Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Art History careers afternoon by Holly Wain

Last Wednesday, the 20th November, saw the History of Art careers afternoon. Current students like myself were invited to listen to a series of talks from UoB Art History alumni. These were Edwina Mileham, who now works at the Wallace Collection in London, Katie Hall, who is now at the BMAG, Carrie Woodrow, who works at the Sotheby’s Institute, Kaylee Jenkinson who works for Manchester’s Craft and Design Centre, and, finally, the dynamic Matt Carey-Williams, who graduated in the 1990s with a degree in English and the History of Art and is now the sales director at the White Cube Gallery in London. As well as all of that, there was also an opportunity to have a more informal chat over tea and biscuits.

Careers afternoon

As a final year student I was extremely pleased to hear that there was a careers event taking place. I found the talks generally very informative and they addressed a wide range of sectors in the world of art and culture, showing that there really are lots of opportunities out there for graduates with a degree in Art History from Birmingham. Edwina Mileham from the Wallace gave a good overview of the different sections of a museum, which gave me a new perspective on the types of jobs that are available. I’d never really considered the role of fundraising in museums, for example. Katie Hall meanwhile gave some useful tips about the different opportunities that are available at the University of Birmingham itself, which I had not really heard about before. These include the Research and Cultural Collections, which offers loads of opportunities for students to get involved, as well as the Cultural Internship scheme. The latter of these offers successful applicants a six-month paid placement with a leading cultural institution in the West Midlands region (and you can read about Art History student Lauren Dudley’s Cultural Internship placement with the BMAG here!).

Other useful tips came from Kaylee Jenkinson from the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, who told us all about her vast range of volunteering experience and its relevance to securing work in the arts sector. I think I will definitely follow her advice to document everything that you get up to as a volunteer, as a student and beyond, because it makes filling-out applications in the future that little bit easier! Carrie Woodrow from the Sotheby’s Institute gave me an insight into the internship process and how it can set you in good stead for the next post that comes up. She also gave us some good websites for finding internships in the arts sector such as Ideas Tap.

The final speaker, Matt Carey-Williams from the White Cube Gallery gave us a humorous and often warts-and-all style account of finding a career in the arts. Even though I do not want to go into a career at an auction house or a commercial gallery–although it does sound remarkably glamorous and exiting–, I was still able to draw some general advice from the talk. For example, he specified some of the best skills to demonstrate in an application, such as a keen willingness to work and determination, and conversely, what to avoid: “I do not need you to tell me that you have been complemented on your ability to exercise common sense . . .”, he says (half-jokingly, half-seriously, I think).

In all, I found the Careers event really helpful in matching my thoughts on careers to the reality of careers the art world. There were some great tips from the inside and over an informal chat I was able to get some great personal guidance.


Second year student Maysie Chandler turns her hand to costume designing for an upcoming University production . . .

M, W and L

GMTG Musical Theatre society next week will perform a brand new version of Spring Awakening, a musical based upon Frank Wedekind’s original 1891 play. The play explores the development of sexuality and the transition between childhood and adulthood within a group of confused and sexually oppressed teenagers.  The Musical version of the play, which has been awarded a total of eight Tony Awards for its Broadway run, has been transformed from an Americanized drama into a visually stunning, expressionistic production by director Jacob Dorrell. The musical will explore several sensitive and socially controversial issues including sexual abuse, suicide, homosexuality and abortion.

H and ErnstThe design of the production will play a huge part in the communication of the concept and visual experience of the audience. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in the experience of bringing my good friend and talented director’s vision to reality and have chiefly been responsible for designing, sourcing and, in many cases, making a grand total of thirty costumes. However, because Jake’s mind was set on an expressionistic production with a predominately black and white colour scheme, the design and creation of the costume proved to be slightly more complicated than I had originally anticipated. I can’t tell you just how frustrating it is to come across the perfect dress for a character, only for it to be bright pink! Credit must here go to my Mother who has allowed me to use (and destroy!) her washing machine in the process of dying ten items of costume black. On the other hand, Jake’s expressionistic concept has presented the opportunity to be a little wild and to create some rather exciting costumes! I have been forbidden to give too much away (the pictures in this post really are a sneak peek), but I feel fully within my rights to say that Lady Gaga has been a huge source of inspiration for me!

M and M Hanschen

This production really is a departure from the family-friendly and popular musical genre that is customary to the Birmingham University stage. The musical will be comparable with ‘stepping into a moving art installation’ (in the director’s words) and the content much grittier than your average episode of glee. When Jake first approached me about being involved in the production, the performance seemed a vague and far off prospect. Now, a week before performance week, I have a bedroom full of costume and several last minute alterations to make. We have had a wonderful design team working on this production and I hope that History of Art students will come to witness a piece of performance Art and support the incredibly hard work of their fellow students!

