The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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The Traineeship Draws to an End

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Miles,  Curatorial Trainee at  Time and Tide Museum 

A sad thing happened this morning, I got my first invite to a meeting that will happen after I’ve left the traineeship.  However this can be a good thing if it spurs me to head back to my job applications and to reflect more deeply on my time as a trainee.

Reading over my initial post on our trainee blog about my first three months I can safely say the variety of work I have been doing in the six months since then has been just as varied.

Since then I’ve been involved in more events hosting object handling session on Norfolk fossil finds and 1950s childhood toys. I’ve also been accessioning donations into the collection including Gurkha knives and Herring cookbooks. A more long term project I’ve been working on is the Google Art Project where I’ve been selecting objects to showcase on the Google Cultural Institute and then updating their records with high resolution images and additional commentary. As these objects will be available to people all around the world on this platform I’ve been adding in as much information about Great Yarmouth’s rich heritage as I can.

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A MODES record I created for a fantastic new object we recently received as a donation.

Alongside this I have been doing hundreds of smaller tasks for the museum. I have recently been researching the reactions to the sinking of the Titanic in Great Yarmouth which lost two of its inhabitants in the disaster. I was also involved in commercialising some of our collections for our Christmas cards range, I searched the collections for some of our Victorian and WW1 Christmas cards, scanned them and digitally altered them to make the colours more vivid. I was very pleased to see the cards then being sold in our shop, both giving our collections more exposure and earning money for the Museum Service.

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A Victorian Christmas card from our collection which was reproduced for our shop.

There have been some consistent themes however. I’ve worked on digitising and cataloguing the Brain Ollington photo negative collection since the early days of the traineeship and am proud to say, hundreds of digitised images later that we’ve finally completed the black and white realm of 1960s Norfolk and are moving into garishly colourful world of the 1970s. We are soon to have two teams up and running working on the project who I’ve been training and working with throughout.

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Similarly our project to sort out and clean our store rooms has been an ongoing one, from cataloging our collection of bicycle lamps and ceramics at Gressenhall to re-arranging the archive to maximise space.

I’m sure the last three months will be just as eclectic and exciting as the first three so I’m looking to make the most of it.


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Finding supplemental objects for our “Beastly Machines” Exhibition

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Miles,  Curatorial Trainee at  Time and Tide Museum 

Creativity: Looking for the Objects

This February we opened our Beastly Machines exhibition using the fantastical sculptures of local artist Johnny White. As usual this was a great chance to showcase our own museum objects alongside Johnny’s work which required researching and locating objects which fit in with the themes of the exhibition.

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Johnny White with his Beastly interactive mechanical sculptures that are on display at the Yarmouth Time and Tide Museum.

This was a very fun part fun part of organising the exhibition, as it allows you to go out and explore the entire NMS collection and take a look at all the great objects that we have as well as looking further afield. This involved going collection by collection on MODES and thinking up all the different terms that might bring up relevant and interesting items. With Beastly Machines there were two big themes: the mechanical and the fantastical so I started thinking of all the possible keywords that I could plug into the search engine:

“Mechanical” “Machine” “Robot” “automaton” “Monster” “Fantasy” “Beast” “Dragon” “Unicorn” “Elf” “Goblin” “Hobbit” “Vampire” “Mermaid” “Phoenix” “Cyclops” “Giant”

This led to you finding other terms to search:

“Transformers” – found through searching robot or “Surreal” found through searching for “beast”, “cockatrice” through searching for “monster”

By the end I had accumulated a massive collection of HTML documents and print outs of MODES records. There were dozens of records for coins with St George on alone.

I also had the idea of incorporating the idea of local folklore into the exhibition. I researched the myths behind the hyter sprites which seem to originally have been benevolent fairy types but had morphed by the 20th Century into a tale to scary children with. There’s also the “Black Shuck” a very old tale going back to at least the 1500s of a ghostly black dog that haunts the East Anglican countryside. Also there is the story of the Will o’ the Wisp which were lights which led men on the fens to their deaths. It’s believed that it was actually marsh gas as the legend had it that you could survive if you fell to the ground and held your breathe and the Will o’ the Wisp would pass you by. I even found an artist’s impression of the hyter sprites and asked if we could use it for the exhibition.

