Mary Greg became a point of interest to me a few years ago, when I was working freelance in Manchester and stumbled on an exhibition of items she collected. Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Interpretation Development Officer at the City Gallery, Alex Woodall, to view an extra special collection of objects. Excitingly, these were being held out of the museum in a top secret location.
From a young age I’ve been nosy. Forever rooting through her boxes of photographs, curios and ephemera, my nan dubbed me Miss Marple. I spent most afternoons at her house being told off for rummaging through the kitchen drawers. I'd pull out old pastry rollers, toy with the alphabetic mechanism on her phone book or roll around in the coat cupboard, finding mints or snooker chalk in my granda's pockets.
This process of discovering is exactly what appeals to me about the objects Mary collected. Though far too old and fragile for my clumsy childhood fingers, many are not entirely dissimilar to things you’d store in the drawers and cupboards of your own home today. There’s battered forks, handmade packs of cards, sewing kits, a colossal amount of keys and some really special miniature books.
Mary collected the objects for the unique fingerprint that they make in history. Archives are notoriously tight lipped and it is our job to engage with them to unlock these histories. Once we start to dig deeper, a narrative is immediately created. Whose initials sit on the top of that spoon? Was this mystery pencil-written date in the sewing box to remember a first meeting? Who (or what) did that huge iron key keep locked away? What shores did this tiny box of shells wash up on?
These questions are just a fragment sparked by this wonderful assortment of antique everyday items. The questions can only grow as we turn to the more bizarre, curious objects. Manchester City Gallery’s blog awaits your eager eyes and input, here at Mary Mary Quite Contrary.
Anyone with an interest is more than welcome to have a look and add notes. Responses and ideas will really bring these items back to life. A big thank you to Sarah, Liz and Alex who helped us get up close and personal with the items.