Heading to the Barber Institute on my first day as a Collections and Exhibitions Intern I was certainly excited but also apprehensive. Trying to be realistic, I was sure that I would spend a great deal of time photocopying, making cups of tea, and doing various mundane tasks that nobody else wanted to do. Luckily, this was very far from being the case. From day one I was involved in the Barber’s big loan exhibition: In Front of Nature: The European Landscapes of Thomas Fearnley. Experiencing the practicalities of installing an exhibition was particularly valuable as I increasingly gained confidence in handling such high value and irreplaceable objects. Installation was particularly varied, one day I would be hanging works on the walls and the next I would be painting plinths. It was an extremely busy time for the small team at the Barber and a great deal of attention was paid to making it perfect, after all, it has been the most costly exhibition at the Barber to date. Despite the meticulous planning of the exhibition, I was reminded that you can never truly envisage what the space will look like until the works are on the walls. As a result, the hang of the exhibition was completely changed. Luckily, everything was finished just in time for the opening, which was a great success.
Meanwhile, my main personal project during the internship was to curate a print room display on the architect of the Barber Institute, Robert Atkinson, for which I had just three months to organise. As part of this project I found myself trawling through letters from the 1930s, taking photos of the Barber from the top floor of the Muirhead tower and trying to track down the son of Robert Atkinson. The exhibition was installed at the same time as two other exhibitions, which marked the start of the Barber’s 80th anniversary year. On the day of 80 years since the signing of the deed of settlement (founding the Barber Institute), the exhibitions were opened and I spent a rather exhausting but enjoyable day giving five talks on my exhibition to various groups and showing people round. The private view was a great opportunity to look back on what I had achieved and witness people enjoying the works on show.
My research for the exhibition culminated in a public lecture, which I gave on the last day of my internship. Far from being confident at public speaking, this was certainly going to be a challenge for me. I was amazed by how many people were genuinely interested in learning more about the history of the building and its architect, and I was particularly pleased to have a good turn out for the lecture. As Robert Wenley (head of collections) introduced me, I was extremely nervous, but this soon went as I concentrated on sharing the knowledge I had gained over the last few months. The complements I received afterwards have done wonders to boost my confidence in public speaking and this is one of the most valuable skills I have gained from my time at the Barber Institute. I was certainly sad to leave the Barber, but it has confirmed to me that working in galleries is what I want to do, and it has provided me with a great basis of skills to pursue this career.
‘The Most Perfect Example of His Work’: Robert Atkinson and the Building of the Barber Institute is on display in the print bay of the green gallery until 5th May 2013.
The Barber Institute hires six interns each year, in Collections and Exhibitions, Learning and Access, and Marketing and Public Relations. Recruitment for the next cohort of interns will begin in May 2013.