Following the creative processes in archive collections (new staff introductions – Part Two!)

My name is Rachael and this is my first blog as one of the new Archive Assistants at Heritage Quay. My duties include processing collections that have arrived at the archive to ensure they will be accessible to researchers, and one of the main tasks relating to this is cataloguing. This means data about the records is input into our database, which you can try browsing through yourself through our online catalogue here:  http://heritagequay.org/archives/).

In this blog I wanted to focus on one of the joys of working with archives- getting to study the creative process. I recently catalogued composer Catherine Kiernan’s papers which primarily includes musical scores (you can view the listing here). However, the item that caught my eye was a script and score for a play named ‘The Clan’. This file contains draft versions allowing you to see how the script was adapted as the play developed. The script features handwritten notes. For example, one note proposes where a song might be played and crossing out delineates where lines have been changed. These adaptations tell the story of how the play was adapted as the creators continued to work and provides insight into their evaluation process as they edit.

Extracts from the Catherine Kiernan Archive (CKN)

There is a handwritten description of costumes, including the style and material that needs to be adorned for a Scottish clansman look. A note at the bottom explains that whoever wrote this did research about traditional Scottish dress by reading Peter Cochrane’s Scottish Military Dress. This is informative about the research process by highlighting what resources might be used as the play is being prepared. Clearly this individual found a history book valuable as inspiration for the costume design. This also tells us that historical accuracy was important for the creators and that they were trying to reproduce authenticity through the costumes.

Studying the unpublished archival items allows you to see a process, rather than just a final product. Providing a glimpse into how a work of art or literature transforms from an idea. Examining others creative processes can inspire artists own and provide greater insight into the creator, helping the researcher comprehend the artwork. Archives are one of the only places where these items, e.g. an artist’s sketchbook or a poet’s notebook, can be discovered and, thus, exploring the creative process is one of the many bonuses of working with archives.’

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