Letters from Ann
Venue: Iziko Bertram House
Date: 25 August – 26 September
This exhibition, which forms part of an Honours Curatorship research project at the University of Cape Town, engages a new trend in the curating of museum objects: fiction.
Bertram House was opened as a museum in 1984. It was envisioned as both a specimen of early 19th-century life at the Cape and a monument to English settlers – in the same way Koopmans-de Wet House had been for the Dutch. But unlike the Koopmans-de-Wet, Bertram House was never designed to memorialise a famous or notable owner. In fact, detailed information on the former residents of the Georgian house is relatively excluded, despite the house being the last remaining example of the architectural style in the Cape. Its founding collection, much of what you can still see on display, had come to the house through the generous bequest of Winifred Ann Lidderdale, who had tirelessly championed the cause of this museum. The collection is therefore only representative of the time and not original to the house.
In an effort to create a narrative that would both tie the collection to the house and breathe life into its rooms, curator Bianca Packham went in search of the mysterious Ann Bertram Barker, after whom the house had been named. Nothing personal to Ann features in the house, because she died before its completion in 1839. However, as the Findlay archive of letters at the University of the Witwatersrand will attest, Ann was somewhat a socialite who would have brought plenty of youthful energy to the house, and its history.
Ann’s letters paint a surprisingly detailed portrait of life as a young English settler. Her lively character and tragic physical decline are recorded in the letters written by her sister, Margaret; correspondence also preserved in the Findlay archive. Creating a fictional continuation of Ann’s life and letters – the “newly-resident” lady of Bertram House – was a productive and minimally invasive way to address the overwhelming silence the curator felt when normally visiting the museum.Exhibitions Calendar