Category Archives: Research

Volunteering Experiences – Courtaulds Carrickfergus

Courtauld factory, Carrickfergus

We are sharing the experiences of some of our volunteers in a series of blogs by the team behind the Memories from Carrickfergus exhibition and film. This week Joanne White tells us her story; 

The opportunity to become involved as a volunteer for this project came out of the blue and at a strange time, in the middle of a global pandemic. I received an unexpected email from National Museums NI in November 2020 seeking volunteers for ‘an exciting project’ to carry out research into Courtaulds Ltd, a UK based manufacturer of fabric and clothing, who had a site in Carrickfergus. I was vaguely aware of the factory building having worked in the local area, but I knew very little of its history or that of Courtaulds, other than it had an art gallery in London.

My first task as a volunteer was researching the history of the Courtaulds factory at Carrickfergus. This included locating local news stories, film archive footage and the products made at the factory. For the newspaper stories, I was asked to concentrate on the 1970s-1980s. It became apparent that I was reading about the steady decline of a factory and industry during this period. The confidence that the Carrickfergus factory had when it first opened in 1950 was gradually overtaken by job losses, competition from overseas markets and ongoing trading difficulties.

Once our research was completed, we decided to focus on producing a film about the factory at Carrickfergus consisting of interviews with former workers and their relatives. This was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project. I was fortunate to be able to meet with Bill, Dot, Robert and Brendan. Although the factory had been closed for forty years, I was struck by the affection they retained in working for Courtaulds. A repeated phrase during the interviews was ‘factory family’ and former employees highlighted the opportunities which they had been given such as to live locally, earn a decent salary, gain qualifications or apply for promotions.

To accompany the film, I participated with the other volunteers in writing a booklet entitled ‘We are Courtaulds’. The title was inspired by the people we had interviewed for the purposes of making the film. We decided early on that we wanted the design of the booklet to have a 1950s style to it which was inspired by the adverts for Courtaulds’ clothing from the period. These adverts were distinctive in their use of bold primary colours. I was also interested in their use of contrasting images set alongside each other such as the evening dress and car tyre (both produced from Courtaulds’ factory materials). On content, we all agreed that the booklet would concentrate on three main themes: place, people and product.

For me, listening to the stories of the people who made Courtaulds’ products, getting a glimpse into their lives at the factory and the friendships they made, was the most interesting part of the project. Whilst the remnants of the factory might not be around forever, I hope that the film, booklet and online exhibition all contribute towards telling the history of Courtaulds Ltd at Carrickfergus.

Volunteering Experiences – Courtaulds Carrickfergus

a group of Female Courtauld employeeses

Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing the experiences of some of our volunteers in a series of blogs by the team behind the Memories from Carrickfergus exhibition and film. This week’s story comes from Rachel Sayers;

Throughout 2021, I have found volunteering for the Courtaulds project at National Museums NI immensely enjoyable, as not only have I met some wonderful people through the project, I have also enhanced my knowledge of textile and fashion production in Northern Ireland. Researching, finding, and discussing our research has been incredibly exciting as we delved further into the people, place, and products that made Courtaulds Carrickfergus. Learning from one another every week during our digital meet-ups has afforded me new skills in using newspapers, advertisements, and other first-hand sources in historical research whilst also gleaming invaluable skills in team work and volunteering, albeit digitally!
A particular highlight was interviewing the oral history participants and hearing their wonderful stories and insights into their working lives at Courtaulds. One of my interviewees, June, lives in British Columbia but through the power of Zoom, we were able to record an interview with her – one of the benefits of the 2021 lockdown! June regaled me with her experiences of working at Courtaulds, particularly how she met her husband and trained to work in the accounting office.

June had an excellent time working for Courtaulds and made life-long friends, with one friend being her bridesmaid at her wedding in the early 1960s and regularly visiting one another in both Canada and Northern Ireland. The emphasis from all my interviewees was the comradery between workers, particularly the people you worked closely with, and a happy balance between work and play – especially the famous Christmas party held every year for staff and residents of Carrickfergus!
As someone who is interested in local dress and textile history, the stories of textile production from the interviewees and from our research greatly enhanced my own knowledge of textile production across Northern Ireland. I read with interest how rayon, nylon, polyester etc. produced at the Courtaulds factory at Carrickfergus was used in 1950s Dior inspired dress, 1960s Mary Quant style miniskirts, and the famous flares of the 1970s and worn by people from across the world. From local to global, Courtaulds-produced material was utilised by designers, dressmakers and shops across the world to produce high-quality products that started life in Carrickfergus.

