As part of our traineeship, I recently worked on a placement at Firstsite, a contemporary art space in Colchester. One of the benefits of an external placement is that you get to see how a different cultural organisation operates. It was an interesting experience, which helped me think about the different challenges faced by each venue, as well as the similarities.
Both the museums and Firstsite need to engage with their visitors. They want to encourage them to come in, involve themselves with the exhibits and sometimes respond to the objects. This could be in the form of a workshop focusing on a certain display, a tour, trail or quiz. Both places aim to make visitors feel welcome and part of what they do. Both venues are part of the local community.
It has been interesting to see the differences too. Ipswich Museum and Christchurch Mansion place great importance on the conservation and care of their collections. Light levels are carefully monitored, temperature is regularly assessed and a deep sense prevails that fragile objects must be preserved for future generations.
The focus seems slightly different in a contemporary art gallery as the work is often newly made. With the BP Portrait Award at Firstsite for example, the emphasis is on presenting works in the most sympathetic light, creating an environment that enhances the pictures and intensifies our experience of them. They may not be shielded from daylight in the same way as a Tudor portrait or Victorian watercolour on paper, but they require a different form of sensitivity in their display.
BP Portrait Award
BP Portrait Award 2016
Curators of contemporary art can think differently. It has been fascinating to see how they are almost a different species to the museum curator. My placement has given me an opportunity to stand on both sides of the fence and interestingly, I have found that the grass is a rich shade of green wherever you are.
Although I somewhat quoted Neil Armstrong in my title, The Training Museum isn’t attempting a Moon landing! It is in fact about some work I’ve done with Michael on documenting the Mankind Gallery. We are starting with the Native American display case, so let me take you on a path through the forest…….
Here are some moccasins, made by the Cree people of indigenous Canada. As Native American everyday footwear, they are often made of deer hide or soft leather, with a variety of patterns and colours. There was much excitement among the two of us as we handled each object.
Team Ipswich Trainee had the pleasure of inventorying nine pairs, as part of the Collections Information Programme. One person recorded important details, including measurements and an accurate description. At the same time, the other handled the moccasins and took high quality photographs.
I can’t speak for Michael, but I was fully in my element with this task and not just because of how much fun I have with documentation. When patrolling the galleries on Visitor Services, I quite often find myself going back to the Mankind Gallery, reading the text and admiring the collections. To me, it is a fantastical world of exotic wonders, which I would love to be the curator of!
Native American Objects
One by one each moccasin was documented and inventoried successfully. They had beautiful colours and intricate patterns in their design. It was fascinating just how old they were, with some dating back to the 17th century. The moccasins had so much character and sophistication to them that I wish I owned a pair!
Eventually Michael and I had to pack up the kit and finish. It was fun but had to end sometime. Between the two of us, I think our knowledge of North American moccasins has doubled!
Before work could go up, existing vinyl decals needed to be removed, drilled holes filled and walls touched up. By the end of the first day I was suffering with some snow blindness from all the white paint.
Next, the text needed to go up. There was much debate about where this should be and how it should be presented. It may seem less important than the artwork, but this is the first thing a visitor would see…
…so we all agreed that it would shout for the visitor’s attention far more by being at an angle.
I really enjoyed helping the Exhibitions team decide which works should go where. We were basically trying to solve a large puzzle, as the artworks were initially stored A-Z by artist and all in one room, making it harder to get an overview. When choosing where the work should be, we took into consideration scale, material, subject, style and occasionally feelings. Some pairings highlighted differences and some complimented each other.
Besides painting walls and hanging artworks, I’ve also been working on projects for my placement at the East Anglian Railway Museum. Below is a peek at the trail I’ve been creating.
I’ve been looking into existing ‘i-spy’ style trails, featuring Milo Mouse, as well as reflecting on the trails and museum learning training that we received before Christmas.
It took a little while for me to remember both the training and how Adobe Illustrator works. I collected photographs of objects from around the museum, which could be grouped into themes, such as work or leisure. It was a little tricky figuring out how to translate the physical space onto the page, so visitors could locate themselves and the objects.
Milo Mouse and his friends run about the site and pop up all around the museum, so footprints help to reflect this part of the character. Below is the work in progress…
It is currently being trialed alongside existing trails and I’m hoping to gain some feedback as to what might need changing. My plan is to create a few different ones to entertain families that return to the site.
Thanks for reading. I hope to update you with more progress soon!
Tim here with a confession to start off with… I have always been a big fan of most things that fall under the (rather vague) umbrella term of ‘Goth’. Just to clarify, I am not talking about Germanic invaders to the Roman Empire circa 3rd – 5th century AD*! Instead, the things that they lent their name to hundreds of years later: architecture, literature, music and fashion.
