I approached my week’s stint as a volunteer documentation assistant with some trepidation, as I had missed the important training day at the start of the project and I was feeling just a trifle out-of-touch with everything as a result. The week before I started, I went to meet Jerry and to see the collection for myself, and came away wondering where on earth I might fit into that miniscule work space, but also enthused after seeing some of the fragments for myself.
My first morning was spent not working but listening and looking, Jerry giving me an insight into the project, bowling me over with his extraordinary knowledge, memory, recollection, and total immersion in the work. Having progressed from putting printed sheets into acid free plastic wallets, and then into a lever-arch file – in the right order! – I was next set to work on the laptop (at a table in the church), renaming the record of Jerry’s photographs with a unique reference number relating to each fragment being photographed. So I had a good opportunity to see the huge variety in the fragments, from quite recognisable pieces with arms, feet, clothing etc., to what might seem to be a lump of rock to the uninitiated, but which with Jerry’s experienced eye, contribute to building a picture of the likely structure of each reredos. And seeing the gilding and colours and even brush marks being revealed in the photographs was amazing. Jerry’s very organised system of cataloguing the collection is to take general photographs of each fragment from different angles, and with varying lighting, and then if appropriate to take detailed pictures, illustrating important features which are not always visible without enlargement and flash lighting. So each fragment may have any number from two upwards of photographs, forming a complete record. Each fragment is given a reference number, and each photograph then has a separate identification as a sub-division of the fragment number.
Here are a selection of images of one of the most intriguing pieces in the collection, the wounded attendant thresher (STC/380):
Having presumably passed some test of my level of competence in IT, I was then ‘promoted’ to working on THE SPREADSHEET. This is a vast Excel spreadsheet which when complete will encompass all the findings, each fragment described in detail and cross-referenced to the photograph numbers. One small section of the spreadsheet is the photographic record, which is where I was involved, entering the identifying number for each fragment, plus all other numbers within the main number, and then entering a brief description against each sub-number. These details invariably started : ‘General view, obverse, frontal’ and I could soon type this with my eyes closed (almost!), but some fragments include photographs with much more exotic descriptions of gilding, gold leaf, even the bristle of a brush, caught in the paint of one of the pieces.
I feel very privileged to have seen so much of the collection, not only the photographic record, but also many of the actual fragments; there are some truly stunning pieces, like the head of Jeremiah the prophet, which is extraordinarily well preserved. Jerry has opened a whole new way for me of looking at our heritage, and St Cuthbert’s is going to have a remarkable resource for others to consult in years to come. The catalogue will be going online soon – keep watching the blog for an announcement!
Rosemary Willott, Volunteer Documentation Assistant