Masterpieces of Taxidermy 📍Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Hi all,

There are lots of fantastic museums around the magnificent capital of Germany; particularly in Museum Island. But if you venture about 20 minutes outside of MuseumInsel, you will find Museum für Naturkunde. The Museum is integrated within the Leibniz Association – famously one of the most important research institutions in the world for biological and geological evolution and biodiversity. Over 800,000 visitors get to experience the wonder of this spectacular natural history museum and I feel very lucky to have visited this year. Natural History collections are my absolute favourites because I love seeing how nature has developed throughout history, the similarities and differences between species and the ways that biology, geology and taxonomy can be explored in museums.

My favourite gallery by far was named “Masterpieces of Taxidermy”; where unique specimens are displayed and the museum gives a great insight into the inner workings of a natural history museum. The gallery displayed a huge range of taxidermy specimens alongside highlights of preparation cases which showcased how different species are prepared for display or storage. The Museum für Naturkunde is a leader in the field of taxidermy preparation with professionals at the museum developing innovative methods, sharing best practice through workshops and setting high standards for other institutions.

The gallery, as the name suggests, exhibits examples of masterful taxidermy prepared in Berlin. Bobby the Gorilla who had died at Berlin Zoo in 1935 is still regarded one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Prepared by German taxidermists Karl Kaestner and Gerhard Schröder, Bobby is still a highlight specimen for visitors 80 years on!

Another spectacular display is the model of a Dodo, an extinct flightless bird that was native to the island of Mauritius. Taxidermists’ used biological model building to reconstruct the Dodo, a technique traditionally used specifically for extinct species. The model was created by Karl Kästner in 1949 who used basic information collected from other skeletons, observations and drawings to recreate the realistic model. The body was  created using clay and plaster whilst the feathers were a mixture of chicken, duck, sawn and ostrich feathers.

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Personally, my favourite set of displays explored the preparation of a Dickhornschaf: a Bighorned Sheep. The cases showed the full process from reconstruction and stuffing to design, make-up and display:

I think its really important for museums to be as open, transparent and educational in every aspect that we can. Opening up access through displays and interpretation enables visitors to gain a better understanding into museum practice and the activities involved in running the spaces they come to visit. When we visit museums I think it is usual to absorb what is on display without really thinking in depth about how displays have been curated, how taxidermy artefacts are preserved and the work that goes on behind the scenes. “Masterpieces of Taxidermy” really opens up the field of taxidermy and gives a world class insight into how natural history specimens are prepared for our learning and entertainment. The gallery is a real showstopper in this marvellous Natural History Museum.

My next blog post will explore some of my object highlights from the Museum so keep an eye out!

Until next time, happy museum musings!

Em xo

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📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, Westminster Hall

Hi all, happy Friday!

In light of the progressive movement in American politics this week regarding the historical milestones made by women in the midterm elections, I thought I would share an insight into the wonderful Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition I visited last month. 🗣🗳  When I left the British Museum earlier this year, I was kindly gifted membership to the Women’s Library as part of my leaving present (alongside tickets to see my idol, Stacey Dooley and an array of feminist goodies!). The Women’s Library LSE, based at London School of Economics, holds 500 archive collections and a significant museum collection of over 5000 objects, much of which dates from the late 19th century.

My first Women’s Library event was a trip to Westminster to visit the ‘Voice & VoteWomen’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition. The tour was lead by Mari Takayanagi, Joint Project Manager of Vote 100 and a fellow Women’s Library member. The major exhibition displayed at Westminster Hall was created to give visitors a better understanding of the campaign for votes for women in the UK and the representation of women in UK Parliament and politics.

The exhibition was split into 4 main sections: The Ventilator, The Cage, The Tomb and The Chamber. All 4 settings were significant in the ways that women could engage with and influence UK politics; from being secret observers in the 19th century to being active and present Member’s of Parliament in the present day.

  1. The Ventilator, 1818-1834:

The opening section of the exhibition introduced the octagonal structure known as The Ventilator which was originally designed to ventilate the Chamber in the House of Commons. 200 years ago, before it was acceptable for women to be actively involved in politics, a group of feisty, politically-minded middle class women found a secret attic space above the Ventilator and would clamber inside to listen to the debates going on below. This not only gave women a space to socialise but also the chance to listen to political discussions and gain an insight into policy-making like never before.

A partial recreation of the Ventilator was on display in the exhibition – visitors were invited to put their heads into the small window spaces and listen to reenactments of Parliamentary debates like the women of the 19th century would have done. 
  1. The Cage, 1834 – 1918:

In 1834, a large fire demolished the original Westminster building leading to a new Palace being built between 1840 – 1876. The new Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built ‘Ladies Gallery’ which meant that women could officially listen and watch debates in the Houses of Common rather than hiding in the Ventilator. The Ladies Gallery was nicknamed ‘The Cage’ because it had large, heavy metal grilles covering the windows, both restricting the women’s view and ensuring they didn’t ‘distract’ men in the Public Gallery. In the 20th century the space became known for protests by suffragettes campaigning for change and the metal grilles were eventually removed in 1917.

A reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery in the exhibition gave a sense of the rules, space and views that women would have experienced whilst listening to parliamentary debates from their newly designated area. The cream paneling represents where the heavy grilles would have been. 
  1. The Tomb, 1918 – 1963:

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. When she joined as a MP there were no spaces reserved solely for women except for the Ladies’ Members’ Room. During the 20th century, more women were elected into Parliament resulting in women from Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties sharing the small Members’ Room. The cramped space soon became known as ‘The Tomb’.

Left: Quote from Ellen Wilkinson, 1928. Right: Barbara CastleMargaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams
  1. The Chamber, 1963 – Present Day:

As women’s voices and voting rights in the UK have increased, so has their role in Parliament and there have now been 491 female Members of Parliament in Britain; all of which were displayed on a large celebration wall in the final part of the exhibition.

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Visitors were invited to watch videos and listen to oral histories, collected from The British Library, of current female MP’s talking about their political role and their continuing fights for equality. The space highlights both how far we’ve come in terms of female representation in Parliament and voting patterns versus how far we’ve still got to go (a third of UK women didn’t vote in the 2017 UK General Election!) The exhibition ended with a pledging station where visitors could reflect on their place in politics and decide how they could get more involved in UK Parliament in the future.

As usual, I will follow this post up with another blog highlighting my favourite objects from the exhibition so keep an eye out for fabulous feminist content related to Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

 

📍Poster Girls: A century of art and design, London Transport Museum

Poster Girls: A century of Art and Design at the London Transport Museum celebrates a century of exceptional poster art created by women. The exhibition shines a light on the incredible contribution that female designers and artists made to the world of poster design, with over 150 colourful, fun and unique pieces of artwork on display.

As you would expect from an exhibition at the London Transport Museum, the majority of the posters on display were designed for use on the London Underground, with many of the artists commissioning pieces for London Transport and Transport for London.

Posters are displayed chronologically from 1910’s to the present day; with a focus on how each new era offered changing styles, approaches and designs which are reflected in the artworks. The display also focuses on the positive impact London Transport had in showcasing female talent in an industry that was, like many others, predominantly male.

Creative minds such as Ella Coates, Nancy Smith, “Herry” Perry and Dora Batty created bold, colourful, eye-catching posters to advertise the London Underground as quick and cheap transport choice. Many of the posters would market the Capital’s main attractions, like the ones below.

Foxgloves; Kew Gardens by Dora M Batty, 1924 (1983/4/1639), Country Joys from Camden Town Station by Herry Perry, 1930 (1983/4/2940), Bluebell time in Kew Gardens by Margaret Calkin James, 1931 (1983/4/9210), Travels in time on your doorstep by Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis, 1937 (1983/4/4963) and Regents Park Zoo by Arnrid Banniza Johnston, 1930 (1983/4/3038) 

The exhibition continues downstairs; documenting posters from the 1950’s to the modern day. The first thing you see is a wall covered in miniature versions of underground posters which was truly sensational.

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As you look closer you can pick out posters marketing everything from London Zoo to Borough Market, Hampton Court to London Museums. Below are a few of my favourites:

Top left: Hampton Court by Hanna Weil, 1963 (1983/4/7458), Bottom left: London’s museums by Carol Barker, 1979 (1983/341), Right: We Londoners by Dorrit Dekk, 1961 (1983/4/7270)

Although there was a lull in female representation during the 1940’s-50’s (possibly due to World War II), in the 1980’s, London Transport ran 2 major campaigns to reignite the fire for women in the Poster design market. Art on the Underground and the Simply series was influenced a lot by women and they play a major role in poster art and design. My 3 favourite contemporary posters were: Simply East London by Tube and bus by Sarah McMenemy, 2000 (2000/14610), Borough Market by Ruth Hydes, 2010 (2017/444) and Winter fun – shopping by Anna Hymas, 2016 (2017/380)

Aside from the #Vote100 Suffragette displays that keep popping up across the UK to celebrate 100 since the Representation Act 1918 was passed, Poster Girls is the first exhibition I’ve been to that it is solely dedicated to the work, perspectives and successes of women. Isn’t that absurd?! I felt pretty overwhelmed walking around & taking notes knowing that everything I was seeing was created by a woman, every name I wrote down belonged to a woman.

