Why do objects matter?

A paper sculpture of Stourhead house lit from inside as if on fire

This exciting new exhibition explores the reasons why objects hold such power in our lives. From your favourite coffee mug to your grandmother's engagement ring, what is it that makes these things significant? Join us as we celebrate six objects at the heart of Stourhead's story to mark 125 years since the founding of the National Trust.

Did you know that there are over 8000 objects in the Stourhead collection? Each one of them was bought, collected, inherited or (in some cases) made by various members of the Hoare family over multiple generarions. Every single one of these objects has been chosen and curated by the National Trust. But what is it that makes these objects worthy of conservation and their stories shared with the nation?

Why do objects matter? takes a closer look at six objects in the Stourhead collection to find out what makes them so signficant to the property's fascinating story. Is it valuable? Is it beautiful? Was it at the centre of some historic drama? Does it speak of love or loss?

A cabinet of secrets

One of the six objects, Stourhead's cabinet of curiosities, holds significant power partly due to the illusive secrets in its past that we can only speculate upon.

The Pope's Cabinet while undergoing restoration
Part of the Pope's Cabinet and its restoration at Stourhead, Wiltshire
The Pope's Cabinet while undergoing restoration

It once belonged to Pope Sixtus V, but what did he store in its most secret drawers? Henry Hoare II, the visionary behind Stourhead's magnificent garden, would never reveal the sum he paid for it. Upon it's return to Stourhead, a series of miniature portraits were discovered in its drawers, each face hinting at a unique life story - but who were the sitters?

Stourhead volunteers and staff share the things that matter most to them

The six star objects from the Stourhead collection will be displayed side-by-side with six personal objects that belong to people from the Stourhead community. Staff and volunteers were invited to share objects with strong personal meaning.

The exhibition features an inherited evening bag, a career-defining crystal taxi cab, a childhood paintbrush, a key to the canals, a bronze bust of a woman with a secret, and a glass sculpture bought in celebration of 40 years of long-distance friendship.

A paintbrush, bought in childhood and still used today, holds personal significance for Ela
A paintbrush under a glass cloche beside a painting of a blueberry
A paintbrush, bought in childhood and still used today, holds personal significance for Ela

An exhibition of paper sculptures

To convey these unique stories of significance, the team at Stourhead approached three artists who create works in paper. These artists created seven installations, each conveying an astonishing level of intricacy. 

" It's our job to protect these precious objects from the various agents of deterioration and some of them were too fragile for open display. We loved the idea of conveying the significance of each story through installations made of paper because this medium is inherently delicate and fragile, but so beautiful."

Artist Jessica Palmer, based in Bath, created an English dragon in cut paper illuminated from below by a 3D Temple of Apollo. The work conveys the significance behind a bronze bust of Charles I dressed as a Roman warrior. Palmer's work explores the symbolism at work in the bust, which conveys Charles as a powerful Roman military leader, while the dragon on his helment reassures us of his Englishness.

A very Roman Englishman, by Jessica Palmer, one of seven paper installations
A papercut dragon in a glass cloche
A very Roman Englishman, by Jessica Palmer, one of seven paper installations

Why do objects matter? runs at Stourhead, from when the house reopens until Sunday 8 November when the house closes. Pay us a visit and tell us why your most precious things matter to you.