On Monday 4 March Jane Austen's House Museum hosted Creating Successful Interiors: Interpretation, Audiences and Authenticity; a conference exploring how historic house museums present their interior spaces. The event was held at Charleston, East Sussex, the former home of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, which provided an inspiring backdrop for a day of talks and lively discussion about how historic houses can be presented.
80 delegates from the worlds of museums, historic houses and academia all gathered in Charleston’s beautifully renovated barns, to hear from an exciting line up of fascinating and inspiring speakers. We kicked off with our own Director, Dr Mary Guyatt, who opened the day with stories about wallpaper fragments discovered at Jane Austen’s House (now reproduced and gracing the walls), and ‘historic’ object labels that have now become a part of the story of the house in their own right.
We went to on to hear from Dr Darren Clarke, Rausing Head of Collections, Research and Exhibitions at the Charleston Trust, who gave us a glimpse into how Charleston’s gorgeous Bloomsbury interiors had been salvaged, following Duncan Grant’s death in 1978.
Other speakers included John Williams, Project Manager for the redevelopment of Elizabeth Gaskell's House in Manchester, who discussed the practicalities of furnishing a house with period furniture, to create a house interior where everything can be touched – resulting in a tactile, liberating experience that offers something to all types of visitor.
In the afternoon, Grant Montgomery, Production Designer for film and television, gave us a tantalising glimpse of the set models constructed for the ITV/Red Planet adaptation of Sanditon, currently in development, as well as a fascinating insight into his take on the Bronte Parsonage which he recreated for To Walk Invisible.
We ended the day with David Milne, Curator at Dennis Severs’ House, who described a visitors’ journey through the house, and the way in which had been created – the interior of each room designed to be experienced like stepping into a painting, exploring with your senses and imagination a meticulously crafted 18th Century world.
What an inspiring day! As our visitors departed into the Sussex countryside, we packed up and headed back to Chawton full of ideas and keen to visit the many houses that had been discussed throughout the day.
This event was supported by a generous grant received by Jane Austen’s House Museum under the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures scheme.