On 11 July Tabitha Tuckett and Gill Furlong from UCL Special Collections and I – Stefanie van Gemert, from the UCL Dutch Department – cautiously wrapped up some special books in a waterproof box to bring along to the Wallace Collection. We used ‘book pillows’ to keep the old books in place, and to prevent them from moving during our taxi trip from UCL to the Wallace Collection (through a not-very-summery shower!).
There we met the women from West Ealing Deaf Minorities Group who showed us their wonderful pink treasure bags and discussed their freshly-printed family treasure trails over tea. These two colourful treasure trails will soon be available for free at the Wallace Collection (from August onwards), and the trails will help families to understand the Collection’s Dutch paintings better through play. I had a quick preview of both trails in the East Galleries and they were great fun – I can definitely recommend them!
During the workshop, I spoke with the group about treasures, travels and the history of the Dutch East India Company. The books (brought along by Tabitha and Gill) helped us to get a sense of how the world started to become smaller in the 17th century through trading and travelling. At the same time, they were beautiful historical objects made out of precious material, such as Moroccan leather, silks (probably from China or India) and gold. It was a unique experience to be able to touch these books from the 17th and 18th century, and see them in close-up: they were a piece of history, and brought the story about the Dutch East India Company to life.
Whilst Rembrandt and his clients lived in Amsterdam and indulged in collecting ‘treasures from the East’, other – often poor – Dutchmen spent months working on ships to meet and trade with other people. During the workshop we learnt that besides an exchange in goods, there were also exchanges in knowledge and tastes: travellers studied other languages; Europeans learnt about Indian medicine through a Portuguese doctor in Goa; spices made Western dishes far tastier; Japanese robes became a ‘scientific’ fashion.
After the workshop we met in the East Galleries to try out the new trails developed by the group. Thanks so much, West Ealing group, for your stories, knowledge and other input during the workshop! I hope you enjoyed your visit and you feel inspired by the books when working on more art work for the Treasures from the East exhibition.
Here are some photos from the day: