The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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A Social Media Summer

My traineeship is within the Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England team. This project, known to its friends as the Keep Project, aims to transform the inside of the castle keep and recreate the interior of the original Norman palace from 1121.

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James Lumbard, Teaching Museum Trainee with ‘Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England’

During the summer, my work was split between planning the creation and upkeep of the Instagram account and helping plan aspects of the Keep Giving public fundraising campaign. @norwichcastlekeep launched on Instagram on 15th September and is going from strength to strength. The launch was timed to coincide with the unveiling of the Adopt an Object strand of the Keep Giving. We chose Instagram because its visual focus is ideally suited to promoting Adopt an Object, which includes some of the most impressive and significant objects in the museum’s collection.

Fortunately the page didn’t launch from a standing start, as I was allowed to co-opt the museum’s dormant Instagram account (with around 300 followers), giving us an immediate, interested audience. The page now has over 730 followers, and there has been very high engagement with the posts, in terms of number of ‘likes’, and with comments or questions about the project and the museum’s activities & resources. @norwichcastlekeep is also very popular with the Heritage Lottery Fund on Instagram – the main project funders – who seem very happy that we have a distinct social media presence celebrating the project, its fundraising drive and successes.

There have been few obvious changes yet in the museum as a result of the Keep Project, but Instagram has been an important tool with which to celebrate the events programme which runs alongside it. Photos of this year’s special activities such as ‘Saturday Knight Fever’ and a digital takeover day proved very popular, and are an important way to advertise that the museum is still fully open. In November, I used Instagram to document the de-installation of the Prison Stories gallery in the castle keep, which gained a lot of interest. In the end, it was a vital way of reassuring people that the project work is confined to the castle keep, meaning the museum’s gallery spaces won’t be affected. Spring 2018 sees a temporary exhibition opening to explore the relationship between the castle and the people of Norwich. In this spirit, I organised a competition on Instagram asking people to submit photos and artworks of the castle keep using #MyNorwichCastle, for a chance to win an invitation to the opening of the exhibition in February. Entries took a while to begin, but with some more active promotion, the competition became more visible and entries picked up. It has now closed and the winner will be announced this month.

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Battle training on Castle Green as part of ‘Saturday Knight Fever’ in October.

I’m finding it very rewarding seeing daily increases in followers and interactions, and I’m continuing to improve the content I create. Of course, this is only one aspect of a much broader traineeship, which has taken in everything from collections care to delivering tours and learning activities. I am looking forward to getting involved with even more aspects of the project in 2018, including an assessment of the environmental credentials of the museum and how they can be improved as a result of the Keep Project’s work.

 

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Migration: my story

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.

Today we see what Phoebe Wingate, trainee with the learning team at the Time and Tide museum, has been up to.

Before writing my own, I spent some time reading the blogs by other museum trainees. Despite the different traineeships, several common themes emerged – not least of all the huge variety within each role and the enthusiasm with which everyone has embarked on the programme. Another theme that stood out was the reference to the speed at which things happen. So it may come as no surprise that I start with the same opening gambit – what a whirlwind it has been since I started seven months ago. It is hard work and full-on yet I still feel incredibly lucky; I get to be involved in amazing projects and gain experience with a fantastic team.

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Pocketwatch belonging to second class passenger on the Titanic,  Robert Douglas Norman. On loan from the National Maritime museum.

One such experience has been working on Endeavour; part of the Collection Stories project led by the National Maritime Museum (NMM). The Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth where I am based is a project partner and has been loaned a pocket watch that belonged to Robert Douglas Norman, a second class passenger on the Titanic who died when the ship sank. The Endeavour project focuses on using this poignant object to explore ways of recording and sharing migration stories; when I started my role in April 2017 my predecessor, Holly Morrison, had planned and delivered a number of activities and events, engaging different audiences on this theme.

Next up in the calendar was Migration – Collection stories, hosted by Great Yarmouth library. This event featured a handling session, crafts, as well as a human library where volunteers engaged visitors in a twitter-like conversation on the theme of migration. Working alongside Holly, I was able to pick up lots of tips and gain good experience in event organising within the museum sector.

