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Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes with the Collections Care Team…

Chippendale Pier Table_Harewood House

Picture Credit Charlotte Graham for Harewood House Trust

The Collections Care Team at Harewood House Trust is truly a behind the scenes team, ensuring that the museum-accredited collection is maintained to the highest quality of standards, with conservation and preservation at the top of the list.

In a series of blogs, we go behind the scenes with the Collections Care Team, which comprises a team of three, including Jayne, Collections Care Officer, who has worked with the historic collection for 30 years, Rachel and Amy, Collections Care Assistants, who have worked at Harewood for four and two years respectively, to understand more about this vital part of the charity’s work.

What’s a typical day for you?

No two days are the same when caring for collections. Although we can often be seen checking around the House at the start of each day, making sure nothing has too much dust build-up (simple, but one of the most key elements of collection care and preventive conservation), our day does not end there. We then carry out a rolling programme of cleaning, maintenance, and monitoring across 31 storage areas and the 24 rooms open to the public. Our tasks range from carrying out light readings, checking insect traps, repairing library books, giltwood cleaning, winding clocks with our Conservation and Technical Officer, Roger, and auditing and updating records on our collections. Our collections range from the furniture, porcelain, and artwork that Harewood House is noted for, to textiles, taxidermy, archives, and the fixtures and fittings within these rooms, carpets, curtains, pelmets, windows, and floors. As you can see our small team of three has their work cut out!

What’s your favourite part of the job?

We are all interested in preventive conservation, so being able to work with such a varied collection and all the different materials that come with it is an amazing opportunity. We love the variety that comes with the job, and that one minute we can be on our hands and knees checking for pests on an Axminster carpet and the next helping re-hang a painting or move a Chippendale sofa, our role rarely gets stale.

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Working on large-scale filming…Downton Abbey

DowntonAbbey_FilmingCollageThe excitement and countdown to the Downton Abbey film has begun, with new trailers appearing regularly online ahead of the 13 September release date. This is a much-anticipated event on the film calendar and especially so for Harewood House, which was used as one of the filming locations and settings.

Filming took place in October 2018, when over 100 cast and crew set up in the House and grounds for just under a week. Whilst working on major film projects such as this is extremely exciting, this is also a big undertaking for somewhere like Harewood, a visitor attraction open daily to the public and also a national charity and museum, with a commitment to making its collection accessible and available to the general public.

To give an idea of what it’s like when filming is ongoing, for the few days that it took place, the car park was taken over by a Unit Base, which included trailers for hair and make-up, additional toilets and vans with props and equipment. Cranes and lighting rigs were established on the Terrace to beam large areas of light into the room and to make day into night and night into day. Inside the House, the Tech Village was mainly the Gallery and the directors’ area and screens were located here, in addition to kit, sound technicians, props managers, hair and make-up artists and a general area in which the cast could relax. One of the challenges with working on this scale is to ensure the protection of the artwork and furniture. The Gallery in particular has some of Harewood’s most treasured and valuable pieces, including the Renaissance art collection and some of Chippendale’s finest chairs, pier tables and mirrors. A member of the Collections team was on hand at all times, and there are additional considerations, such as ensuring mats protect equipment from the floor and retaining clear space around the collection pieces. But then add over 100 people into the equation…

One of the most interesting moments came when the Gallery was transformed into the scene of a Ball at Harewood. This necessitated soft lighting and also lighting that was higher within the room. Helium based lights were brought in, under the watchful eye of the Collections Care team. This was a striking image to see giant space-age-looking rectangular helium balloons floating within the classical context of the space.

Harewood House is no stranger to filming and has been used extensively and successfully over the years for many different filming projects, including for two seasons, ITV’s Victoria. Additional work to accommodate filming includes changing picture lights, removing paintings, winding down any clocks to avoid chiming (there are over 30 clocks in the House), removing carpets and porcelain to be stored safely and replaced with replicas and cataloguing the location of every single object which is moved to ensure its safety.

But the magic of TV and film can not be paralleled. Rooms and spaces are transformed, modern features disguised to create an even truer reflection of the period. Furniture is brought in and the ingenious work of the set designers alter the rooms with which we are all so familiar.
Harewood staff had the great fortune to meet members of the cast, including Maggie Smith, Phyllis Logan and Hugh Bonneville, who all showed appreciation for the stories of Harewood and made positive comments about the House and its setting.

We have been more than excited to see the current trailer, where the Gallery, Cinnamon Drawing Room and Terrace are featured. To coincide with the release of the film on 13 September, there will be a display of a selection of Princess Mary’s papers and a display of her wedding veil, slippers and tiara. We’re hoping Downton lovers will want to explore Harewood for themselves.

