A Q&A with Sally Goodsir, Royal Gifts exhibition curator

Date Posted: 02/08/2017

Sally Goodsir

Sally Goodsir, Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts at the Royal Collection Trust, tells GLT’s Keeley Rodgers about planning the Royal Gifts exhibition, which is on display now in the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace.  

The Royal Gifts exhibition has now opened at the Palace and displays more than 200 gifts presented to the Queen over her 65-year reign, tell us about the planning behind it. 

It has been about 15 months in the making and the biggest period of time is selecting what to put in, then researching the objects and going to see them. I tried to display the best craftsmanship from each country but the long list was several thousand items and there were some objects we just couldn’t fit in. It’s unusual because it’s throughout all of the State Rooms. 

How did the idea for Royal Gifts come up? 

We have had gifts on display before but they have never been as extensive and have often focused on the Commonwealth which has been very key for her reign. We wanted to include more recent gifts and it’s the largest gifts exhibition we have had. It has been nice to send it off into the world and see what the visitors pick up on. 

And what feedback have you had from visitors so far?

It has been really great so far. Everybody is finding objects that really relate to them or come from their local areas. We have had feedback from people to say they were there when a certain gift was presented or can remember the day that it was presented. I think it looks beautiful in the State Rooms and there’s an interesting contrast with the very traditional European architecture and objects around the world. 

What about Her Majesty? Did she approve?

I initially selected all the objects to include but anything that goes into any exhibition is approved by the Queen. She saw the exhibition a few weeks ago. I think the objects evoked many memories for her of places she has been and people she has met. It was a great honour to be with her at that moment. 

There are such a variety of objects from a paperweight made from a dinosaur bone to the Union Flag badge worn in space by Major Tim Peake.

Sally Goodsir with Union Flag Bag worn by Major Tim Peake

Pictured: Sally Goodsir with the Union Flag badge worn by Major Tim Peake (Credit: Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017)

Do you have a favourite object in the exhibition?

I really like the Nigerian throne because it’s really colourful and striking. It makes an initial impact but there’s a deeper cultural meaning. I tried to select objects with a wider appeal. 

There’s a special tribute to Princess Diana to mark the 20th anniversary of her death, tell us about that. 

It was felt quite early on that the opening of the Palace would provide an opportunity to pay tribute to an aspect of Diana’s work. We came upon the idea of recreating her desk that she worked at and including a few personal items. It’s something very special for this year and something the visitors will hopefully enjoy seeing. 

Did you face any challenges with the exhibition?

Designing an exhibition to fit in the very traditional palace interior was interesting; trying to make the tones of the colours used so that they work in the interiors. We worked with some amazing architects and designers. It’s not a traditional gallery space where you have flexibility. 

There must be huge care taken when handling the objects?

Yes, people present these gifts and don’t know what happens to them afterwards. But they are treated with just as much care as a 300-year-old porcelain vase. There weren’t any breakages, we’re very careful. The trickiest object to move was a big Botswana hanging which took three people to lift it. 

What are the plans for next year?

Initial thoughts are under way for next year but I don’t know how we’re going to top it. 

Group visits

Groups planning a trip to the Palace from 22nd July will be able to see the exhibition, which is on display until 1st October. 

Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of The Queen and is one of the few working royal palaces in the world. Groups can see the 19 State Rooms which provide the setting for ceremonial occasions and official entertaining. 

Tickets include entry to the Royal Gifts exhibition. Group rates are available.

For more information and tickets visit www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Picture: Curator Sally Goodsir. Credit: Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

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