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A crafty approach to capturing migration stories.

Building on this was Global Great Yarmouth (it took almost as much time to come up with the name as to plan, organise and deliver) – an event to celebrate the many cultures represented in Great Yarmouth. It was about this time that Holly-shaped hole developed in the office when she was offered a job at the Fitz William in Cambridge. In a slight daze I set to work researching objects linked to migration from our collection, coordinating staff and volunteers as well as developing craft activities.

One of the most rewarding elements was working with a group of students from East Coast College (English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL). The students selected several objects from our collection that they would highlight by running tours.  Understandably anxious about their performance, working with these students was a great reminder that I wasn’t the only person who needed to overcome nerves.

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We all join in: Vandana teams up with the Afro Lusa dance group – and others – to show a traditional Indian dance.

Radio interviews done, sessions planned and staff booked, there was nothing for it but to stand and deliver – event day was upon me.  And so with the back drop of a (mostly) blue sky, the Time & Tide museum courtyard looked a riot of colours swirling to music from India, Greece and Portugal; stories were told about the first people to migrate; the ESOL students ran fantastic tours and I breathed a tiny sigh of relief…success.


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The Marvellous Captain Manby

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by Andy Bowen, Costume & Textiles Trainee

Some time ago I was offered the opportunity to take part in the lunchtime talks programme at Time and Tide in Great Yarmouth, and when asked to come up with a subject for my talk there was only ever really one choice. It would be fair to say that my traineeship has been fairly Nelson-centric (that tends to happen when you work on a major summer exhibition called Nelson & Norfolk), but for this talk I decided to focus on one of Norfolk’s lesser known maritime figures.

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‘Portrait of Captain George William Manby (1765-1854)’ by John Philip Davis

I first heard of Captain George William Manby a few years ago when he was featured in the BBC series Shipwrecks: Britain’s Sunken History presented by Dr Sam Willis. On 18th February 1807, Manby witnessed the scene as the naval gun brig Snipe ran aground just off the coast of Great Yarmouth. The stricken ship was less than 100 yards from shore, but the crashing waves near the ship made it impossible for boats from shore to reach the desperate crew. 67 lives were lost that day, and Manby resolved to come up with a device that would help to provide assistance to crews of wrecked ships in future.

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The ‘Manby Mortar’

The result of Manby’s efforts was the ‘Manby Mortar’: a line-throwing device which would allow a light rope to be fired over the rigging of the stricken ship. The smaller line could then be used by the crew of the stranded vessel to haul across heavier lines, which could then be used as a means of evacuating survivors by either boat or harness. On the night of 12th February 1808, almost a year after Manby witnessed the tragedy of the Snipe, his apparatus was used to rescue 7 seamen from the brig Elizabeth just off the coast of Great Yarmouth.

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The ‘Manby Mortar’ in action

The mortar was just one of Manby’s inventions, with his other ideas ranging from an unsinkable boat to the first pressurised fire extinguisher. His life outside of his many inventions was also far from dull, with Manby surviving at least two attempts on his life and meeting with royalty on several occasions. Ultimately he never achieved the recognition he felt he deserved. In retirement, Manby moved into his basement and converted his house into a museum of Nelson memorabilia. When Manby died on 18th November 1854, he was found alone in the chair in his living room looking out at the sea which had inspired his greatest invention.

To find out more about Captain Manby, come along to my talk at Time and Tide, Great Yarmouth on Friday 3rd November 2017 at 11.30. £3 entry (talk only) or £1.95 for Norfolk Museums Pass holders. Booking essential. Click here for further details.


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From Nelson’s hat to Queen Victoria’s slippers, this is no ordinary job

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Helping run a pop-up museum in Brampton as part of the ’12 Towers Festival’

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.

Today we see Andy Bowen, trainee with the Costume & Textiles section.

