Behind the scenes with an archive volunteer

The RBSA has a Permanent Collection of over 800 works of art spanning more than two centuries.

The Society is powered by volunteers of all ages and backgrounds.

Artists help with the running of the gallery, and students and graduates receive valuable training as part of their studies and career development.

Here, Ellie Dargavel writes about her time with the RBSA and how it helped her studies as a student at Birmingham University…


Helping organise the RBSA archives is a particularly large and challenging task! I researched many artists during my time at the Gallery, including:

  • Oliver Baker
  • Henry Harris Lines
  • Dennis A Doherty
  • Anthony Sawbridge
  • Kim Kempshall

The research helped me produce articles for the Highlights of the Collection page at the RBSA website.

These pieces are researched and written by members of the Gallery’s Volunteer Archive Team, including students completing professional skills modules like myself.

As an Archive Team Volunteer, my main role at the RBSA was putting information into the artwork database using the program MODES, which is the collections management software used by the Gallery.


Baker%2c Oliver%2c Pandy Mill%2c print (etching)%2c 2005X20
Oliver Baker, Pandy Mill, Undated, Etching, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Birmingham, 33.5 x 23 cm © the artist’s estate, photo credit: Royal Birmingham Society of Artists


My placement at the RBSA Gallery was part of the Professional Skills Development module in Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham.

I gained a behind-the-scenes look into how a gallery operates, particularly how collections and archives are organised and maintained. The perspective I gained as part of the Archive Team will assist me as I pursue a career in museum work.

Not only has my placement helped me professionally, but it also helped me to develop a personal appreciation for art.

By Ellie Dargavel


1 Comment

  1. I have an interest in water-mills and in particular in hand-made paper-mills. My thesis was about Elford paper-maker and English novelist Robert Bage (d. 1801). Either in 1996 or 1997 I went to an exhibition of works of Royal Society of Birmingham Artists. I saw the above work by Oliver Baker (1856-1939). For copyright reasons I could not photograph it so I sat down and did a rather unaccomplished sketch with a ball-point pen. Until finding it on your blog I had not seen it since. I can see now how weak mine is to the original.


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