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Community Pick: Ruth Gidley

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Paul Sargeant Paul Sargeant | 17:03 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010


Objects from the RAMM collection


We’ve been running a sort of semi-regular feature on this blog called Curator’s Picks, where we ask a curator from a museum to write a few words about objects people have put on the website.

This week's curator: Ruth


This week we have something slightly different: a curator who has been asking other people to talk about her objects.

Ruth Gidley is the curator of the Moving Here project at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM). She explains how letting people from the local community get closer to objects in the RAMM’s collection can help the curators get closer to them as well.


When Richard looked at our 14th century puzzle jug decorated with figures of naked bishops, dancing girls and musicians, and an animal’s head for a spout, he smiled and said: “It manages to get wine, women and song in one pot.”

A couple of times a month, RAMM invites a small group to get close to some of the objects in our collections. The only prerequisite for coming along is to have moved to the city from somewhere else, near or far, from Kabul to Kent.

The Exeter puzzle jug


The idea is to invite fresh eyes on the official museum record, which in the past hasn’t necessarily represented all the communities that make up the city that owns the collections.

People who’ve participated in this project, called Moving Here, have come from places including Algeria, Romania, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Others have been approached from Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, India and Jamaica.

Exeter has always been connected to other places by trade and travel. People come to retire by the sea, to study, to work or to be near family. Many of the objects in RAMM’s collections have also made long journeys. The Moving Here project is an attempt to put these facts together and see what the museum can learn along the way.

A couple of sentences can provide a world of context, like a Chinese woman who looked at a picture of ornate incense burners in our World Cultures collection and told us her grandfather had similar ones in his living room, which he used for prayers to the ancestors.

An 18th century wooden stamp


When Anil Lee saw an 18th century wooden stamp used to mark a sign of quality on a bundle of cloth, it made her think of her childhood in Turkey. Rural women there still weave, she said. “My mother had two looms - one carpet one and one for dyed rags to make rugs.”

Most of us find beauty in other cultures, and see parallels with our own. To me, the Moving Here project, funded by Renaissance, chimes perfectly with A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Just as the radio programmes might invite a curator and an artist to give their perspective on an object from the British Museum, each voice gathered in one of our sessions illuminates the object from a slightly different angle. When all the lights are lit, the object shines with a sparkle that brings it to life for anyone else who cares to take a look.


  • The comments collected by the project will be published on RAMM’s new online catalogue.


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