After my conference in Oxford and tourist-ing in London and Cambridge, it was time to research, you guessed it, tiles! I had meetings lined up at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, visited collections throughout London, and had some fun along the way.
The V&A (a.k.a. my favorite Museum)
The Victoria and Albert Museum (or the V&A) was built with the revenues from the Crystal Palace Exhibition in the 1850s. Beyond its status as the world's largest decorative arts museum, the V&A houses the largest collection of tiles in the world. It's also my favorite museum. One of the things I miss the most about London is being able to hop on the tube to South Kensington and wander around the V&A.
At the V&A, I met with Fi Jordan, Senior Ceramics Conservator, who has a lot of experience working with tiles. She told me about mounting projects undertaken by V&A conservators in the past few years. Then, she very kindly took me on a tour of the museum to view examples of vast array of tiles on display and different mounting systems. One of our first stops was the V&A's Cafe. Especially impressive is the Gamble Room, designed in the 1860s by Godfrey Sykes and James Gamble. The walls of the room are lined with lead-glazed earthenware tiles (below).
Our next stop was the Islamic Galleries. Many of the tiles in these rooms were remounted in the early-to-mid 2000s. One of my favorite displays was a fritware tile chimneypiece probably made in Istanbul in 1731. It was remounted, but an image of it before conservation treatment is available on the V&A's collection database (below). Conservation treatment made a drastic improvement!
Not all tiles are mounted on walls. The beautiful tin-glazed terracotta floor tiles below were once installed in the now-demolished Lombardini Chapel in the church of San Francesco Grande in Forli, Italy.
The Ceramics Galleries in the V&A feature a vast array of ceramics in "open storage." For example, Liverpool delft tiles (below) are stored in custom, upright racks.
One of my favorite tile panels was more modern--a tile panel c. 1900 depicting "Mary, Mary, quite contrary," a children's nursery rhyme. The panel was designed by Margaret E. Thompson.
The British Museum
The next day, I was off to the British Museum. It was very surreal to go back to a place where I worked for ten months after a whirlwind year back in the US. It somehow felt like I'd been away much longer.
I worked on my first tiles at the British Museum, so it felt like coming full circle.
Before heading into the lab, I met some of my favorite conservators for tea and coin cake (wonderfully artistic and tasty cakes in the shape of coins and various coin hoards made weekly by Pippa Pearce). She even remembered my favorite kind! I then met with ceramics conservators Miriam Orsini and Denise Ling to discuss their work on the Medieval tile project. The remounting project has been ongoing since the mid-2000s. When massive panels of Medieval tiles were reassessed during renovations of the Medieval galleries, a few of these large panels were found to have been mounted on Asbestolux, a board containing asbestos. Proper precautions were taken to ensure the safety of conservators and contract workers during the removal process. The tiles were then remounted on conservation-grade aluminum boards.
Other Tile Adventures
Tiles are everywhere in London: on the entrances to Georgian and Victorian townhouses, on the tube, and in pubs.
The Princess Louise (1891) was one of my grad school class's favorite haunts. The gorgeous Victorian pub is decorated floor-to-ceiling with glazed terracotta tiles. My classmate Vanessa Applebaum and I ended up there after a night of fish and chips :)
As well as conducting research and meeting with tile experts, I also was able to visit my professors and friends from UCL. I ended my trip to England away from the Big Smoke on a whirlwind kayaking day-trip around the Norfolk Broads with grad school classmate, Jan Cutajar. (This picture was taken before it started pouring and the trains all stopped working)...
A special thanks to Fi Jordan, Miriam Orsini, Denise Ling, Duygu Camurcuoglu, Pippa Pearce, Hayley Bullock, Rachel Berridge, Hazel Gardiner, Amy Walsh, Carrie Hagerman, Chris Hague, Sophie Rowe, Stephanie Vasiliou, Dean Sully, Renata Peters, Caitlin O'Grady, Karl Kaiser, Vanessa Applebaum, Jan Cutajar, Letty Steer, Emily Williams and everyone else for taking time out of your busy schedules to meet with me!! Thanks are also due to my wonderful colleagues at Winterthur for supporting my trip to England, especially Lauren Fair and Joy Gardiner.
Thanks for checking back! Tune in soon for an exploration of tiles in the miniature and the rooms constructed by Eugene J. and Henry Kupjack. In the meantime, be sure to follow #WeirdTileoftheDay and #WeirdTileWednesday on Twitter and Instagram! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for topics, post them below!
Winterthur Postgraduate Fellow in Objects Conservation