My Trainee Journey – A reflection of (almost) a year in museums

Hello again

The end is nigh for my, and my remaining colleagues’ traineeship. It is rather scary, as it only feels like last month we had our induction week.

I have been on leaps and bound these last 11 months. I’ve achieved things I never thought I would, and learned every step of the way. From documenting African collections and Munnings’ sketchbooks, to project management around Autism accessibility, and not to mention all those fun work trips and conferences like Moving on Up and Transformers.

What I am keen to write about is my perception of museums in general, before and at the end of my traineeship. Everyone who works in museums, always says “you will never visit/look at a museum/exhibit in the same way again!” and this is certainly true. For example, when visiting my brother in Glasgow, I went on a trip to the Riverside Museum and I actually enjoyed it more than the art museums I used to always see and love.

I could write a whole thesis on this, but I’ll stick to my main points. The reason I particularly enjoyed the Riverside is because I now have a better understanding of museums, rather than JUST the collections, as I did before the traineeship.

Museums are more than simply physical buildings of historic objects, as I have learned through The Training Museum and from everyone of my colleagues at Ipswich, regardless of their role or position.

They are the centre of a community. The objects and history are the core of a museum, this I have no doubt, but they do not define it. Rather they are a strong case for having a presence in the community.

Without going off on one, I want to conclude by saying: next time you are visiting a museum and you see a Tudor Cap dating 1504, or a master class painting from the 20 century, remember that there is so much more going on around those objects, and museums are, and always will be, striving to change lives.

Phew! A bit of an article, but I hope you get my drift.

Until next time

Mark

[I dedicate to this post to every colleague in the last 12 months who has made this traineeship a success.]

 

The Keys to the Museum

Hello, Michael here again.

It’s been quite a task this past year getting to know the innumerable keys for the different museum buildings. Large ones, small ones, even tiny ones! Old keys, as well as new keys. Silver, gold and bronze keys. One has a bit of red tape, another has a B written on it. One has a triangular head, another looks like a helmet. No one knows what this other key is for.

The keyholes also pose a bit of a challenge. Some are difficult to manoeuvre, they need to be waggled or tugged in a certain way before the mechanism will respond. You need to get to know them. Others turn anti-clockwise. Some keyholes are very hard to get at and involve crouching or stretching to reach them. There are doors that push open, doors that pull out, screens that slide across or shutters that lift. Large historic locks with big black keys are my personal favourite. It is very satisfying to unlock the main door to Christchurch Mansion.

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Roman keys from Castle Hill Villa, Ipswich

The process of getting to know all the keys has gone hand in hand with understanding the job. It is a happy experience now to open up in the mornings. I know what key unlocks each door and the whole process glides along like a pleasing ritual that must be performed every day.

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There are dangers however. The jangle of a large set of keys is very uplifting, but it’s also something to be wary of. Walking through the museum at closing time and jingling your keys can lead to an over-inflated sense of self-importance. ‘It’s time to go home!’ they tell the last few visitors in an officious manner as we roll towards 5pm. This feeling is quickly pricked when you realise you still haven’t quite got the hang of all the alarms and security settings (luckily the Duty Officer has) and that there is always plenty more to learn in this job.

Michael

A penny found

Hi, Esme here,

Just thought I would share this incredible photo with you. I stumbled across it while sifting for images for the Colchester + Ipswich Museums website, which is undergoing a revamp so visitors can better access our services.

The image may have been shared through our Museum social media in the past, but I thought that it was just too good not to share again and I am sure that Colchester cyclists today would find this image inspiring.

I can’t help but wonder how fast the race would have been. Due to photography at the time, surely they might have been more blurry if they were moving at great speed? Unlike the two in the distance, wobbling along and having a chat.

I did a little research into penny farthings and found a famous quote from American author Mark Twain, which he wrote while learning to ride (also known as an ordinary) that goes: “Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.” How brilliant that someone thought to record this race and that it has been kept safe, so we can peer into the incredibly dangerous world of penny farthing races!

Until next time!

Esme

Oh Happy Study Day!

Hello, Michael here again.

A day at the British Museum! What more could a Trainee want? Especially as the visit took us behind the scenes and introduced us to the mounting and storage methods used by the Collections Team for their vast trove of works on paper.

I have always been fascinated by drawing, painting and print-making. When I saw the British Museum had organised a Skills Sharing Day devoted to the care and presentation of these works, I was quick to book a place. I’m not usually a morning person, but on this occasion, I was very happy to be on the 6.18am train to London. I even arrived early in the fierce London heat, full of eager anticipation… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The morning was spent studying the different materials and methods used to mount and display works on paper. We learnt about conservation mount boards, their different types and weights and how The British Museum uses a French-made brand. We learnt about hinging and backboards, as well as melinex sheets to protect fragile surfaces. We also got to make two hinges from delicate Japanese paper, a V-hinge and a T-hinge, which hold and support the paper within the mount.

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Box of Italian Renaissance drawings.

I have always been able to spot a British Museum mount for two reasons. The first is their elegant rounded corners and we were given a demonstration of their simple and effective corner cutter. The second is the distinctive stamped name and details that appear below the window aperture. Again, we were given an explanation of the manual typographic stamper, which requires a good eye, a steady hand and a brave heart to use. Following the practical work, we toured the hi-tech mounting room, containing huge computerised mount cutters, as well as traditional manual devices.

