Here’s something that I haven’t spoken on before – my talks. Granted, I never thought I could be a speaker until I actually did it. I was kindly asked by a local WI group to have a chat around what was, at the time, my dissertation topic: The Dollhouse in 17th century Amsterdam and the women involved in this unique area of collecting. Gosh!, I thought – now here’s an opportunity! I’ve been greatly inspired by the likes of Lucy Worsley and Kate Williams who truly enliven their subject and, following on from this governing principle of passion, felt it would be marvelous to engage with an actual audience of my own. Where on earth to begin though? I’m quite lively and excitable; I believe in being kind and have the working persona of a bright and bubbly cartoon character. Perhaps this stems from getting through depression and anxiety in my teens, but, let me tell you: I couldn’t possibly be any other way. Once you embrace the things that make you happy, your orbit and your own passions, you can carve out a niche – hence the birth of She Noted.
Approaching my first talk, I felt that the best thing to do would be to create and, in doing so, allow the ladies a glimpse into my world. I was kindly aided by my mum and grandma, who, along with my A Level Art History tutor, inspired within me the confidence to get up and talk about what mattered the most to myself. We spent an evening stapling together information packs that I had made on the Dutch dollhouse and culture surrounding it; these were spread rather liberally across the living room floor, containing my She Noted stamp and a great deal of love.
I’d had a good few months to prepare for my talk, as the WI are very organised when it comes to booking in their speakers – for which I was especially grateful. I pulled notes and research from my dissertation to craft a talk that I could then connect with the WI itself. I gathered an assemblage of my own objects to create a table display to give a visual overview of what I was talking about – I collect a great deal of antiques and old prints, so, this stock is very useful when it comes to making a pop-up exhibit on the fly! The ladies could then look at my own collection at the end of the talk, something which sparked some lovely conversation!
My table included a pop-up Victorian dollhouse, an album of the vintage and gallery postcards I’ve collected over the years (on the theme of women), old prints, cross stitch work, gold fruits and a trio of books that were the jumping off point for my actual written dissertation. I owe an incredible debt to Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist and also to Gregory Maguire’s The Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister for bringing a particular world to life.
I must admit, I was rather nervous. I’m a 5’10 mixed race girl with an eclectic taste in fashion, so, am bound to stand out wherever I appear! But, the ladies of Drayton WI were kind and forthcoming – giving affirmative nods and even adding in their own tidbits. I cannot stress enough the power of an affirmative nod, even from just one person. For this first talk, I’d chosen to stand up and I have the habit of whirling my arms around a lot in a wild form of gesticulation. I also move about a bit, which, from the off can come across as either endearingly enthused or a bit manic and jittery. I learnt from this though and, once I was in the flow, settled into my role. From my feedback, I realise now that this was enlivening as it showed my audience that I loved what I was talking about!
I’ve included the write-up that I received from that faithful first talk – a snippet from the local circulating paper. I cannot begin to express how excited I was to come across this! Not only had my talk (thankfully) made sense, but it has also prompted dear Ann to put pen to paper and give a summary of the occasion! I glowed with pride and was ever so pleased. When asked to give a talk the following year… of course I said “YES!”.
Now an old hand (of a sort), I proposed several different talks that I could give and the group settled on Porcelain in the 17th and 18th Centuries – my first love being porcelain in all it’s wonderful forms. Following my previous model, I discussed different areas of the topic, pulling from blog posts that I had written and pieces that I had encountered.
Now something of a travelling showman, I clattered in with a box of my own porcelain ephemera – including a beautifully gifted Victorian tome on porcelain with some of the most exquisite plates I have ever encountered. My grandma loaned a tablecloth and I once again set up a miniature exhibit of a sort to accompany my talk.
Porcelain at the ready, I had a cosy chat about the appetite for Chinese porcelain, the dutch influence, royal palaces and the Meissen menagerie of Augustus II. It was a pleasure being able to once again express sentiments on what I feel to be an intriguing and magical topic! This time my tableau included my own miniature cabinet of small porcelain pieces and some favourite cups and saucers: The tulips were a calling card to my previous talk. What had changed in that year? I’m now studying for my masters in the Country House, which in itself offers a whole host of exciting conversation points and opportunities. Off the back of the talk on porcelain, I was invited to another WI group to speak next year – possibly on the Elizabethan prodigy house and cult of Elizabeth I. I’m once again excited, grateful and happy to know that when you speak from the heart, there’s a great deal of worth there.