Performances run from 26-30th November,

You can purchase tickets here.

Spring Awakening

Reconstructing the Hammer beams of Westminster Hall, or Carpentry as Art?!?! Whadaya… Crazy? PhD Student Robert Beech on the practical aspects of his research

Westminster Hall probably goes unnoticed to the hordes of tourists on their camera-clicking itinerary between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.   Dwarfed between Pugin’s spikey neo-Gothicism and the ancient splendour of the real thing in the Abbey, the great hall broods, anonymous and unenticing.  And yet this hall, the only structure still standing of a once glorious medieval palace which has seen a host of coronation celebrations, monarchs lying in state, and trials for treason, contains one of the world’s great architectural treasures: its medieval hammer-beam roof.

Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall from The Comprehensive History of England (1902)

Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall from The Comprehensive History of England (1902)

Without the ingenuity of the carpenter, the architectural and engineering feats of the Middle Ages could never have been achieved.  The hammer-beam roof is the pinnacle of that ingenuity.  But the hammer-beam roof is not only a great technical achievement.  At its best, it is a form that displays an aesthetic sensibility of both subtle refinement and jaw-dropping grandeur.  My PhD investigates such structures: who built them and why; how they were built; and how ostensibly prosaic carpentry became art.   Any consideration of the hammer beam roof must turn on the fulcrum of Westminster Hall – the roof of which, both aesthetically and technically, is the finest work of carpentry ever realised – bar none.  It was completed for Richard II in around 1398 by the ‘disposer of the King’s works touching the art or mystery of carpentry’ (the ‘King’s Carpenter’), the genius, Hugh Herland (d. 1411).

Hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall

Hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall

Span was the major headache for Hugh.  Richard demanded that his 68ft wide hall be of clear span – no internal supports were to clutter the floor space.  Yet such a span was unprecedented, exceeding by nearly a third the then record held by a lordly hall, John O’ Gaunt’s Kenilworth Castle.  The technical challenge was enormous, and in an age when regally ordained public disembowellings were public entertainment, Hugh needed to get it right.  His enormous hammer-beam roof, an audacious technical tour de force, solved the problem.  And Herland did get it right.  It was not the deficiencies of the carpentry that demanded the insertion of a steel framework over 500 years later in 1914, but the ravages of the death-watch beetle.

The roof was not only a technical but also an aesthetic masterwork.  The great ‘arch rib’ which runs transversely through the roof-frames was state-of-the-art; the angel hammer-beams, entirely apt for a king obsessed with his own divinity, were unique.  Such features, especially the angels, were copied in a subsequent explosion of English hammer-beam roof building.

The roof has been investigated from academic perspectives both art-historical and technical.  Spats have ensued, with academics arguing about how the carpentry performs structurally, with no consensus arrived at.  As part of my PhD research I wanted to investigate the roof from a unique perspective: that of the carpenter.  How did Hugh Herland design the roof to perform?  Are there any clues in the carpentry which may indicate his thought processes?  In other words, I wanted to investigate not how the roof is working now from the perspective of modern engineers, but how Herland in 1393 intended it to work.

Obviously, how better to solve this conundrum than by building the roof!

I am a life-long woodworker and worked for a brief period in the field of traditional carpentry.  I would not, though, presume to call myself a carpenter.  So, with the crucial assistance of traditional carpenter Chris Dalton, we set about building the most remarkable, and demanding, part of Herland’s roof: the lower hammer-beam framing.  We carpentered it in green (unseasoned) oak, at a scale of 1:4, using identical jointing techniques to Herland’s.

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Preparing the braces, showing the type of oak slab from which they are cut

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Cutting the shoulder of a tenon

Having recently completed this section, sans all the moulding and tracery, we have come to our first earth-shattering (if un-academic) conclusion: it is very, very hard to do.  Much time has been spent rubbing our chins, scratching our heads and other body parts in both confusion and wonder at how Herland came up with this crazy framing.  The three-dimensional spatial imagination alone necessary to design the thing is staggering.  Nonetheless, already we have uncovered some valuable nuggets: regarding probable erection procedure, economic and adaptable use of timber resources, and how Herland (rather than C20 structural engineers) thought the roof would perform.

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Trimming the shoulder of a tenon

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A confused moment!

Postscript: We had intended to build a complete bay of the roof: two cross-frames and purlins, one frame with all the bells and whistles of moulding and tracery, the other left bare to show construction, but funding is currently a brick wall.  (I have constructed the above section at my own expense.)  So if anyone out there has any ideas how to further this exciting and unique project…

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Robert with finished beam

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RBSA: Our Collection, Our Archive and You by Hang Nguyen

RBSA Our collection, Archive and You

The RBSA is Birmingham’s oldest artist-led group and the only artist-led group in Birmingham that owns its own gallery and has a permanent venue for its activities. Located just off the only surviving Georgian square in Birmingham, St Paul’s Square, the Society dedicates three floors of exhibition space to fulfill its charitable objectives: to promote artists and the appreciation of the visual arts.

