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Thursday, 7 August 2014

In praise of beautiful text

As museum professions we spend a lot of time criticizing (hopefully constructively) the exhibition text written by ourself and others. Whether its the draft after draft you are writing yourself, or learning about accessible text in a workshop - writing clear, concise, informative labels is an art. We think it's high time we start to take notice not only of text writing that could use some work, but also the genuinely glorious prose already in our museums.

I came across this gem at a small National Trust property in East Sussex. Called Batesmans, this was the poet Rudyard Kipling's countryside home where he lived from 1902. If you are ever in the countryside, I would heartily recommend a visit. Although some historic house museums can be a bit soul-less, Kipling's house looks just like it did when he was living there in the early twentieth century.

As well as displaying furniture and artefacts from Kipling's life, the house also has Kipling's glorious Rolls Royce 1928 Phantom 1. It is text panel begins thus:

Rudyard Kipling was a pioneer motorist, 1899 vintage. One of those 'maniacs' for which even the shortest journey was hazardous; each return to base a triumph; and each policeman a natural enemy. 

Woah- woah is all I can say. Look at how many rules this piece of text is breaking. Apostrophes for emphasis, semi-colons a-go-go. You would probably get this thrown right back in your face if you took it to a text editor.

But I am obsessed with it. Just read it out loud. It requires, nay demands, you to put on your most dramatic 1930s film noir voice. The lovable author suddenly becomes a demon of the roads, in just 2 lines. Well done Batesmans curator, well done.

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