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Whilst a curator at the Horniman Museum and Gardens I worked on the Museum’s collection of charms and amulets. Initial workshops led to a permanent exhibit of charms from England which I curated.

A significant proportion of the charms were stones, often with a naturally occurring hole through them. I was amazed by the variety of properties which were ascribed to these stones: from protection against witches to curing gout. I was also intrigued by Alfred Rowlett, the man who had collected many of them in the early 20th century and who was himself a healer.

I spent most of the Covid lockdowns in a very crowded shared house in Cambridge. To escape the claustrophobia I started making drawings of the charms, many of which were collected nearby. I also made drawings of the landscapes in which the charms were used, generally using Google Street View to see the places I couldn't visit. By exploring the countryside around Cambridge virtually and by drawing, I found a way of compensating for being stuck indoors for weeks at a time.

I presented the drawings at a conference held in October 2021 by the Folklore Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute. The context of folklore made me think about the drawings I had made in cultural terms. The charms were originally carried by people to help guard against various shades of calamity, but once collected they ostensibly appeared to have changed state, becoming museum objects which might have utility in terms of research or education, but which no longer act on people as charms. Through the drawings, however, the charms have again to started to exert a charm-like influence. Making drawings inspired by the charms had a cathartic effect on me, so one could argue that they are again helping someone get through life’s challenges. Rather than changing state when they entered the Museum’s collection, perhaps it’s more accurate to understand the charms as having undergone a period of hibernation, their agency reactivated in a fresh confluence of circumstances. 

Here I have layered the drawings with record shots of the charms which they relate to. The record shots also link to each charm's entry on the Horniman's collections online. This page therefore might be understood as a conceptually expanded database; a virtual space where museum record keeping rubs shoulders with evidence of the collection's ongoing agency. 

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