SEMFed Study Trip 2019: 📍Copenhagen, Denmark

Hej alle (hello all),

Back in 2015, when I was in my first museum role, I joined the South and East Museums Federation (SEMFed) as a way to network and attend events with other local museum professionals. The group organises study days throughout the year – of which I have attended 2 in Windsor and St Albans. The Federation also organises an annual Study Trip abroad. Each year SEMFed awards the Martin Howe Bursary to 2 Members who have not attended a Study Trip before. I was lucky to be a recipient of the bursary and join the group’s trip to Copenhagen, Denmark.

NB: This post will just be a quick overview of the trip as I would like give each museum their own individual posts as each one was so different and eye-opening that this round-up won’t do them the justice they deserve!

Day 1: Myself and my sister arrived in Copenhagen a day earlier than most and set about hitting up some of the main sights including The Little Mermaid and Nyhavn Canal. (FYI, the Little Mermaid is really very little and mildly disappointing!) We walked past some beautiful buildings, ventured through the city centre and stuffed our faces with top notch burgers from Friends & Brgrs.

Day 2: I was up bright and early ready to visit the first museum of the Study Trip: The Workers Museum (Arbejdermuseet). The Museum is located in the second oldest Workers Assembly Building in the world which was purchased by the labour movement in around 1879. The space has been a museum since 1973 and is on the Danish UNESCO list. The Museum has a variety of galleries that allow visitors to explore life of Danish people through time; from the Sørensen Family who moved to Copenhagen in 1885 to the working children of the 1930’s. Alongside this, we got a private tour of the special exhibition Clever Hands which explores craftsmanship in Denmark through film, sound and object handling.

On our walk to lunch we stopped off at Rosenborg Castle – a 400-year-old Renaissance castle built by Christian IV which holds The Royal Danish Collection.

In the afternoon we visited the Botanical Garden & Geological Museum (part of the Natural History Museum). We started off by getting warmed up in the Palm House which is located in the Botanical Gardens. The House, made from cast iron and glass, was built in 1872-74 and is based on the Crystal Palace in London. We then attended a lecture by Team Leader for Audiences and Schools, Anne Katrine Gjerløff, who explained more about the Museum’s redevelopment plans and the organisation’s recent restructure.

Day 3: On the third day of the trip we started by visiting the Medical Museion. Founded in 1907 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Danish Medical Association, the Museum was a public organisation until it successfully merged with the University of Copenhagen in 1918. The institution is primarily dedicated to the history of health and disease with a special interest in biomedicine. During our visit, the Head of Collections, Bente Vinge Pedersen took us on tour of the 2 special exhibitions currently on display: The Body Collected  and Mind the Gut. 

After a quick lunch break we began our visit to The National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet). The Museum holds the largest and most important cultural, social and historical collection in Denmark; spanning multiple time periods, themes and collections from ancient times to the present day. On our visit we were shown around by Mette Boritz, Exhibitions Manager who showed us around some of her favourite parts of the Museum. The tour included exploring the new (highly controversial) Vikings exhibition, Meet the Rollers, a display aimed at young people based around TV’s famous Ramasjang Rollers and Life in Denmark, 2000 – 2020.

Day 4: On our final day of our trip, my sister and I returned to The Medical Museum as I wanted to explore the exhibitions in more detail. After this, we visited the Design Museum which is free to under 26’s = BONUS! We got to see the permanent exhibitions: The Danish Chair: An International Affair, Danish Design Now and 20th Century as well as the special exhibition Creme De La Creme which showcases some of the Museum’s oldest pieces that are rarely on display.

I am so grateful to SEMFed for awarding me with the Martin Howe bursary to enable me to attend the study trip and I’m excited to meet up with the lovely group again for future events and study days. Look out for my future posts where I’ll address each museum in more depth.

Happy museum musings,

Em xo

Advertisements

Museum Detox Christmas meet up 📍British Museum, London

Happy Friday all!

Earlier this year I became a member of Museum Detox – a BAME network for Museum and Heritage professionals which aims to utilise radical approaches to challenge and ultimately dismantle the injustices within cultural organisations around the UK.

Our Alternative Christmas meet up at the British Museum was very exciting as we were treated to a special behind the scenes tour of the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery by fellow Detox member Dr Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator: South Asia. Alongside Sushma were her wonderful colleagues Yi Chen, Curator: Early Chinese Collections and Yu-Ping Luk, Basil Gray Curator: Chinese Paintings Prints and Central Asia. Last October, whilst I was a Fundraising Trainee at the British Museum, I assisted with various VIP events, one of which was the reopening of the Hotung Gallery by Her Majesty The Queen so being back here was full of fond memories.

The evening began with an introduction to the gallery by Jane Portal, Keeper of Asia, who gave us a great introduction to the space and why certain decisions for the new gallery were made. Jane explained that the rotunda in the centre of the gallery is often treated as a “meeting place” so this gave a central point to work from in the redevelopment. From this, curators decided to split the gallery in two – with the left hand side exhibiting South Asia (blue panels) and the right hand side displaying China (red panels).

The gallery, which is as long as a football pitch, is filled with listed mahogany cases which could not be removed or replaced. So, as museums so often do – the staff worked with what they had and utilised the space as best they could. In each bay there are “gateway objects” which give visitors an overview of what is included in each set of cases. I personally love this idea as it allows visitors to gain an understanding of the overarching theme and context without needing to access all of the objects (which is always good when you’re in a place as large as the BM and you don’t have the time or inclination to read every text panel or look at every artefact!)

