This guest post is from Alex Willett, Exhibitions Manager at IWM.
A Family in Wartime is the next major exhibition opening at Imperial War Museums London in April 2012, and as such the perfect project in which to integrate and test the social interpretation strand through the design development. The exhibition will focus on the Second World War home front in the UK, and specifically one family – the Allpress family – who lived at 36 Priory Grove, London.
It was a simple exercise to identify areas in the exhibition which lent themselves to discussion, but far more challenging to find a particular object which would grab attention long enough to spark comment and discussion. The Blitz and Evacuation were immediate and obvious themes to pick out. Their associated objects are a baby’s gas mask (a “space suit” looking respirator for infants) and a child’s evacuation label. The challenge gets harder with Rationing and Make do and mend – the squander bug seemed to be the most surreal object in IWMs collection we could find, and hopefully visitors will respond to it with a good mix of enthusiasm and quizzical enquiry. For Make do and Mend, we backed away from parachute silk dresses and opted for gravy browning and make up pencils, every wartime ladies’ answer to nylons and the beginnings of our fake tan fascination?
Having chosen four objects, we want to allow for visitors to comment on other areas of our collection, so we are going to include a social interpretation tablet alongside an oil painting and next to our “end of war” section which will be illustrated with VE day photographs.
The next stage in the development is to work with the wider team to linguistically and aesthetically distinguish the museum voice from the visitor voice, finding ways to prompt discussion from and between our visitors on the objects and the themes they represent and of course making sure we can deliver the experience for the opening of our new exhibition.