In September 2007 Glasgow University, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Henry Moore Institute launched Mapping Sculpture. The project had been planned and developed between 2004 and 2006. During this time Feasibility and Pilot Studies were conducted which proved the original concept and tested the proposed research methods. A grant application was made to the Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2006 and funding was awarded in June 2007. The following sections give a detailed account of the method used in conducting the three year programme of research for Mapping Sculpture.
The cornerstone of the Mapping Sculpture method was four innovative key questions about the practice and profession of sculpture aimed at transforming the way the medium is seen and understood:
How does examining the working relationship between sculptors and related businesses and trades change accepted ideas of authorship and status?
Focus on the sculptor as the sole creator of handcrafted works has overshadowed the uniquely collaborative nature of the sculptural medium. An investigation of studio assistants, carvers, foundries and other specialist craftsmen, many of whom were practitioners in their own right, is necessary to reveal their contributions to the creative process.
What can we learn about the role of networks and infrastructures in supporting art practice by tracing sculptors' personal and institutional connections?
Numerous societies and associations were formed in this period but their impact on sculpture is little understood. An in-depth study, particularly of the vital partnerships between sculptors and architects, is needed to throw new light on the relationship between the studio and the public domain.
To what extent does investigating the diversity of sculptors' practices challenge conventional critical hierarchies of subject, medium and form?
The status attached to monumental, ideal and, latterly, abstract work has sidelined a significant portion of sculpture produced in the period. An exploration of the full range of practice is an essential precursor to understanding sculptors' responses to changing patterns of consumption and synthetic approaches to art and design.
What is the impact on current understanding of cultural geographies of making an integrated study of sculptural practice in Britain and Ireland?
A London-centric perspective has often marginalized broader investigations of cultural geographies, including more nuanced discussion of the relationship between the metropolis and the regions. A broad survey is required to trace the relationship between economic growth and the emergence, from the mid-nineteenth century, of new art infrastructures and diversified markets at home and overseas.
During the Mapping Sculpture research programme (2007-10) these questions were investigated through a systematic survey of documentary materials in selected cities across Britain and Ireland.
Geographic Area Covered by the Research Programme
From an early stage it was clear that limits would have to be set on the number places where research was conducted. As part of the process of selecting these locations, an initial assessment of levels of sculptural activity in Britain and Ireland was carried out during the project's Pilot Study. This survey indicated that by focusing the investigation on seventeen cities about 80% of sculptural activity between 1851 and 1951 would be captured. These cities were subsequently grouped into six regions and a schedule was drawn up. In January 2008, a researcher was appointed to each of the regions:
Scotland (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow) - two years
North of England (Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle) - eighteen months
Ireland (Dublin and Belfast) - twelve months (two six month projects)
Wales (Cardiff, Conwy, Swansea and Bristol) - eight months
Central England (Birmingham, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent) - sixteen months
London (treated as a region because of the level of activity to be documented) - two years
An important part of the Mapping Sculpture research method was the criteria used to define where the research began and ended, and who was included and who was not. The main guidelines - established during the project's development phase in 2005-6 - are as follows:
- The research focused on makers who were actively practicing sculpture or in business between 1851 and 1951. This excluded those who had retired from making and exhibiting sculpture by the early 1850s or, at the other end of the research period, had not yet established a professional career. So, for example, sculptors who were still studying art in 1950 were not included.
- Nationality was not limited to UK practitioners. So details of foreign sculptors' activities in Britain and Ireland within the project timeframe were included in the database.
- When documenting sculptors who were at the mid-point of their careers in 1851, only their activities after this date were recorded. Exceptions to this rule were made where providing a limited record of a sculptor's or related business's activity before 1851 affirmed their identity or provided essential context to their later work.
- Sculptors whose careers extended beyond 1951 were approached in a similar way. The research programme focused on the portion of their activity before the Festival of Britain in 1951 giving only limited information about their work in subsequent decades.
The Research Assistants (RAs) were given a list of sources and institutional types to investigate in each city. These had been chosen based on the Pilot Study findings to ensure Mapping Sculpture was rigorous, consistent and time efficient. The RAs were also given detailed guidance about the type of information required to meet the project's goals and how their discoveries should be entered into the database. Conducting the research in each location in a prescribed pattern was fundamental to the aim of delivering results that would support comparison between cities and regions.
The research in each location began with the documentary sources that would yield the broadest results - usually trade directories for related businesses and the larger annual exhibitions for sculptors and objects. After the completion of this initial phase, which provided an overview of sculptural practice in the city, the RAs went on to investigate the local art schools, art societies and, where possible, periodicals, indexes, press-cutting albums and other sources providing additional local detail. Since the timeframe for research in each location was limited, a regular review of the schedule, with adjustment as needed, was an important part of the successful realization of the project.
Creation of the Database:
A central database was created on the University of Glasgow server. Because access to the main database via the internet could not be guaranteed in all archives and libraries where the research was carried out, each RA had a separate version of the database installed on the local hard drive of a project laptop. The distributed nature of this approach meant that it was necessary to synchronise the data entered by each RA with the central database at the University of Glasgow. In return, data from the central database was shared with the individual RA databases. This process of synchronisation presented significant technical challenges.
Information gathered from documentary materials was entered into one of six record types - People, Objects, Organizations, Events, Places and Sources. So each sculptor, each work they exhibited, each studio they worked in, the art school(s) they attended, and the societies they joined were all documented individually. These separate records were then linked by relationships in the form of a short phrase, such as 'created by', 'teacher at' or 'address for'.
