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Museum redefines what it means to be a ‘history maker’ with female-focused exhibition

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Derby Museum is celebrating the contributions of women to Derbyshire’s history.

The History Makers project, which has been described by the museum as being ‘years in the making’, was based on community feedback about its relative lack of representation for women and gender diverse people.

Derby Museums’ Head of Collections, Sally Hawley, says: “We have worked in co-production with organisations and individuals who do incredible work throughout Derbyshire to empower our communities and campaign for positive change. 

“We hope to inspire visitors to join the conversation, perhaps remembering other history makers as they explore the galleries and identify important moments to commemorate.”

The exhibition is encouraging people to challenge their preconceptions of what it means to be a ‘history maker’, and puts the spotlight on those who have often been overlooked or misrepresented, such as women of colour and trans people.

There’s a lot for visitors to take in, including classic 19th Century paintings by Louise Rayner, and portraits celebrating the diverse stories of trans people by photographer Jules Hunter –  but perhaps the most eye-catching instalment in the first room of the exhibition is its huge, wall-spanning timeline.

The timeline chronicles events that have impacted the lives of women and gender diverse individuals in Derbyshire, from Æthelflæd’s rule of the Midlands in the year 911 to Queen Elizabeth II’s death in 2022, and there are resources provided for visitors to make their own additions.

“The exhibition is a place for us to reflect on our past and make plans for the future”

Sally Hawley, Head of Collections

Specific women’s accomplishments are highlighted throughout the rest of the gallery, such as accolades received by Dionne Reid, CEO of Women’s Work – a charity which has supported up to 1,000 vulnerable women every year since 2003.

There’s also a beautiful work of pottery on display by Madge Spencer, Jamaica’s first female professional studio potter, who moved to the UK in 1966. Madge has taught pottery at schools and community settings across the East Midlands, and sources the natural clay she uses from Derbyshire building sites.

Alongside icons like Florence Nightingale and Margaret Beckett is a self-portrait of multi-talented artist Sam Carnival, who was also featured in the museum’s previous exhibition for her contributions to the city’s annual Caribbean Carnival. Next to the painting is an excerpt from a podcast about her work for visitors to listen to.

Despite the sheer amount on display, Hawley insists that the exhibition is far from a definitive record of Derbyshire women’s history.

“These displays could have been developed differently, in innumerable ways and they will continue to change over time,” she says.

“The exhibition does not aim to represent all Derbyshire history makers; rather it is a place for us to reflect on our past and make plans for the future.”

History Makers is open at Derby Museum until 12th February

By Jamie Morris

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