First Choice Community Curated Exhibition Project Update

As February progressed so does the First Choice project and I find myself busy bringing the groups in for their first visits. We have successfully completed the initial visits of three groups so far. Each of these three groups has chosen the three objects they wish to include in the community-curated Exhibition. They have also been given a behind the scenes look at the stores and been introduced to the curators that they will work with to develop their contribution.

The first group to visit was Colin Men’s Shed from West Belfast. Their assigned museum is the Folk Museum at Cultra and so they were able to get a tour around the Folk Life stores that contain a lot of the objects used to stock the Folk and Transport Museums. They were also treated to a special tour of the Textiles stores with our lovely Curator of Textiles, Valerie Wilson. Valerie very kindly showed off a range of objects including needlework samplers and Victorian mourning costumes.

Then before lunch the group was introduced to our Farm Manager, Robert Berry, who had a range of agricultural tools to show them.  In the afternoon we put the men to work and had them choose their 3 objects from a range we had selected for them. After some discussion and reminiscence, they were able to choose three excellent objects. A set of dentist’s tools, including a pedal operated drill and a set of tooth pullers, a corncrake or football rattle and Belfast Corporation gas meter.

Image: Colin Men’s Shed from West Belfast with farm manager, Robert Berry
Colin Men’s Shed from West Belfast with farm manager, Robert Berry

Next came the East Belfast Wise Men’s Shed, who are based at Connswater Shopping Centre. They are working with the Transport Museum’s collections and were very kindly shown around by our Curator of Road and Rail Transport, Mark Kennedy.

Once again the men started their day in the Folk Life stores with Mark giving them a guided tour, with special consideration to the Transport collections the stores hold. Mark then showed them around the Transport galleries, Maeve the biggest and fastest train ever built in Ireland, was a special highlight. The trams in the Road Gallery also rekindled many fond memories of the group member’s working lives.

After lunch we introduced the men to a range of objects from the Transport collections, from which we asked them to choose their three objects. Mark was kindly able to give detailed descriptions of each of the objects informing their choices for the exhibition. After a short deliberation the group chose a railway signal staff, a tram bell and a Harland & Wolff logo plaque, that brought back memories of working in the yard to a number of the group’s members.

The third group to make their first visit was Derry’s Men’s Shed, which is based at the Gas Yard Centre to the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh. As with the other groups the onsite stores were the first port of call. Pat O’Donnell, the curator, was able to show the men around the stores which hold a lot of the objects the museum has acquired from the United States to include in the New World part of the Folk Park’s outside exhibit.

One highlight was the Kentucky rifle that Irish emigrants would have used as they explored the American frontier; the men were given a chance to handle the rifle under Pat’s supervision. Once the visit to the stores finished we retired for some lunch and then to the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies to pick the objects. There we presented the men with a range of objects and allowed them to talk over which ones they would like to choose and why. There was much discussion and reminiscence amongst the group members about the past in Derry, and eventually they settled on three nice objects to include in the exhibition.

The objects chosen were a stoneware bottle from W.G. O’Doherty’s of Derry, a glass butter churn which the men had spotted in the stores and shirting quilt made from the off-cuts collected by Derry’s women folk from the shirt factories.

Image: Derry’s Men’s Shed with curator Pat O’Donnell
Derry’s Men’s Shed with curator Pat O’Donnell

The groups will be returning over the next few weeks to finalise their contribution to the exhibition. We will use their personal recollections and connections with the objects to help create the exhibition. They will help us write the captions for each object and then the objects will be photographed so that they are ready to be included in the exhibition. We also hope to welcome the groups from South Belfast and North Belfast to their respective sites soon.  The project is going very well so far, all three groups have had enjoyable experiences and I will be doing my best over the next few weeks to ensure that this continues and the resulting exhibition is of the highest standard, so that all those involved can take pride in it.

Keep an eye out for further updates over the next few weeks.