The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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Women Leading The Field

Each month we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees. Today we see Jen Hooker, Business Development trainee at Norwich Castle.

The start of a new year is often the time to look ahead to what is coming up, break bad habits, make resolutions and initiate change (easier said than done). However, it only feels natural to begin this blog entry with a reflection of my time spent as the business development trainee in 2016 and to follow in the footsteps of my fellow trainee cohort who have all written beautifully about what our traineeship programme has exposed us to in terms of experience across the museum sector. Hence the picture of the horse below which you might wonder how it is relevant – we had the privilege of visiting the newly opened National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art in November as part of the 6th annual SHARE conference.

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When I arrived on my first day back in April, there was an exciting sense of the unexpected – the journey that I was about to take and the doors of opportunity that it would open along the way. The one thing that I didn’t expect was the amount of responsibility and experience that would be gifted to myself over the next 12 months. Not a single day has gone by since starting my role where I haven’t left work thinking, ‘wow I love what I do’ and appreciate the role that museums play in educating and engaging audiences. Working in a museum beats my old office job any day, and having the chance to work in an environment that both opens up collections and displays exhibitions to people in Norfolk is something that I once dreamt of.

Speaking of exhibitions and what I really wanted to write my blog on is Olive Edis. For those of you who stil haven’t visited our Fishermen & Kings exhibition at Norwich Castle (tut), you’ve got until the 22nd January – naturally plugging and promoting exhibitions and events has been a key part of my job role over the last 9 months. There are many reasons why I wish to focus my blog on the incredible woman and it only seems right to talk about something that got me excited from day one when I heard that a photography exhibition was coming to Norwich Castle. If I was to say just one thing about the work of Olive Edis, it would be the following quote made by herself in the New York Evening World in 1920:

“I believe a photograph should represent truthfully the subject at his or her most attractive moment. I have never yet found a human being who did have such a moment”

For those familiar with her work, it can be argued that there is not one photograph that doesn’t show that ‘moment’ in the exhibition. A wonderfully curated exhibition that highlights and informs of the areas in which Olive succeeded so well; famous sitters, studio techniques, fisherfolk, influential women and the First World War. For those unfamiliar with who Olive was and what she photographed – much like myself before I met with Alistair (curator) and Liz (project assistant) to learn more – the quote offers a hook and teaser for what is to be expected and what is confirmed when you see her photographs.

 

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Olive saw photography as a career and not a hobby and that is one of the things that I admire about her most. She knew that in order to make it, she would have to be focused and a modern business woman. Olive was gifted her first camera in 1900 by her cousin Caroline Murray and the early signs that she was going to succeed are evidenced by the fact that she won a gold medal for her colour photos that she entered into a Royal Photographic Society competition in 1913. A trailblazer who established a career in a traditionally male dominated field when it was unusual for women to even have a profession, she was at the centre of many important events in the early 20th century; including the Suffragette movement and World War One. Often one can talk of heroes or role models, and I hadn’t really considered myself to have a heroine, however I now realise that it was because I was yet to discover Olive Edis. Having studied photography at university, it is a practice that I have a specialist knowledge and passion for, and so discovering a woman who not only contributed in changing the attitudes towards photography as a career practice but also had such a talent and ability to capture the soul of a human being within a single frame presents no reason why she should not be a figure to look up to.

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Even her self-portraits reflect her ability to capture her subject at ease – controlling the set-up but without being the intimidating artist. Perhaps it is most evident in her local fisherfolk images, where the phrase twinkle in the eye becomes true. Edis gave the fisherfolk their own identity, each has a name; Charlie Grice, Belcher Johnson and Latter Day Cox are just a few to name. Olive presents the fishermen of Cromer and Sheringham in the same way as the kings and royalty, a bold statement in which her style implies no distinction between status, wealth and education.

One thing that emerges from the work of Olive Edis, is how willing her subjects were to let her into their homes and environment to photograph. Even during the days of the First World War in which she risked her own safety by travelling to Europe to document the action on the front line.

2Her photographs of the hospitals and army auxillary camps present a feeling of her being welcomed in – allowed in to see the damage and wreckage that had been caused by the war. Where her photographs reflect the catastrophe caused by the war, Olive is very much a part of it; not a snooper, hiding behind the scenes trying to capture a snapshot, but the photographer documenting the war and of course she was the only official female war photographer. She even worked with a broken camera at the first canteen she visited, the gaping hole from the smashed focusing screen didn’t stop her photographing – a true testament to her self-confidence and ambition.

