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Posted 18.02.20

Plymouth’s Elizabethan House inspires 3D Design Crafts students

By Naomi Girdler

Inside the Elizabethan House

Third-year students from our BA (Hons) 3D Design Crafts course began their academic year with a live brief introduced by Hannah Pooley, Engagement Officer for the Elizabethan House and Plymouth Trails in association with The Box, Plymouth’s groundbreaking multi-million-pound gallery and museum, due to open later this year.

Part of The Box’s portfolio is the restoration of the Elizabethan House, situated on the Barbican at 32 New Street. The Elizabethan House, a rare example of a merchant’s house dating back to the late 1500s, is now undergoing essential restoration, with plans to reopen the house as part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations. The full visitor experience will open in 2021.

The Elizabethan House invited the 3D Design Crafts students, who work with the materiality of objects, to respond to the house and its individual inhabitants from Elizabethan times, when Plymouth was a bustling port, up until 1929 when it was handed to Plymouth City Council.

Exterior of the Elizabethan House on New Street. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Fiona Pitt, Curator of Archaeology at Plymouth Museums, offered students the opportunity to handle fragments of pottery excavated in the area. Following this, Hannah Pooley hosted a walking tour of the Barbican, on the Mayflower Trail route, and a visit to the Elizabethan House to help the students understand the individual histories of the Barbican inhabitants. The interpretive project then entered a four-week stage of research and experimentation, the results of which were presented to Hannah for feedback.

The students’ work in progress was developed into an exhibition hosted at Plymouth College of Art in January. Entitled ‘Curious?’, the exhibition brought together their developmental work of tests and samples into a curated display.

Students visit the Merchant House on St Andrew Street as part of their historic tour of the Barbican

Third-year student Lauren Hunt said: “I’ve lived near Plymouth all my life, and despite being very familiar with many of the sites we visited, I was never really aware of their heritage and historical significance.

“My project started with an interest in the number of people who lived in the house, which at its worst state was a slum, housing 58 people at the highest recorded count! I wanted to find out more about who these people were and what their lives were like. I trawled through the archives to find out about the life of one of the house’s occupants, Rachel Hill, tracing her life from childhood in Peter Tavy, to her first job as a domestic servant in Tavistock, and to her destitution as a widow living with four daughters in the House. It’s amazing how many stories can be traced through this one site!

“I’ve always had an interest in heritage and cultural practice, so have signed up as an archive and research support volunteer at The Box, as well as investigating possible careers in this sector. This has been an incredibly enjoyable and engaging brief, thanks largely to Hannah Pooley for being such a fabulous guide and sharing her extensive knowledge, as well as being available and patient with all my questions. I wish I could do it again!”

Students discovering artefacts in the Elizabethan House

Subject Leader for BA (Hons) 3D Design Crafts and practising glass artist Gayle Matthias said: “Collaborating and presenting to Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery staff on a live brief, uncovering the hidden narratives of the occupants of the Elizabethan House, has been an exciting opportunity for the third-year students.

“The project models real-world briefs, such as artist residencies and cross collaborations with archaeologists, historians and curators. It will extend the students’ conceptual understanding, research skills and eventual artistic outcomes, the accompanying exhibition, ‘Curious’, will allow them the opportunity to display their prototypes and test pieces.”

Inspired by the diamond shape of leaded windows in the Elizabethan House, BA (Hons) 3D Design Crafts student Georgia Ingram showcases a prototype lamp.

Plymouth College of Art lecturer, mixed media artist and jeweller Rachel Darbourne said: “Having access to projects and archives such as the Elizabethan House provides our students with the valuable experience of engaging with life briefs, which enriches both their creative development and professional practice.”

Hannah Pooley, Engagement Officer for The Elizabethan House and Plymouth Trails said: “It was fantastic to work with the 3D Design Crafts students. They were really engaged with the brief and I could see how accessing the House during the restoration influenced their work. I loved seeing how their ideas developed over the months, and was pleased to be asked for guidance and information on subjects ranging from Elizabethan fashions to the plague! I was amazed at the quality and diversity of work that was displayed in their exhibition."

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