Having several like-minded friends, what became known as “The Gothic Jaunt” to London was conceived over two years ago. Ultimately, only two of us were able to make it, but it was a wonderful trip that took in St Dunstan’s in the East, Highgate Cemetery and – unexpectedly – Tate Modern.
St Dunstan in the East
Exploring St Dunstan
The beautiful flowers
My friend Helena
Oh my goth.
St Dunstan in the East is one of those “hidden gems” that Time Out magazine alerted me to many years ago. It has gone through a lot, being severely damaged both in the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. Having been re-built/repaired multiple times, it was decided in 1967 to turn what remained of the church into a public garden, which opened in 1971. The steeple (designed by Christopher Wren, the needle spire supported by flying buttresses) and the outer walls remain, inside which is a lawn with a water feature and beautiful plants that range from blossoms to palm trees!
West Cemetery gates
Entering Egyptian Avenue
After a relaxing look round St Dunstan, we moved on to the famous Highgate Cemetery, which as you can see from the view of London above, is very high indeed! The plot opened in 1839, as part of a plan by Stephen Geary to create a grand, more dignified burial site than what was currently on offer. Originally the surrounding gardens were all landscaped, with little to no trees, leaving what must have been a stunning view of central London. These days, the entire area is overgrown with trees that were planted without human influence. A lot of the beautiful Victorian memorials have been disturbed by roots and overtaken by branches, causing my friend to describe it initially as a “hodgepodge”. Accurate, perhaps, but what a stunning hodgepodge it is.
Circle of Lebanon
Inside the Circle of Lebanon
Mausoleum of Julius Beer
There are too many phenomenal Victorian Gothic memorials, edifices, structures and mausoleums to talk of here. I would highly recommend taking a tour (the only way to see the West side), so you can learn all about the Egyptian Avenue, the Circle of Lebanon, the Mausoleum of Julius Beer and some of the famous people buried there (most recently George Michael, but out of respect he is not part of the tour). You must book ahead (far ahead) on a week day, but on weekends you can just turn up.
East cemetery stroll
The East Cemetery was an extension created in 1860. Although it has a fair share of Victorian graves, obelisks and memorials, it lacks the grand Gothic structures of the West. You are far more likely to find famous people of the last century buried here: people as diverse as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaran, Alan Sillitoe, Patrick Caulfield, Jeremy Beadle and George Elliot (to name but a few). As such, you are also likely to see much more modern grave designs, which was intriguing.
The final part of our trip was supposed to be a visit to an amazing statue by Dashi Namdakov, located at Marble arch as part of the Halcyon Gallery. Sadly, the “She Guardian” has been sold and is no longer there! Fortunately for us, we had discovered that Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya was currently covering the south terrace of the Tate Modern with fog! We decided that this would be a suitably atmospheric end to the day and made our way there. The fog was rather wet, but yielded some great pictures!
Not to be mist
I had originally intended to wear something much more strikingly “Gothic” in honour of our trip. Lamentably, it was SO hot that I decided – despite the vampyric authenticity – that I would rather dress-down than melt! Perhaps the next Gothic Jaunt to London should be planned for a colder month, for there is so much more still to see: Strawberry Hill, Severndroog Castle, Christ church Spitalfields, Burnhill Fields… Watch this space!
Michael here once again with tales from Ipswich Museum.
One of the roles of our Visitor Services Team is to keep the museum clean and tidy. We do some work before the doors open in the morning, but we also keep an eye on things during the day. Tissues are dropped, maps get shredded, whilst toys, costumes and cushions get thrown about. Nothing terrible, though vomiting schoolchildren can be more of a challenge!
As I keep an eye on things, I have become increasingly aware of nose prints on glass. Finger and hand prints are always to be found on the display cases, but nose prints are different. Nose prints are a sign of genuine interest. They represent a need to get closer to the object. A visitor wants to look much harder to understand what is in front of them. In this situation they become oblivious to glass, it’s transparency creates a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind’…which is when they hit the glass.
Wooly Mammoth Skull
Moai kava Kava statue from Easter Island
Usually there is a round, oily mark from the tip of the nose. Occasionally we find a more pronounced shape, which takes in the bridge, tip and nostrils. This implies a more intense level of focus. Now and then, I come across the highest level of absorption, which contains a full nose print combined with a section of forehead. This must be painful. I have heard “ouches” in the gallery followed by laughter or embarrassed denial.
Larger hairy Armadillo
Nut,Egyptian goddess of the sky
It is firm proof that our collections can fascinate and absorb people. Museums today have a necessary obsession with data collection and visitor feedback. There is an important need to understand what aspects of our displays are of particular relevance to our local communities. Maybe nose prints can become part of this data collection process, where the highest density of oily, nose marks points to the highest level of visitor engagement. Maybe charts or tables can be created, like the ones football pundits on TV use in their post-match analysis, which show clusters of visitor movement and engagement based on nose print ratios.