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The power that a museum collection has to tell stories like that of Olive Edis’ is something that is truly amazing, especially knowing that the Fishermen & Kings exhibition will raise the profile of Olive Edis and see her name become more recognisable. Our collection holds over 2000 images made up of prints, glass plate negatives and auto chromes from Edis’ studios and having made these more accessible through digitisation, an exhibition, a publication, re-displays (Cromer Museum) and a travelling exhibition, it highlights the potential for audiences to be educated and inspired, at present and in the future. I will leave you with one departing thought in that I hope that our local lady, Olive Edis will be a heroine for others too and that her courage, motivation and talent will inspire us to give it our best shot at making it in the world, whether doing our dream job or not.

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(Black & white print of Olive Edis by Cyril Nunn, 1953-4. This is the last photo of her taken before her death)

 

 

 

 


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Next Steps….

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

 

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Hello! My name is Meg Barclay and I am the learning trainee based at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museum. Starting in April 2015 seems like only a few weeks ago, and yet here I am having just started a new job as Learning Officer for the Discover Downham Heritage Centre (Downham Market), and I thought I would take the opportunity to summarise my experiences and mention some highlights along the way!

I remember walking in on the first day of my traineeship to be told we had a school coming in to do a Romans event and that I would observe a particular character with the view of delivering this session in the future. I was also in charge of moving children around the museum and giving 5 minute warnings to delivering staff. From this moment on my traineeship has been a whirlwind of adrenaline, set up, delivery, planning, promoting, resourcing, marketing, taking school bookings, administration, clear up, hoovering grated cheese ground into the carpet… and all manner of other tasks which would be too numerous to mention.

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School session at Cromer Museum

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Measuring Time and Tide’s fishing net – can you predict how big it is?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A large part of what I do is dressing up in different costumed characters, and I have been everything from a Pirate, Victorian Time Traveller, Roman Lady, Ida Flower the famous Great Yarmouth Explorer, Fisher girl, Iron Age women, Alice in Wonderland… the list goes on!

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One of my many faces – Boudica facing the Romans

I have been able to deliver such a variety of sessions, including object handling, characterised, craft, drama based, outdoor and indoor, and in a variety of settings and spaces. With record-breaking numbers of children visiting Time and Tide Museum in November and December 2015 (c1,400 and 1,200 respectively, despite the Christmas holiday happening over this period) it was no wonder that my Christmas was mainly filled with sleeping! There were many occasions when I would have to learn a session the night before and deliver it the next day without having watched anyone else deliver it first. But although tiring, it was thrilling to be able to get to the point where I was able to work in this way as a ‘proper’ museum learning professional and just get on and do it; being able to trust in the skills and abilities that I have learnt along the way.


 

 

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Lady Livia – drama based object handling session

And a big part of my traineeship is just how much I have learnt. Having very little experience working in museums (except from volunteering on my gap year before uni) this traineeship really did provide a wonderful environment to immerse myself in museum learning. I have real responsibilities in a public facing role where delivery and learning opportunities come down to you and how well you ‘perform’ on the day. The educational experience of the children in front of you really does depend on how you deliver, your energy and enthusiasm, pacing, and your character. With lots of support from the team here in Great Yarmouth I have been able to develop my delivery style, and learn behaviour management techniques, for such occasions as, say, when faced with large groups of unruly boys initially not wanting to be in a museum!

 

 

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Object handling – Cromer Museum

I have also been involved in planning and redeveloping multiple new learning events for both Time and Tide Museum and Cromer Museum Primary learning offer. These events titled Ship Wrecked, Explorers, Saxons vs Vikings, Stone to Iron and Pirates! have really helped me to gain a deep understanding of the nature of museum education and the importance of lighting, sound, set dressing and costumed character interpretation. It has also provided me with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the process of planning and piloting new sessions to schools, including sourcing resources and authentic historic characters, as well as gaining evaluation and feedback from teachers, and ensuring that their pupils have an experience that they could not do themselves back at school. Trips to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has helped solidify my understanding of different approaches to museum learning (with quite varying sized budgets!) and attending their CPD day for their recent exhibition Against Captains Orders done in conjunction with Punch Drunk was a particular eye opener for just how immersive and drama-led museum learning based within collections and museum spaces can be. It was great to meet the team there and have a go in the exhibition! (If anyone got the chance to see it over the summer you’ll know just how amazing it was!)

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Me with young people from the youth arts network Creative Collisions, during the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival

 

If that wasn’t enough, I have also had the opportunity of working on the youth engagement programme at Time and Tide Museum. Due to illness the youth engagement officer has been away, so I was heavily involved in the Creative Collisions Crafting Histories project funded by HLF Young Roots. This project explores the heritage crafts of Great Yarmouth through a series of 3 month artist residencies and I have been involved in the advertisement of the residencies, recruiting and working with artists, organising workshops and liaising with teachers and young people. This has been a fantastic opportunity to practically work through an HLF bid and gain experience working with young people recruiting and selecting the artists, whilst at the same time developing my own professional judgement. Again the team here have been really helpful and supportive in guiding me through the process and showing me how to support and enable the young people in their selection of artists. By the end of my traineeship I will have worked on 2 and ½ residencies!

