Hidden gems

Hi, it’s Esme again for one last belated post,

During my time at Colchester + Ipswich Museums I worked on a major collections project, which involved moving objects. As we spent time working with them, we were able to wonder at the wonderful and complex collections in front of us. There were many hidden gems, so I thought I’d share a few of the interesting finds I encountered… and those that I remembered to photograph.


I very carefully helped to refresh some of the packaging, using materials such as acid free tissue. By using this, we can protect objects while they are in storage. For example, if an object is heavy, we would support the whole surface in order to relieve areas of stress. This would prevent any further damage happening and preserve our incredible collections for others in the future.


Re-labeling was also an important job. This label for a North Sea Oyster shell from Brightlingsea was in a fragile state due to age and will require paper conservation. For new labels we used specialist pens that have an inert ink, which wouldn’t damage or react with the objects.


I worked on a draw of lead samples, which was incredibly heavy! Lead is very toxic so I had to wear nitrile gloves and make sure not to scratch my itchy nose (or accidentally lick any of the specimens!). Some of the samples I encountered were quite plain, but others were more detailed with crystals scattered over surfaces…

The sample on the left was giant and made up of barite crystals covering lead galena (a lead based ore). It may not be a native mineral to Colchester, but it is relevant to our collections, as ancient people such as the Romans would have smelted this rock to obtain lead; an important metal that was used to make water pipes!

From a first glance it was difficult to imagine where and how such objects would have been found. These kind of details are recorded by museums on a collections database. Each object is assigned a number and the location is logged. It’s then possible to recall more detailed information. Often, people undertaking research may need to study a specific part of a collection. In the meantime, the museum staff will be looking after it.


Large and delicate coral structures (about as big as a dinner plate to give you some idea) are also part of the natural science collections at Colchester Museums and proved challenging to repack. Each object was individually assessed and extra care taken when handling. The corals got repacked into suitably sized boxes, where their surfaces are protected by inert packaging and their weight better supported.

If you would like to join see more top finds from the collections at Colchester, then head over to @ColMuseums and @EssexFlo. They regularly share objects from the stores, so keep checking in to see what the team uncover!


A life of their own

Hi, Esme again,

Sharing a few more photos that I have stumbled across while sifting for images for the Colchester + Ipswich Museums website.

The photos and objects that have stood out are the ones that have a little bit of personality.  I found these images of a seal being moved by the team at Ipswich Museum amusing. It is a taxidermy seal, but it is hard to tell! I was also drawn to them as the seal is totally out of context.


Ipswich Museum has a wide variety of collections from around the world. Just writing this post has made me realise how much less familiar I am them in comparison to Colchester Castle. Below is an image from the Egyptian collections. Was the Ancient Egyptian that this was made for quite mischievous?

2 Temple Place, Ipswich Museum

Looking through the photos, it made me realise how much we can attribute personality to objects. In museums our job is to tell the story of the object and something about it’s history. Sometimes this can be difficult, but in these examples, their expressions give them a life of their own.

If you have any captions for them please add them in the comments below!

Until next time,


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!


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,


Feeling toasty

As a Trainee, we are encouraged to develop our skills in areas that we may be less confident in. For me, this is most definitely the world of presentations.

Recently, I visited the Saffron Walden Toastmasters group, designed for those that wish to practice and improve their presenting, communication and leadership skills (thank you to Charles Greensitt for supplying the photos).

Toastmasters SW 1

As a visitor to the group, I was able to experience presentations by people with very varied levels of experience in speaking. Some (below) regularly compete in regional finals…

Toastmasters SW 3

…and for others it was their very first time talking. Feedback is given to each speaker by an evaluator. Through listening to both the talks and especially the evaluation, I was able to gain pointers on good practice when talking to a group.

These included:

  • Moving and making full use of the stage.
  • Making good eye contact.
  • Using gestures and props to aid communication.
  • Interactive elements – e.g. the audience raising their hands to answer multiple choice questions about a subject they had just been listening to.
  • Structuring a talk – making sure that the beginning, middle and end tie together. The number three was mentioned as a golden ratio for structure.
  • Make it fun – both informing and entertaining.

