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.

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.


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.



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.


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.



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!


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.


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.


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.


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,


Ickworth House

Hello from Elisha!

So for the last 2 months or so the Trainees have been on external placements for one day a week. This was to gain a better understanding of how other museums or cultural organisations work. I was based at Ickworth House, a National Trust owned, neoclassical country house, built between 1795 and 1829.

I was really excited to get started with the placement and, having never been to Ickworth before, I was very happy to be greeted with the stunning view shown above. My typical day consisted of helping to clean and prepare the building for the public in the mornings, while in the afternoon I would get involved in different projects and activities. Cleaning meant being surrounded by scenes such as this:

I was based with the Conservation Assistants and House Team. Getting to work with these teams first hand really built my understanding of their various duties, and how different they are to those at Colchester + Ipswich Museums. I asked numerous questions and learnt a lot about people’s backgrounds and how they got to their current role. Not only this, but I also ate lots of biscuits and sampled some insanely good baking skills in the staff room!

Tours and interacting with the public

I was eager to learn as much about the house as possible during my time, and so joined a couple of the tours led by very dedicated volunteers. The first I attended was of the outside of the building, looking at the friezes that decorate the rotunda. These friezes are based on the illustrations of the Odyssey and Iliad by Flaxman, and are beautiful in their detail. This is a newly developed tour and I was lucky enough to attend its first proper run through. It was interesting for me to see the process involved in writing and delivering new tours.

The second I attended was their ‘Spotlight Tour’, which tells the story of some of the paintings in the house, particularly those of the Hervey family who used to live at Ickworth. The tour takes place after the house has closed to ‘free-flow’ visitors, and so is quite special for members of the public to have the area to themselves. The guide shines two very strong and specially designed torches onto the paintings, bringing out colour and detail that cannot normally be seen. I thought this was fascinating, as family history is something I am particularly interested in.

Inventory Marking

I love getting up close to and exploring objects within a collection. Ickworth House is currently marking objects with new accession numbers, which means they can be identified in the database. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to put my object marking and labeling skills into practise! I worked with the Conservation Assistants and a volunteer, listing all of the items on the shelves and identifying those that needed marking. My favourite object that I worked with was this copper alloy vase decorated with Arabic writing and patterns, as I wasn’t expecting to come across such an item in an English country house.

It was really nice to be able to spend time doing this, as I was also able to clean and repackage the objects, all the while learning more about the collection.

Winding Clocks

Every Tuesday a member of the Conservation team winds all of the clocks in the house and corrects the time on them. This is done during opening hours when visitors are in the building, so that they can observe it happening and ask any questions they may have (quite a crowd can build up!). A big highlight of my time at Ickworth was getting to help with this, as I always enjoy getting hands on with objects.

This clock in particular was my favourite, based on a classical style it shows a horn of plenty next to a cherub harvesting. With its enamel face and intricate and delicate decoration this clock is stunning and a real show stopper in the room.

Conservation in Action

Conservation in Action is a project run in National Trust properties that aims to engage the public with the work the staff do. Conservation Assistant, Sophie, told me that at Ickworth they have been trying to get creative with it, through things such as mini-exhibitions and trails. One of these upcoming mini-exhibitions is ‘Hidden Treasures’, which will uncover some of the objects and areas of Ickworth not normally seen by the public. The exhibition focuses on the conservation of these items and the different challenges each of them present.

I thought this was a really interesting way to tackle both conservation and unveiling unseen parts of the collection to the public, and it was great seeing all of the earlier Conservation in Action projects.


I had a really lovely time at Ickworth and learnt a lot about the difference between a National Trust property and a local authority run museum service. It has actually made me consider routes into the heritage sector within the National Trust, something that I hadn’t really thought about before. A big thank you goes to all the staff who made my time there so enjoyable!

Till next time,

Spirits and Specimens

Aloha Em here,

For the next two months, The Training Museum trainees are taking part in a placement within Colchester + Ipswich Museums, working with a particular team to complete a collections or exhibitions project. Mine is based in The Victorian Gallery in Ipswich Museum, focusing on the reinterpretation of the gallery’s text, themes and overall visual presentation. I am working alongside Molly Carter and Elle Root (Collections and Learning Curators) and Emma Harper (Collections Information Programme Officer) to inventory, research, reinterpret and conserve the objects in the gallery, to give it a fresh new feel.