 

Incidentally, through an advert for the Crafting Histories artist residencies, I was contacted by a media agent to speak with one of his journalists who was working on an upcoming piece for the Museum Practice section of the Museums Association website about museums working with artists in different ways. This was very exciting, not only to be able to gain experience liaising with journalists, but also to be able to contribute to national advice on museum practices, as well as seeing myself quoted on the MA website!

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Exploring Time and Tide Museum

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Medieval Madness summer programme at Norwich Castle

Alongside my experiences at Time and Tide and Cromer Museum, I have sort out experiences and opportunities with colleagues in different museums across the service. I spent two weeks working for Norwich Castle on their Medieval Madness programme over the summer developing my informal learning experiences and seeing how bigger museums with larger visitor numbers develop and maintain their audiences through a variety of hands-on, themed activities. I also supported the summer school for looked after children held at Norwich Castle which I really enjoyed and had so much fun during it! It was great to be able to develop a relationship with each child across the week and see just how much they learned. It was also a very valuable experience as we were tasked with creating our own learning resource to be used at lunch time once the children had finished eating. Mine involved the children solving various Anglo-Saxon Riddles or Runes (I composed these myself) which were clues to identifying various objects in the Anglo Saxon Gallery. Following on from this, I regularly support the Castle’s Monthly Museum Club for looked after children.

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Museums at Night!

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Cinderella

I have also secured opportunities in other museums across the Norfolk Museum Service to work with and experience their different youth engagement offers and teenage history clubs. This has provided me with fantastic insight into how such clubs and programs can engage a ‘hard to reach’ age group and involve them in Museum activities. I have gained considerable understanding of how the Arts Award can be used in conjunction with museums, and in addition I was fortunate enough to win a place (generously funded by NADFAS) on a Kids in Museums workshop titled Children and Young People as Tour Guides. The latter was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about Kids in Museums and gain so much understanding of ways in which you can structure a programme that will engage young people over a period of time which enables them to have ownership of their local museum.

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Ancient House Teenage History Club

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Thetford Christmas Lights Switch On – Ancient House Museum

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Attending Kids in Museums workshop

 

All this, plus the weekly development training we have as part of the traineeship where we received training from an industry expert on numerous different aspects of the museum industry, has made for a very full on traineeshp.  But I have had such a fabulous experience and gained so much from it. And before I close I must thank the learning team in Great Yarmouth for all their amazing help and support along the way. I couldn’t have done it all without them!

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Moving giant pre-historic puppets through Great Yarmouth high street!

 


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The West Runton Mammoth Walks Again: And other News from Cromer Museum.

August is often a quiet month behind the scenes in museums as there are no school visits. You are less likely to be squeezed into a staff room full of “Pirates” (learning assistants!) eating their lunch or queuing behind a group of eager 10 year old “Victorians” to get into the museum.

The hoards of students are definitely noticeable by their absence but I have still managed to have a rather boisterous month! This started off with the Summer Camp for Looked After Children at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. The only priority that week was to ensure the young people enjoyed themselves and learned something new, which they certainly did.

Me at Cromer Museum with a replica of the tibia of the West Runton Mammoth, courtesy of the NMS Natural History Department.

Me at Cromer Museum with a replica of the tibia of the West Runton Mammoth, courtesy of the NMS Natural History Department.

I have also been delivering handling sessions in Cromer which have proved quite popular. While I had been expecting mainly families with kids we did actually have a greater number of adults come through the doors. The Reminiscence days proved really popular. Children were completely fascinated by meat mincers, cup and ball wooden toys and even cassette tapes!

The Punch and Judy Box recently acquired by Great Yarmouth Museums.

The Punch and Judy Box recently acquired by Great Yarmouth Museums.

The Punch and Judy Box recently acquired by Great Yarmouth Museums.It was a great chance to chat to visitors about their own memories of Cromer and other parts of Norfolk and get to know a little more local history. A particular favourite has been the Punch and Judy box which was recently donated to the collection of Great Yarmouth museums. This beautifully crafted piece is made of wood and plaster of Paris and was made by a real Punch and Judy man. He was Professor Richardson who worked on Yarmouth beach. The Punch and Judy box is the performance from the perspective of the Professor with the puppets on the outside of the box and the audience inside.

The audience inside the Punch and Judy Box

The audience inside the Punch and Judy Box

These handling sessions have been a great way to show visitors that museums have “living” collections. We want to continue to reflect the society and community in which we are based so we continue to collect objects and ephemera that tell the story of the people and places around us. Some visitors were amazed that I was encouraging them to pick things up and have a proper look and feel. Museums have developed from muted and reserved domiciles of objects behind glass to buildings that serve communities and encourage visitors to see, feel and experience history. In Great Yarmouth you can even smell history in Time and Tide Museum, an old herring curing works!