Northern Kwaikiutl Mask
Anglo Saxon Sword Belt Mount from the Rendlesham Hoard
Sea Horses from the North Sea
I have photographed some of the key objects in Ipswich Museum that accumulate the most smears, so you can see for yourself what attracts the highest scrutiny. This is a statistically unproven representation of course.
In the meantime, it’s my job to remove nose prints with a damp glass cloth, helping the next visitor to see clearly and engage more deeply.
After being ill for about a week, I have a new sense of energy, which I will now express in a fantastic blog post…….
Following Tim and Esme’s posts, you are probably seeing a trend. I am also going to talk to you about my placement, which has been at the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham.
Before I start, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Alfred Munnings. He was a well-known Suffolk artist of the early 20th century. He was a keen painter of the quintessential landscape, but is more commonly known for his skillful works of horse’s in action. Castle House was Munnings home for much of his life, but is now owned by the Castle House Trust and was made into a museum and research centre, dedicated to his life and works.
My Wife My Horse My Wife display
An an art lover, I am undertaking a very exciting and highly involved task for my placement. Museums can have massive collections, which have been accessioned over many years and there is not always a complete paper trail for every object. As a result there is much work to be done to properly document objects and modern database technology has allowed for this task to become easier.
The Munnings Art Museum is no exception and my task is to document, catalogue and digitise wonderful artist sketchbooks into their collections database.
For me, a day at Munnings is usually split into two activities. The main one involves taking sketchbooks from the store and recording the details of every page into an entry on their database. I have to assign each page a number, fill in information like it’s location and measurements, and write a basic description for identification purposes.
The other task is to photograph the pages, making sure to have a variety of shots including zoomed in details. Once I have a whole sketchbook complete, I go back to the database and upload the photos to the relevant entry.
And voila! You have a fully catalogued sketchbook with information and pictures!
Photographing the sketchbooks
This has been such a valuable opportunity in two ways. Firstly, I refer back to my title-pun: “Horses for Courses”. Munnings Art Museum has been an ideal placement for me, coupling my strong passion for art and keen interest in collections management. Secondly it has given me an insight into how an independent museum operates, as opposed to Colchester + Ipswich Museums, which is local authority run.
Finally, I’d like to just say a huge thank you to The Munnings Art Museum for having me. They have a fantastic and knowledgeable team who dedicate their time towards researching the artist, and I really take my hat off to them.
If you are ever in Dedham, make sure you stop by at the museum. It is highly recommended and they have a new exhibition, titled ‘Munnings and the River’.
Upon finishing The Training Museum traineeship (2015-2016), I started a casual position at Ipswich Museums on Visitors Services, which is very exciting and I am loving it as always! As well as this, I was lucky enough to gain a volunteer placement with UNICEF UK in London from February – March. I really enjoy working with and for children, having previously worked at primary schools, run projects for young people (Supplementary Schools) and volunteered at Oxfam, Age UK and the NSPCC.
Finding my way in London
My role at UNICEF UK was ‘Community Fundraising Volunteer’, working within the Public Fundraising Department in the Community Team. I was chosen to support a project with top fundraising schools (TFS), which are those that raise the most for UNICEF through their own events, activity days, charity weeks and many other amazing methods. My main responsibility was to contact and correspond with the top 30 TFS to gather research regarding their invaluable fundraising efforts. I was creating case studies about each school, finding out things like:
how are decisions made about which charity to support?
when in the school year does this happen?
what events do they organise to raise such huge amounts of money?
what fundraising plans do they have lined up?
Much of the work I was doing involved researching the schools, finding contact details, updating databases and then contacting them via email and telephone. Over the three weeks I managed to contact all 30 schools and organised around 10 phone calls with teachers, providing vital information about their annual fundraising efforts and discovering the activities the students most enjoyed.
I was also involved in creating fundraising ideas for the months of April and May, which are being used as online resources for schools, as well as updating spread sheets and internal databases, and organising phone calls with teachers from around the UK and Europe. I even assistied a video shoot with UNICEF UK High Profile Supporter, Cel Spellman, for this years ‘Day For Change’, which was very exciting! (Spot my hands in this sticker sketch!)
The other videos we shot can be viewed on the webpages below:
While this placement might seem a million miles from what I was doing at Colchester + Ipswich Museums, I was able to use many of the experiences and skills I had gained. For example, I was working within a large, fast paced team to achieve set project goals, so communicating well with the public and networking was essential. Having the confidence to make connections with key people, organise meetings with different teams and working with senior fundraising staff was very beneficial. It was a brilliant experience, where I could showcase my passion for working with and for children. I learnt more about the impact of public fundraising for charitable organisations, whilst making strong connections within UNICEF UK.
I am so grateful to have been chosen for the placement and hopefully I’ll be back in the fundraising or development fields in the near future!