Affective Aprons: Object Biographies from the Ladies’ Cottage, Royal Derwent Hospital New Norfolk, Tasmania
This paper explores a collection of embroidered aprons retrieved from under the floor of the Ladies’ Cottage, a building at the Royal Derwent Hospital in New Norfolk, Tasmania — Australia’s oldest continuously operating psychiatric institution (1826–2000). Taking an object biography approach, close study of the aprons draws out many stories illuminating the everyday life of the patients in the past and enriching the narratives of these institutionalised women. Promoting a more nuanced understanding of the breadth of experiences encapsulated in this contentious heritage place, we consider the collection from the perspective of “object-mediated empathy”—the affective capacity of these remarkable textiles to trigger an experience of the humanity of others and to potentially alter ingrained community perceptions.
KeywordsObject biography Archaeological textiles Psychiatric institutions Empathy
We would like to thank the Derwent Valley Council for hosting us each year in New Norfolk and the many people of the New Norfolk community who shared their thoughts about, and visions for, the Royal Derwent Hospital site. We particularly thank Haydn and Penny Pearce for kindly providing access to the Ladies’ Cottage collection. At the University of Canberra Alison Wain co-supervised the original thesis on which this paper is based. At Flinders University Lynley Wallis, Chantal Wight and the students of ARCH8807 helped to catalogue the original collection. Michelle Newton-Edwards provided practical conservation advice and Justin Halstead assisted with the conservation process and speculated on the enigma of the Ladies’ Cottage aprons. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful and encouraging comments.
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