Next up, Sushma gave us a tour of the South Asia displays which showcase South Asian history from 1.5 million years ago to the present day. She explained that one of the key narratives she was keen to explore in the redesign was the longstanding connections that South Asia has had with other parts of the world since c.2-3000 BC. The objects that Dr Jansari chose to highlight for us were particularly special and explored themes including religion, trade, politics, women suffrage and culture. Below are an example of the objects we were introduced to:

Left: Greek god Herakles (4 BC) – found in Afghanistan (1892,1104.61) Right: Sabre, handle and guard. Blade damascened in gold Koftgari work with a tiger and a tiger-stripe, Quranic inscription on back, Srirangapatna (1878,1101.450) Bottom: Gilded silver pepper pot in form of a recumbent ibex, damaged (1994,0408.35/AN186370001 Hoxne Hoard, Suffolk. Image from British Museum Collection Online)

Next, Yi Chen introduced us to the China section of the Hotung Gallery. She highlighted some beautiful Chinese cherish vessels found in northern central China; many of which would have originally been used to offer food and drinks at ceremonies. The vessels are passed down through generations with inscriptions inside documenting family history.  The curators decided to showcase the inscriptions on text panels underneath the objects and although this may seem like a simple addition, I think it’s such a thoughtful and effective for the Museum’s international visitors (who make up 70% of the gallery’s visitors) and those with a Chinese heritage.

Above: Cherish vessels including 1983,0420.1, 1939,0522.2, 1947,0712.419 and 1966,0223.4

To finish off this special tour, Curator Yu-Ping Luk chose some beautiful art pieces to explore with us. She showed us some Chinese paintings and manuscripts that had been found and excavated from a cave in northwest China at the beginning of the 20thcentury. The artefacts were perfectly preserved due to the conditions in the cave can now be displayed  Yu-Ping Luk also highlighted a temple wall painting entitled “Three Bodhisattvas”. Donated in 1927, the wall painting was preserved at the British Museum and is now displayed in the new gallery for visitors to admire.

Above: Three Bodhisattvas, temple wall painting from Hebei, Xingdang xian (1927,0518,0.8)

The last piece we were shown was an example of contemporary collecting; a topic that has been very prominent in museum conversations this year. Peacock, 2012 (2013,3005.1) by Caroline Yi Cheng is a ceramic sculpture in the form of a linen robe, covered in intricate ‘peacock blue’ coloured porcelain butterflies.

The curators answered questions regarding access, colonisation and using technology within displays which all opened up conversations about how museum organisations make decisions about audience engagement, object repatriation and modernisation. I hope to continue discussing these in the future with Museum Detox members and other sector professionals fighting for change.

Keep fighting the good fight and happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

📍Curson Lodge, Silent Street: Ipswich, Suffolk

Each September, Heritage Open Days organises a free weekend of events and activities at over 2,000 heritage sites across England. The weekend involves over 5,000 events and is run by 4,000 volunteers! The aim is to open up the doors of places that celebrate local heritage to the community with sites including museums, stately homes and heritage buildings. Some of the sites are always open to the public but utilise the weekend to raise awareness or increase access to their site, others are often closed to the public thus opening up a rare opportunity to experience the site. And this year, we were blessed with not one but TWO weekends of heritage open days!

I was born in Ipswich, a multicultural town in Suffolk, East of England. I have always been interested in our local history; visiting (and working) in local museums, reading my grandad’s local history books and going on tours with my mum as a youngster. For 25 years I have been passing the beautiful building that is known as ‘Curson Lodge’ on Silent Street and thanks to #HODIpswich2018, I finally got to explore inside!

This beautiful Tudor building, which spans 1-9 Silent Street and 45-47 St Nicholas Street, was built in two phases during the late-15th and early-16th centuries. The white and black corner property has been recognised as one of the most complete examples of an early Tudor inn anywhere in Britain. In 2006, the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust undertook essential restoration and conservation on this late medieval Grade II* listed building thanks to a generous grant from the Ipswich Borough Council.

According to a report by Leigh Alston, the inn was built to accommodate the extra guests and servants of those staying in the Palace on the opposite side of the road. The house, owned by Lord Curson, was visited by the likes of King Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon therefore a space was needed to house their royal parties. Mr Alston states that at the beginning of the 16th century the inn had an extension built – a new hall to the left of the parlour section in Silent Street and a large room with a new separate entrance was added to the part of the property on St Nicholas Street. The extension included features such as carved ceilings, a side-purlin roof and a jetted gallery at the back of the building.

On a wall downstairs, numerous layers of wallpaper dating from the early-19th to mid-20th century were found during the restoration. Although the plaster had to be replaced and the wallpaper recovered for conservation reasons, there were photographs showing what the layered wallpaper underneath looked like.

Layered wallpaper found underneath the panelling in Curson Lodge

The first floor parlour shows an early-19th century renovation. In true Georgian fashion, the original Tudor beams have been hidden by pine mouldings whilst a fireplace was added for extra comfort in what would have become a family home. The first family documented to have lived in the property were the Crispin’s; a family of tailors who moved in to the property in 1841. Since then, the house has been occupied by Greengrocers, Scholars and Bootmakers. The last use of the building was as a book shop called “Claude Cox Books” which ran out of the property from 1985 – 2016.

The house is often referred to as Wolsey’s birthplace and although is true that Thomas Wolsey was born in Ipswich, he was actually born above a Butcher’s shop on the opposite side of the street, not in Curson Lodge!

Getting to explore such a a local gem thanks to Heritage Open Days was wonderful and I can’t wait for 2019’s adventures – when HOD will be running for a whole week!

Happy museum musings!

Em xo