In January, ARLIS kindly organized a visit to Central Saint Martins Library and to see the Museum and study collection. I jumped at the chance, as I’d heard much about the new UAL campus, which is housed in the 19th century Grade II listed Granary building and was keen to see it for myself. The first part of my visit, which this article focuses on, was to see the Museum and study collection.

The Museum Collection

About 10 of us were taken into a room in the museum. We sat around a table with archival boxes of different sizes laid out on top, their treasures waiting to be revealed by Judy Lindsay, the Head of Museum at Central Saint Martins.

Judy took us on a wonderful whirlwind tour of the Central Saint Martin’s print collection history, which I can only capture a part of here. As she spoke, she began to open up the boxes, and folding back the layers of tissue paper. She passed the objects around the table, encouraging us not only to look, but to touch and feel. Judy believes it is important to carry on with the tradition of the school, and that was to use art as a teaching collection.  The piece that arrested the group’s attention was a leather-bound book of Japanese ukiyo-e wood block prints from the 1850s.  Despite the years, the colours were still amazingly vibrant. Along with the book, we were given an example of a woodblock from the same era, carved with traditional Japanese patterns.  I could have happily spent another hour or so pouring over the book of prints.

image of japanese woodblock prints

Azuma nishiki-e (Colour prints of the East)

Fold-out book of 98 coloured Japanese prints bearing black and white calligraphic design. Book cover of wooden boards and stamped dark brown paper.

Artists: Utagawa Kuniyoshi and  Utagawa Kunisada

Engraver:  Hori-Take

Date: from 1854 and 1855.

Judy’s intent with allowing object handling is to engage the users better with the artifacts, and with the creation of art, especially in an age where the digital is becoming the ‘natural’ medium for students.  She uses the notebooks of Joyce Clissold, with its colourful splotches of ink seeping through the edges, and the blueprints for typography by Eric Gill to this end, to show the physical marks of creation.

The other fascinating pieces shown to us were the playful  textile prints of Joyce Clissold from the 1920s-1930s, Early German film posters produced by UFA (Universum Film AG) and Art on the Underground Posters.

Image of Art for the Underground Poster

For London spectacle

Artist:  F Ernest Jackson

Date: 1935

We were shown an example of a modern piece of work – 3D print of object that looked like a crown from one side, and threw the shape of a bird from another, and I wondered on how new mediums sculpts artists to think in new ways. Judy raised the issue of conserving materials, such as the new types of plastics. No one knows for sure how they will age and how they should be preserved.  I recalled an example of my own from a few weeks back when I opened up an old storage box. As I pulled out a blue plastic bag, it crumbled in my hands.

The collection at the museum continues to grow, as the curator scouts for new pieces amongst the UAL graduate shows, often guided by the opinions of the tutors who work with the art students. As an accredited museum it is harder for them to weed stock without submitting various reports on why stock should be removed, so for the museum, having storage space is important, as it is for many art libraries.

A few of the visitors in the group were especially interested in the double decker, electronic roller-racks that offered high-density storage, at a cost of about £100,000. The company Nordplan came highly recommended, and there have been no problems with the equipment in the last year and half that it’s been in use.

 Image of high density storage

High-density storage by Nordplan

The hour or so flew past and too soon we were ushered out of the room, Judy and the collection ready and waiting to be discovered by the next group of visitors.

Central Saint Martins Museum and study collection welcomes research visits, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in art.  Do visit their website for more information.


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