Sweeping it all Away

I am glad that my Lost and Found post was so interesting to many of you. I had thought that next I would talk further about my two miniature dummy board commissions but as you are all in the mood for more exciting yarns 😉 about historical figures, I shall postpone that story until my next post and tell another tale about one of my recent finds.

It was this time last year when I got wind ( yes… I know I can take tablets for that too...) of a new ( to me ) figure which had been unearthed in the East of England and so on a very blustery and rainy day, Stephen and I went on a jaunt ( with Delphi the Divinatory Dog ) to Saffron Walden in Essex.

The Museum at Saffron Walden

What a delightful place that little town is! And it has an equally delightful little museum housed in the buildings which cluster inside the walls of the Old Castle. It was, I must say, very picturesque with the Spring flowers which were dotted around the grounds, nodding their heads in the breeze and the trees just coming into bud and blossom. Delphi, in particular, thought the place a perfect hunting ground and, nose to the ground quartered the lawns in search of rare Saffron Walden truffles and trifles. After this little excercise, she would be happy to be left in the car, watching the passers by, whilst we went off to examine the Saffron Walden sweeper ( as I had dubbed our new dummy board).

What is left of the castle at Saffron Walden

Very friendly staff ( I did have the courtesy to make an appointment before I went ), led us to a tiny building where cataloguing, restoration and storage was taking place whilst the museum had a ‘wash and brush -up”. This was how they had managed to ‘find’ the sweeper. I’d better let you have a look at her now eh?

The Saffron Walden sweeping maid. c.1730 5ft.

Isn’t she a delight?

The story goes that she was found, in her wrappings, face down on the floor of a store room. If you look at the back of her, you will see just how easy it would be to miss her, in amongst other bits and bobs on the floor. She had been catalogued a long time ago and they “knew” they had got her, but she had been all but mislaid.

The back of the sweeper

It’s a very sad fact that dummy boards, being a bit of a forgotten art form ( and that is what I call the lecture I do on them when I go out and about to talk about them ), are not often displayed in the museums and collections where they belong. There are, I suppose more exciting artifacts to put on show. They often end up in the store. Things get piled around them and then they get ‘lost’. This is what had happened to the sweeper.

Even Grand Places like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London say they haven’t the space to show all their acquisitions. They have a lot of dummy boards, about 20 in all and all but one, when I went there recently, is displayed in the actual museum on the Cromwell Road in Kensington. The rest are in store

As you know, dummy boards are flat! They take up very little room and it is a particular bug bear of mine that more of these important ( in many cases ) pieces of folk art are not on show to the public. People do find them fascinating. It’s not that they are not interested in them. They just don’t know they exist… and this blog is trying to change that. 🙂

It would be very easy, to for example, display a dummy board in an interior setting ( and there are plenty of those in the V&A ) which matched the figure. The above young man is in the British Gallery in the corner of a darkened room.

‘Nuff said. I won’t go on. Pressure has been applied. At least now they do have some colour photos of the dummy boards. They had none before I started to badger them!

Go to: Dummy Boards at the V&A to see them all.

Back to the sweeper. 🙂

So there she was lying on a table for us to unwrap. I could see that she had a lovely face and that the depiction of her clothes was really rather good.

There are many sweepers in collections around the world. Sweepers of varying kinds are one of those groups of figures we talked about in one of the early posts. The Saffron Walden Sweeper is not quite like some of the others. She holds a cloth for example, that is ( so far) a unique feature. Like some of her sisters she is quite finely dressed for a maid though not as ‘posh’ as for example the Lullingstone or the V&A sweepers. She is not quite as early either, being made probably about 1730/40. I won’t go into too much detail about her, as I will feature her and others like her in a later post on sweepers.

Here is the 5 inch figure in miniature I made of her ( now sold )

and just to show just how effective they can be, in the dollshouse interior, here she is in one of Deb Jackson’s summer houses. I love to do collaborations with other miniaturists!

The PastMastery Saffron Walden Maid sweeping out the interior of Deb Jackson Designs.. summer house - all in miniature!

Gotta earn her keep!

5 Responses to “Sweeping it all Away”

  1. Maia Says:

    This is fascinating! I really enjoyed reading about these lost and found discoveries and detective stories, especially with happy endings. 🙂 I love antique books, so I can imagine how wonderful it must be to search this subject and read about it when the dummy boards were being used! A little travel back in time…

  2. pastmastery Says:

    Thanks Maia

    for taking the time to write to say how much you enjoyed reading my posts!
    Each one takes quite a while to write, to add all the photos and to make sure it’s all readable English. It makes it all worth while when peopleappreciate it!.

  3. Jenny Says:

    Hi Sue
    Great to catch up yesterday, and fabulous BLOG – love the dummy boards, amazing amount of detail you have to put in. Excellent BLOG too, very informative and lots of links. Well done.

  4. pastmastery Says:

    Thanks Jenny…
    It’s hard work but worth it.
    Gotta get the public fired up about dummy boards!


  5. Cleanliness is Next to Godliness « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] have met the Saffron Walden Sweeper in another post. Sweeping it all […]

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