I am v. excited to be starting this new feature – Girl Swoon! I’m fed up of school-age girls saying they want to grow up to be Victoria Beckham or Cheryl Cole and everywhere I turn, the only female figures I see that I am supposed to aspire to are generally actors, singers or models. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but I wanted to see other cool girls doing other cool stuff, so this feature is here to interview them and showcase them – yay! If you are, or know, a swoon-worthy girl, email me and I’ll feature you / them!
Here is our first gal to swoon over, Sara. I went to uni with her, she’s amazing and it’s so cool to see what she’s up to now. I am v. jealous of her highly absorbent Tudor gown.
1) What do you do and why?
I have an official title, ‘Learning Interpreter’, but I’ve always thought of my work as general cultural advocacy, for St Fagans: National History Museum outside Cardiff, Wales.
My speciality is the Tudor period, exploring domestic history, visual cultures and worldview especially. I get to do a lot of learning-by-doing, and by watching experienced craftspeople at their work. My job is to communicate what I learn about history to all kinds of people, and to make the national collection of Wales more accessible.
I also get to dress up as a Tudor occasionally – a mixed blessing as the costume I wear is very absorbent, and Tudors are not really meant to be seen carrying cagouls on rainy days. I love taking people round the historic gardens and Tudor houses, but my main patch in the museum is St Teilo’s Church, which was moved 50 miles and rebuilt using traditional techniques. People come up with a lot of questions about religion – and whether they’re informed by scriptures or Dan Brown – it’s my job to answer them, make it interesting, and I usually enjoy it. As to ‘why’ I do what I do; it pays the bills, I get to learn a lot and love seeing that ‘aha!’ moment in other people. There’s also always the chance I’ll get to glimpse some really weird objects behind the scenes, like a bottle of witches’ wee or a really cool synthesiser.
2) Does being a woman affect your work in any way?
Yes. Interpreting the past, re-enacting and exploring it means that you’re confronted by the changing way women are seen and represented over time. What’s most interesting are the ever-changing standards of beauty, all revolving around some mode of indulgent impractiality and the purchase of accessories to help you ‘achieve’ a ‘look’. It’s no surprise that since working here, I’ve given up on reading women’s magazines – though I still love couture as it’s like perverse historical sleight of hand.
Since working at the museum, I’ve become much more interested in the craft movement, feminism and oral history: I’ve seen some absolutely exquisite objects made by women, about which we know nothing. You check the file to see why and find that the curator who accepted the object in the 1930s preferred to correspond with the maker’s husband.
3) Are you a feminist?
4) What are your future plans?
I would like to get back to writing, become a more fluent digital citizen, keep a better record of what I learn. I’m trying out my first Tudor cookery demonstration soon, so in the short term I’ll be practicing cooking with cauldrons and fire!
5) Tell us one cool thing we don’t know already
The ochre we use to make replica medieval paintings is also used nowadays by pharmaceutical companies to make fake tan and expensive mineral makeup. We mix it with rancid milk fat and perfume it with clove oil, works a treat.