Oxfordshire in 50 Objects
From 28th May - 11th September 2016 the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock will be hosting ‘Oxfordshire in 50 Objects’, an exhibition funded by Arts Council England celebrating Oxfordshire Museums Service’ (OMS) half century - dating from the opening of The Oxfordshire Museum at Fletcher’s House in Woodstock on 15 October 1966. Using objects chosen by community groups and members of OMS past and present, this exhibition showcases Oxfordshire's rich heritage through the memories, experiences and interests of people from across the county.
The exhibition features some fantastic items: fabulous Anglo-Saxon jewellery, wonderful costumes and fascinating Neolithic items - part of a human spine with an arrow embedded in it is particularly noteworthy. Yet, the main achievement of the exhibition has been to enable people from across the county and beyond to choose artefacts which are important to them personally and professionally, their communities and the Oxfordshire story.
By engaging with twenty five community groups, the exhibition reflects OMS’ aspiration to provide countywide provision, underlining that its work depends upon the interest, support and pride of its local populations. Through promoting engagement in, and understanding of, the county’s heritage during the last fifty years, OMS has always looked to enable people to make connections with the past, to develop a greater sense of identity about where they live and to promote creativity and learning.
A diverse range of community groups are participating in the exhibition, many not traditional users of the Service. Particular emphasis has been placed on engaging young people with the project. Enabling children and young adults to discover their local heritage has always been central to the Service’s values. A ground-breaking and much missed Schools’ Loans Service allowed pupils to access collections in the classroom until the 1990s. Today, the ‘Learning and Access’ team continue to offer events for schools and families across the county.
The Service has been fortunate to have been served by many dedicated and skilled staff and volunteers since 1966, those taking part in choosing artefacts for the exhibition often drawing on great experience and knowledge. For much of the last half century, OMS has represented a countywide community of museums within Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council. The spirit of cooperation and mutual support which existed over the years continues today at the meetings of Oxfordshire Museums Council, some of whose members have contributed to the exhibition.
Today, OMS collects, preserves and exhibits a wide range of objects selected to reflect life in Oxfordshire. The majority of over 100,000 Archaeology and Social History items are stored at the Museums Resource Centre at Standlake. Rescue and remedial conservation, academic research and exhibition development remain at the heart of the Service.
The Service produces exhibitions reflecting the county’s rural and agricultural past, but also showcases the best of Oxfordshire arts and crafts. Its temporary exhibitions also illustrate a diverse range of contemporary themes for visitors of all ages and tastes, aiming to encourage fun and fascination in equal measure.
Numerous challenges have been met since 1966: the ending of regular object loans to schools; shrinking storage space for collections; plans to introduce entrance fees and divest museum buildings. Yet today, the core values of the Service continue to be maintained with the support of a dedicated team of staff, volunteers and ‘Friends’. ‘Oxfordshire in 50 Objects’ is in many ways a tribute to their work and enthusiasm on behalf of the people of Oxfordshire.