I think the sector could learn a lot from the London Transport Museum in terms of how to create exhibitions focused on underrepresented groups in society. From writing more inclusive interpretation, doing more in-depth research into collections, looking at how exhibition content is developed, who/what is represented and ultimately, who at the top of the organisation, is making the decisions about what is exhibited…

Poster girls: A century of art and design, located in the Exterion Media Gallery, is on display until January 2019.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

British Museum traineeship

Last week I wrote my first post about the first job role I had in museums which was as a Training Museum Trainee (TMT) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service (CIMS). So this week I’m going to focus on my second. One that I still can’t actually believe happened…

In March last year I was job-hunting and came across a entry level role within the Development Department at the British Museum. It was a role centred around Fundraising which I have experience in; formally volunteering at the NSPCC and UNICEF UK as a Community Fundraising intern and then carrying out a fundraising placement at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester whilst at CIMS. The job was everything I had wanted as it seemed like the only aspect of museums not covered in my TMT. I honestly thought the interview had gone dreadfully; I remember phoning my mum and just cringing at how bad it was but laughing it off by saying at least I wouldn’t have to face the interviewers again! But somehow, on a sunny day in May, I got a phone-call offering me the role… I have never been so shocked in my life!

Fast forward 1 month and I was living in London, commuting on the grossly hot Central line and walking in to this magnificent view on my first day! What a dream! I still pinch myself thinking about how quickly my career in museums has excelled in 3 years.

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My role at the BM was within the Major Gifts team of Development; with main responsibilities including writing donor reports, carrying out research projects, maintaining the donor database, sending communications to ensure high quality stewardship and any ad-hoc administrative tasks. I also had the opportunity to attend training sessions, conferences and staff events which really shaped my understanding of a large, international museum. Over the year I also supported a number of donor events including Private Exhibition Viewings, Young Friends Sleepovers and gallery openings which were all very exciting.

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I am truly grateful that I have been able to work at one of the BIGGEST museums in the world so early on in my museum career. And although I have decided not to pursue a career in Fundraising, the people I have worked with, skills I have gained and lessons I have learnt along the way have taught me so much. I am most happy working with objects and engaging visitors though interpretation, events and outreach so I am looking for more Learning and Collections roles (but before then I plan to do an museum tour around Europe!) It has been a marvellous, challenging but invaluable experience and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Here’s to the ‘Museum of the world, for the world’ giving me my biggest museum opportunity yet!

Em x

Museum beginnings…

Hi, I’m Emily, an early museum professional, documentary enthusiast, proud feminist and David Attenborough lover.

Museum Musings is my first solo blogging project and I’m excited to document the museum experiences I have, the stories I learn through exhibitions, events and programming as well as the challenges I have seen within the heritage sector. As an EMP I am on an exciting journey, developing my skills in the heritage sector, learning a lot of new ways of thinking (and reinforcing how not to!), as well as allowing me to see some of the most beautiful, inspiring and thought-provoking exhibits and places I have ever seen.

My first few entries will look at my museum journey so far and some of the exciting projects I have been involved with over the past 3 years.

Training Museum

My museum journey began in 2015 when I joined Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service (CIMS) as part of the first cohort of the Training Museum; a programme funded by Arts Council England with the primary aim of diversifying the CIMS workforce.

Rewind to October 2015, I was unemployed after deciding not to return to university to do my Teaching degree. It was a massive decision to make as I’d wanted to be a teacher for such a long time and all work experience, employment and volunteering I had done up until then had been with the aim with pursuing a teaching career. So deciding not to continue this career was a tough one but I’m so bloomin’ glad I did!

The interview process for the traineeship was a strenuous one but after submitting a written application, doing a video interview and participating in a group assessment day, I somehow got one of the 6 positions available. The traineeship was a way to diversify the the museum services workforce, with the trainees there to bring new ideas, different experiences and a variety of skillsets to the team, an idea that is something that needs to be rolled out throughout the whole sector. Over the year was based at Ipswich Museums, working across their 3 sites: Ipswich Museum, Christchurch Mansion and Ipswich Art Gallery.

Throughout the traineeship I worked on some incredible projects including reinterpreting the Victorian Gallery,  co-curating a Battle of the Somme display and re-designing a museum trail alongside delivering a Supplementary Schools programme, presenting at two major conferences and working visitor service shifts at the 3 museum sites.

F0ED2377-B209-4056-BF1B-E5327FFA7EE3Each week I also attended in-house training with taught me fundamental museum skills including object handling & packing, documentation essentials, marking & labelling, fundraising, museum audiences,

My year on the Training Museum taught me so much and I am so proud that I was part of the first cohort that (I hope) helped to shape the way that CIMS recruits its staff, the programming they plan and potentially influence the ways that different skills are viewed within the museum sector.

I am looking forward to developing my career in the heritage sector, particularly museums and documenting the exhibitions, events and buildings I visit along the way!

Ciao for now.

Em x