Since the beginning of 2013, I have been co-curating an exhibition with recent Birmingham History of Art graduate Chloë Lund for the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. As an Undergraduate Archive Volunteer, I have enjoyed access to the RBSA’s treasures from its Permanent Collection at close hand, and our exhibition displays a rich selection of the artworks acquired by the RBSA in the past five years, as well as some that have never before been exhibited. The exhibition will not only explore the contents of the Permanent Collection but also the relationship between the Society and the local community, which includes students at the University of Birmingham–each and every one of you! Art History students at the University of Birmingham have many opportunities to get involved with the RBSA, and you can read a bit about what other students have got up to with them here and here.

Chloë Lund and Hang Nguyen

Chloë Lund and Hang Nguyen

The RBSA’s substantial archive is an invaluable resource for the understanding of the history of the Society and its relationship with the people of Birmingham, as well as the wider artistic community. Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite artist, was himself President of the RBSA as well as other notable artists such as John Everett Millais. Included in the exhibition is a work by the acclaimed photo-realist artist, John Salt, whose work can also be seen during the BMAG’s exhibition on Photorealism. The stories of the Archive have been told through the contributions of many different people and have helped us to create a collective memory of the Society. This exhibition aims to reveal the ways that the Collection and Archive have been shaped by our relationships with our supporters, community, local environment which includes the all the students at the university.

During our exhibition, we will be hosting a variety of free events which include a Student Friendly on Friday 15th November . The night is open to everyone and anyone; it will be an informal, relaxed evening where we, the curators, get a chance to talk to our peers about the Society and this exhibition over a glass of wine! There will also be a chance to join us on a walk around the local canals of Birmingham with RBSA Member Paul Hipkiss who will be talking about his prints inspired by the local places on Saturday 16th November. Finally, there will be a free demonstration by RBSA Member John Shakespeare on Saturday 23rd November.

Curating the RBSA Archive Exhibition has been a challenge that I have relished. The project has given me the chance to find out so much more about the thriving artistic culture in Birmingham and as a born and bred brummie, this has revitalised my own interest in the city. I hope to see you all at the RBSA for the Archive Exhibition, helping to write more chapters in the story of the Society as well as the city.

Mixing Things Up – Polly Adams-Felton and Caroline Hetherington on what the new Barber Association has to offer

This academic year, term kicked off with a programme of events by hosted the newly-formed Barber Association, created specifically to strengthen links between the Institute and students in Art History and Music through social and cultural events. We inaugurated the Association with pizza, beer, wine and more pizza at the Barber Mixer on 28 September.

Barber Mixer 5

Students enjoying a drink at the mixer

With a brilliant string quartet keeping us entertained with some unexpected arrangements (think S Club 7, Abba and MGMT), and a pose-as-your-favourite-painting fancy dress photo booth, it was a great chance for students from across the university to meet and socialise with each other and members of staff. It was the first event for the current cohort of Art History undergrads to socialise as a department, to meet the new postgrads and to finally get to know the mysterious music students with whom we share our building! There were some brilliant entries to the photo booth completion and a very worthy winner.

Barber Mixer 4

Getting dressed up in the photobooth


The winners – two of our new UGs get into the spirit!

The next event for Association members was a portraiture drawing workshop – a chance for some artwork to be created in the gallery, in front of the paintings with the guidance of Tom Jones, a Birmingham based artist. This workshop was full to capacity and saw the creation of some beautiful drawings. We also had some wonderful cakes and tea and coffee and a natter afterwards – almost as good as the session itself!


Taking inspiration from the gallery at the Portrait Workshop

This is just the start of a year of exciting and interesting events aimed at bringing everyone with an interest in the Barber Institute together. Other benefits of joining include sneak peeks behind the scenes, visits to regional and national galleries, and getting more involved in Barber favourites like choosing ‘Object of the Month’. We’re looking forward to a Q+A with exhibiting artist John Monks on the 14th November. John Monks is one of Britain’s leading and most successful contemporary painters, collected by, among others, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. The Barber Association has secured an exclusive opportunity for members to meet John Monks at a special Q&A session before the exhibition opens, when they will be able to ask the artist about his work and his career, his inspirations and influences and the contemporary art scene.