As I write this blog, I’m just over two months into my traineeship and still being surprised by the things I see from day to day. The Costume & Textile collection at the Norwich Castle Study Centre contains all manner of objects ranging from parkas to pie frills!

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Nelson’s Nile Hat

My favourite object was also one of the first I got to see close-up. We are extremely fortunate to have the hat that was worn by Admiral Lord Nelson during the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and that featured in the portrait of Nelson painted by William Beechey in 1801. Right at the start of my traineeship I was able to see the hat uncased and up close, and it was at that point that I knew for certain that this would be unlike any other job I’d had before.

 

The hat – along with the Beechey portrait of Nelson in which it features – will be included in Norwich Castle’s summer exhibition Nelson & Norfolk which is open between 29th July and 1st October 2017. I’ve been really privileged to be able to join the Costume & Textiles team in the build up to such an exciting exhibition, and we really can’t wait to showcase the amazing Nelson objects we have in our collections as well as some really exciting loan items.

The largest object in the exhibition – in fact the largest object in our collections – is the battle ensign of the French warship Le Généreux. Measuring 16 metres long and 8.3 metres high, this huge French flag was captured by a British naval squadron led by Nelson in February 1800 when they forced the surrender of the French ship. Captain Sir Edward Berry – a Norfolk man – was in command of Nelson’s flagship HMS Foudroyant, and sent the flag to Norwich as a gift in thanks for the freedom of the city he had received the previous year. The flag itself needs to be seen to be believed, and the only place to really grasp the full scale of this magnificent object will be at Norwich Castle this summer.

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The ensign of Le Généreux in St Andrew’s Hall, October 2016

My contributions to the exhibition have ranged from setting up and sourcing content for the exhibition blog through to having the opportunity to visit the National Archives at Kew in order to find out more about what happened to Le Génereux after she was captured in 1800. I have also worked with the Display and Learning teams on designing the interactive elements of Nelson & Norfolk.

 

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Queen Victoria’s slippers

Alongside Nelson & Norfolk there is still the everyday business of a Costume and Textiles department to keep us (even more) busy. I have assisted with the preparation and delivery of Talking Textiles sessions, which involve members of the public coming in to the Norwich Castle Study Centre to look at specially selected items from our collections. I also respond to enquiries from researchers eager to know more about the objects we look after: one enquiry in particular related to a pair of Queen Victoria’s slippers!

 

As well as my fantastic day job, I also get to attend museum skills training with my fellow trainees once a week. These sessions have included introductions to collections management and conservation, and practical sessions on object photography. We’ve also been learning about the history of museums in a programme of Understanding Museums sessions which included visiting the amazing 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum near Diss, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in military history.

 

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Trainees with staff from 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum

Over the next few months I will be continuing with my work supporting Nelson & Norfolk, including assisting with the installation of over 150 objects including a flag the size of a tennis court. I’ll also be assisting our volunteers with recording and cataloguing recently donated items, and coming up with improved ways of arranging our library and resource area. All I can say is that if the remaining 10 months of this traineeship are anything like the first 2, it’s going to be a fantastic year!

‘Nelson & Norfolk’ is open at the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 29th July-1st October. For more information visit http://nelsonandnorfolk.wordpress.com


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Brueghel; Defining a Dynasty

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.

Today we see Freya Monk-McGowan, trainee with the Collections Management section.

Hello all! My name is Freya and I’m one of the newest trainees within Norfolk Museum Services, I am also a new arrival to Norfolk itself, so have been taking my time settling in and getting to know my new surroundings. My apologies for not writing sooner, but I must admit that my mind has been exploding and imploding from the utter amazement of the position I find myself in, and the exciting things I get to do within this traineeship. As this is my first blog post, I will give a short introduction to myself and how I came to be here, as well as one of my most recent achievements within the service.

