Today our Family columist Emma Eldridge talks with Katie Somerville, Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the National Gallery of Victoria, and Mum to Archie (10 yrs), together with her partner Marina Larsson.
We’re encouraged by Katie’s practical outlook, considered pursuit of her own goals, and dedication to nurturing family ties.
I recently came across the Early Riser Companion, a fledgling family almanac with rhythms and rituals for families founded by creative director Elizabeth Antonia; ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ is one quote that I love, and no doubt rings true for all with small buckeroos.
Pondering traditions sparked a memory I had of my former colleague Katie Somerville regularly taking time out to ride horses with her son. Serene and erudite, Katie is Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the National Gallery of Victoria – we’ll receive a glimpse of her greatest work to date when The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture opens this August.
Today we speak with Katie about balancing a blockbuster with family life, as well as nurturing rites and routine with her son, Archie.
Katie, I can hardly believe you’re Mum to a 10-year-old – I think Archie was a toddler when we first met. How is life changing now he’s on the cusp of entering his teens?
I am really enjoying life with a 10-year-old. Archie is increasingly expressing his individuality and is keen to be more independent. I recall that desire at a similar age – to be my own person and have a sense of my own space. Last week, I helped him revamp his room to reflect the person he feels he is now, as opposed to the child he was five years ago.
In terms of growing independence, he recently caught the tram home from school by himself.
Being between a child and teenager is about exploring possibilities and carving out your own identity, and our role as parents is to assist him to do that creatively and safely.
As a newish Mum, I’ve been thinking about family traditions – my own growing up, and those I’d like to instill. Can you tell us a bit about the ones you’ve created with Archie?
I had a brilliant childhood, growing up in England and here in Australia. My English grandparents played a huge part in establishing the family traditions and memories that stay with me to this day.
Archie and I have been making the nine-hour train trip to spend time with his grandparents on their property in regional New South Wales since he was born. We both love being in the country and enjoy losing ourselves in our regular rural adventures. For me, it’s about country op shops, relaxing, eating my mum’s glorious food, and reading as many books as possible (my current record is four in one week). For Archie, it’s about collecting chook eggs and disappearing for hours at a time with Granny, Grandpa or on his own to make things, fix things, and explore the 800 acres of bushland and pasture.
The bird and animal life on the farm is stunning, and on our last trip we finally spotted the infamous white deer that appears from the forest like a ghostly apparition. We’d heard about this legendary creature, but had never managed to see him.
Horse riding has become another precious family tradition that continues with Archie. My mother rode her whole life, and I began at the age of four. Archie and I regularly drive up to our beloved riding school in the Yarra Ranges for a morning in the saddle, followed by a trip to the local strawberry farm on the way home.
You’ve been working on The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture, opening 27 August at NGV International, for three years – a gestation period longer than an elephant! Has the workload involved in curating such a blockbuster impacted how you and Marina share parenting – and, if so, how have you dealt with this shift?
My partner Marina and I have always taken an equal approach to household responsibilities and parenting. Since becoming Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles, my work life has become very full, and this balance has shifted.
The Dior exhibition is a remarkable once in a lifetime opportunity, requiring several trips abroad and regular late-night phone calls to Paris. It has been a wonderful period of immersive research – as if by osmosis, the whole family has been caught up in the life and work of Christian Dior. I am quite sure that Marina and Archie would score very highly in a general knowledge quiz on the designer!
During my busier times at work, we are very lucky that Marina can take a lead role in managing family life as she works part-time hours. In the lead-up to the exhibition, we are constantly working on ways to try to protect precious family and personal time in whatever small ways we can, such as blocking out Sunday afternoons just for the three of us – to do something special together or just laze around doing not much at all, which sometimes can be just as important.
2017 marks your 22nd year at the Gallery. How do you think things have changed for mothers working in the arts during this time?
I have found my colleagues with families an enormous source of support, encouragement, and wisdom – throughout my pregnancy and over the last 10 years. I suspect not much has really changed for working parents in this period; there is certainly more support for flexible and family-friendly workplaces in general, but the hard truth remains that school holidays are far more numerous than anyone’s leave, and that children will inevitably fall ill on the day you have a crucial meeting!
The one thing that has changed dramatically over my 22 years at the NGV is the extent to which children and families are now welcome and visible as visitors to the Gallery. With the numerous exhibitions, publications and festivals now focused on children, I know my own son has grown up feeling the NGV is as much as place for him as anyone else. I still love seeing all the groups of parents and kids populating the Great Hall and Garden on a daily basis.
No longer just reserved for a bi-annual dose of ‘culture,’ the Gallery has become a normal part of family life which is lovely.
Can you give us a glimpse into how your day starts and end with Archie?
Every day starts with a snuggle in bed before the frantic race to get the dog and fish fed, everyone washed and dressed, and lunchboxes packed ready for departure. Archie’s school starts earlier than most and this means I can take him to school and still make it to the desk well before 9am. As a special treat, we usually try once a week to get up a little earlier and have breakfast at the markets on the way to school. Marina starts her working day very early so that she can do the school pick-up at 3.30pm.
Sadly, I often miss family dinner, but try whenever possible to be home in time to read to Archie before bed. My mum read to me before bed throughout my primary years and I still have very fond memories of that special time; I’ve even been reading Arch some of the same books my mum read to me.
Moving across time, what kind of adult might you like Archie to grow into? And how would you like him to remember you to his own family?
Wow, that’s a big question. We would love Archie be kind, honest, reflective and resilient. Archie is a political creature and hates injustice – he can be outspoken when he feels strongly about an issue. I can see him in a role that involves advocating for the rights of others.
On a different note, I always said when I was pregnant that I would support my son whatever he wanted to be. The one thing I desperately wanted was for him to be in his element on the dance floor, and luckily my wish has been granted! That boy loves to dance and can’t help but respond to a good beat by moving his body – perhaps fitting, considering Marina and I first met and fell in love on a crowded dance floor 21 years ago.
In terms of how I’d like him to reflect on his childhood one day, I hope he can say that he felt loved, listened to and encouraged in all his many and varied interests, as well as being sure to pass on our famous family recipe for homemade custard!
Boy’s clothing brand
We are not a brand-driven household. I would say Archie’s wardrobe essential would be his cap; he is a passionate wearer and collector and has quite a number. Past favourites have come from the range that the NGV’s Design Store has released over the last few years. His current pick is a classic he spotted in the local recycle store.
That’s easy, Archie recently got his first beanbag and its now his favorite spot for taking refuge once the homework is done and his time is his own.
Dancing is currently top of his list followed by Cubs, fencing and horse riding.
No single restaurant springs to mind, but Archie really enjoys Mexican and Malaysian food.
He is currently hooked on The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, set in Warsaw during the Second World War.