Curator Emma Yandle tells the story behind our latest exhibition Made in Lockdown, displaying artworks and creative projects made by our volunteers.

We are exceptionally lucky to have such a talented and creative group of volunteers supporting our work at Chawton House. From dressing the house for Christmas; to lace-making workshops; making willow sculptures for our garden trails; to the less glamorous work of making covers for our display cases, their contribution has long shaped what you see on a visit to Chawton House. Now for the first time we have the opportunity to put their work in the limelight.

Our new exhibition, Made in Lockdown was inspired by conversations our CEO Katie Childs had with volunteers following the house’s closure last March. They spoke of the projects they were busying themselves with, whilst they required to stay at home. Many are green-fingered and were growing plants for their own gardens and allotments, but some suggested rearing seedlings for planting at Chawton House when normality resumed. Others talked about how the time in isolation led them to take up a new skill, or return to a long put aside hobby. With their deep knowledge of Chawton House, their focus often took inspiration from stories of the house and our collections. During the anxiety and uncertainty of life during the pandemic last year, it was important for us to still act as a hub for the community, both local and afar. This informed all our activities and programming: whether opening up our parkland for daily exercise, couriering boxes of afternoon tea, selling takeaway drinks from our Tea Shed, to running virtual festivals for participants worldwide.For the first time, our troupe of dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers, many of whom have worked with us for years, were unable to come up to the house. We wanted to stay connected to them, and them to us, and so a collaborative exhibition project was born.

At the outset of Lockdown we talked to our volunteers about what they were already making and encouraged them to create a project that we could display, reflecting on their personal experiences. Some works were created with specific rooms in the house in mind – such as a Knitted Afternoon Tea by Maggie Worsfold for the Great Hall, which was once an amateur tea room run by the Knight family. Others were designed to be in dialogue with a specific collection items – like Yvette Carpenter’s A Curious Time, a visual botanical record of her garden, inspired by our works of botanical art, and taking its name from one: Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (1737). Others were created for their own homes and gardens – like Ian Beveridge’s Bird Box and Sally Topsom’s Beeswax Candles – but have been temporarily relocated to ours.

When installing the exhibition, I wanted to foster both the connections and separation between our collections and rooms and these new artwork, enabling reflection but also taking one by surprise. It unfurls throughout the house, with the slight feeling of a treasure hunt. I hope you enjoy the surprise of not quite knowing what will come next – a lighter take on the twists and turns of last year’s uncertainty. Above all, I hope it encourages you to look closely, and to read the stories behind the artworks alongside, displayed alongside them in each volunteer’s own words. Some artworks are elaborate in design, some more humble, but all invigorated and made unique by the history of their owner and their creation during this strange, ambiguous time. I hope you take as much pleasure in following the exhibition around the house as we did in creating it.

Did you make something during lockdown? Share it with us, or set a goal for a new project on social media with #MadeinLockdown.

Made in Lockdown is on display at Chawton House until June 27 2021.

Knitted Afternoon Tea, Maggie Worsfold, 2020

Afternoon Tea at Chawton House, The Old Kitchen Tea Room

A Curious Time, Yvette Carpenter, 2020

Plate from A Curious Herbal, Elizabeth Blackwell, 1737