Friday, 4 March 2016


Gillian Smithson, Registrar
Whitworth and Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester

This is me:

This is where I work:

50% at Whitworth, The University of Manchester (re-opened in February 2015 with this new entrance). Collections of Fine Art, Wallpaper and Textiles

50% at Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester. Collections of Anthropology, Entomology, Archaeology, Botany, Zoology, Archery, Numismatics, Geology, Egyptology

Since 2010 the role of Registrar has been shared between these magnificent and very different venues. It is a complex balancing act splitting myself between them. Today I am going to start the day at Manchester Museum, where I have a quiet office – it is a good place to focus and analyse the three transport quotes just in for our next exhibition at  the Whitworth: Art_Textiles which opens on 10 October 2015.

I share the office with Collections Access Officer, Jamilla Hawa. She runs Manchester Museum’s Collections Study Centre and manages commercial image reproduction for the Whitworth. For the past year she has been helping me with loans to and from the Museum, mastering Registrar ropes at super-speed whilst the Study centre has been closed (due to open again on 11 September).

There is a lot to discuss today. We are preparing to take down and return loans from Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island, that closes on 6 September, and gathering up loan forms and details for the 103 objects in our next exhibition: Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed , opening 8th October. We need to check through the loan lists, look after lenders and work out exhibition changeover, transport and courier schedules for both shows.

We also catch up on loans out to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. We are lending two power figures to Power & Majesty: the Art of Kongo Masters and some Egyptian material to Between the Old and the New: Middle Kingdom Egypt. It’s Jamilla’s first foray into international lending and there are tricky CITES questions to answer.

Then it’s a ten minute cycle down Oxford Road for me to Whitworth, laptop in basket!
Over here at The Whitworth it’s a bit more ‘on the hoof’ as our new offices are not quite ready yet. Welcoming Williams and Hill to our loading bay,  I sign in the return of  Lynn Hershman loans from Modern Art Oxford, file the Entry form, make sure the photographs are safely in the Transit Room, update the database and let Dan Hogger, our Paper Conservator know there are 89 works to condition check.

I then head off to meet Jennifer Harris, Curator of Art_Textiles to discuss loans in, shipping costs, couriers, and installation schedule. Loans are coming from far and wide: South Africa, France, Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Dubai, USA… not one for our own van and drivers!

Time for lunch – this will most likely a falafel from Rusholme – just down the road.

Staying at the gallery in the afternoon, its email time! I arrange the collection of some new donations of works by Anya Gallaccio, Paul Graham, Michael Landy and Rebecca Warren. Having noticed that our van will be travelling to London to return loans from Making Monuments, I arrange for these acquisitions to be collected on the way back. These are fantastic contemporary pieces. The Whitworth has been attracting generous attention since our successful re-opening in February.

Meanwhile, backstage at Whitworth is filling up with large empty crates too big for our van. I start to assess what exactly we still have in off-site storage and work out some more returns; hiring a large truck to take out the empties and leaving some space for my Technician and Conservation colleagues to start making workshop space.

I am also planning the take down of M+Sigg Collection: Chinese art from the 1970s to now.  It feels like it has only just gone up. This is one of the best exhibitions we have ever had, with the largest and most plentiful crates!

Crates containing loans to M+Sigg Collection: Chinese art from the 1970s to now

We have autumn loans out to Pallant House, Gemäldegalerie,  Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig and The Courtauld. Valuations and dimensions are still outstanding and there are more forms to sign…this will have to keep until tomorrow! Any new requests in my post/mail box?

I just get time to write out some Entry forms for Ray Warburton for tomorrow (yes I am still using hand written ones at Whitworth) as he is off to Scotland to collect works for our Richard Forster exhibition starting next week.

And then it is off to join my colleagues for Pimms and drumming in the new Art Garden. Happy Days!

Some of Gillian's favourite objects:

Fern collected by Lydia Ernestine Becker (1827 – 1890), Manchester suffragette, botanist and astronomer.

Côte d'Azure, 1982, curtain length, 3813 x 1420 mm, T.1987.6.1

Sava Sekulic (1902-1989), Napoleon and his Daughters, 1975, oil on board, 1030  x 750 mm, O.2010.2

Would you like to share a ‘typical’ Day in your Life? We’re always looking for new contributors, so do get in touch with any of the Committee