The Barber Institute of Fine Art


During my placement I have worked every Tuesday at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts with the Learning and Engagement Department. I have never worked in this field before, so it has been a wonderful opportunity to develop new skills, ways of thinking and to learn from very experienced professionals. I have been working primarily with Jen Ridding and Becca Randle, who facilitate engagement with the collections through the organisation of gallery talks, educational classes, events and outreach.

It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to consider how collections can be utilised in new ways and by a wide variety of people from different cultural and social backgrounds. It has also been very eye opening to see how much work and organisation is required behind the scenes to organise these types of activities.

In the mornings during my placement I work with independent freelancers who uses the collections to teach and engage with primary school aged children and to run a practical art class. I worked with two different artist workshop facilitators during my placement, Benny and Lisa. Benny took a more practical approach to the gallery session, and the children drew architectural buildings on clipboards relating to some of the paintings in the collection. Lisa is a wonderful story-teller and she would tell engaging and detailed stories about the artworks, which also involved the use of costumes and props.

Whilst this is something I had never considered doing, I really enjoyed assisting with these classes. It was great to see the artworks through the eyes of the children who were participating and to be able to assist the children in making their artworks relating to the session in the gallery in the art workroom downstairs.

The main project I have been working on during the afternoons of my placement is to make information packs relating to artworks in the collection for primary school teachers. This is to assist and facilitate the teachers in preparing a visit to the gallery, and so that the children have some background context to the works they will see before the visit.

The two artworks I have made educational information packs about are a bronze sculpture titled A Rhinoceros, called Miss Clara, made in the 1750s by an unknown sculptor and a painting titled Vesuvius in Eruption painted by Joseph Wright of Derby 1777-1780. I was really drawn to the story that each of these works could tell and how that could engage others to be interested in the artwork.

The bronze sculpture of Miss Clara is so intricately detailed and is a truly wonderful object. Miss Clara was one of the first rhinoceros’ ever brought to Europe, and she was toured around the continent in the mid 1700s. She was the first rhinoceros that many Europeans had seen and inspired many great works of art. If you would like to learn more about Miss Clara or see some of the other artworks, I recommend these links, which I included in the teachers pack I made.


The painting of Vesuvius in Eruption by Joseph Wright of Derby has been loaned to the Barber Institute from a private collection. This meant that I was not able to photograph it, however I have found a link to an image of it online if you would like to see it:

Joseph Wright of Derby has created an eerie mood in the painting through the use of chiaroscuro-like effects in the luminous light from the volcano and moon. I was drawn to this painting as I thought it would be a wonderful way to create a cross disciplinary lesson for teachers. I was interested in the way that this painting could be used to teach classes on geology, movements of tectonic plates and volcanic eruptions, but also how it could be used in a historical teaching context, to teach about Pompeii and the lives of people who lived there. As part of the teacher’s pack for this artwork, I suggested a visit to the Lapworth Museum of Geology to learn about volcanos, so that two of the great institutions on the University of Birmingham campus could be utilised in this lesson.

I really enjoyed working on this project – and thinking about new ways to encourage children to engage with the artwork using their imaginations. I created an activity list for each of the artworks, which included cross curriculum activities, story writing and making artworks.

I would like to thank Jen Ridding, Becca Randle, Jess Stallwood and Emily Robins for hosting me at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. It has been wonderful to be able to learn from highly experience professionals and to be able to think about new ways of engaging with art.

All images used in the post are courtesy of The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. If you would like to learn more about their collections, please follow this link to their website:


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