Initially as well we were looking to acquire a Fiji mermaid which was when fishermen would sew the top half of a monkey to the bottom half of a fish. It would have fitted in perfectly with our exhibition but unfortunately we were told we would not be able to get any loans from outside the county and Norfolk doesn’t have one in its collections.

fiji mermaid

Constraints

Obviously we can’t fit that many objects in our space even if we didn’t have several massive sculptures filling up most of the space so I handed the list to my supervisor Jo O’Donoghue, the curator for NMS’ Great Yarmouth Museums, who began an initial cut down of the list so we had an initial list of objects which we could request from the various departments. We kept in mind several objects like the St George’s coins in our own collection which could serve as back up objects if they were rejected from our first choices.

We then emailed the different departments of NMS requesting the objects that we wanted including the art department, natural history and social history. From there we got rejections for a variety of reasons:

* We couldn’t get one of the snap dragon prints as it had been on display for too long somewhere else and was in danger of light damage.

* The snap dragons themselves were due to be used in a Castle exhibition which disappointed me as I think snap dragons are great.

* We couldn’t get the Chagall painting as the art department had already chosen it for their own exhibition.

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* Other materials like the Cotman sketches were loaned to us on the pre-condition we could ensure good environmental conditions.

* The list was later cut down even further by the display department including a great picture by local artist Arthur Patterson as the physical necessity of fitting in and setting out the exhibition.

What a Duck

This experience taught the lesson that all exhibitions are a result of compromise between what you would like to do and what is feasible and requires a great deal of imagination and research to make sure you can adapt to those limitations and create a worthwhile exhibition.

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Working with the Gressenhall Collections

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Miles, Curatorial Trainee at Time and Tide Museum.

Over the past two months I have spent quite a bit of time at Gressenhall, in our superstore.

Firstly I was there as part of a deep clean of the store along with the other trainees. It was definitely a rewarding experience. Getting out of the office and doing work with very tangible, physical results was a nice break from office work. After suiting up in overalls and a breathing mask I started the week off by cleaning about an inch of bird droppings from an old sweet making machine. Seeing the object slowly appear from under it all made it all worth it.

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As well as giving practical experience these few days also gave me an insight into conservation issues. For example we got to explore the interesting concept of what constitutes part of an object. While cleaning a loom it became clear that a large part of the stuff that was on it was not dirt accumulated during storage but detritus from its working life. Should this be removed or was it a valuable part of the object and its history? After talking to our conservation consultant we decided it would be best to remove the utterly atomised stuff encrusted on the gears and underside of the loom as it would provide a feast for any pests that came across it while at the same time retaining the recognisably woollen material threaded through the gears on the top of the machines which clearly illustrated how it worked back in the day.

Loom

Following this Meg and I got to catalogue a large collection of old swords, many of them dating back to the Napoleonic wars or even pre-revolutionary France. It was great fun to see the often beautifully decorated swords and sometimes brutal looking weaponry as we photographed, documented and re-packaged them.

Sword

The second reason that took me up to Gressenhall was a more long term project. As you might know a while ago Jo, Wayne and a group of volunteers began work on project to move all the objects in our store from the basement of Great Yarmouth Library to the superstore in Gressenhall. The reasons were twofold, first we were paying rent on the store and second it is less than 50m from the river, risking the collection every time the Yare threatened to burst its banks. After a great deal of work to get everything ready for the move, the last batch went over in my second week on the job as we carried dozens upon dozens of boxes full of bottles, guns and ceramics out to the lorry above.

The task now remains to update MODEs records of locations, inventory all the boxes and to re-arrange and re-box materials to maximise space. All sorts of interesting items have turned up from dolls of every culture and nationality, milk bottles from 1970s Yarmouth and metal Buddhas. There is a long way yet to go but it certainly feels like we have got a very interesting project ahead of us.

