It’s amazing how museum objects can spark the imagination. When Tabitha Carter, an undergraduate costume student at Plymouth College of Art, visited Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) she was intrigued by a pocket azimuth sundial. Made of ivory and silver, it embodied the magic of science and discovery and inspired her to design and create a stunning costume.
The sundial, which is on display in the Courtyard, has been in RAMM’s collection since 1873. Created in Dieppe, France in around 1670 by Charles Bloud, it served as a portable solar watch; an azimuth is an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system.
Sundials have been used for millennia and became particularly popular devices for timekeeping between the 15th and 19th centuries. As well as helping to keep busy people on schedule, these objects had symbolic value, projecting the tastes and wealth of their owners. As fashionable items they enabled craftsmen such as Bloud to express their artistic skills and ingenuity in design.
The chance encounter and a speculative enquiry were followed by a lucky co-incidence. Another student, Decorative Art volunteer Lauren Winch, had recently researched the pocket sundial making it possible for RAMM to fully satisfy Tabitha’s curiosity. We were able to tell Tabitha that this particular sundial, which was not only portable but designed to work at multiple latitudes, would have accommodated the needs of merchants, pilgrims and other long-distance travellers including, presumably, pirates.
The history of the sundial inspired Tabitha to look at piracy and the use of ivory and silver in European art and ultimately led her to develop a sci-fi pirate queen character and costume in response. She created the entire costume from scratch and hand-painted some of the designs directly from the sundial onto the frock coat. The result was a beautiful ensemble.
Lauren could never have imagined that her research would help launch not just her career but that of another talented young woman in Devon. It is exactly the kind of collaboration with students and the wider community that RAMM is proud to promote.
To learn more about Tabitha’s designs or to invoke the right of ‘parlay’ with her, or to ask Lauren Winch about her work as a Decorative Arts volunteer, contact RAMM’s Marketing Assistant, Rob Mackenzie on 01392 265317 or [email protected].