I graduated in 2015 from Brighton University with a History, Literature and Culture BA Hons, after which I moved home and found myself managing a cinema for just under a year. Although an exciting and educational experience, I realised that my passion for history and culture was not being completely fulfilled, so I spent a while sending out a whole host of applications, but having only studied to an undergraduate level, I was not qualified for most museum jobs. So began my applications for internships and traineeships, I was lucky enough to get onto Culture &’s SOCL traineeship (Strengthening Our Common Life), based here at Norfolk Museum Service, and the rest (as they say) ‘is history.’

Since then, my traineeship has been a bit of a whirlwind, within a few days I was being let loose on objects hundreds of years old, and being involved in training sessions, with my fellow trainees, about aspects of the museum service that I had frankly given no consideration before. (I must clarify that my term ‘let loose’ here refers only to my excitement, there was of course training before I was allowed to handle any objects.) So far, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in training sessions on Community Engagement, Improving Access to Museums, Marketing, Working with Display Teams, and a whole host more!

By far however, one of the most exciting (and nerve-racking) things that I have been asked to do (apart from being asked to go on the radio later this year, updates will follow), was being asked to courier an object that was going out on loan. As seems to be the case for me currently, it was serendipitous and a complete surprise – due to calendar clashes and a few lucky (for me) cross-overs, I was asked in the third week of January to do a courier trip to the Holburne Museum in Bath. Although having visited Bath when I was younger, I had not much recollection of the place, and was excited to go. My excitement grew evermore as I was told exactly what object I would be taking.

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Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Rent Collectors 1618 (also known as The Payment of the Tithes, Village Lawyer, and Paying the Tax – The Tax Collector).

When this was confirmed my excitement could barely be contained. As well as the nerves/doubts of the dreaded ‘what if.’ However, my nerves being set aside, I began planning for the trip by getting a foundational knowledge of the procedures of loaning to another museum, the different job roles that are necessary, and getting my head around the scale of work involved when putting on an exhibition that is made up of mainly of borrowed works.

The Holburne Museum in Bath is bringing together a range of paintings from across the UK, for the first time, in order to display the dynasty of the Brueghel family. This will give the viewer an ability to see the similarities between the artists, yes, but also their differences. The ways in which they were influenced, but by no means the way they ‘copied’ on from one another (- a critique of the family that has been repeated over the centuries). The exhibition itself is ambitious and exciting, and definitely one worth visiting.

The next part of my preparation involved actually coming face-to-paint with this piece (-yay!). Myself and a colleague (Fiona Ford, registrar) visited the piece in store, in order to review the condition check before packing. This is done so that we can keep an eye on the condition of the painting before and after transit to Bath, before and after the exhibition, and before and after it has gone on loan and been returned. It was during this condition check that I really got the chance to indulge in the piece. This painting really does demand attention – it requires the viewer to attend for a lengthy period of time, and will not let you leave easily. I found myself (four hours later) still finding aspects of it that I had not thought of before, and if you will, dear reader, let me share those with you.

(I hasten to add that although I am an art lover, I have not studied art, in the practical sense, academically. I say this in order to allow myself room for error, and to allow others who are similar (-having not studied art), to engage, agree/disagree with me on my findings.)

As with most pieces of art, this painting asks more questions than it answers. And with its different names, the meaning behind it is enigmatic.

If, for example, we take the name of this piece as ‘The Rent Collector’ we are positioned to assume that the man far right, with his jauntily placed black hat and thoughtful expression, is there in an official capacity. He is there merely to collect these poor wretches ever-so-dear ‘rent’. As we can see, all are attempting to pay with everything that is not money: a chicken, a basket of eggs, a bunch of grapes. This therefore makes the painting both dark and harrowing – these people that have no money for rent, are now handing over their precious food stuffs, to leave (we assume) to hunger, and a life not made much better by this moment.

If, however, we take a different name for this piece, and instead assume that it is titled ‘Village Lawyer,’ the man in the black hat becomes less of a dark presence within the piece, and instead is a welcome relief to those clutching their food within.

