Mimi has is a recipient of an award from the Matt Carey-WIlliams and Danny Roark fund, a generous donation by one of our alumni that allows our undergraduate students to apply for bursaries to cover costs of travel, accommodation etc., to enable them to undertake internships, work experience and placements. More information on University bursaries can be found here.
During the third week of my first year, an email was sent out to History of Art students regarding an opportunity to work as a saleroom assistant at Biddle & Webb Auctioneers. Having experienced freshers’ week and the full cost of enjoying university life, I was keen to take on some part-time work. This opportunity seemed perfect, not only providing some extra pocket money but a chance to be trained in a field of work relevant to my degree. In fact, it seemed too good to be true, but I emailed in a CV and covering letter, not really expecting to hear anything back. To my surprise, a week later, I received a reply saying that I had been shortlisted for an interview. The interview process was informal, the applicants were asked questions as a group and shown the basics of what we would be doing day to day. We were then asked to write a report on how we would develop their marketing through social media. A few days later I received another email saying that I’d got the job! To anyone at university who is considering applying for their first job, even if the application process is long and stressful, it is definitely worth the effort! And even if you aren’t successful (as has been the case for me on several other occasions), it is good practice for other opportunities you will go on to apply for.
Biddle & Webb is a Birmingham based auctioneers which sells antiques, paintings and jewellery, as well as wine, property and commercial items. It is a family run organisation which was established over 60 years ago. One of the first things you notices as you enter the building is the relaxed atmosphere of this professional environment. Everyone is polite and happy to answer any queries you may have. As a new employee, this settled my nerves and made me feel comfortable working there very quickly. Another student on my course was employed alongside me and being trained together made the experience a lot more relaxing and fun! After settling in I was kitted out with uniform, including various fleeces (as the sale room gets very cold during winter!) making me feel an official part of the team. I was also given steel toe capped boots which, although practical, are extremely heavy and therefore a struggle when walking to Selly Oak station, half asleep at 8am on a Saturday morning!
My principle role is working as a trainee antiques cataloguer. I am learning how to analyse an antique object visually, identifying details such as its maker, its material, the period in which it was made, etc. I then write up a description and upload details of the object to an online catalogue. As well as antiques, I have catalogued paintings and wine. When I started, I was thrown into the deep end, contributing to antiques cataloguing from my first day. Although at first a daunting task which required a lot of guidance, I soon got to grips with the basics and can now confidently catalogue a lot of items without assistance. My passion for studying art objects has developed further through this training and has encouraged my interest in undertaking post graduate study.
I also have to opportunity to observe valuations carried out by more experienced colleagues and complete administrative work for them. This is helping me to gain a better idea of how to value various types of antique objects and to understand changing trends of popularity in the antiques world. On auction days, which occur on the second Saturday of every month, I operate the online auction system, either on thesaleroom.com or on Biddle & Webb’s real time bidding server. Through this role I have developed the ability to work well in a fast-paced work environment. Also, often I am given a large amount of lots to catalogue in a short time space, which has certainly made me more diligent and I enjoy being busy.
The work I’ve been doing is also relevant to working in a gallery as I have learnt how to lay out the sale rooms in a way that is accessible for customers and I’ve become interested in how the way that objects are arranged in a room can enhance the viewer’s experience.
In the future, I would like to become a specialist in antiques or painting so I could combine my passion for history of art, the knowledge I have gathered through my academic study, and the skills I have learnt at Biddle & Webb. I would particularly like to work in a high end, international, auction house, where the work environment is fast-paced and exciting, such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s.
I feel very lucky to be doing part-time work which is relevant to my degree as it has helped me to gather and nurture my interests, through the wide-ranging roles I undertake. I feel it has opend up a number of career paths in the art world. To anyone daunted by taking on work, whether it be to earn some money to support university life, or to gain relevant experience, I would say don’t hesitate, it will be worth your time. You’ll develop invaluable skills that you will use throughout your professional life, and hopefully enjoy it too!