After lunch, we moved to The Prints and Drawings Study Room, an historic interior with a special atmosphere. Here we were shown several methods of storage used by the museum including conservation boxes, portfolios and folders. I was impressed by the way they had used a difficult Victorian space to accommodate a vast number of priceless works. Boxes marked Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and Constable filled the old storage-shelved cupboards. Prints by Rembrandt, a drawing by Degas and the original print blocks engraved by Durer were all brought out for us to see. I knew I was in Heaven when I sat down to look through an original, hand-coloured copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.

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The day was full of fascinating insights into the way The British Museum operates and it was all delivered in a practical and helpful tone. It felt like one group of museum professionals helping others with sensible, down-to-earth advice, which is exactly what the day had been designed to be.

I felt very lucky to be a part of it.

Michael.

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Dropping a Clanger*

*No Clangers were harmed in the making of this blog post.

I promise I did not actually drop one of the Clangers when helping with exhibition set up of Bagpuss, Clangers & Co at Ipswich Art Gallery last week! The exhibitions team did however, discuss the meaning of ‘dropping a clanger’ while working on the installation.

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The name ‘Clanger’ was developed for the animated, pink, knitted space mice from the sound that a metal bin lid might make when struck or dropped. This travelling exhibition from the V&A Museum of Childhood allows young and old to visit their favourite characters in person. You can peek into the creative minds of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, who produced the Clangers, Ivor the Engine, Pogles Wood, Noggin the Nog and Bagpuss.

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When I arrived to help, the Clangers themselves had been installed and were patiently waiting for the exhibition opening. I helped with different tasks such as condition reporting, which involved getting up close to the terrifying witch from Pogles Wood. She was once banned from BBC Television for being too scary!

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I also helped to repack crates using a packing manual. Here are some of the boxes to be packed. Each page of the manual showed the order that the boxes should be packed, basically like a giant 3D jigsaw.

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Each crate must be packed and unpacked in a certain way so that all the objects fit in, and condition reports put back in order for when the exhibition travels to it’s next location. It is then unpacked in the same order. As the objects are taken out, their condition is monitored and recorded. This process is then repeated at the end of the exhibition and is important as it may determine how the objects are displayed (especially if they have delicate or fragile components) or if they require treatment by a Conservator.

I felt very lucky to be able to help re-assemble the monitor that was used to create the animations. I also sorted through condition reports and arranged them back into order…

Interactivity has been built into the exhibition, with touch screens allowing visitors to become a filmmaker and create their very own stop motion animation. We all agreed this was an excellent way to educate, entertain and inspire creativity. Below are the instructions on how to use the App.

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A motion sensor also catches visitors unaware and makes various sounds, talks and plays music to bring still images to life. This was well tested, as whenever I wanted to ask a question, I would have to patiently wait for the loud squeaking of the Clangers or chugging of Ivor the Engine to finish.

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I loved helping with the set up of this exhibition, the work was practical and it felt very rewarding to be working as part of a team to meet our exhibition opening deadline. I have fond childhood memories of watching these programmes on the telly and I am sure this will be prompting much discussion from visitors whose own imaginations were also captured by these magical and fantastical inventions.

Bagpuss, Clangers & Co is open now at Ipswich Art Gallery until Sunday 29 October 2017… and it’s free! Do pay it a visit!

Until next time,

Esme

Let’s Hear It For Volunteers!

Hello, Michael here once again.

This week (1-7 June 2017) is Volunteers Week, a national celebration of the important contribution made by dedicated and caring people from all walks of life. Obviously volunteers work across many areas of society, but I’m going to focus on the ones that support Ipswich Museum.

As part of The Training Museum programme, I have recently begun work on a project that involves digitising part of the works on paper collection. This is a dream job for me as I’m a great lover of paintings, drawings and prints. I also get to work with two volunteers, which is something new. Over the course of the project, I will be organising how we do things in what will hopefully become a well-oiled machine.

Works on paper

Tat and Joan are two lovely people, with a great interest in Colchester + Ipswich Museums and their collections. They are very efficient and have quickly settled into the process of documenting and scanning pictures.

I can see they get a great deal of satisfaction from helping to raise awareness and understanding of our vast collection and so do I. Firstly, we record measurements, titles, artists, accession numbers and locations. When this done, we scan each picture at a very high resolution (600 dpi is Museum Standard). Having worked as an illustrator for thirty years, I am exceedingly envious of the large and impressive scanner we are using.

Works on paper digitising

Our work will be put into the MODES collections database at the museum and eventually be uploaded to the Art UK website, which will make these pictures available for all to see for the first time. This is one of my favourite websites, so it is great to be contributing to it.

I have witnessed first hand Tat and Joan getting up close to the collection, handling and measuring beautiful prints and drawings. I enjoy the atmosphere of calm focus in the room. Then there is the sense of achievement and satisfaction as we complete each box of prints. The volunteers make a huge contribution to this project. If we multiply this out across the museum and then throughout society, we see what a valuable asset volunteers are to all of us.

This week, Christchurch Mansion hosted a celebration event for our volunteers. It was a small way of saying thank you for all their hard work and support.

Michael

One Small Step For Trainee’s, One Giant Leap for Mankind

Hello everyone!

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 ProgrammeOne 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!

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!

Chao for now!

Mark