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Crawford Profiles: Jean O'Donovan

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Name: Jean O’Donovan

Where are you from? Ballincollig, Cork

What do you do at the Crawford Art Gallery?
I am the Gallery Registrar. I am responsible for the preservation of the collection, both physically and digitally - this ranges from maintaining an up to date collection register of artworks, managing the storage, movement and installation of artworks and the gallery’s conservation programme and developing the online collection. I also manage the exhibition loans-in and out programme. Each time the Crawford borrows an artwork for an exhibition there are a large number of things to consider - loan contracts and documentation, transport and packing logistics, export licences, conservation, indemnity and insurance and display requirements. The same elements need to be considered when we lend an artwork from the Crawford Collection. There is a lot to co-ordinate but the mobility of collections is vital. Museums have a long tradition of sharing cultural heritage in their custody with other museums and institutions. Lending artworks promotes access, increases knowledge and also supports other museums and galleries but is also carefully considered and managed to safeguard our objects for future generations.

Briefly describe your typical working day?
My working day can vary quite dramatically depending on what is happening in the Gallery. My week usually begins with a team meeting with our technical team to discuss upcoming exhibitions and projects and troubleshoot the installation of complex artworks. A normal day will be divided between my desk and the gallery stores. My administration workload is largely to do with updating information on the collection into our collection database, administrating loans, liaising with curatorial colleagues in relation to upcoming exhibitions and answering queries from the public. If we are installing an exhibition I will spend a lot of time in the exhibition space, carrying out condition checks on the artworks, making sure that loan documentation is signed, liaising with couriers travelling with the artworks and working with the curator to ensure that the installation goes smoothly. If lending an artwork, I may have to travel with that artwork to make sure it arrives safely at it’s destination. I suppose what I love most about my job is that there is no typical working day. 

What do you like most about working at the Crawford Art Gallery?
I love the diversity of the collection. The history of the collection spans three centuries and the evolution of the institution from the Royal Cork Institution, to a School of Design, and later School of Art, to present day Crawford Art Gallery (a designated National Cultural Institution). These changes in purpose and function have lead to a multifarious collection with so many interesting facets! Paintings, drawings and sculptures are housed alongside stained glass, historical artefacts, antique furniture, books, manuscripts and a plethora of archival material.  As a Registrar, I am constantly both intrigued and challenged by how to preserve, document and care for these objects which makes my role very rewarding. One of the most unusual objects in the collection would have to be a Loggerhead sea turtle that is possibly over 100 years old! There is a huge thrill in figuring out the history and story behind a previously unidentified object. 

Do you remember the first time you visited the gallery?
My earliest memory of visiting the gallery was in 2001 for the exhibition ‘Picasso: Watercolours and Drawings 1896-1934’. The exhibition comprised of sixty drawings by the artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso on loan from the Musée Picasso, Paris.  It was fantastic to see these works in Cork. There were drawings on display that Picasso had done as a young boy, and one in particular, a tiny sketch of a wizard, stuck with me. I remember being amazed that such a prolific artist had been a child once too. I was also struck by the progression of his work from figurative to abstract. I went straight to Waterstones bookshop to buy a book on his life and work and thus began my cubist phase! It caused a bit of a stir in the art classroom when I wanted to do all of my life drawing assignments in the cubist style. The exhibition sparked an interest in art history which started as a hobby and ultimately developed into a career.

What do you think people might be surprised to learn about the gallery?
The building housed a School of Design and Art from the mid 19th century to 1979 and we still retain a large archive of materials from that time. It is a treasure trove of everything from old photographs and examples of student work to handwritten student attendance records and visitor books. There is wonderful photograph from the late 19th century showing female art students practicing the art of lacemaking in one of the 2nd floor rooms. We still have beautiful examples of lacework from different countries in Europe in frames that would have been used as teaching aids at the time. It’s a glimpse into the past!

Emmett Place, Cork, Ireland
T12 TNE6
Tel: 021 480 5042

Opening Hours
N.B. Last entry is 15 minutes before closing

Monday–Saturday 10.00am–5.00pm*
Thursday until 8.00pm

Sundays and Bank Holidays
11.00 am4.00pm

*Second floor closes 15 minutes before closing
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