Object in Focus: The Duvet of Love

by Louise Turner

(This blog was reproduced from Social Histories in Museums Journal, Volume 41 (2017), with permission from the author)

 

In August 2016, Norfolk Museums Service (NMS) was kindly offered the donation of
the Duvet of Love. On receiving the object, the curators were in no doubt as to its
importance and significance for the Norwich social history collections.
The Duvet of Love is a full size black duvet cover (1950mm x 1890mm) pinned with
1000s of badges, sorted into colour groups, to make up a mosaic picture of an
embracing couple. The badges are a combination of historic LGBT+ badges from the
1970s and 1980s, and badges of local and social historical relevance, especially to
Norwich, from a similar period. Highlights of the collection include representations of
Gay Pride (from as early as 1978), LGBT+ rights, HIV Awareness, Support the Miners,
Norwich Theatre Royal pantos, Norwich Castle Museum, Button Moon, and David
Cassidy.

The donor, David Shenton, lived in Norwich between 1970 and 1990, working as a
teacher of Graphic Design at Notre Dame High School. The badges were collected by
David over this period, during a significant period for him politically, and given to him
by friends. Originally displayed in a rainbow formation on the wall of David’s home,
the badges were arranged onto the duvet cover in the early 1990s for an exhibition
in London, where he then lived and worked, most notably as an illustrator for the Gay
Times. David returned to Norwich and, in 2016, the duvet was exhibited as part of
the Norwich Pride arts exhibition ‘Pride Without Prejudice’, an open submission art
exhibition celebrating the creative diversity of the City.
As a social history collection, it is important that the Costume and Textiles collection
of Norfolk Museums Service continues to reflect the region’s diverse communities
and tells the story of societal changes. Indeed, its main strength lies in its breadth
and variety. Norwich has a significant LGBT+ history and this continues today. In July
2016, over 6000 people took part in the Norwich Pride parade with many more joining
in with associated events. These dynamic and prominent local communities are
however, markedly under-represented in our collections and consequently their rich
and important histories are not being told or shared. It is therefore vital that LGBT+
material culture is acquisitioned and integrated into the permanent collections of
Norfolk’s museums.
The acquisition of the Duvet of Love supports the process of making local LGBT+
narratives and histories more visible and facilitates the inclusion of such experiences
into the story of Norwich as told by NMS. It is a vital step forward towards increased
diversity, equality, and accessibility. The object itself places these communities at the
heart of the local context through the amalgamation of the LGBT+ badges and the
many button badges of local relevance.

It is hoped, after some conservation work, that the object will be displayed
periodically at the Museum of Norwich to mark key moments in LGBT+ history, such
as the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act (1967), and during the celebratory
occasions of LGBT History Month and Norwich Pride. We also actively encourage
and facilitate frequent access to our stored collections, running a lively and varied
programme of events; fundamental to which is meaningful engagement with objects.
Consequently, the Duvet of Love will be embedded within the fabric of the main
collection and encountered by a large and diverse audience, enabling those perhaps
not familiar with the LGBT+ community to become acquainted.

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