Explore Your Archives 2020

Explore Your Archives is an initiative set up to showcase the hidden gems stored in collections around the world. This year, the initiative took place from the 21 - 29 November, and the Archive and Collections team at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation were delighted to participate.

Sharing on Twitter throughout the week, the team selected never-seen-before items and stories from the Edward James Archive in response to the daily prompts.

Read on for a recap of the week and to find out more about how students work with the College's Archives.

Day 1: Communication

This scan of a Telegram, dated 27 August 1907, was from King Edward VII, accepting Evelyn James’s offer to become godfather to her son, Edward James, founder of West Dean College.

Unfounded rumours persisted through Edward James’ life that he was the illegitimate son of Edward VII on account of the King’s affection for Evelyn and his regular visits to West Dean. 

Day 2: Home

This photograph of the James Family home was taken by Bedford Lemere, the pre-eminent 19th century firm of architectural photographers. The Old Dining Room is still in use at West Dean today for teaching, archive consultation, and seminars. 

Day 3: Plans

Artichoke House was commissioned by Edward James in 1936 and designed by the architect Christopher Nicholson. Intended as a picture gallery, the plans for this unrealised design have inspired artists and designers ever since.  

Day 4: Education

Students here have numerous opportunities to work directly with the College's Archives. From Conservation to Fine Art and Creative Writing, the Archives are an outstanding resource for our students. This image shows Books Conservation students working on a rare piece of archival wallpaper.

Day 5: Labels

The rare audio recording from Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus pavilion in 1939 forms part of an exhibition at The Arp Museum which also features the Lobster Telephone from the West Dean Collection. The Salvador Dalí and Hans Arp – The Birth of Memory exhibition will open again after lockdown.

Day 6: Science

Rainfall Books have been kept at West Dean for over 100 years. Rainfall records are collected internationally and help scientists to monitor changes in weather patterns over time. 

Day 7: Celebration

A celebration of the life and work of College founder, Edward James. From his patronage of the arts, creation of Las Pozas in Mexico, to the foundation of West Dean in 1971, James continues to be an inspiration for radical thinkers, innovators, and philanthropists everywhere! 

Day 8: Health

The wearing of face coverings has become an unexpected norm this year. College founder Edward James would never have anticipated that this 1948 portrait of him by the artist Carlyle Brown would have been so relevant today. 

Day 9: Light

Painted in 1937, René Magritte's The Pleasure Principle depicts College founder Edward James, renowned as one of the most influential patrons of Surrealist art in the 1930s. This letter from Magritte to James shows the work in progress. 

Of the initiative, West Dean College Archivist Simon Coleman said, “[it] has provided us with an excellent opportunity to highlight the rich variety of original material held in our Archives. Linking people, places, activities and ideas through the centuries, in many different formats and media, the Archives illuminate the unique artistic vision of Edward James and the fascinating history of the West Dean Estate. They continue to inspire, inform and challenge our students across our courses in fine art, conservation and creative writing.”

As a student you have the opportunity to work on items from the West Dean Archive and I feel lucky to have this access to a working collection so early on in my development as a conservator. Currently, I am working on creating protective enclosures for two objects from the Archive: one of Frank James’ travel journals from his 1878 trip to Soudan, and an album of William James’ photographs of expeditions to Soudan and Somali during 1881-5. As well as developing my practical skills, this collaboration has increased my understanding of collections care and given me an opportunity to learn more about the history of the College. Additionally, these items are both a part of a wider project within West Dean called ‘Whose Heritage?’, which is looking into actively decolonising West Dean’s collection. As I am a part of this project, my work on these items has been incredibly beneficial in linking together my contextual involvement within conservation ethics, and practical conservation skills.” – Bethany Goodman, Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies – Books and Library Materials.