Volunteering has been a wonderful highlight of my year, which has been difficult for many. Even though meetings have been conducted online, we have managed to collate interesting information into a wonderful booklet, film, and an online exhibition. The emphasis has always been on the place, people and product, which I feel is reflected in all our outcomes and I look forward to hearing feedback from our participants. I hope in the future to volunteer again with National Museums NI as the experience has been brilliant.

(Image of Courtaulds employees in their own wonderful fashions, courtesy of Frances O’Brien)

Call-out to former employees of Courtaulds Ltd in Northern Ireland

Volunteers at Renoir display

National Museums NI has released a Northern Ireland-wide call-out to former employees of Courtaulds Ltd. factories once based in Carrickfergus, Markethill, Irvinestown, Limavady, Cookstown and Plumbridge, to get in touch. It plans to collect memories and memorabilia as well as first-hand accounts from past employees of the textiles manufacturer.

As part of the Courtauld National Partners Programme, National Museums NI is working with a network of volunteers to encourage the public to come forward and share their accounts. The plan is to collect and record the available information and create a celebration of Courtaulds Ltd. and the impact it had here in Northern Ireland.

Former employees can share their experiences and stories by emailing courtaulds@nmni.com to get involved.

Celebrating Courtauld Women

Portrait of Katherine Mina Courtauld

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 Braintree Museum have put together a series of films exploring the lives of, often overlooked, female members of the Courtauld family. Curator Claire Willets, in conversation with George Courtauld and museum volunteers, takes a look at some inspirational stories, including pioneering business-women, suffragettes, globe-trotting doctors and women taking on vital roles in both world wars.

All of the films are available on the Braintree Museum YouTube channel and at the links below. More information about the Courtauld family and the women discussed in these conversations is available in the online exhibition Courtaulds: Origins, Innovation, Family.

 

 

Just Announced – Open Courtauld Hour!

Art in Isolation Poster

For those of you missing the Courtauld’s excellent event programme – or those of you that are keen to get involved from the comfort of your own home – Open Courtauld has put together a brilliant package of talks, discussions and performances as part of their Open Courtauld Hour series. This weekly event will take place from wherever you are from Thursday the 30th of April, 20.05 – 21.00. Visit the website to see the full programme and reserve your free tickets: https://courtauld.ac.uk/research/research-forum/events

Week 1 – Art in Isolation: Lockdown has been transformational in how artists, galleries and museums are adapting to an online world to continue showcasing and making art. Join Alixe Bovey (Head of Research at The Courtauld Institute of Art) on Thursday 30th of April, 20.05 – 21.00, in exploring the importance of creative practice and artistic consumption in a time of isolation.Alixe will examine this issue through discussions with Courtauld’s own Barnaby Wright (Deputy Head of The Courtauld Gallery), the National Gallery’s Caroline Campbell (Curator of Italian Paintings) and Underpinning’s Lorraine Smith (Co-founder). The hour will include a one-off poetic reinterpretation of Paul Cezanne’s ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine’ by award winning poet Shagufta K Iqbal.

Week 2 – Art and Wellbeing: Over recent years, there has been a growing understanding of the power that taking part in the arts can have on health and wellbeing. In our second session on Thursday 7th of May, 20.05 – 21.00, we will investigate the supplementation of arts alongside medicine and care to foster an environment that improves the health of people — within and without a healthcare setting. Join Rebecca Chamberlain (Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths University), Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (Chair of Cancer Research UK and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge), Michaela Ross (Curator, Bethlem Gallery) and Jasmine Cooray (poet and counsellor) in discussions and performances exploring access to the arts in healthcare environments, the power of ‘Slow Art’ within galleries and museums and to be engaged in learning and debate on the subject of mental and physical health and artistic practice.

