Follow @bg75ioa Breaking Ground, Tessa Wheeler's plaque vs. display space
Tessa Wheeler’s plaque vs. display space

Tessa Wheeler's plaque at the Institute of Archaeology

One of the things that we are coming to terms with as we progress with this exhibition is that no matter how suited an exhibit might be to the story we’re trying to tell, the space available plays a crucial part in the object selection process. While we can display as many fragmented pieces of eye-idols (see post below) as we want because of their small size we have, with heavy hearts, had to resign ourselves to the fact that this plaque, magnificent as it may be, is just too big to be displayed.

The plaque does fit in the case but for visitors to be able to read the lettering we would have to leave the foreground of the case totally clear of all the other objects relating to the Institute’s first home at St. John’s Lodge in Regent’s Park. And we’ve found too many excellent objects to do that.

We were really keen to include this plaque in our display as a way of recognising the efforts of archaeologist Tessa Wheeler (1893-1936) in founding the Institute of Archaeology. As the organisational powerhouse behind her more flamboyant husband, the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, she worked hard to find a home for their new Institute of Archaeology. Not only this, she also encouraged talented individuals to develop aspects of the Institute that were to make it unique: the support she lent her peer Ione Gedye turned the latter’s Repair Workshop into the first Conservation Lab for historical artifacts outside of a museum.

Tessa Wheeler on a dig in the early 1930s

Tessa Wheeler on a dig in the early 1930s

Tessa Wheeler died in April 1936 as a lease on the Institute’s first home at St. John’s Lodge was still being negotiated and it was to be another year before the building officially opened. It was then that this plaque to her efforts was first unveiled.

 Repainting St John's Lodge in preparation for its opening

Repainting St John's Lodge in preparation for its opening in 1937

Although we are unable to display this plaque as part of our exhibition for reasons of space we hope that the Institute will soon re-hang it to give Tessa Wheeler the prominence she deserves within the Institute that she laboured so hard to establish.