If you’ve ever read Kate Atkinson’s wonderful debut novel of a fictionalised childhood, growing up close to York’s wonderful Castle Museum, you’ll have instantly spotted the fact that I’ve borrowed the title of said book. I, like Atkinson, spent my childhood in Yorkshire and have many fond memories of school trips to the (superb) Bronte Museum in Howarth, near Halifax, and the Railway Museum and Castle Museum at York, where an entire Victorian street had been recreated using salvaged shop fronts and fittings. This glimpse at Victorian England was complete with a functional print shop, sweet shop, a full size horse and carriage ‘trotting’ on the cobblestones and a gas lit pub. This was the 1970s, before interactive museum experiences and digital renderings, but my 8 year-old self was fascinated with the actors dressed as maids, postmasters and shopkeepers handing out bags of sweets at Victorian prices! My interest in past histories and all things vintage most definitely started with these experiences.
I sometimes get asked if my vintage shop is a museum…
Taking this as a compliment, I like to think that visitors to Mason & Painter enjoy the stories behind the vintage pieces and take inspiration from the displays, though I do point out that everything is for sale!
In today’s post-lockdown climate I think we’re all much more appreciative of being able to visit physical shops once again and take these small freedoms much less for granted. Much like the pleasure in visiting newly re-opened art venues, cinemas and museums.
But what if a museum actually turned itself into a shop and everything on show was available to buy? The ethical logistics of selling-off national treasure isn’t an option but I’m reminded of an Open House London event at the end of the 1990s when Selfridges offered tours. We were ushered from floor to floor by a museum guide and invited to view ‘the collection’ as if we were in a museum. The Edwardian Selfridges building is certainly a brilliant backdrop for the collections and it was such a refreshing way to enter a department store and take inspiration with fresh eyes. I think we all came away with a small, considered purchase rather than a rushed impulse buy. Consumerism food for thought, perhaps? I know for a fact that all small independent shops and galleries would be grateful to sell a considered keepsake or souvenir postcard.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson, is published by Doubleday