Week 3 – The Future of Art: In this session on Thursday 14th of May, 20.05 – 21.00, our experts discuss the Courtauld’s ever-changing approach to the online publication of its extensive photographic collection (via the development of an ambitious digitisation project encompassing 3.3 million prints and negatives), the implementation of scientific techniques of conservation and the challenges/opportunities this pandemic may provide those working in the field. In light of the changing landscape of art history, we will be joined by Aviva Burnstock (Professor and Head of the Department of Conservation and Technology at the Courtauld Institute of Art), Theo Gordon (Sackler Postdoctoral Fellow 2019-20 at the Courtauld Institute of Art), Tom Bilson (Head of Digital Media at the Courtauld Institute of Art) and artist and poet Muneera Pilgrim.

Week 4 – Women Artists: Our fourth Open Courtauld Hour will focus on Women Artists, addressing gender imbalance in the art world, expanding on notions of public and private and reinserting women of all backgrounds back into the canon of art history. Hosting the evening will be Katy Hessel of @thegreatwomenartists — an account and podcast series which celebrates women on a daily basis. She will be joined by Jo Applin (The Courtauld Institute of Art) who will chat with Katy more about their podcast episode on Louise Bourgeois, Ketty Gottardo (Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings at the Courtauld Institute of Art) who will be virtually opening up our object study room and allowing the audience to see, close-up, a number of works by Helen Saunders and other academics and curators focusing on women artists. Stuart Hall Foundation Scholarship Jade Montserrat. Jade will be reclaiming women’s narrative through a one-off poetic take on Paul Gauguin’s Te Rerioa.

Planning underway for collaboration with Ulster Museum

Noted being taken in a meeting

Last week, we were thrilled to host Anna Liesching, Curator of Art at Ulster Museum, to discuss future partnerships between the Courtauld and National Museums Northern Ireland, and to take a look at some of the many activities currently happening in and around the gallery. 

The week was packed with research and in depth meetings with curators, registrars, public programmes, and the research forum team, to plan our Autumn 2020 exhibition – details to be announced soon! – but we still found time to explore, including looking at some of the highlights of our works on paper collection during a visit to the store rooms and joining one of the MA classes of the Courtauld Institute to find out about the ongoing conservation work to Botticelli’s Holy Trinity at the National Gallery (find out more about the project here: https://courtauld.ac.uk/botticelli-holy-trinity-conservation).

We have lots more planned for our partnership in Northern Ireland, as well as the exhibition later this year we will be collaborating with NMNI to engage volunteers and schools in exploring the heritage of fashion and textiles in their area. Keep an eye on our news page to find out more. 

Herbert Art Gallery and Museum visit the Courtauld

stundents and researchers looking at a print on a woodern stand

In preparation for the opening of Radical Drawing in October, the Herbert team joined us at the Courtauld on August 6th to take a look at our prints and drawings collection.

We were delighted to host members of the curatorial, learning, conservation and marketing teams at the Herbert, and we were joined by a wide variety of Courtauld staff from the Gallery and Public Programmes. In the morning we got a chance to take a close look at the 16 amazing works travelling to Coventry in October, where they’ll join works from the Herbert and the University of Warwick. Expert guidance was on hand from Rachel Sloan (Assistant Curator of Works on Paper), Kate Edmondson (Conservator of Works on Paper) and Barnaby Wright (Deputy Head of The Courtauld Gallery and Daniel Katz Curator of 20th Century Art).

The prints and drawings in the exhibition range in date from the 16th to the 21st Century and demonstrate a variety of techniques and themes, united by their innovative and creative approaches to drawn marks and lines.

After a great lunch, provided by Good Measure, we got to work on the details with meetings about the public engagement, events and marketing for the exhibition, as well as the opportunity to research the background of the works and some of the techniques used to create them. The highlight of the day was the opportunity to work so closely and collaboratively with colleagues to develop this exciting exhibition and associated programme of activities.

Radical Drawing: Works from the Courtauld and Coventry opens on 18th October 2019 at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum and runs until 19th January 2020. Check back soon for details of events and ways to get involved.