Wolverhampton Art Gallery

The pop art collection
Wolverhampton Art Gallery has one of the most impressive regional pop art collections in the UK but staff working at the museum had very little knowledge of the background to the collection and the decisions behind its establishment.

Their Monument Fellow, Brendan Flynn, spent eight months working with colleagues across the organisation to help them rediscover and document the history of this important collection.

Brendan worked at Wolverhampton Art Gallery for over 23 years, finally leaving his post as senior curator of visual art in 1995.

While at the gallery he worked closely with the director David Rogers, who was responsible for acquiring much of the collection, often in controversial circumstances due to local opposition.

Conversations and discussions were the main tool used to share and transfer knowledge during the fellowship.

Over the eight months Brendan had regular informal knowledge sharing sessions with collections and curatorial staff, based around specific themes or groupings of works.

To ensure that knowledge about the pop art collection was spread across the organisation, he also ran a few more formal presentations to mixed groups of staff: front of house, education and marketing.

These were a success with one participant describing it as "the best day I have spent since starting work here".

Wolverhampton made sure this new found knowledge wasn’t just kept in house but was able to benefit the wider museum sector.

Over the course of the fellowship Brendan and other colleagues from the gallery presented and spoke at numerous events and study days, and by a happy coincidence the collection received national TV coverage during the fellowship when the BBC’s One Show did a short piece on David Rogers.

For the gallery, the benefits have been many.

Not only do they have a much better understanding of the collection’s history, the work they did as part of the fellowship has also informed a successful bid to the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund and research carried out during the programme will contribute to upcoming exhibitions.

For the fellow there have also been a lot of positive outcomes.

"The fellowship gave me the incentive and opportunity to examine the origins and development of the collection in a much more intense and objective way than I could whilst working with it on a daily basis.

"I feel as though I understand it better now than I did at the time I was helping to develop it.

"Until I started the fellowship I hadn’t realised how much I missed working with museum people! Just being able to discuss the collections at a professional level with a group of knowledgeable and friendly staff members was a great pleasure."

As is so often the case, the story of how a collection came into being is just as interesting as the pieces themselves but this knowledge is often never documented and is lost when people involved in the process leave.

It is this sort of anecdotal evidence that the fellowships have been so good at collecting, and encouraging museums to develop processes to continue doing so in the future.