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


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


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,


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!



A Hundred Warm Welcomes

Hello, Michael here again.

I’ve just found out that this is the 100th blog post from The Training Museum Trainees! I know that pomp, ceremony and fireworks are required for this significant event, so I hope you are suitably uplifted by the end of it.

Whilst working at Ipswich Museums, I have been struck by the efforts of everyone here to make people welcome. It happens at all levels, from Visitor Services to the curatorial teams, from event and workshop organisers to the design and exhibitions team. I don’t think museums were always this open and friendly, but luckily times have changed.

As a boy growing up in the 1970s, I was very interested in drawing and painting. Most of my inspiration came from comics and cartoons. I was from a working class, immigrant family living in inner city Manchester. We weren’t the kind of people that went to museums or were even particularly aware that they existed. Our local school never made a visit to one.

I first noticed Manchester City Art Gallery when I was thirteen. I had walked past a few times on the way to the shops. Though I loved to paint and draw, I had no idea that I might be allowed to go into this building. I noticed that people went in and came out, and that there was a uniformed man at the door, who I assumed would not let me in. The building was very grand, looking like a classical temple with a huge flight of stone steps up to the front door. I stopped and looked several times, occasionally climbing those steps, but never making it through the entrance. The man in uniform glared at the scruffy boy stood outside looking in and I knew it was not a place for me.


I didn’t give up. My interest in art was growing and I was an inquisitive little chap. I found The Whitworth Art Gallery whilst walking my dog Patch. It was a friendlier looking building with an entrance at ground level. Eventually my curiosity got too much. I tied Patch up to the railings and ventured through the door. Nobody stopped me. The guard looked and said nothing. I WAS IN! What I saw there fueled my passion for art and art history, shaping my choice of future career. From that point on, there was no stopping me. When I came out, I realised that Patch had been making a terrible noise all that time and had disturbed all the visitors to the gallery.


I can safely say that museums and galleries have changed my life, which is why it is so wonderful to see how much effort Ipswich Museums put into encouraging people to enter. There is always a friendly smile when you arrive, along with an offer of help. The museum is free for everyone and genuinely attracts a wide range of people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are signs outside to coax you in, as well as encouragement to feel comfortable in the building. This is so important, as our museums and galleries belong to all of us. It’s great to be a small part of this warm welcome.


Maybe the best way to celebrate this 100th blog post is to think of the hundreds and hundreds of warm welcomes that museums offer members of the public each and every day.



Inspired by Nature and Photography

Hello from Michael

Museums and galleries can be places of inspiration. Places that fill you with excitement about the idea of making or doing something for yourself. You look at what someone else has created, whether it was yesterday or 2000 years ago, and think ‘I’m going to have a go at that!’

This is what happened to me last week when, as part of my Visitor Services duties, I was assigned to the Ipswich Art School Gallery for a few hours. Currently showing in this elegant, Art Deco building is the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016’ exhibition. It is a visual feast that fills you with a sense of awe at how vast, beautiful and inventive the natural world really is. Astounding images of extraordinary animals doing amazing things!

Inspired up by this visual extravaganza, I felt the urge to have a go myself. I should start  making plans… maybe a trek through the Andes or an expedition to the North Pole, I could beat my way through the Amazonian jungle or huddle in a hide on a tropical peninsula…

Plans were afoot, but soon reality reared it’s happy little head and a small voice said ‘You are a Trainee for Colchester + Ipswich Museums. You have Collections work on Monday, Training on Tuesday, Visitor Services on Saturday and Sunday, and more besides’. Quite right too!

Next day, as I was on Visitor Services duty in Ipswich Museum, I realised what I could do instead. A set of bird portraits! The Bird Gallery is full of very obliging models! Models that are accessible, that don’t hide under muddy bushes or keep you waiting for hours in the pouring rain, that don’t ruin your best shot because they won’t keep still or refuse to perch where you specifically want them to.

I only had the camera on my phone, which isn’t great, so my options were limited. This didn’t matter too much as the galleries were adequately lit and the taxidermists had created some lovely scenes for me to work with. Taking photographs makes you look closer at the colours and textures of the birds, their feathers and varying forms. You see so much more when you engage actively by photographing or drawing. Remember you can take photographs in the museum but NO FLASH!


