Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

Laing Gallery archival project
John Millard worked at Tyne and Wear Archives for nearly 30 years, 16 of those as head of the Laing Art Gallery until he left in 2003.

The Monument Fellowship, awarded to the Laing Art Gallery, allowed them to bring John back to share his knowledge of the art collection, and in particular works and material associated with the artist Ralph Hedley.

Drawing on John’s detailed knowledge, the project focused on sorting and cataloguing a large quantity of archival material relating to Ralph Hedley.

To help the fellow and other staff to deal with the quantity of archival material, a team of volunteers was trained up to work on the computer catalogues.

Despite some difficulties over access to computers, over eight months the volunteers worked with John and other colleagues to successfully document and archive a significant amount of material.

As a result of this work, and the training the volunteers received, the museum now has a number of volunteers able to work on the catalogue in the future.

Through hands-on sessions with front of house staff, tours, and talks at the Shipley Art Gallery, John was able to share his knowledge more widely, and to raise the profile of the archival material held by the museum.

Public access to these collections was also increased and a number of works can now be accessed through the museum’s website.

The project also allowed John to make contact with colleagues working in other museums, including Glasgow, Hartlepool and Beamish, which also have material relating to Ralph Hedley.

For the gallery, the project came at an interesting time as the museum and archive had only recently been brought together under one management.

One of the greatest benefits of the fellowship was having an opportunity to work jointly on the project; it provided a useful way to open up discussions and communications between the museum and archive staff.

The project was also a first step to moving some archival material from the museums into the archives themselves.

For John, the aspects of the fellowship he valued the most were "being back with the stuff and dealing directly with the collection after years of museum management", while he found "working with museum staff and volunteers was encouraging and motivating".

As is the case with many of the fellows, renewed contact with the museums they used to work in has opened the door for John to continue to volunteer at the museum and see through the work he started during his fellowship.