John Monks

John Monks, Yellow Chair

This event will only be open to Barber Association members (obviously this includes all First Year History of Art and Music students, as well as new Masters and PhD students, who are automatically members). We also have a Speed Workshop on 4th December (read about the last one here), and Galleries Night and Art Bus on 11th December followed by a trip out for dinner and to the pub, and (most importantly) a steady supply of tea and cake. Barber Association members are also now entitled to a 10% discount on Barber merchandise in the shop – an excellent place to do some Christmas shopping!

The Barber Association is about building a dialogue between the team behind the running of the gallery and the students who study there. We are working hard to build up the events and have an amazing year full of opportunities. If you would like to become a member of this exciting association, you can join at the Barber Institute cask desk or by calling 01214147333. You can also keep an eye on Barber Association events by checking the tab on The Golovine and liking their Facebook page.

Empowering or undermining? Imogen and Carly respond to ‘The History Girls’ article.

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail published an article ‘The History Girls: meet the women building a bright future from the past’ which raises important issues concerning women’s positions in academia, and the portrayal and perception of female historians.

At first glance, the article might appear to present an empowered form of female identity, highlighting that women can (shock horror…) be interested in ‘glamorous’ clothes, wear make-up and heels, AND be successful, respected academics. Clearly there are important, and obvious, points to be made here: that history is no longer only written by white, middle-aged men, and that being a young woman who wears heels should not preclude a successful, serious career as an historian. However, the article’s approach to highlighting how young women are rescuing history from the ‘clutches of fusty academia’ might also be seen as problematic, troubling and, er, patronising.

In one sense, the article’s interviews with female academics do present a challenge to particular stereotypes about the identity of historians, underscoring the fact that women do hold professional positions as scholars. However, the overall editorial, including the photographs in particular, means that the article focuses predominantly on the appearance and clothing of the academics, which, it could be argued, subsequently undermines any serious points being made about their research, and trivialises the intellectual rigour and curiosity which characterises their scholarly enquiries. Looking at the photographs in the article in light of this, could it be argued that a manuscript, map or painting becomes framed as a fashion accessory, rather than the object of scholarly interrogation…? The article is authored by one of the featured academics, but what kind of framework and editorial constraints is she operating within, and might Joan Riviere’s notion of performing femininity be relevant here…?

Should it concern us that all of the ‘girls’ selected are under 40, conventionally attractive, according to contemporary social and cultural definitions, and white, and that one of the interview questions probes who their ideal historical ‘dinner date’ would be? You don’t need to be versed in feminist history or theory to question whether it is necessary for an article (which claims to highlight the historians’ professional positions) to mention diligently the marital status of each interviewee, and to be able to deduce what this communicates about attitudes towards women’s agency and independence…

Historians are interested in how the language, agenda and meaning of source material is shaped by where texts are published. With this in mind, how does the fact that the article is published in the Daily Mail affect our interpretation?

Empowering or undermining? We’d love to hear your opinion. Join in the debate below, or on our Facebook page…

AAH Annual Conference 2014: Student Call for Papers

Association of Art Historians 40th Anniversary Conference & Bookfair
Royal College of Art (London) 10 – 12 April 2014

Student Session Call for Papers:
Nostalgia: Representations and Reconstructions 
of the Past

Session Convenors:
Anna Beketov, University of Leeds
Nicola McCartney, Birkbeck, University of London
Imogen Wiltshire, University of Birmingham

2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the AAH and the 175th 
anniversary of the RCA. In light of this focus on commemoration
 and duration, this year’s Student Session seeks to interrogate the
 ways in which concepts of time, temporality and nostalgia permeate
artworks, their production and the writings of art history. To what 
extent is there an inherent sentimentality to the way in which we
 view and interact with works of the past and how has this shaped 
the production, reception, collection and display of artworks?

Artworks enact and subvert historical narratives and events, while
 periodization and chronology are inextricable components of the
 discipline of art history. This session considers how art historians 
and practitioners construct the past from the perspective of the 
present and explores the relativity of perception. Traditions and
 legacies are created through celebration and appropriation over
time, but why are some art historians deemed sacred or artworks 
untouchable yet others are referenced and critiqued again and 

We invite presentations from student artists and historians
 exploring historiography or specific case studies.
Topics might
 include but are not limited to:

- The role of nostalgia in its differing forms (e.g. geo-political,
Romantic, personal) in representations of the past, events or 
projected futures
– Strategies adopted by artists and historians to archive, record, 
represent or distort time
– Anachronism in art practice and theory
– Relationships between the ephemeral artwork and its 
– Pervading legacies and traditions revived across art periods
– Critiques of Michael Baxendall’s ‘period eye’ or retrospective 
– Appropriations of art and theory
– The nature and role of art history in the future

To submit a paper proposal, follow the guidelines and download a form from:
Proposals should be emailed directly to the conveners  via  by 11 November 2013.  

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