The first case I have been working on is based around The Victorian Museum and Victorian Science. Scientific and technological advances, developed throughout Queen Victoria’s reign, were vital, such as improvements in communication, scientific discoveries and the power of electricity. These advances are very relevant within our collections. Professor Henslow, the founder and second president of Ipswich Museum, carried out a lot of botanical and natural history research in the 1800’s alongside his student, Charles Darwin! We are extremely lucky to have strong links and collections related to Professor Henslow, which help us represent not only the scientific work going on throughout the Victorian era but also the cultural shift in attitude towards museums – establishing them as positive spaces for education.

During the first week of this project, I was inventorying some glass measuring cylinders, scientific test tubes and fluid specimens including a shrimp, rock leech and starfish. I was working on improving my documentation skills, which we learnt about at the beginning of the traineeship.

This week, I got to carry out conservation on the fluid specimens from the Victorian Gallery, which was very exciting, particularly as I have a love for zoology and things in jars! I worked alongside Molly, James Lumbard (Museum of East Anglian Life intern) and Bob (Conservation Officer) to clean and re-fill the spirit jars so that they were better conserved and presented. The first task we had was to open all of the jar lids, which sounds simple – but it was actually really difficult! The glue solution that sticks the lids to the body of the jar is often extremely strong, to prevent them from coming undone, spillages occurring or pests getting inside. We had to remove the glue using warm water and scalpels, easing it away from each side to allow us to re-fill the jars with a chemical called Industrial Methylated Spirit (IMS). I had previously used IMS during the remedial conservation of the Natural History collection. Some of the jars had small holes pierced into the lids, so we could carefully insert a long syringe to remove the fluid and then re-fill it with a fresh batch of IMS. This is what I’m doing in the photos below.

The difference between the jars before and after they’d been cleaned and re-filled is astonishing, proving how important it is to keep them clean and fresh, both for the conservation of the specimen but also for aesthetic presentation in the gallery. Below is a cuttlefish before and after it had been filled with clean IMS.

I really enjoyed working with Bob to improve and expand my conservation practice. I particularly liked the fluid specimens, as these have always really fascinated me. Learning about how to treat specimens ready for preservation, the storage and preparatory stages for fluid specimens and how to carry out the ‘rehydration process’ was really interesting and something I would like to be able to do more work on in the future.

We also got to work with some of the specimens that Bob had found for us in stores that needed some conservation/love. These included a Lobster and a Whale embryo, which needed to be rehydrated and re-housed in more suitable packaging.

Here’s to  getting the Victorian Gallery re-interpreted before I leave…!!

Until next time,

Em 🙂


Out of the Box, accessioned objects and Vintage in the Park

Hi all, Scott here.

Out of the box 2August has been a very busy month for me at Colchester Museums. I held an Out of the Box session, pitched for objects to become part of our collection and, together with the rest of our team, ran Vintage in the Park at Hollytrees Museum!

My summer Out of the Box session allowed me to show off some of the items that did not make it into my What’s in Store display. This included a chest depicting St Helena, four Oyster Feast menu covers depicting Old King Cole, a news article written in 1891 and a creepy St Helena doll.

DSC_0541The doll was particularly fitting to the ‘What’s in Store’ theme, as long ago it had been packaged incorrectly. Crammed into a small, unsuitable box, with alternative costumes thrown in, both the doll and its packaging demonstrated poor storage practice. With over 500,000 items in our collection, many of which were originally stored decades ago, some objects are not packaged as they should be. It was fun to share this behind the scenes knowledge with visitors, making the actual packaging part of my Out of the Box session. Of course, I repackaged the doll and it’s costumes correctly afterwards, laying it face down (so the eyes don’t fall out) and giving it plenty of space and support. (ps. it’s hair is made from real human hair! and our conservator assured me it was ‘highly flammable’. Spooky.)