This database design was implemented so that users would be able to explore the multiple connections underpinning sculptural practice from many different starting points. So instead of having to begin with a particular sculptor, the user could, for example, find work associated with a place (e.g. Glasgow, Nottingham or Stoke-on-Trent), groups of works of a similar type (e.g. statues, reliefs and models) or explore the connections between different art related businesses (e.g. stone carvers, stonemasons, architectural sculptors and marble cutters).
An unusual and important feature of the Mapping Sculpture project was that information collected from sources was broken down into short pieces of information and entered into the database in separate fields or relationships rather than being recorded as a continuous narrative. So the data entry form for sculptors, comprised: name; titles; name changes; gender; dates active; dates of birth and death. In the case of objects, there were fields for: title; object class; type of work; date of production; materials, techniques and sale price.
The relationships were still more structured. A relationship type was chosen (e.g. Person to Person or Person to Object). Then the second entity and suitably worded relationship were selected from drop down lists together with any additional detail such as a date. For example, Lucy Gwendolen Williams (first entity) 'studied under' (relationship) Edouard Lanteri (second entity) at the Royal College of Art (National Art Training Schools) (relationship note) circa 1897 (date). This highly structured approach was required to facilitate running fast and efficient queries on the database.
Click here to watch a relationship being created
As the research and data entry was carried out in six different regions, a second stage was required to check and edit the results for approval into the central, ultimately public, database. This process was implemented by the Project Director and Data Editor and included identifying and merging duplicate records or making connections between individual practitioners and related businesses. It was often through the merger of several records that important new connections were revealed. For example, once the six records for Anne Acheson (1882-1962) created in each of the research regions were brought together, it emerged that:
- She lived and worked in Belfast, Birmingham and London.
- Acheson began her career by teaching in a secondary school and sharing accommodation with a Scottish sculptor, Jess Lawson (later Jess Lawson Peacey). They both went on to work for pottery companies as modellers of figurines.
- From 1911 Acheson exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy in London and showed around thirty works there over her career. She exhibited more widely from 1918, including Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh.
- From about 1927 Acheson sent work back to Belfast to the Royal Ulster Academy and a fellow Irish sculptor, Seamus Stoupe created a portrait of her.
- Acheson's other contacts included the sculptor Phoebe Stabler who nominated her for membership of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1923.
- Additional information gathered from periodicals, showed that Acheson had worked for the Surgical Requisites Association during the First World War. She had developed a papier mâché splint out of sugar bags and was awarded the CBE for her work.
This is one small example of the new information brought forward by the project and the connections that have been made possible by drawing the results of the research together in a state of the art database.
Main Groups of Sources:
These are the main groups of documentary materials that were used during the Mapping Sculpture research programme. A brief description of their significance and the type of information they have provided is also given:
Sources: annual reports, prospectuses, publications, (e.g. student magazines, histories).
Description: Art schools were crucial to the development of local art infrastructures. The number teaching institutions rapidly increased in the latter decades of the 19th century across Britain and Ireland. Art schools brought professionally trained sculptors to the regions and were an important place for students and teachers to establish peer group networks. Tracking the titles and descriptions of courses has made it possible to explore the growth of the teaching of sculpture around Britain and Ireland. In addition, recording details of the curriculum offered over the hundred years covered by the project has revealed important new information about changing attitudes to practice. For example, the database makes it possible to look at the date that courses in modelling from the life were introduced in different cities or to chart the spread of teaching influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement.
Sources: exhibition catalogues, annual reports, and publicity material.
Description: Exhibition records contain significant amounts of personal information, such as the dates sculptors were active, their favoured media and techniques, and the places they worked and exhibited. Pooling the information from many different venues over the hundred years covered by the project has resulted in a broad and inclusive survey of practitioners. This accumulated data offers a wide variety of new insights into the period, including important new information on patterns of exhibiting (who showed, where, what and when); how sculpture was displayed (important variations according to date and venue); and prices charged for sculpture.
Sources: mission statements, membership records, annual reports, minutes, committee lists, publicity material, published and unpublished histories.
Description: The number of art societies significantly increased during the research period. Societies were popular because they provided meeting places where artists could network with potential patrons and fellow professionals. The policies of art societies towards sculpture and the number and role of practitioners participating in a society's activities have provided a valuable indicator of contemporary attitudes to and the status of the medium. A comparison of societies across Britain and Ireland has thrown new light on the emergence of local art infrastructures and the strength of the profession in different parts of the country.
Sources: post office and trade directories, trade catalogues, advertisements, printed publicity and ephemera.
Description: Trade directories contained listings of businesses by category similar to the classification system used in today's yellow pages. They provide the only time-efficient and systematic means of conducting a national survey of sculpturally related businesses. The project documented over twenty different categories of businesses taken at ten-year intervals from trade directories across Britain and Ireland. Whilst the evidence contained in the trade directories is usually limited to a name, address and category of trade, the accumulated results of the survey have been substantial. The project has charted the distribution of related businesses in all parts of the country, revealed important changes in the nature of services and products (often reflecting wider changes in art practice), and provided important comparative information about regional specialisms and national trends. Where available, information from trade catalogues, advertisements, printed publicity and ephemera has also been recorded to provide additional detail about products and services.
Additional Documentary and Digital Materials
Sources: biographical dictionaries, periodicals, indexes, press-cutting albums, family records, online databases and journals
Description: These documentary materials were used to add depth and detail to records of sculptors and related businesses. Family records (including records of birth, marriage, death, probate, immigration and military service) and the census enumerators books from 1841-1911 were especially important in resolving duplicate records and establishing connections between individual practitioners and related businesses. Biographical dictionaries provided valuable information on certain categories of practitioners, particularly medallists and potter's modellers.