We All Need Role Models, by Robyn Llewellyn

robyn-llwellyn-olive-edis-opening-speech-2Why has Olive Edis become one of my heroines?

I first heard the name Olive Edis when in 2008 we received an application from Cromer Museum to acquire a collection of her photographs. It was a fairly straightforward request – helping to secure heritage in the place where it belonged, telling stories about the past to the communities of today.

Olive Edis was the first female war photographer to work for the Imperial War Museum, travelling in Northern France and Belgium to document the women in the aftermath of WW1.   While it was great that the collection was safe, I kept thinking that there was scope for so much more, especially as we came up to the commemorations of the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.  More people needed to know her story.  So it was very exciting when we received the 2015 application for the current project.

Her photographs are compelling.  In her self-portraits she looks striking and confident and I particularly like the ones where she is smiling.

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Olive Edis – ‘Striking, confident…smiling’ 

There’s something special about the images of her sisters– ordinary family images I can relate to.  It’s great that part of the project is about discovering the history of the individual Fisherfolk.

lotion-tar-bishop-by-olive-edis-glass-plate-negative-date-unknown

‘Lotion Tar’ Bishop – Norfolk fisherman 

We all need role models and Olive Edis has become one of mine.  She was an intrepid adventurer, an entrepreneur, a business woman, an artist – and she also managed to have a personal life.  It’s amazing to think about how she held it altogether.  The captivating portraits reflect someone who was able to put people at ease.

I believe Olive Edis would have agreed that it is important to discover and credit women who have made important contributions in the past.  I love the quote from her diary: ‘It made me think more and more of the wonderful capacity of women – given the opportunity to exercise it – which the war certainly had given them.’   Olive Edis celebrated women’s achievements both through her amazing photographs of some of the most influential women in the early 20th Century as well as her work in the aftermath of WW1.  We all can take inspiration by learning how women overcame the restrictions of their time and how ground-breaking women have laid the foundations for much of the equality we have today.

My favourite photo changes all the time.

Toul

A group of five senior nurses taking tea at the American Evacuating Hospital at Toul © IWM (Q 8075)

This project is a great illustration of what HLF funding is all about – heritage, people and communities.  Her photographs tell important stories of the past – Fisherfolk of North Norfolk, the impact of the First World War, the changing role of women.  The exhibition at Norwich Castle is beautiful, engaging, inspiring and fun.  I’m so excited that there’s still more to come and thanks to National Lottery players, her story is receiving the wider recognition it deserves.

If people want to find out more about Heritage Lottery grants, go to our website hlf.org.uk

Robyn Llwellyn is Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, East of England

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