Museums still want visitors through the doors but we are also very dedicated to outreach and getting out into the local area. Cromer Museum is particularly good at this. The museum site is right in the middle of Cromer town and close to the beach and pier. The Museum hosts ghost walks through the town as well as other guided tours including next Sundays’ discovery of the lost hotels of the town. For more on these walks go to click here.

Up close and personal with the head of the West Runton Mammoth replica!

Up close and personal with the head of the West Runton Mammoth replica!

This dedication to outreach has been the foundation of the museums most popular event this summer – the Mammoth Adventure. On August 13th over 350 people arrived at West Runton Beach in North Norfolk to see the West Runton mammoth walk the beach for the first time in 700,000 years. The real West Runton mammoth was the steppe mammoth or Mammuthus Trogontherii and his sub-fossilised remains were found in 1990. He is the largest almost complete mammoth ever found with 85% of his bones being recovered.

An aviation engineer and a group of artists came together to build a life sized replica and many months of hard work came to fruition last month. You can see some of the sub-fossilised remains at Cromer Museum and Time and Tide Museum. I would also recommend joining us when he walks again in the near future as it really is a sight to behold – he even made the BBC news! I hope to see you there!

The Mammoth walk on West Runton beach.

The Mammoth walk on West Runton beach.


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Collections, Conservation, Communication and Curiosity; a Curatorial Trainee Experience

Meeting with Richard from the Norfolk Musical Record Society, one of the many public enquiries I deal with at Time and Tide.

Meeting with Richard from the Norfolk Musical Record Society, one of the many public enquiries I deal with at Time and Tide.

I am sitting in my office with a taxidermy hare on one side and pieces of a 1970’s fondue set on the other. This ties in rather well with the

Museums Association definition of a curator is an “all-embracing term for someone with responsibility for a collection of objects, be it paintings, rocks, stuffed animals, tools, or anything else”. Well in my first 6 months as a curatorial trainee I can certainly say that my job has involved a lot of responsibility and care for all sorts of objects from woolly mammoth teeth to Roman tiles, Victorian costumes and modern art .

Collections are the bed rock of a museum. They are what it is all about and they are what I love. I have been a big history fan for as long as I can remember but I have come to realise that museums are actually about much more than that.

Doling out Justice during Museums at Night and showing that even curators like dressing up sometimes!

Doling out Justice during Museums at Night and showing that even curators like dressing up sometimes!

I am really curious about the world around me now as we create our own history for future generations. This has come in pretty handy recently as at Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth we have just opened our new “Remember When” exhibition which is all about exploring history within living memory.  I also really want other people to share in my curiosity…you might say I like to talk quite a bit, I get a real buzz from being in peoples company and I am also rather fond of the written word.

I am fascinated by how we look at, conserve, interpret and display objects and correct record keeping and documentation is an essential part of that process.  But that work itself might leave me rather lonely and I certainly have a lot more on my agenda at NMS. I work on team projects like rationalising our stores, recruiting volunteers, brainstorming for future exhibitions and making sure our social media feed is updated.

Doing my bit for#museumselfie day. This was part of #MusuemWeek on Twitter which I planned and managed for Time and Tide.

Doing my bit for#museumselfie day. This was part of #MusuemWeek on Twitter which I planned and managed for Time and Tide.

My love of history was definitely the driving force in getting me to where I am now but in fact every single job I have had since my teens has informed how I do my job here – that is how diverse the role of a curator is!

 

 

 

It's not all hard work ...having fun on the Farm with Design Trainee Lauren at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Object Measuring for the Super Models Some Assembley Required Exhibition

When I am checking the museum for pests I am reminded of my job on quality assurance in a food factory, my experience as a summer camp leader comes in useful when facilitating kids visits to the museum and the time I spent as a political researcher taught me not just about research but also diplomacy and writing for government bodies.  I also spent four years working as a tour guide at an Irish Heritage site which was a real grounding in good customer service and public speaking and I have even tried my hand at genealogy.

Hard at work moving the museum stores

Hard at work moving the museum stores

I have a BA in History and Politics, an MA in Public Affairs and Political Communication, a Diploma in Journalism and I also spent some time studying digital marketing. While none of these are museum courses they were certainly not wasted years as museum work now requires you to be able to try your hand at anything – from explaining Ancient Rome to 5 year olds to writing a funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund and everything in between.

 

Object Measuring for the Super Models  Some Assembley Required Exhibition

Object Measuring for the Super Models Some Assembley Required Exhibition

I moved from Ireland to take up this position and while it was a huge change and in some ways a leap of faith I would do it again in a heartbeat.  The opportunities and guidance provided to me at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museums have meant I am finally on the path to the career I know I want and I am looking forward with nothing but excitement and optimism to my next 6 months here.