Over the last few months I have been gathering a small collection of items that were located in our stores, but not part of our collection. There are a number of reasons why an object might find itself in one of our stores without being accessioned. It is mostly likely from a time when documentation procedures were not followed quite as well as they are now. Thankfully, this does not happen often at CIMS. I found 4 objects that were, technically speaking, not part of our collection. mickey mouse gas maskThis included a Micky Mouse gas mask, NHS nurse caps, glass plate negatives and some cameras. After researching the items, and cross referencing them with our current records, I recognised that our collection would benefit from most of them. I then took the objects to a ‘Collections Learning Group’. This group, made up of museum staff, determines if we should accession something into our collection. I am thrilled that all of the objects I pitched have been selected to join Colchester’s collection.

It is now my job to add these items to our database, giving them an object ID number, storage location and description (including measurements and condition). I will also be contacting the people who donated them to ask for additional information where it’s required.

Lastly, Vintage in the Park finally happened and it was a great successes! Despite some bad weather in the morning, everything went according to plan. The stalls had great merchandise, the musicians were amazing and over 300 people visited Hollytrees Museum, well exceeding our target. Once we have conducted our evaluation Alex, Elisha or I will share more details!


A ‘Mammoth’ mission!

Hi Em here,

Just a quick post this week to let you know that on Monday 25 July, I got to fulfill one of the dreams I have had since starting my traineeship in November last year; I got to clean ‘Wool-I-Am’, our lovely Mammoth at Ipswich Museum!

With help from Bob (Conservation Officer), we started off by hoovering the top of the Mammoth from the balcony using standard hoovers. We managed to remove the pencil shavings, pieces of litter and paperclips that have been dropped on her. Next, I got to wear the cool, ghost-busters style hoover to clean the rest of the body. The bits requiring a ladder were not the easiest!

We were giving this fine specimen a particularly thorough clean because she is being entered into the annual Object of the Year competition, which is open to museums from around Suffolk. You can submit an object that you think is a show-stopper and represents your museum to the visitors. The entrants are then voted for and a prize given for ‘Museum Object of the Year’. For 2016, Ipswich Museums are entering our Mammoth, which is an accurate reconstruction of the Maidenhall Mammoth, thought to have roamed around East Anglia up to 40,000 years ago! Wool-I-Am is most definitely the star attraction at Ipswich Museum, causing visitors to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ every time they see her giant, hairy face, tusks and massive woolly body. In 2014, ‘Felixstowe to Ipswich Coach’, a painting by Russell Sidney Reeve that is housed in Christchurch Mansion, won the prestigious Object of the Year award. Fingers crossed Wool-I-Am can produce the goods this year!

You can vote for Wool-I-Am here – http://suffolkmuseums.org/museums/news/yop-poll-archive/

Ciao for now,

Em 🙂

p.s. Ipswich Museum is also running for ‘Suffolk Museum of the Year’ award, so if you visit and feel so inclined, please do vote for us to be nominated, that would be WOOL-derful!

Battle of the Somme

Hi there, Sammi reporting today.

British Legion Somme 100After seven months we finally have an exhibition of our own to boast about. On Thursday 30 June, the Battle of the Somme commemoration display was installed in Christchurch Mansion (situated in the Library on the first floor). The objects belonged to people from Suffolk and represent a very heroic story of their contribution during the First World War. It has been a difficult subject to cover, due to the many lives that were lost, but it is one that must be remembered. We were privileged to have been provided with an event pack, specifically made for the Somme by the British Royal Legion.

The Ipswich Trainees have been able to put all that we have learnt through the training program into action. With guidance from Elle (Collections and Learning Curator), we have managed every step, from the initial planning stages through to the research and installation. We consulted with Bob (Conservation Officer) regarding the suitability of the light, temperature and humidity levels, which are important elements of conservation. Accessibility and design were covered by our Exhibitions team, who assisted with the colours and graphics.

I have certainly learnt a lot about the process and all the hard work that happens behind the scenes to produce an engaging display for our visitors. Someone told me today that it doesn’t matter how big or small it is (apart from the difference in the amount of text panels and objects used), the whole procedure is just as challenging to create a good display.

Now that I’ve had a go with exhibition display, I feel the itch to continue with further projects. Before this post has even gone live I believe I shall have got my hands dirty again with paint, adding new colour to the Chinese displays in Ipswich Museum. Please do come and take a look. We hope that our hard work will help improve the spaces within the Museum for our visitors.

Until next time! Bye for now! 再見