The Curator’s life – or, 63 dinner plate-sized paper circles edged in one inch strips of double-sided sticky tape

After months of research, learning to handle and catalogue archive material talking, and more talking, making schedules and twiddling with budgets our exhibition finally went into the production phase.

This is heaven and hell. Heaven is to be finally bringing together and testing all our ideas and aspirations, hell is a cat that insists on sitting on your lap while you are trying to attach double-sided sticky tape to delicate elements of your display.

The sense that we had conceived an exhibition that was coherent and well-designed kept us going throughout a busy, but not manic, phase. And the fun seemed designed-in. Inspired by the circles of power in the print industry, which our archive evidenced through many hundreds of dinner menus, the display concept was to suggest the behind the scenes activity of a private dining room. Sourcing the material to dress the scenario meant getting hold of 600 dinner plates, cutlery, silver candlesticks, tablecloths and napkins. Where better to go than the London’s National Theatre props warehouse? Among the rubber ducks and papier mache lobsters we rooted out some of our props. We also sneaked into the costume stores and toyed with dressing up as the people we had encountered in the archive, including the inimitable typographer Beatrice Warde (picture a tweed suit and sensible shoes).

With all the elements for the display sourced, cleaned and paid for the morning of the installation arrived.

Our display area was a window, much like a large department store window – so it was shoes off and onto the task of sticking 63 printed paper circles onto the wall. Next came the scene setting with all the props, the trials of ingenuity when the stiffening baton fell off the large text panel, the extensive use of social media to communicate feedback on object placement through a sound proof window and the thousand and one things that need to be done to get a display ready in a few hours. Then the star objects arrived by taxi from the archive. Placing those in the display made it all feel real. And it looked great, better, I think, than we had imagined.

That’s satisfying, but of course, was just our opinion. The next stage was to have people, real, actual people, look at it and pass comment. But before we could get audience feedback it was time for dinner.

Dinner that day was the event we ran to accompany the exhibition. Four fabulous guests were invited to have dinner with us and talk about the circles of power in the print industry. More about that in the next blog.

Ps – I’ve checked, you can’t see the cat hairs.DSC_6920