Ice, ice piggy…

Ice blocks in the Farm ExperienceThis week Bird Garden and Farm Manager Nick Dowling and his team created some special ice lollies…

As the nation is enjoying/managing unprecedented temperatures and with the heat as high as 34 degrees in Yorkshire this week, we’ve been taking measures to ensure the wellbeing of the animals in the Harewood Farm Experience.

Whilst the penguins at Harewood are not unaccustomed to warm temperatures, this is a Humboldt penguin colony, from the Atacama Desert in South America. The bird though did appreciate giant ice blocks of frozen sprats thrown into their pool, which cooled the pool down too.
Over to the pot-bellied pigs and the goats, a mixture of fruit and vegetables were frozen into ice blocks and then hung for the animals to approach and lick to cool down.

The blocks included grapes, corn, carrots and other fruit. The goats in particular approached these with great interest.

Nick said; “There’s plenty of shade here for the animals to rest and relax in, whilst the temperatures rise, but we wanted to give them an extra treat and an opportunity to try something new, hence the ice blocks. Whilst Trotters and Pudding (the pigs) were not initially sure about it, the goats seemed delighted, and we’ll just keep adding new blocks as the ice melts over the warm weather.”

Visitors can book onto a Keeper Experience at Harewood, feed the penguins and walk the alpacas…find out more online.

Archiving the collection of linen at Harewood

Linen at Harewood House

Linen at Harewood House

Over the years as a working family home, Harewood House and its inhabitants amassed a significant collection of table and bed linen, used to dress both public and private spaces for occasions of every kind.

Over the past three months, a project to document and re-house this collection, which consists of table cloths, placemats, napkins, bed sheets and pillowcases, from the humble to the highly decorative, has taken place.

Trust volunteers Avril and John have worked methodically to create an inventory that describes in detail the fabric and patterns of the mainly white and ivory linens, measuring each item and highlighting any identifying marks such as the family crest or the Garter Knights coat of arms, some of which date back to the 1930s. Once listed and photographed, each piece was then carefully packed and wrapped in Tyvek (a lightweight, water resistant yet breathable material) to prevent dust or pest infiltration. Finally, each bundle and box was labelled and its storage location recorded.

“We’ve had a fascinating time working on this project,” said Avril, who has been volunteering with Harewood House Trust for many years. “It was interesting to note the patterns and to see that decoration was quite seasonal, maybe with flowers and fruit for one time of the year and other foliage for different times of the year. Some of the tablecloths stretch over fifty metres.”

Rebecca Burton, Assistant Curator and Archivist, added: “During the documentation process, the volunteers discovered beautifully embroidered and hand-finished items that resonate particularly well with our current exhibition Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, particularly the contemporary work on display in Princess Mary’s Dressing Room by the studio Jenny King Embroidery. Some particularly beautiful placements decorated with Irish embroidery (the technique employed by Jenny King) discovered during the project are currently on display in that room.”

A communication from the 6th Earl to Princess Mary in January 1922 says;

“I hear very privately that N. Ireland is to give us linen [for a wedding present] and have asked whether it should be embroidered or not. They have been told not. I am glad as it is a bore to wake up with a coronet impressed on one’s cheek!”

Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters continues in the House until 1 September 2019.

Nurturing students through volunteering

Whilst we celebrated National Volunteer Week last week, one of the most positive stories to come out of this year is that for the first time we welcomed four students from the University of Leeds, who then went on to gain full time employment at Harewood.

Students Lucy, Rachel, Emma and Hannah all came to Harewood for different reasons. They are now fully employed members of the Visitor Experience team for the season and we are delighted to have them on board and with such knowledge of Harewood already.

Lucy Bowley studied Fine Art at the University of Leeds. She joined us after a university trip to Harewood. She started as a Room Steward.
“I volunteered in the house. I loved chatting to visitors from around the world and sharing the interesting facts about each room. I’m now a Visitor Experience Team Member.”

Rachel Tonks was on her third year of studying Fine Art with History of Art, when she started as a volunteer. She explains that being a volunteer at Harewood House was a good way for her to join her interest for Country Houses and Heritage with her job, while learning more about it.
“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to learn in detail about the house and it felt good to be a part of giving visitors an experience of Harewood that was meaningful and interactive.”

Emma Hunt Shelley is a Classics student who came as a volunteer Room Steward over Christmas.
“I would encourage everyone to volunteer because I really feel that it gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity to work in a place like Harewood and continues to do so every day that I go into work!”

Hannah Lee Hargreaves was in her last year at the University of Leeds when she attended a volunteer open day at Harewood.
“I fell in love with the place, and became a volunteer Room Steward over the Christmas period, allowing me to learn more about the history of the house and the estate. “

These students are a good example of how being a volunteer can lead to a job. We are continually looking for new faces to join our team, you can find out more information online