Hi, Elisha and Scott here!
So after months of work, our displays for the What’s in Store exhibition were installed in Hollytrees Museum. The exhibition aims to bring objects out of the museum stores, so the public can engage with collections they wouldn’t normally see. Not only did we choose objects, but Art and Design students from Colchester Institute also worked on their own display. The look of the exhibition, including the shelving, mimics a museum storeroom.
The install began in the afternoon and we worked alongside Darren (Senior Exhibitions Officer), Graham (Exhibition and Display Officer), Sophie (Collections and Learning Curator) and Emma (Conservation Officer). It was all quite exciting and so of course, we have to share how the day went.
As I have mentioned before, Egypt was my first choice for this display. I have loved Egypt since I was about 6 years old, and so was really excited to have the opportunity to tell the story of this fascinating culture and Colchester’s connection to it. I’ve had a wonderful time getting to work so closely with the Egyptian collection, and have really enjoyed the freedom I’ve had to be creative. I brought the Egyptian objects over to the temporary exhibition gallery in Hollytrees and got to see the great work Darren and Graham had done getting the room ready.
I began by placing all of the objects on the correct shelves, to get an idea of space. The top shelf is themed around mummification, the middle Egyptian flint, and the bottom is a display of shabtis. I also added some storage boxes and acid free paper (which is what we wrap objects in) to keep with the theme. As I’ve never been too interested in flint, I thought that this would be the shelf that didn’t look as interesting as the others. However to make the display more engaging, I added a map drawn by Mr. Heywood Seton-Karr (the man who discovered the objects), as well as his original labels for the flint. I have been pleasantly surprised, as a few people have already commented that this is their favourite shelf.
It took a long time for me to decide where to place everything. I was constantly moving an object by a centimetre, stepping back, staring at it, then moving it again. Emma assured me that is what installing exhibitions is all about. Part of my display features a mummified foot and due to the ethics of exhibiting human remains, a lot of thought went into how it should be displayed. We decided to keep the object in a box, with a label identifying it as containing human remains, and partly cover it with tissue. That way the foot is not so ‘on show’ and the public don’t have to see it if they wish not to. Planning this display has really furthered my understanding of how a museum tackles issues such as these. An item I am particularly proud to display is the fragment of Egyptian coffin that was discovered in the stores of Colchester Museums. I researched and translated the hieroglyphs on this object myself.
I am incredibly excited to be a part of this exhibition, having my own display in a museum (especially on Egypt!) is a childhood dream come true. I wish one day to be a museum curator, and so hopefully this is just the first of many exhibitions to come. A big thank you goes to all team at Colchester Museums who have been so helpful during the process. I’m really looking forward to showing my friends and family the exhibition, as well as hearing the public’s feedback.
Some people rolled their eyes when I said my display case would be about Old King Cole, a legendary character in British history made famous by a poem. (I should add, none of these people were from Colchester + Ipswich Museums, who all supported my idea). This reaction did not surprise me however. There is a belief by some that a museum should only display particular things. If you walk around most national museums, you’ll understand what I mean. A Curator’s job is to interpret objects and create engaging displays, and that’s exactly what I did.
King Cole changed British culture and history for centuries. St Helena was believed to be his daughter for hundreds of years. King Henry VI claimed to be a descendent of King Cole to help legitimise his reign. Even in 1909, many believed that Old King Cole was a real British King, as depicted in many photographs from the famous Colchester Pageant. Not only did these facts allow me to branch out my exhibition to include a wealth of objects, but they also highlighted that what we think we know about history is always changing! After seeing the display, these ‘eye rollers’ were really impressed to learn that Old King Cole played so many roles in British History.
Installation day was hectic! Largely because I was working on Visitor Services and only had 90 minutes cover to install my objects. Like Elisha, I began by placing all of the objects on the correct shelves to get a sense of space. My top shelf is themed around King Cole’s earliest legacy, including the myth behind St Helena and his relationship with Tudor monarchs. The middle shelf is dedicated to his lasting influence with regards to the Colchester Oyster Feast and the bottom shelf displays social items related to King Cole, including photographs from the famous 1909 pageant and a modern book, entitled ‘Old King Cole Played in Goal’. Keeping to the theme of the exhibition, I also added some storage boxes, museum movement tickets (which are used whenever an item is moved) and acid free paper. I chose to show acid free paper overflowing from one of the boxes; depicting the messier side of stores.
I’m particularly proud of acquiring ‘Old King Cole Played in Goal’. Simply put, a museum does not easily choose to acquire objects. They take up space and museum stores often don’t have much to spare, as well as money and resources. But through research, I noticed that items relating to him abruptly ended in the early 20th century, giving the impression that he was no longer part of popular culture. On the contrary, a quick Google search will flash up tons of King Cole merchandise. To address this misconception, I put forward my case to acquire the book, to represent King Cole’s modern influence, and it was accepted by all of our Curators! ‘Old King Cole Played in Goal’ will now be part of our collection for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It will even be handled with gloves. Fancy!