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.

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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.

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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

Follow the Nose!

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!

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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Michael

Horse’s for Courses at the Munnings Art Museum

Salutations folks, Mark reporting.

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.

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!

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’.

That is all. Mark signing off.

Drawing the Object

Hello everyone, Michael here.

There is a hidden treasure in Ipswich Museum! A group of objects that are rarely, if ever seen by the general public. These are the Accession Registers, a group of unique books cataloging each object that has come in. They have a very important function. They help curators, conservators and researchers understand exactly what we have, when it came into the collection, how and where from.

I feel very privileged to be handling these books as part of my  work on the Collections Information Programme. Ipswich Museums are currently updating and digitising all the information about their objects. This is a mammoth task when you consider that there are around 77,000! Some of my time is spent photographing objects or transferring information from index cards onto a spreadsheet. I’ve also been packing and unpacking items and recording where they are located.

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Part of researching an object can involve looking it up in the Accession Register. These beautiful, decade by decade records are often hand written. They are full of carefully observed drawings and elegant hand-writing, and I have become a little obsessed with the simple beauty of the drawings. They are both elegant and functional. I love to draw. I find it the best way to really study what a thing looks like, so I find it fascinating to see how carefully these objects have been rendered. They seem to be mostly anonymous and the fact that they are hidden away in a book, inside a locked cupboard demonstrates the humility and dedication of the draughtsmen.

To me, they are quiet little masterpieces. I love the warmth and humanity that is conveyed in the simplicity of the black ink lines. They make me think of all the dedicated curators and museum illustrators that have come before me in this building. The examples I have used are from the 1920 register, but there are many, many more.

That’s all for now. I need to get back to those Accession Registers…

Michael

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