Staff Profile – Rebecca Arnott
Here at Maidstone Museum, we feel it’s important that our visitors have the opportunity to get to know the individual team members, what they do, and what they recommend. This is a great way to provide valuable insight behind the scenes at Maidstone Museum… and also offers a glimpse at some sections of the collection you may otherwise be unaware of.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Rebecca Arnott and I have been the Collections Officer at Maidstone Museum since January 2015.
What does your job entail?
Alongside the Collections Manager and Documentation Officer, we cover everything relating to objects in the Maidstone Museum collection, their care, documentation, and access.
As a member of the Collections Team, my work is diverse. Among those responsibilities undertaken by the team are: laying objects out for an exhibition; researching objects for a temporary display or talk; giving talks and tours; carrying out pest and environmental checks throughout the building; conservation cleaning of the carriages at the Carriage Museum ready for open season; getting objects out of store or off display for researchers or volunteers; responding to enquiries; editing the collections databases and Collections Management System to improve documentation of our objects; developing the documentation of our objects through photography, condition assessments, and digitising the existing paper documentation; cleaning and packing objects (or working with external art handling firms) to send objects out on loan to other institutions or for conservation.
In reality, it is a mixture of these things with a number of different projects running concurrently.
What inspired you to work at Maidstone Museum?
Whilst working part-time at another museum, I volunteered at Maidstone and so knew it had a large and diverse collection as well as a great team that I was excited to work with and alongside. The strengths of the museum and the challenges we face have all enabled me to develop as a museum professional.
What are your three favourite objects in the collection?
We shouldn’t really have favourites; it is like having a favourite child! But, if I was to pick three great objects that people should try to see whilst visiting Maidstone Museum, the first would be the Solomon Islands Canoe that was collected and donated by Julius Brenchley. Brenchley is one of our most interesting collectors and I have a bit of a thing for boats! I worked on a project that moved two Bronze Age log boats from one store to another before coming to Maidstone Museum, and seeing grooves where people really sat and worked as a team to move these vessels is always really exciting.
Ta-Kush the mummy is another one because she is the only human mummy in Kent and we have a really exciting Ancient Civilisations Gallery project happening with our Egyptian and Greek collections (talking of Greek, our Kernos is one of only 20 known to exist – which is pretty cool). Ta-Kush has been on display throughout the museum’s history and she is one of the most beloved pieces in the collection.
Finally, the Iguanodon fossil cast because that is a really important part of Maidstone’s history (with the dinosaur on the town crest!). Alongside the other objects in the Kent’s Earth Heritage (Dinosaur) Gallery, the fossil tells a fascinating story of Kent’s pre-history… and I love the idea of mammoths walking around Maidstone!
Aside from these objects, the whole Anglo-Saxon collection is so important to understanding that period of Kentish history and is really beautiful as well. Similarly, the British archaeology Lithics collection is amazing because of the technologies that it represents in stone tool making, while the Bronze Age Boughton Malherbe Hoard is fascinating (I particularly like the hogs back knife which is on display).
My favourite watercolour is Fireflies in Demerara by Albert Goodwin (which is in store), my favourite Japanese print is Evening Snow at Kanbara, from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. I love the Japanese Awata Ware five-lobed cake bowl which is currently on display. The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Museum and the Local Industries collection are both so important to telling the story of Maidstone in more recent times, and is an area of the collection that local people really connect with. I especially like the Fremlins’ Brewery material, with the elephant logo connecting nicely back to the mammoths.
See, I really can’t choose! Whenever you talk to people about an aspect of the collection they are passionate about, that interest is infectious and makes you see those objects in a completely different light.
If you could recommend one thing for a visitor to do at Maidstone Museum, what would it be and why?
This is difficult because I would recommend different things for different visitors based on age, group size, etc. If I were to give a generic recommendation, it would just be to visit! Come in, take a breath, have a moment to yourself, and find something that interests, excites and inspires you and then share it with someone! I promise that there is something in here for everyone.
Aside from that, I think the Museum Lates on the last Thursday of each month are always fantastic and I really love being part of them.
What do you hope to see at Maidstone Museum in the future?
I think the Ancient Civilisations Gallery is going to be a fantastic project for the museum. I would like to see us continue to grow and develop, delivering an excellent service for our visitors and home for our collections.
Long term, I would really like to see Maidstone Museum continue to redress the balance (through talks and tours, as we currently do, and eventually in the redisplay of galleries) in the narratives we tell. For example, when talking about how women or different world cultures are represented in the collection.