This is why museums are such fabulous places. They give us all a chance to be inspired and then the opportunity to have a go! My efforts aren’t great as you can see, but more important is the fact that an exhibition excited me to try something I’d never done before and think creatively about how I could make it happen.

‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016’ is showing at Ipswich Art School Gallery until Sunday 15 January, whilst the birds in the Bird Gallery in Ipswich Museum or the Natural History Museum in Colchester are always around to quietly encourage you in your creative ambitions.

Have fun!


Wonders of China

Hi there, Sammi reporting from China… in the World Cultures Gallery at Ipswich Museum.

Earlier on in the year I began a project to redisplay the Chinese collections in Ipswich. I could relate to many of the objects through my own personal culture and heritage and felt it was a shame that there was little interpretation available. It became a mission of mine to have this in place before I came to the end of the traineeship.

To inform the project, I attended a Chinese and British art exchange exhibition and symposium at the University of Suffolk. The view of the artists and their creations inspired me immensely. Through an artistic approach, many of them were showing the impact of change in China.

Many months were set aside to researching, designing and installing the four display cases. Unfortunately, due to the limited amount of space, I could not display the entire collection. I had to think about what items would be of interest to our audience, including figurines, costumes, weaponry, ceramics and textiles, and decide on the themes connecting them. Being involved in the whole process from start to finish, with the help of all the different teams, I learnt a lot about the exhibition elements involved and about my own heritage too.

It became a clear and natural path for me to connect with the Anglo-Chinese Cultural Exchange (ACCE) charity whilst working on this project. By partnering with this organisation, we were able to open up the museum to a different audience and allow them to be part of our work. I started by running a session at their lunch club, taking some of our objects for them to handle. They in turn shared their stories and knowledge of the items. It seems like a long time ago now that this happened.

Since then, the Chinese displays have been given a new lease of life. Having visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London for inspiration and research, I felt a simpler background brought out the detail of the objects. This has worked magnificently in our gallery. The interpretation has been placed on handhelds with bilingual text in both English and Chinese with the assistance of ACCE.

To continue the successful collaboration with ACCE and promote the great work achieved, a ‘Wonders of China’ event was held at Ipswich Museum on Saturday 22 October.event-map

The day included fun filled activities for all the family. VIP guest, the God of Fortune attended and through a shadow puppet show explained the story of the Chinese zodiac. Although it was quite stressful planning the whole day, the wonderful feedback from visitors and staff made it all worthwhile.

It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to encourage diversity within the museum. Having previously volunteered at Karibu Supplementary School and coincidently worked with Ipswich Museum on the Unlocked project a few years ago, I felt a great sense of achievement in supporting their community engagement. I may even look to do further work in this area in the future.

Thanks for reading!

Sammi 🙂



Happy Halloween 2016

Howdy all,

I can’t actually believe Halloween has been and gone already. ‘It’ll soon be Christmas’ is a phrase I’m not prepared for.

For those of you that don’t know, for the past six weeks or so I have been working one day a week at The Munnings Art Museum in Dedham, organising their Halloween event. Before I continue, I simply cannot take full credit, as I worked alongside Alex who has sadly left the organisation for pastures new up North, best of luck bud.

So the event we created was based upon the studies and final work of Munnings, ‘The Haunted Room’. I must confess, before volunteering at The Munnings Art Museum I was a tad apprehensive about what I had gotten myself into. I didn’t really know anything about art or have a particular interest in any artist. Through working with the team however, and feeding off of their obvious passion for what they do, I have been converted into a bit of a fan of Munnings. That’s the biggest compliment I can pay them, it’s high praise indeed.

We were involved in all aspects of the event, starting with the initial research behind the portrait, and what we discovered was actually very interesting. One of the stories that we believed inspired Munnings to paint what he did is a real corker. I’ll include a link here, as it’s rather long.

We designed a route around the lovely house, where we would have two of Munning’s studies in each room, along with a part of the story read out by staff. It all culminated in a big reveal of the final piece. The house was lit by lamps and LED candles, and had unnerving themed music playing in the background.

This all took place last Friday and was a genuine success. It felt exactly how I wanted it to, and everything went so smoothly.

Ultimately, I’m a bit sad that it’s all over, but it was great experience and another string to my museum bow. I would just like to give thanks to everyone at The Munnings Art Museum for making me feel so comfortable, for giving me creative freedom and, last but not least, for the lifts to and from Manningtree station. You saved me a very long hike!

Until next time Plums.