The project conference-a delegate’s view

As Mark’s two detailed posts have made clear, the conference was a great success. What I would like to explore further, however, is what the conference was like for me as a delegate and what those of you who did not attend missed!

Firstly, the staff at Temple Newsam were an absolute joy from start to finish. All conference delegates were given privileged behind the scenes access to much of the house, complicated by the fact that the property remained open to the public throughout. This meant that the visitor services staff in the house had to keep an eye on two different groups of visitors simultaneously and they managed what must have been a tricky task with consummate ease-whilst remaining good-natured and welcoming throughout. Thank you to you all.

So what did the conference provide to a delegate? Well, apart from some lovely food (the canapés at the reception on the first night were a particular highlight but everything supplied by Salts was rather lovely-thank you to their brilliant staff too) I suppose the most obvious benefit was the chance to meet like-minded people from many different professions but all with a particular interest in the antiques trade. There were museum professionals, academics, students, dealers, retired dealers, a charming lady from a tour company that specialised in trips around arts and crafts period houses in Britain for foreign visitors, representatives of both of the major UK trade associations, antiques journalists and the odd interested collector as well. A real mixture.

Antique Dealers Conference delegates.

Antique Dealers Conference delegates.

For me personally it was lovely to meet dealers whose items I had admired over the years and, in contrast to the often repeated line about not meeting your heroes, everyone was extremely pleasant and friendly and I spent many pleasant hours chatting away about the trade and dealers past and present.

The highlight of my participation in the project has been my involvement with the oral history interviews-both conducting interviews and transcribing them-and so I was looking forward to Eleanor’s talk with particular interest. It certainly didn’t disappoint and I think it convinced any remaining doubters of the importance of capturing the opinions of a range of dealers with contrasting specialisms. This all felt like a vindication of everyone’s hard work on the project so far.

Oak Passage, Temple Newsam.

Oak Passage, Temple Newsam House

Temple Newsam House

Temple Newsam House

The main staircase at Temple Newsam House

The main staircase at Temple Newsam House

A surprising number of delegates, myself included, had not visited Temple Newsam before and so another highlight was certainly the object in focus sessions. I chose to watch the Murray Cabinet being gently dismantled so as to demonstrate its many secret drawers and compartments, mainly because of that piece’s associations with Norman Adams (a firm that is a particular interest of mine).

Ian Fraser, with 'The Murray Cabinet', sold to Temple Newsam by Norman Adams in 1986.

Ian Fraser, with ‘The Murray Cabinet’, sold to Temple Newsam by Norman Adams in 1986.

However after we had each looked at our object of choice, we were then able to wander around the house and most of us made sure that we explored every available room in the time available to us.

The aforementioned evening reception finished off the day in fine style, and a special mention to the lovely music student who performed on the rather beautiful Broadwood concert grand to end a very interesting day.

Japji....our music student, from the University of Leeds, playing the historic Broadwood piano

Japji….our music student, from the University of Leeds, playing the historic Broadwood piano

The second day involved rather more participation than the first and most of us were thinking about our choice of sandpit sessions before we had even finished registration! As English furniture is my primary interest, there was never any doubt about my choice of session in part one (I went for the death of antique furniture discussion) but for my second sandpit, I decided against joining the love or money group as, working in a museum, that sounded rather too much like the day job that I had been only too happy to leave behind for a while! I chose to attend the sandpit on professions or pastimes instead.

The three talks in the morning were very interesting indeed and very contrasting in their styles.

Mark W introducing Martin Levy's talk.

Mark W introducing Martin Levy’s talk.

Martin Levy gave us a succinct and interesting run-down of Blairman’s history and left us in no doubt as to their significance in shaping the wider trade as a whole. Dominic Jellinek also gave us a brief history of Bluett’s, but concentrated rather more on the firm’s surviving archive and certainly left me thinking about the enormous potential of dealer archives and the ways in which they could be investigated (something Lizzie had also made very clear in her excellent talk on the Crowther archive on day 1). Finally, Chris Jussel’s talk was delivered more or less without notes and certainly without a PowerPoint presentation. I am much less a familiar with the way the trade developed in the US and found this talk extremely enlightening.

The group discussion between some of the oral history interviewees was heated at times with plenty of opposing views. One particular comment (the person responsible will remain nameless!) about the participants representing “the faded aristocracy of the antiques trade” provoked strong reactions from some of those concerned. However this was a rare example of fraying tempers, something that in itself was quite admirable when you consider some of the trade rivalries over the years.

'In Conversation' session

‘In Conversation’ session

I think it only fair to single out Mark Westgarth for particular praise at this point for having the vision to get the project started and for the tenacity to raise the necessary funds. The conference ran remarkably smoothly throughout, despite the problem with attempting to get so many delegates to stick to a timetable (something akin to herding cats) and this is in no small part due to the time that Mark and the project advisory board put into assessing the various scenarios and looking at where problems might arise.

In conclusion, the project was an extremely useful and enjoyable experience that provided the opportunity to learn, explore the collections of an exceptional house, make professional contacts and socialise with a diverse yet friendly group of like-minded enthusiasts. A fitting end to one phase of a quite remarkable research project.

Chris Coles
Lead volunteer.

One Comment to “The project conference-a delegate’s view”

  1. Thank you Chris….so glad you enjoyed the Conference!…and thank you for all your help too! Mark.

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