The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Museum Makers by Rachel Morris and published by September Publishing.

About the Book

‘Without even thinking I began to slide all these things from the dusty boxes under my bed into groups on the carpet, to take a guess at what belonged to whom, to match up photographs and handwriting to memories and names – in other words, to sort and classify. As I did so I had the revelation that in what we do with our memories and the stuff that our parents leave behind, we are all museum makers, seeking to makes sense of the past.’

Museum expert Rachel Morris had been ignoring the boxes of family belongings for decades. When she finally opened them she began a journey into her family’s dramatic story through the literary and bohemian circles of the nineteenth and twentieth century. It was a revelatory experience – one that finds her searching for her absent father in archives of the Tate, and which transports her back to the museums that had enriched a lonely childhood. By teasing out the stories of those early museum makers, and the unsung daughters and wives behind them, and seeing the same passions and neglect reflected in her own family, Morris digs deep into the human instinct for collection and curation.

About the Author

A director of the museum-making company Metaphor, Rachel Morris has been part of the creation, design and delivery of some of the most exciting displays, renovations and museums of the last few decades, from the new Cast Courts at the V&A and the Ashmolean, Oxford to the Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum and Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Rachel is also the author of two novels.

My Review

My father’s father died when I was eight years old. I had only just started to get to know him and he was gone. We didn’t know that much about him other than he was born in East Street, Bridport in 1902 and was an orphan whose mother was called Margaret Annie. About 12 years ago my father and I decided that we could see what we could find out if there was anything to find that was. We trawled all the family history sites and then one day got lucky and found his mother on a census. We discovered a whole family going right back to 1595 that we knew nothing about.

Rachel Morris didn’t have a problem. She knew lots about her family and the various characters involved from her parents all the way back through the generations to the painter William Gale. There were stories that she had heard that were more rumour than fact and most importantly she had boxes of these personal family archives under her bed and they had been there for years. Just the thought of them and the circumstances behind receiving them made her sad.

However, it was time to pull them out from under the bed, blow the dust off them and start looking through.

Tipping the contents out onto the carpet in her room from the first box and sorting them into small piles for each relative brought a flood of emotions back. There was no monetary value to the items within the boxes, letters, locks of hair, photos, poems, wool, diaries and even a hat! The treasure was the stories that the items would tell of her family.

And what a family it was. Her father was an immensely talented printer and mostly an absent alcoholic. Her mother had been told not to marry him by her mother, but being headstrong did so in secret. She was left bringing up her and her siblings, after the disappeared but never really stopped loving him as she was to find out through the letters in the boxes. The hub of these family memories is her Gran, a formidable yet kind woman. She was brought up on art books and romantic love. She had lived in New Zealand, a place that she loathed, written a book, went back to England leaving her husband with her two daughters there. She returned to the UK in 1947 and never went back.

As she is sifting these family stories into some semblance of order, she realises that she is creating what she calls the Museum of Me. It is fitting in some ways as she works for a company that puts together exciting and innovative displays for some of our top museums. Museums do what she is trying to do, which is with these personal effects to present the past in a way that we can understand and how they often came about from large personal collections.

Women are the memory keepers, they can keep those family links and connections

It is a fascinating story of her family and all their successes and secrets, full of happy and sad memories. Whilst she could not always understand the reasons why a particular family member did something, her collection gave her an insight into some of the reasons why it happened. I thought that it was really nicely written, sensitive and also written with an authority and confidence. She doesn’t judge her family for the decisions that they made, each person made that particular choice at a certain time of their life for a variety of reasons. If you like family histories, then I can recommend Dadland by Keggie Carew and Mary Monro’s Stranger in My Heart. They are very similar to this, women unpacking their father’s history that they knew almost nothing about.

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

You can buy this through Hive here
Or at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Di Riley and September Publishing for the copy of the book to read.

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4 Comments

  1. OwlBeSatReading

    This sounds great Paul! Thank you for sharing 😊

    • Paul

      You are very welcome, Lisa

  2. Liz Dexter

    I read Northernreader’s review of this and it’s nice to see it cropping up again. I’m not sure it wouldn’t be too personal for me, as I get quite cross with the insertion of the personal into perfectly good non-fiction books about things – is there a balance with info about how museums come about, do you think?

    The quotation about women being the keepers of memories is interesting as it’s very much one of my male cousins who is the family archivist and conduit of information. My family tree’s been done back and we’re all from Somerset, both sides, apart from a random Spaniard!

    • Paul

      It is more the other way round, this is her family history with chapters on museums added for context. Each family is different, I have lots of information on our family history, but I am fairly unusual!

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