The Hidden Stories Behind Museum Objects 

Yvonne J. Foster is one of three artists currently taking part in the Step Up: Interpreting Collections training programme which is delivered in partnership between Outside In and the Wellcome Collection. We asked Yvonne to share her experience of the course so far.

I’m two sessions in to the Step Up: Interpreting Collections course. This year it is based at the Wellcome Collection, somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for years.

The part I knew nothing about was the man behind the collection, who by all accounts seems to have been a complete (and fabulous) eccentric:

“Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936) was a luxuriantly moustached entrepreneur, archaeologist and philanthropist, and a manic collector of objects.”

We have been given the chance to research something from the Medicine Man exhibition; a tiny representation of the vast Wellcome Collection hoard.

Yvonne J Foster at Wellcome 2

Yvonne J Foster at Wellcome 1

We have been spoilt for choice, as the exhibition holds a plethora of objects from false limbs and early prosthetics (my favourite being a very piratey looking peg leg) to Napoleon’s toothbrush and the medicine chest that Scott took to the Antarctic.

There are thousands of hidden stories behind each of the objects and I’ve been asked just to follow one.

I feel like I’m on an adventure, following a lead or a clue and see where it takes me. I’m finding out as much as I can about the people behind the object. Who made it? Who used it? Where were they? What were they doing?

Throughout their time within the Wellcome Collection objects have a story outside their original use. The have been examined, researched, handled and numbered in an effort to comprehensively organise and categorise the collection. The idea of looking at objects and following a path to find out their journey is so appealing.

Yvonne J Foster at Wellcome 4

Yvonne J Foster at Wellcome 3

An area of work I am currently exploring is to do with just that; stories behind collected objects and their corresponding numbers, labels and cataloging. So being given the chance to research at the Wellcome Collection is extremely exciting.

But you don’t always find the answers. There’s gaps, dead ends and missing information. Which surprisingly makes the story even more intriguing.

To see more of the artwork that I am currently creating you can catch me on Instagram or via my Website.

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