Supported by funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), the Allen Gallery in Alton is undergoing a transformational journey. Hampshire Cultural Trust (HCT), which operates the gallery, is coming to the end of the development phase of the project, Rediscovering the Allen Gallery. During this phase, HCT has been revealing and sharing some of the untold stories of the ceramic collections housed at the Allen Gallery and in wider storage at the trust’s stores in Winchester. The project aims to refurbish the Allen Gallery and better showcase the nationally and internationally important ceramics collection, which is being researched, audited and photographed by a team of staff, volunteers and interns.
Over the past months, training has taken place to equip the volunteers and interns with the basis of research skills and good historic practices. They also took part in training in the use of the leading collections management database, MODES, as well as museum digitisation, museum audit principles and object handling to prepare them for the complexities of working with a collection of such significance.
Since the project began at the start of 2023, over 5,000 out of a total of 7,000 objects in the extensive collection have been inventoried by the dedicated team, with more than 2,400 objects now photographed. These images are poised to be added to the trust’s online collections, giving online access to these historical treasures.
In partnership with the University of Southampton, a ceramics research intern was also hired to work with the collection and has completed 210 hours of research since July. This research has specifically explored particular objects in the collection in the context of slavery, shedding new light on their significance and will form part of the gallery’s permanent collection. Simultaneously, a student research cohort from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham and from Kingston University has been embarking on a journey to uncover the untold stories of the workers behind the iconic Wedgwood factory, a critical chapter in the history of ceramics.
The collection boasts an astounding array of ceramic objects from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, including exquisite Chinese and European pieces. It is widely recognised for its vast scope and exceptional quality, with some specialists likening it to a miniature Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The collection is also a comprehensive academic resource, showcasing the stylistic and technological evolution of English ceramics from its origins with Bernard Leach, regarded as the ‘father of British studio pottery’, and featuring works by influential figures such as Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Michael Cardew and Siddig el Nigoumi.
Highlights include a Palissy dish, crafted around 1630, from the studio of French ceramicist Bernard Palissy, and a Popish Plot tile, likely made by Jan Ariens van Hamme in Vauxhall, London, in 1679-80. This is an example of a very early English tin-glazed tile that played a pivotal role in introducing this craft to England. A further treasure, an Ignis statue, made in London and dated 1679, is considered to be among the top 20 pieces of English ceramics due to its uniqueness and flat back design, which has never been recorded in any similar figure.
Jaane Rowehl, Director of Collections and Programming at Hampshire Cultural Trust, commented: “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff and a dedicated, enthusiastic team of volunteers and interns, this project is preserving history, illuminating the nationally and internationally significant ceramics collection, sharing its stories and making it accessible as never before.”
More information about the Rediscovering the Allen Gallery project and the ceramics collection is available at https://www.hampshireculture.org.uk/rediscovering-allen-gallery.