Want my job? with Florrie Evans, art curator and historian

"I’ve been mudlarking since I was a child, I was lucky to grow up near the river, and it was an inevitable part of my life. The river has always given me ‘head space’ and it has also taught me the history of London!"

Want my job? with Florrie Evans, art curator and historian

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

I’m an art historian and curator, as well as a keen mudlarker of the River Thames. I’m also a director of The Weiss Gallery, a specialist dealer in northern European old master portraits, mainly 16th and 17th century.

What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?

When the tide is low in the morning, I’ll try and squeeze in a cheeky mudlark of the Thames between the school-run and getting to the gallery for 10 am! During the day I flit about researching our paintings, and work with colleagues on finding new stock. This involves checking auctions, on-line and also in person. Travel to view a painting is always a bonus! It’s a commercial art gallery so I also have to focus on selling our paintings, finding homes for them - building a network of clients, be they private or museum-based. Art fairs are useful for this, and somewhat dictate my calendar. 

What’s great about your job?

I work in a small team and we all look after each other. I also have a boss who is supportive of my interests, and who’s relaxed about me taking on extra curatorial work and personal projects in my own time. That’s precious.  

What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?

I am not a natural salesman, but as long as I genuinely love and believe in the paintings I handle, I can sell them with conviction! 

What are the highlights of your career to date?

For the Weiss Gallery, it has to be selling a stunning portrait by the great Jacobean court artist, William Larkin, to the Yale Center for British Art. It’s one of the most stunning costume pieces I’ve ever had the pleasure of handling and now it’s there for all to see. And for myself, curating the massive mudlarking exhibition, ‘Foragers of the Foreshore’ this September for the Totally Thames Festival.

How did you get into an arts job?  Have you also worked outside the arts?

I was lucky to study English Literature and Art History, both subjects I adored. After uni, I started off gaining experience in the museum sector, but moved across to the commercial art world by doing the Christie’s Graduate Trainee scheme. It was a great opportunity to literally handle art first hand, the best training I could have hoped for.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

Coming back to work after having my daughter. I was worried my brain had ossified after nearly a year off. I was worried I wouldn’t want to leave her. It’s a worry that never completely dissipates, but I get so much pleasure from both my work and being a mum. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. However, I do think that women still struggle more with this than men because we still don’t have the societal infrastructure or expectations necessary to help women get over this. I hope that soon there will be more parity in the workplace for parents. It shouldn’t have to be a purely female concern.

What particularly intrigues you about mudlarking? Why did you first start?

I’ve been mudlarking since I was a child, I was lucky to grow up near the river, and it was an inevitable part of my life. The river has always given me ‘head space’ and it has also taught me the history of London! I am drawn to the personal stories within that, as conjured up by small finds, be they buttons, beads, coins, buckles or broken pottery.

What is your favourite object you’ve found when Mudlarking? 

An 18th century hawking whistle – it literally blew my mind to blow a whistle and make a sound from something that had been lost for 300 odd years. Who last blew it before me? The mind boggles. 

If someone wants to start Mudlarking as a hobby, what advice would you have for them? 

Take a walk at low tide and see what your eye is drawn to, and get an idea of if you have the patience and the desire to carry on! Mudlarking requires endless patience. Then apply for a license from the Port of London Authority. 

Header Image Credit: Florrie and her daughter Cecilia (photograph: Hannah Smiles)

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe..

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