Imagine you’re in a museum. You might spot a gargantuan four-poster bed that was a 16th century pub tourist attraction or a threadbare sackcloth robe worn in church by a 17th century adulteress.
Yet despite their rarity, we often fail to engage with these extraordinary objects. We simply nod and move on.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through its 26 Treasures project, writers’ collective 26 is exploring how to create emotional connections between objects and individuals.
In 2010, London’s Victoria & Albert museum chose 26 objects from its British Galleries and randomly assigned them to 26 writers. Each person wrote exactly 62 words – 26 in reflection – in response to the object.
The results were beautiful, surprising, lyrical, sometimes comical. Andrew Motion wrote about a bust of Homer, a 17th century Chinese porcelain figure reminded a writer of a pub landlord in Inverness, while the wedding suit of James 11 inspired 62 words about “a suit as full of scratches as a rose-garden”.
In 2011 we took the idea to the National Library of Wales, the Ulster Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, where writers were let loose on objects as disparate as a mediaeval illuminated book, a beggar’s badge and a 16th century Scottish guillotine.
Now we need your help. We want to produce an anthology containing the results – including writing by Lucy Caldwell, Gillian Clarke, Alexander McCall Smith, Paul Muldoon, Bernard McLaverty and Maura Dooley.
It’s a fascinating insight into 21st century writers' perspectives on British cultural history. So please help us publish this beautiful collection of visual and verbal curiosities.
The Gough Looking-Glass
The notes suggest it’s all about this frame;
Plague, Restoration, London frosts or flame,
gesso, paint, glaze, specks of gilt and varnish,
silver leaf that turns each day to tarnish.
I think within is where the spirit dwells.
Whose face dipped in this pool to glimpse herself?
What shadow slipped through that straight gate as cloud?
Memento mori, hour glass, Turin shroud.
Writer Maura Dooley,
Thanks for all our hundreds of subscribers. 26 Treasures reached 100% funding this morning. Delighted that the book will be published and looking forward to holding a copy. We'll work as fast as we can to get the book into subscribers' hands.
Only 39 supporters needed today (morning of 28th February). The book will now definitely happen so the editorial team is finalising everything needed for the book. Sara Sheridan has written her Scottish. Rob Self-Pierson has written the V&A intro. Gillian Colhoun will do the same for Northern Ireland, and Anita Holford/Sally Baker for Wales (inc bilingual versions in Welsh). We're collecting all the…
Went up to Edinburgh last week and saw 26 Treasures at National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition will come down after Burns Night. After that your best chance of seeing the 26 Scottish pieces is going to be in this book. So don't miss that chance, and don't let friends miss it.
Loved the story of Aimee Chalmers, one of the writers, performing for 26 minutes with a jazz sax accompaniment. They're…
I have to admit I wasn’t that keen on my candle stand at the V&A. There were other objects that appealed much more to me: the drinking flask, the bust of Homer, the Elizabethan miniature. These appealed more immediately to a sense of humour or romance, there was a more obvious aesthetic attraction.
The candle stand looked undistinguished in the photograph. Not my taste either, a feeling reinforced…
These people are helping to fund 26 Treasures.