Model Rooms: History Life Architecture curated by Kevin Knox and Matthew Sheard from the Museum Collections Unit, University of St Andrews opened on Friday 14th January at the Gateway Galleries, North Haugh, St Andrews.
The Brief: Curate an exhibition in partnership with architecture students from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. The exhibition would include 1:20 scale models of some of the University of St Andrews finest ‘state’ rooms.
The Timescale: 1st September 2010 – January 14th 2011.
Who: Matthew Sheard and Kevin Knox – Curatorial Trainees
How: After arriving fresh-faced in post on the 1st of September we were given the exhibition brief. This led to minor head-scratching and some major thinking about possible content and title. We received photographs of some models that had been produced by the RG students the previous year. After early (and as it turns out unfounded) worries about trying to exhibit what on first impression appeared to be large sealed ‘military bunker’ style structures, plans began to be formulated. Nothing was dismissed (aside from some rather dubious ideas about ‘spying through windows’) and some dodgy titles such as ‘Getting Plastered’ and ‘What the window cleaner saw’. However, we were off and running.
Our first contact with the RG students came in early October 2010 when they arrived in St Andrews armed with a variety of scary looking measuring devices (extendable sticks, baffling laser beams), and sketchbooks. We spent the day with a wonderful group of people, all very dedicated to learning their trade. We were impressed by their efficiency and professionalism and knew we would have to be on top form to produce an exhibition that we all could be proud of. The students left for Aberdeen with the task of creating their ‘Model’ rooms.
Back at Museum HQ themes began to be formulated – those of Living, Learning, Governing, and Architects. The title ‘Model Rooms’ was chosen to reflect not only the fantastic scale models but also the quality of the rooms.
In depth research followed to provide suitable background and history to each room. Associated objects and images were chosen from within the University’s Museum Collection , University Library’s Special Collections Department and also borrowed from around the University. This was a complex task, sometimes involving the dark art of diplomacy!!
Star objects include a silver tea-set from University Hall, the Circumferentor (a 17th century scientific instrument) and a fabulous reproduction of a pencil sketch of James Crichton that was used as a template for a stained glass window in St Salvator’s Hall Dining Room.
We travelled to Aberdeen in November to choose which of the completed models would appear in the final exhibition. This was a difficult task (made more tricky by a fallen lamp-post blocking Garthdee Road in Aberdeen). After an unexpected walk and game of ‘find the building’, we made it to the Scott Sutherland School. We met the students and chose the models based on the quality of information we had on each and the size of the model.
Armed with the knowledge of which rooms we would be using, we finished our text panels for the walls by early December. We also passed all images we had sourced to the University’s Print and Design Unit to be printed. The quality of design and workmanship by the guys at Print and Design was fantastic.
The installation was fairly straightforward and enjoyable – although we are very grateful to all those poor souls involved in the transport and movement of the plinths into the gallery. Boy they were heavy!! It was a joy to see the gallery taking shape with the models, objects and wall content all combining beautifully. The level of content was thankfully perfectly judged. The highlight was the opening evening where we finally saw people interacting with the exhibition, viewing the objects, reading the panels and labels and looking through the windows of the models.
Success?: This was a brilliant project to be involved in. We have seen some amazing rooms. Met and worked with some great people along the way, learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. We would encourage you to visit the Gateway Galleries to see the finished article and decide for yourself. The exhibition is open until Saturday 5th March 2011.