Written by trainee curator, Penny Bulkeley

I am delighted to be the Trainee Curator at Wheal Martyn for 2022.

My background is in teaching and geography. Whilst recovering from illness I learnt how to paint with oils, and love painting landscapes and wildlife. This led me to help organise local art and community exhibitions in Mevagissey. I saw audiences engage with pieces of art and share local history and stories with each other. The sense of place, belonging and shared heritage was palpable and visitors were keen to both share and listen to each other.

The buzz and joy from being a part of this exhibition led me to pursue a career in the museum and heritage sector and I began volunteering here in Jo Moore’s Curator team. Being a volunteer was so helpful to me personally and professionally. I became part of a team dedicated to looking after the collections at Wheal Martyn. I was able to learn collection management and conservation skills alongside learning about the china clay industry.

My confidence grew due to the patience of my fellow volunteers, many ex-industry, who have kindly answered my many questions and explained things so clearly to me. They have also guided me to understand the historical and social context of china clay industry and its impacts on the local community. I have helped on the recent conservation project of the travelling bridges in the Pan Kiln and we are currently working to conserve the monitors on site.

Last year I participated in the Citizen Curator Programme 2021, led by Tehmina Goskar of Curatorial Research Centre in alliance with Cornwall Museums Partnership. This gave me a broad overview of the role of the curator in a museum and gallery setting. It helped me to understand the theory behind the processes of collections management as well as visitor engagement and exhibition management.

In the Spring, I began working on the front desk at Wheal Martyn. I really enjoy engaging with visitors, especially when it is obvious that they have had a great time. The Citizen Curator Programme, my work in visitor experience and as a volunteer gave me the confidence and all at Wheal Martyn gave me the encouragement to apply to be the Trainee Curator for 2022.

My Traineeship involves working at Wheal Martyn alongside Jo, Curator, and Sian, Exhibition and Engagement Officer, learning best museum practice and application. It includes field trips to museums and galleries throughout Cornwall and earlier in March, I had a week- long field trip up to London. This trip gave me the opportunity to meet and chat to curators and museum directors from a variety of top institutions. I learnt so much and I am still processing much of it. As part of my traineeship, I will also be given assignments and projects to complete to make the training as authentic and as useful as possible for my onward career.

The photo on the right shows my Trainee Curator Cohort on a field trip to PK Porthcurno

It has been a busy start to my traineeship. I have been assisting Sian with her new exhibition, ‘People of the Industry’. I have particularly enjoyed meeting with the public and our volunteers, hearing about their experiences working in the china clay industry. I wish to thank everybody who has shared their stories with me; it has been a privilege to hear and record them. I now have a better understanding of the china clay industry and geology. However, I still have much, much more to learn.

I look forward to the rest of the year ahead.