This title encourages us to focus on this encounter closer:

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The man seen pointing and whispering into Black Hat’s ear, we can assume is a peasant, with his clothes filled with patches, and his tanned skin. The expression, and meaning, of ‘Black Hat,’ who I assume to be the Village Lawyer in this scene, changes with the title. Instead of a discerning, prudent and imposing presence, he becomes a wily, (seemingly) intelligent lawyer attempting to work through tons of paperwork in what I can only assume to be a helpful way. The total scene shifts and my focus moves from ‘Black Hat’ (or lawyer), to the man sitting slightly left of centre, quietly working through papers.

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This man now becomes the official figure, there to record the present scene, but who does not seem a helpful or welcome presence by his fellow characters. I presume this from the wide berth given to him, the clear sight-line we are afforded to stare at him, and also the emotions of the surrounding figures. If we look closely (and use a wild leap of imagination) we can see that those nearest to this gentlemen hold expressions of:

Sadness

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Anger

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And in other cases, seem to hide altogether:

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Now, that is not to say that all the rest of the people in the scene look wildly happy to be there, but if we focus again on the man talking to ‘Black-Hat’ (-I like the name, so will continue using it):

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Although it does feel that there is desperation in his face, I can see, dare I say it, some excitement there. Maybe at the possibility of paying less, getting off, or some of other positive possibility from speaking to ‘Black-Hat.’

Of course all of these opinions and assumptions are my own, and you are welcome to agree or disagree depending on yours. I cannot help but feel that this is exactly what we are encouraged to do by this painting, and whether you are a lover of art, or not, I believe this painting does encourage contemplation.

Even if this is not the case for every viewer, the painting (/painter) offers us another opportunity – of reveling in his ability to capture the likeness of both people and inanimate objects. I must admit that I got quite obsessed at the smallest parts of this piece. For example:

This window, and its peeling panes.

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This perfectly painted knee.

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And the numerous images of papers strewn all over the floor, piled high over wardrobes, and even stuck into window panes.

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This painting, encourages the novice and the experienced viewer to search within, and then again, and then again (a similarity that is shared throughout the dynasty).

My advice for those visiting the Holburne to see this exhibition, take nothing with you but time.

I feel I have gone off topic (only slightly) with my musings of the painting itself. Back to the actual trip.

After agreeing with the condition check, getting all the relevant paperwork (loan agreement, my travel documents, the condition check, etc) in order, picking up some conservation tools (to check light levels, humidity and temperature), and packing my things, I was ready to go. The next day, the painting and I, were picked up from Norwich castle by professional art movers, and were safely packed away for the drive to Bath (stopping at Cambridge along the way to pick up another piece). Arriving at the Holburne that evening, we met with one of the curators of the exhibition and the director of the museum. We discussed the movements of the crates, and began. We unloaded the van (I say we, I did literally no heavy lifting), and moved the crates upstairs to be safely stored away for the evening, and the whole next day. As this piece was painted on a wooden panel it needed a ‘rest day’ to acclimatise to its new temperature, and humidity. This gave me the opportunity to explore Bath for a day, and visit a total of 5 museums/art galleries, which I would be happy to write on although possibly not in this piece.

After its rest day, I arrived again at the Holburne to see it’s unwrapping, and its installation – this really was the exciting bit. The exhibition space is well designed and engaging, with muted colours on the walls that highlight the rich colours found within the Brueghel’s themselves.

After taking it out of its case, and double checking the eye-line and its straightness, the freelance art technicians fixed it to the wall, and we all (6-7 of us), stood back to admire this piece once again.

I really cannot explain how exhilarating it was to be involved in this piece being put on show within such a fantastic museum, nor such an exciting show. I couldn’t help but imagine the hundreds (and hopefully thousands) of people who stand where I was then, contemplating the same piece and having an infinite amount of different thoughts when staring at it.

I really do count myself lucky to have been involved in such a moment, for that I am extremely grateful, to Norfolk Museum Services Teaching Museum, to Culture &, and to the Holburne itself. Good luck, and I hope this exhibition brings in all the attention it deserves.