Peace Museum is all about and to see what objects they put on display, as it was their first time in visiting the museum.
When we arrived at the museum there were already so many people present, the rooms were just filled with eagerness and curiosity about the exhibition. From a personal perspective, it was great to see familiar faces like Shannen Lang as I used to volunteer at The Peace Museum and help out with events. It was also great to revisit the space and to see the new items that they’ve added.
Shortly after we arrived there was a short introductory talk by the Chair of the Board of Trustees. He briefly spoke about the journey that The Peace Museum has been on and his amazement at how they have access to Maggie Glover’s art, as he never imagined that they would have direct access to her work.
Following the introductory talk, Shannen Lang, the Learning and Administration Officer then began to take a closer look at Maggie Glover and to talk a bit more about her work as both an artist and a peace activist. I think it’s amazing how Maggie Glover combined her passion of art and peace to create some amazing pieces that now serve as records of peace activism. Shannen then focused on some of Maggie’s sketches and she made an interesting point of how there’s a great sense of urgency in each piece, as she wanted to capture the moment. I really enjoyed the variety of art within the exhibition, as it was a mixture of peace related art to an ordinary sketch of Sir Ian McKellen.
After the talk was finished, we were able to take a closer look at the exhibition. The evening was definitely a new experience for Sonal and Danielle but I feel that they now have a better idea of the type of work that The Peace Museum does. As a whole, it was an enjoyable evening in being able to celebrate the life and work of Maggie Glover.
Today, Pippa and I were meeting up with Graham Congreve, Director of Evolutionprint and this meeting would be mainly to see the different publications he’s made and which one would capture our attention.
Just to explain why we were having this meeting in the first place, New Focus is working on a project called No Man’s Land and throughout the project, we’ll be visiting different archives and unearthing some interesting and hidden facts about women during World War One. Hopefully, by the end of the project we will have created a publication, which will be filled with all the different things we’ve learned and will be accessible for young people to read. This meeting was mainly to give us a better idea of what layout and design would be suitable for the publication.
I’ve never really been at these meetings when you get to meet the brains behind the layout and design of publications so this was exciting for me.
He brought over a box full of publications, big and small, so that made me even more curious to see what he brought. And I have to say, there was A LOT of publications of all shapes and sizes. There were two A3 sized magazines that looked like old fashioned newspapers, which I thought looked really good and there was also a leaflet that had been shaped to look like a mountain, so that when you unfold it each page has a section of the mountain head. (That really impressed me.)
But we also had to keep in mind that the really complex but pretty publications would be more expensive to make as it would require a lot more time in producing them. This was evident when we took a look at a large book that had different textured papers and some of them had different printing styles done, some being engraved while others had designs made by laser cutting (wow!) I think we instantly fell in love with that book.
It was amazing to see all the different possible outcomes in making a publication. It doesn’t have to be a traditional text book with a lot of writing and a few images, it can look like a newspaper filled with nothing but images, or it could be concealed within a package or it could even be pocketsize!
I have no doubt that the next time we have a New Focus meeting, they will definitely be excited to hear all the different options for the publication No Man’s Land.
Following from the success of the New Focus meeting in discussing the new project of No Man’s Land and the different approaches that New Focus can take on it, the next step was to meet up with a potential partner in the project, the Peace Museum. The plan was to tell them about the project and see if they would be able to partner up and if they could contribute something towards it.
From a personal point, it was great to revisit the Peace Museum as I had volunteered there 2 to 3 years ago. Quite nostalgic… The members of the museum who greeted us were extremely friendly and very enthusiastic about the project. They were definitely all for New Focus getting involved with the Peace Museum. They want us to use their archive and that sounded really exciting, you never know what amazing object you could find. Their overall aim in allowing us access to their archive is to make archives in museums more welcoming and accessible for public use.
Some of the objects they had in their archives were really incredible. One of the pieces that we were able to see was some sort of stamping block that had the image of a photograph on the base – the photograph was of a women’s peace group. The image was very intricate.
The meeting overall went very well and hopefully we’ll be working closely with the Peace Museum in the near future!
This meeting was based on discussing the new project No Man’s Land: Women’s Photography and the First World War, which our Head of Programme, Pippa will be curating for next year.
The aim of the exhibition is to explore gender: to consider what we think of as masculine or feminine in relation to war and war photography. Although most histories emphasise the experience of male soldiers, women were fundamentally involved in the war as well.
This project delves into the elements of war that aren’t well known to the public. This should be a really exciting project for New Focus to get their hands on!
With the arrival of some new members to the New Focus team, discussing the new project went better than I expected. Thanks to the introduction of the project from Pippa and Jennifer, everyone was extremely responsive and they were really eager to get started.
We discussed areas such as the barriers this exhibition might have with the younger people and what would interest young people about the exhibition. As soon as the paper came out to make some notes, all the thoughts and ideas just started pouring out from the team.
The project itself sounded really interesting as it contained some intriguing issues that could be explored from different angles. By the end of the meeting, you could tell that everyone left feeling positive and inspired. Can’t wait to get started now!