Gressenhall Collections


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Digitising 1960’s East Anglia at Time and Tide Museum

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Miles, Curatorial Trainee at Time and Tide Museum.

A new project we’ve been embarking on at Time and Tide Museum is the cataloguing and digitising of the photographic collection of Gorleston photographer Brian Ollington.

Brian has been taking photographs professionally from 1963 and we are lucky enough to have a small part of his enormous collection of negatives in our archive.

The items we have focus on his early years in the 1960s. Not only are they shot in gorgeous black and white but they offer an insight into a world that has faded away. Featuring old products, shop fronts and parties, even the superficially mundane photographs are an amazing record of a how East Anglia once was, especially for anyone who loved the style of TV’s Mad Men. I was most struck by how on the street scenes there was never a single piece of litter on the ground.

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However there are a whole host of issues that must be considered when digitising photographs. Firstly there must be a compromise between the quality of digital image created and the amount of time available to digitise them. I personally have leaned on the side of digitising them in relatively high quality, usually 600 – 800 dpi but having once had to wait 15 minutes for a single 1200 dpi image to scan and process, I do realise there is a limit to how high quality your images can feasibly be.

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I am also very lucky to have Brian and his former assistant Robert on hand to help with identifying locations. However most important of all was their help in ensuring the brightness and contrast settings were attuned to get the best possible images. However again a compromise had to be reached, as we were digitising several negatives at once no one setting would be optimal for all of them so it was a matter of choosing the best.

With many more boxes to go I’m looking forward to what we can find next. I’ll be posting the best ones on our Twitter account- @timetidemuseum – so keep an eye out!


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Curating in the East

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Miles, curatorial Trainee in the Eastern Area.

Hello!

My name is Miles and I am the Eastern Area Curatorial Trainee. I’m very glad to have chosen this position as working in small museums like Time and Tide mean I’ve been able to get easily involved with every aspect of museum work from dressing up for events to working with the collections and handling our social media.

I love Time and Tide Museum, located in an old smokehouse you can still smell the fish and taste the salt in the air despite having closed down over 30 years ago. One thing I really like about the museum is how the décor and design of each section from the Roman villa to the 1950s seaside section of Yarmouth’s heyday immerse you in the time period.

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A recreation of the Yarmouth Rows at Time and Tide Museum

The Tolhouse is great as well, an atmospheric old prison which is currently hosting our suitably creepy “East Anglican Witch Hunt” Exhibition. Equally worth a visit is Elizabethan House, a sumptuously decorated old merchant’s dwelling where King Charles’ death warrant was signed.

The biggest project I’ve been undertaking is preparing for our upcoming exhibition Beastly Machines due to open in late October which centres on Johnny White’s eccentric metal sculptures. To fit in with this theme I went looking for quirky and unusual objects in our collection as well as items relating to mythology and folklore. Now the objects have been selected and inputted into MODES I’m looking forward to the exciting next phase of liaising with design and conservation to get these objects arranged and installed.

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Canoodling Gnus in a Canoe

I’ve also taken part in many of our events, using our handling collections to entertain and engage the public. My favourite by far however was our Museums at Night event where I dressed up as a pirate and worked with the kids trying to steal jewels from the sleeping captain.

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One of my favourite aspects of the job is working with our archive, specifically our SHIC (Social History and Industrial Classification) collection which has all sorts of interesting documents and ephemera from a brightly decorated paper bag celebrating the Queen’s coronation to a hotel guestbook from the 1930s detailing hundreds of happy visits. Perhaps my favourite was the item below which I timed on social media to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Waterloo. Not only is it one of the older items in our collection but it shows a very different side of the event.Waterloo

Social media has not just been useful to show off our collections to the public, it can also work as a vast reservoir of information, an on call sea of experts.
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The last four months have been amazing and have absolutely flown by; I’m looking forward to all the new opportunities and challenges that are still ahead from delivering a lecture on Norfolk’s reaction to the French Revolution to and thinking up ideas for more exhibitions in the future.