I also learnt that however confident someone might be as a communicator, there is always room for improvement. With this in mind, I have been working to increase my experience of talking and presenting to groups. 

One way has been through the school visits to Colchester Castle, which support classroom learning. Recently, I have been able to gain confidence presenting by taking groups around on our Castles tour. This involves wearing costume and getting the children (and sometimes willing adults) to dress up as knights, in order to learn about day to day life during Norman times and defence of a castle.

Below is a piece of graffiti that can be seen on the tour. It was carved into the walls of the spiral staircase to ward off witches.

Esme tour 3

From the beginning of the traineeship, I found the idea of leading tours daunting, so I decided to focus on our Castle-themed one to begin with, as it is for younger children.

I often find it difficult to absorb information, especially in script form, as I learn best either visually or by physically doing something. I began by watching fellow colleagues lead tours and was able to pick up tips on what to ask the children and how to capture their imagination, all while moving the group around within a set timeframe.

My colleagues were patient and supportive, helping me to learn the script and practice taking tours under supervision. I am now able to support the schools programme at the Castle, which I am very happy about – it’s a lot of fun! … Here I am, preparing to fire a bow and arrow at the evil knights attacking the Castle.

Esme tour 1

Yesterday, I gave a short presentation on metal alloys at our morning staff meeting (see the photo at the top of this post). It was to gain experience of talking in front of larger groups. I tried to present information that could help with our understanding of metal collections and their alloys when talking to the general public.


It was reasonably successful and I put into practice some of what I had learnt from both the Toastmasters group and leading tours, using props to illustrate metal atoms in the form of chocolate. If in doubt – chocolate saves the day!

Signing off,


From paint pots to paw prints

It’s Spring! Below are a couple of snippets from projects that I’ve worked on in the past month…

At the beginning of April I helped with de-installing Eduardo Paolozzi: General Dynamic F.U.N. at Ipswich Art Gallery, which rolled into the installation of the current Open Call exhibition. Here we have the artwork ready to return home. Bye bye Paolozzi! 


Next, the Open Call exhibition!

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.

image - open call NH

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.

Open Call runs at Ipswich Art Gallery from Monday 8 April until Monday 5 June. If you visit, make sure to vote for your favourite!

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!



Chug life

Hello! Esme here.

During the Moving on Up conference in Edinburgh, which Colchester + Ipswich Trainees attended back in February, I had a few conversations with fellow attendees on the stumbling blocks that can occur when trying to obtain the job that you would really love, especially within museums.

Through past and current practice, I have been learning that the more experience you can gain the better when working towards this goal. Practical experience is very valuable, as it is possible to learn new skills, develop strengths and fill in the weaker gaps while on two feet. Both traineeships and apprenticeships are paving the way forward, especially when the costs of study or volunteering are not feasible for all.

On this note, I feel very lucky that I am currently being immersed into the world of railways, steam engines and locomotives one day per week on a work placement at the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel in Essex.


The East Anglian Railway Museum is an Accredited Museum and has an incredible collection of steam engines (I have learnt not to say trains, it’s not the done thing), carriages and memorabilia related to the region on display. They also do amazing Sunday Roast dinners on the last Sunday of every month! *just saying*

It’s a very interesting place to be working at, as unusually the site is live and has a railway running through the middle of the museum. This carries passengers to stops between Marks Tey and Sudbury.

The Restoration Shed is where all the action takes place and volunteers work tirelessly, restoring engines to working order. Visitors can stop to chat to the engineers at work, which breathes life, or should I say coal fire, into the collections.

Sometimes Thomas the Tank Engine comes to visit when he is poorly. If you are of a sensitive disposition look away now!

EARM restoration 3.jpegPercy the engine and Thomas… in bits.

EARM restoration 1Museum engineers working with incredibly heavy collections.

Being a small museum, run with the help of many volunteers, there is much to do. On this placement, I have been helping to re-develop the tour and family trails. The plan is to have a light but informative whistle stop tour, so that people gain an insight into the history of the site, what it was like to work and travel on the railway from 1890 and what is happening at the museum now and in the future – a lot to cover in just under an hour!

I hope to update you more with my progress soon!