Archive for the ‘objects’ Category

Kitchen Power #MuseumFromHome

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As the Kitchen Power exhibition is currently closed, due to the arrival of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Ireland, I have been making daily posts on social media about some of the objects in the exhibition. The idea is to give viewers an idea of some of the Irish objects that were collected for the exhibition, including ones from the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life collection, and loans from the ESB Archives, the Irish Agricultural Museum and private collectors. This blog post collects the first set of tweets about exhibition objects, which I started in response to the #MuseumFromHome hashtag on Twitter. I’ve also posted these to Facebook and Instagram, as well.

Made in Ireland? journal article now online

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FAM vacuum cleaner FS55

Coming to the end of a very busy year, we are delighted to have just published the first journal article based on the project research material. ‘Made in Ireland?’ is part of Volume 8 of Writing Visual Culture, which focuses on New Approaches to Design History as part of the Design History Society and Journal of Design History anniversary celebrations. The article looks at hybrid product designs, where the national identification isn’t as simple as being designed, manufactured and sold within the one state, and offers a suggestion as to how they can be considered in a globalised world. It uses FAM washing machines and vacuum cleaners as an example, which were manufactured in Wicklow from 1957, but designed in the Netherlands, and sold on both the domestic and export markets. The direct link to the article in PDF format is here – as usual, all feedback and comments are welcome.

Merry Christmas to everyone involved in the project, especially the oral history volunteers and all our online and social media readers!

Research post – Visiting the Irish Agricultural Museum

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Continuing on with my mission to survey the electrical appliances surviving in Irish museum collections, I recently visited the Irish Agricultural Museum in Wexford. Now, while an agricultural museum is probably not the first place you would think of when looking for domestic objects, but alongside the tractors and agricultural implements (of which they have an excellent collection), they also have a fine section on the Irish rural domestic interior.


The Irish Agricultural Museum is located outside of Wexford town in the grounds of Johnstown Castle, which are worth a visit for themselves, especially on a sunny day. Originally owned by a Norman family, the Esmondes, the estate is now owned by Teagasc, the Irish Agricultural and Food Development Authority, and it also houses one of their research facilities. The Agricultural Museum is housed in the old stable courtyard, which is enlivened by the local population of peacocks and peahens.


The highlight of the domestic collection display for me was the reconstruction of Irish country kitchens from the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly the post-war kitchen. This gallery puts the post-war kitchen in context, as you can see the development of kitchen tools and appliances over the years, but can also see what stayed the same, particularly the continuity of the country dresser, decorative ceramics and the Sacred Heart picture as a devotional focus (albeit with an electrical bulb instead of an oil lamp). Each of these kitchens is both a space for cooking and eating, as well as sitting and talking, although the focus of how they are laid out changes from the early hearth to the table in the centre of the room (and later the television set).


Mid-century Irish farmhouse kitchen reconstruction at the Irish Agricultural Museum

Mid-century Irish farmhouse kitchen reconstruction at the Irish Agricultural Museum


The post-war kitchen reconstruction showcases the introduction of electricity and running water as part of the rural electrification scheme, and is furnished with a number of electrical appliances as well as the use of new materials such as Formica. The fireplace is furnished with a stove for heating, connected to a hot water boiler, and the cooking has been moved over to a side section, separating the cooking and baking into a separate room from eating and conversation. The kitchen is well furnished with a single tub washing machine and a fridge, as well as a three plate cooker and a selection of small appliances for speeding up small jobs such as toasting bread. The Servis Compact washing machine was included as object number 96 in A History of Ireland in 100 Objects – this model was manufactured in the Wilkins & Mitchell factory in Staffordshire, England, although there was also a Servis factory in Whitehall, Dublin making washing machines in the 1960s. The Ireland in 100 Objects panel notes the role that washing machines played in women’s lives before the advent of organised feminism in Ireland. Mamo McDonald, Past President of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (also interviewed for this project) is quoted as saying that the washing machine was the invention that most changed her life.



Mid-century Irish farmhouse kitchen reconstruction at the Irish Agricultural Museum

Mid-century Irish farmhouse kitchen reconstruction at the Irish Agricultural Museum


I also spent some time going through the collection of material not on show, which, as with most museums, makes up the bulk of their collection. This material includes advice manuals on electricity, including one owned by the museum’s founder, Austin O’Sullivan, which supports the perception that electrical wiring became something that the well-read amateur could do, particularly in areas with a shortage of trained electricians. Listen to this interview with Austin O’Sullivan talking about some of the washing machines in the collection: Culture File.



Researching electrical products in the Geffrye Museum

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One of my first visits to object collections holding material about 1950s and 1960s domestic electrical products was to the Geffrye Museum, in Shoreditch in London. The Geffrye Museum is a museum of the home, and is probably best known for its series of period rooms, which represent London middle class living space from the 1600s to the 1990s. As well as a programme of temporary exhibitions on different aspects of the home, they also run an active programme of talks and conferences and their collection of objects and pamphlets was an obvious stop for me in my search for surviving examples and documentation of domestic electrical products sold in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s.


Geffrye Museum Hoover Constellation - the proper way to pick up a museum object

Geffrye Museum Hoover Constellation – the proper way to pick up a museum object


I already had a good idea of the range of products sold in Ireland from my newspaper research, and was particularly looking for material on British brands such as Morphy Richards, Prestcold and Hotpoint, as well as British subsidiaries of American companies such as Hoover and Frigidaire. Ably guided by curator Eleanor Black, I had a fascinating time examining the object collection, getting to handle some of the surprisingly heavy irons and kettles. The highlight for me was their grey Hoover Constellation, a spherical vacuum without wheels, which was supposed to ‘float’ on its exhaust like a hovercraft. Again, it was surprisingly heavy compared to current vacuum cleaners, although the rotating hose pipe was supposed to allow the user to leave it in the middle of the room and move it as little as possible. I did have to be careful about not actually picking it up by the handle, though, as design historians tend to think about the affordances of how a product could be used, whereas curators have a concern that their objects in their care are not damaged by handling.


Geffrye Museum - Electrical Association for Women pamphlet June 1969

Geffrye Museum – Electrical Association for Women pamphlet June 1969

The trade catalogue collection was equally interesting, covering a range of product leaflets, manufacturer’s brochures and pamphlets from bodies such as the Electrical Association for Women. These pamphlets included a monthly card from the EAW outlining important electrical facts relevant to the time of year, with June covering a range of tips about bagging and labelling food for the freezer, as well as ideas about where to situate a chest freezer in the house, recommending that the kitchen was not actually the best location, if a cool, dry room such as a corridor, spare room, garage or outhouse was available.


The collection also included a book of recipes which came with a Prestcold refrigerator, featuring a large section on ice cream and other cool and frozen novelties which the appliance allowed to be made and stored at home, including banana splits and peach melba!


Overall, it was a very useful archive visit, allowing me to get a sense of the ‘home’ market for British appliances, as well as a close-up look at some of the appliances themselves. Thanks to the Geffrye Museum for facilitating my visit and for allowing me to use photographs of their collection.