Choco StoryūüďćBrussels

Happy Monday!

One of the best museums I’ve ever visited is the Choco Story in Brussels, telling the history of chocolate from cocoa bean to shop chocolate and everything in-between. Opened¬†in May 2014, the Museum is the collaborative effort of 2 families who wish to promote quality Belgian chocolate through this educational, fun public museum.

Upon arrival, visitors are given a choclate shaped guide (above) which can be used to listen to audio around the museum using scanning QR code type technology. The first room is set in Amazonian as the cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin. The room focusses on the cocoa bean: where it is found, what it looks like and introduces you to King Pakal, the corn god, who was found in a tomb in Mexico. Did you know? Cocoa was used over 5500 years ago and back then, the beans were as valuable as blood!

The next section takes us to Mexico where we are introduced to the value and different uses of cocoa beans. In the past, cocoa beans were used as currency due to their high value; for example 1 bean = 1 tomato, 10 beans = 1 rabbit. This really does embody the phrase that money grows on trees! Some brilliant objects included a molcajete (a chocolate grinder made from volcanic stone), beautifally decorated jicaro bowls and molinillo, wooden/corn cobs used to froth chocolate drinks.

Next up, we travelled to Spain where objects included sugar pliers, chocolate instruments and ingredients used in the spanish hot chocoate recipe. Then to France where a collection of intricate and beautiful drinking cups were on display. Artefacts including Mancerina cups, trembling cups and chocolate pots made from china, copper and silver showcased how chocolate cups have changed over time to ensure an enjoyable drinking experience across Europe.

From France, the musuem moves into the Tropics where visitors learn more about the history of chocolate and the topics of cocoa trading, exportation and sustainability. A large gallery wall with an accompanying film explores chocolate from growth to shop. The museum also higlights Cacao Trace Рa fairtrade, mutually-beneficial programme that builds upon the farmers’ local knowledge and expertise and empowers them to be more productive and sustainable.

From here we travel to Europe where the story moves on to look at chocolate through the 1800’s. With an array of chocolate making equipment on display you get a great insight into how much technology and engineering has moved on since the 19th century.

The final country we visit is Belgium – a great finale seeing as the country produces arguably the best chocolate in the world! There is a brilliant collection of chooclate moulds used for all kinds of occassions as well as old, extremely rare vending machines that were used as ‘savings boxes’ by children throughout the 1920’s.

To top it all off, there are two interactive chocolate stations Рone where you can watch chocolate being made by a chocolatier, the other where you can taste different types of chocolate. A delicious final touch to a fantastic museum exploring one of the most popular foods in the world. The whole musuem is a brilliant sensory experience Рwith smell buttons, tasting stations and audiovisual spots dotted throughout each exhibit.

If you Visit Brussels, Choco Story is an absolute MUST! Although a little difficult to find – it is inbetween Mannekin Pis and The Square (the entrance is in an archway along the street connecting the two). Not only is Choco Story beautifully displayed, it is an absolute gem filled with interactive stations and sensory delights.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

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ūüďćThe Workers Museum, Copenhagen

Hi all,

In my last blog post I gave you an overview of my exciting visit to Copenhagen, Denmark as part of the SEMFED Study Trip. This week I am going to start writing about the individual museums that I visited; starting with The Workers Museum.

In 1871, a large Labour Movement began in Denmark. A year later, riots between the socialists and Danish authorities lead to Movement meetings being banned from public arenas. A local Labour Group in the city began collecting money to purchase a meeting space. By 1879 the group had raised enough money to purchase the building known as the Workers Assembly Building. In 1973 the space, which is reportedly the 2nd oldest workers building in the world, became The Workers Museum.

The Assembly Hall: Located on the first floor, this room originally served as the main space used¬†for working class families to participate in political meetings, dances and reading clubs during the 1800’s. In 1913 a stunning glass cleaning was added whilst the side walls are decorated with intricate wooden carvings representing a variety of workers’ trades. Today, the space is used for weddings, lectures and museum conferences. In 2011, during the European refugee Crisis, the museum successfully secured ¬£90,000 (750,000 Kroner) funding from the Ministry of Culture to create a new educational course suitable for young learners. The theme of¬†Young Voices is¬†democracy and its aim is to make young people‚Äôs voices heard.¬†The Assembly Hall is used to teach these lessons rather than at school; linking back to the Hall’s original purpose. FUN FACT: Nelson Mandela spoke in the Hall in 1992!

