Life as an archive and cataloguing volunteer is about more than just rummaging through unseen items.
Emery Walker’s House at 7 Hammersmith Terrace is fairly unique among historical houses because it still feels very much like a home. It’s not merely a recreation of what could have been, but is a reflection of how its cross-generational inhabitants really did use it as a space in which to live.
And like any home, Emery Walker’s House has collected a plethora of knick-knacks over the years. As a volunteer, one of my jobs is to sort through the objects that aren’t on display and make sure there is a record of them.
During the refurbishment of the house, these 6,000 items were stored away in no less than 50 boxes. My life, every Wednesday, is to enter the storage room and unwrap the carefully concealed objects which lie therein (I’m on box number 21 at present).
Unwrapping anything is fun – just ask a child at Christmas. Unwrapping something while wearing Object Handling Gloves – now that’s just thrilling.
So every Wednesday I don my gloves and I set about unwrapping the next box of surprises. I’ve so far come across vases, cutlery, pottery, tiles – a true Arts and Crafts goldmine. I search the database for comparable objects and start to piece together intriguing trips that Emery Walker took in his life time: the Middle East, southern Europe, the Far East. Then I photograph the objects for the database and reconceal the articles.
But my connection to them doesn’t end after I’ve wrapped them safely back into their boxes. When I’m not at the house, I notice the Arts and Crafts movement seeping into my daily life: I catch myself gazing longingly at notebooks which look like William Morris wallpaper or buying tiles that I have no space for.
When I’m released from the Room with the Boxes, I walk along the river between Hammersmith Terrace and Kelmscott House. I’m even partial to spending time at the nearby Dove pub – purely because of its connection to the Dove Printing Press, of course. And then I look forward to my next chance to put on my Object Handling Gloves.
It would seem that boxes are for life, not just for volunteering.