Reflections on the Gilbert Collection at the V&A
Lemos&Crane’s experience of running these programmes at the V&A and elsewhere is that the particularly part of the museum or collection that is the focus of the programme always elicits specific responses from the participants. Since these participants with learning disabilities are not students of the history of the decorative arts, their responses are not in relation to the artistic or aesthetic cannon. Instead, their responses are more personal, relating to memory or pleasure, family or emotions.
The encounter with the Gilbert Collection of gold and sliver boxes and minatures was certainly no exception to this general experience. Some of the specific aspects of the collection to which people responded included the precious metals and diamonds that had gone into the making of the boxes and the fine craftsmanship and artistry which drew their attention to questions of what make objects valuable beyond the emotional attachments to the owners.
Other responses were to the emotional significance of the boxes: what they might have had inside them? who owned them? were they gifts from one person to another? There were also responses that elided the idea of a box and its contents with ideas about personal secrets and stories being collected and stored for safekeeping because of their significance.