The Children’s Workers Museum: My favourite part of the Museum – filled with handling objects, interactive stations and reconstructed spaces based on 1930s Denmark. The exhibition aims to teach young visitors about the way working class children lived in the past. The rags to riches story of Thorvald Stauning, a working class boy who grew up to be Denmark’s longest serving Prime Minister (1924 – 1926 and again from 1929 – 1942) is a major part of the exhibition narrative. Throughout the Children’s Workers Museum you can pretend to live, work and play like in the past whilst learning about child labour, working class life and how politics impacted Danish communities.

The S√łrensens ‚Äď A Working-Class Family: This gallery focuses on The S√łrensens – a working class Danish family made up of two parents Peter; a Labourer, Karen; a¬†housewife and their 8 children. The family moved to Copenhagen from the Danish countryside in 1885 and moved to various locations before¬†settling in a two room flat in 1915. This flat is on permanent display as the Museum to explores give an insight into the home of unskilled labourers from the early 1900s.

In the late 1940s the parents passed away and after 7 children moved out, Yrsa (the second youngest daughter) stayed in the flat Рwhere she lived until December 1989. When she moved to a residential home, her family kindly donated the entire contents of the family flat to the Workers Museum where it still stands for people to visit.

Alongside these permanent exhibitions, The Workers Museum also showcases special exhibitions – one of which I shall write about in my next post.

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

 

SEMFed Study Trip 2019: ūüďćCopenhagen, 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 S√łrensen 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 Рa 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 Gjerl√łff, 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

I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of AssyriaūüďćThe British Museum

Hi all, happy Friday!

Today I want to highlight a very special exhibition that is currently on display at my former workplace, The British Museum. When I worked there last year I was lucky enough to meet with Carine Harmand, the wonderful Project Curator of the current I am Ashurbanipal exhibition. She introduced me to the history of Assyria and King Ashurbanipal as well as talking me through the objects and key narratives that would be included in the exhibition. The plans were so exciting that I knew it would be a success and I definitely was not disappointed!

Displayed in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery (Room 30), I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyria¬†explores the life of King Ashurbanipal who¬†was at one stage, the most powerful man on the planet. He ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the¬†largest empire in the world, between 669‚Äďc.631 BC. The first artefacts we are introduced to are a¬†set of Assyrian palace reliefs¬†known as the¬†Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal¬†which would have decorated his North¬†Palace in Nineveh (now modern day Mosul). The reliefs depict the King participating in the royal sport of lion hunting. The intricate stone works represent the King killing ferocious lions which serve as a reflection of his heroic, strong and vivacious leadership.

Underneath the reliefs, the scenes have been enlarged and interpreted so that visitors can get a better understanding about what is happening in each scene. In addition, there are ‘Family Labels’ that use simpler language to pose questions and set out activities for younger visitors. Both are a great example of how to include interpretation for a range of audiences to support engagement and understanding.

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Another fundamental part of the exhibition is the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal which consists of approximately 30,000 cuneiform tablets including letters, literature and medicine records. Included in the Library collection is¬†the Epic of Gilgamesh¬†– an epic poem from Mesopotamia which is regarded as the earliest great work of literature. The poem, c.680 – 630 BC, was discovered in Nineveh by excavator Sir Austen Henry Layard’s assistant, Hormuzd Rassam.

Finally, my absolute favourite part of the exhibition has to be the use of colour and lighting to bring the Assyrian reliefs to life. The addition of both enables visitors to see what reliefs would have looked like in the past and it was absolutely SPECTACULAR! When hearing about this during the planning stages I was intrigued about how this would turn out in reality as I’d never seen this kind of technique used before. But my goodness, did was it a triumph!

Above, you can see how lighting and colour was utilised to highlight where canals and aqueducts, forests and palaces are presented in the relief. The use of authentic colours means that the artwork underneath isn’t detracted from at all; instead it helped me to see more of the intricate details than I had beforehand.

Similarly, the use of lighting and projected text really brings the story of Ashurbanipal and his brother Shamash-shum-ukin to life. Their sibling rivalry is a complex narrative to grasp, especially for someone like me who has very little knowledge of  but through this interactive display, the battle between the rulers of Assyria & Babylon is explored and explained in an engaging & more manageable way. The exceptional use of technology is one which I would love to see used in future exhibitions (budget permitting of course!)

You only have 9 days left to see this spectacular exhibition at the British Museum (note: you can get 50% exhibitions if you buy/have a National Art Pass) so hurry! From the lighting and interpretation to the choice of artefacts and inclusion fo the British Musuem’s Iraq Scheme,¬†I am Ashurbanipal is more fantastic than I could’ve imagined. Congratulations to Carine and everyone involved in putting together such an immersive, engaging and inspiring exhibition – the best I’ve seen in a very long time!

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

Ladies of Quality and DistinctionūüďćFoundling Museum, London

Hey all, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you had a wonderful festive season and are enjoying your 2019 so far.

This week I visited the magnificent Ladies of Quality & Distinction¬†exhibition at the fantastic Foundling Museum in London. The exhibition, part of a vast programme of displays marking 100 years of the Representation of the People’s Act 1918 in the UK, reveals stories about the incredible women that established, worked at and lived in the hospital. Like much of history, the role of women has been excluded from the Hospital’s narratives, until now. The exhibition, curated by Kathleen Palmer, highlights the vital role that women played as nurses, teachers, cooks, artists, carers and supporters of the institution.

Highlight objects and stories:

1. ) Frances Flint (1839? – 1944?)

Frances Flint was, according to the 1891 census records, a foster mother who took care of some of the children from the Foundling Hospital. Records also suggest that Frances may have been illegitimate, much like the foundling children she fostered. This photograph shows Frances with children, may be some of those that she had in her care.

fullsizeoutput_d19Frances Flint, archive photograph, c.1900, courtesy Coram.

2.) Servant’s register, 1925

This servant’s register records the reasons that staff at the Hospital gave for leaving. It also includes brief descriptions of the work the women carried out in their roles. This kind of register would have been used to give character references for new jobs.

s6%vt39+qpslibqjlmp9qa© Coram, 1925

3.) Instructions to Wet Nurses, 1861

Jane Fisher was given these notes when she took foundling, John Harvey, into her care in 1861. It sets out the allowance that Fisher will be issued to look after the child as well as outlining the expectations of the Inspector.

fgxtebcgq62jc6usfe+dzqInstructions to Wet Nurses, 4th February 1861, Coram/City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

4.) Letter written by Hannah Johnson, 1812

On 1st April 1812, as she entered her 20th year of service as the Foundling Hospital, Hannah Johnson wrote to the Governors of the Hospital requesting a (well deserved) pay rise. She was successful and her wages were increased to match those of the Steward, who headed the Boy’s Wing.

mkhhszwtqi+n7s8glxnclqLetter, Hannah Johnson, 1st April 1812, © Coram

5.) Blanche Thetford (1758 – 1833)

Blanche Thetford lived at Foundling Hospital and although she was “incurably blind in both eyes” she was incredibly talented in needlework. Whilst at the Hospital she trained in music alongside another blind girl named Mercy Draper and became an incredibly talented musician. Aged 21, the Hospital employed Blanche as a singer in the Chapel, paying her 6 guineas a year to do so. As well as being a singer, she was given 10 guineas a year for “the care and assiduity of teaching music” to younger foundlings. In 1813, she was gifted ¬£25 (the equivalent of¬†¬£1,721.93 in 2019), on top of a silver teapot for her teaching work. Blanche lived at the Foundling Hospital her whole life and when she died in 1833, aged 77, she was buried in the Hospital’s Chapel.

fullsizeoutput_d2cFoundling Hospital: The Chapel, 1808, John Bluck, after Pugin & Rowlandson. Aquatint, hand-coloured.

The exhibition shines a light on some of the marvellous, hard working and life changing women who played a vital role in the running of the Foundling Hospital and the care of the children living there between 1741 – 1951. It closes on the 20th January so you only have a few more days to view it so hurry if you don’t want to miss out on these stories.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

 

Masterpieces of Taxidermy ūüďćMuseum f√ľr 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 f√ľr 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 f√ľr 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 K√§stner 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

ūüďćVoice 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. ūüó£ūüó≥ ¬†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 &¬†Vote:¬†Women’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 Рvisitors 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 Castle, Margaret 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