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Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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

Brampton

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!

Beechey Hat (Twitter)

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.

High res Le Genereux (722 of 1519)

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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Sharing a Passion: Ted Ellis

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

Today we see John Holdaway, trainee with the Natural History section.

Back in the summer of 2016, I was kindly asked by Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth, to present a talk as part of their excellent Friday talks programme. I was given the date of 3rd March 2017, which at the time seemed a long way off, but as I write this, it’s only a few weeks away!

Deciding on a subject to talk about was a hard choice. Over the past 10 months, I’ve had the privilege to work with a collection that holds over a million objects, ranging in ages from decades to well over 100 million years old. But narrowing it down to one single object to talk about for 60 minutes felt a hugely daunting task. After pondering on choices for a while, I stumbled upon the idea of not actually presenting a talk on an object, but instead, on a person. And a hugely influential figure, personality and visionary within the history of the Natural History department here at Norfolk Museums Service, was Ted Ellis.

Ted was employed by Norwich Castle Museum as ‘Natural History Assistant’ in 1928 at the age of 19, and presented at his interview a collection of his own ‘Nature Notebooks’ that he had kept from a young age. These had captured, in amazing detail, what he had observed on his many nature walks around Great Yarmouth and many other parts of Norfolk. We are very lucky to have many of these notebooks in the collection. Some of the colourful drawings of birds, wildlife and botany are truly wonderful, and show a young man with a real passion for nature, doing what he loved.

Ted Ellis in is natural habitat

Ted Ellis in his natural habitat

 

One of Ted's many 'Nature Notebooks'

One of Ted’s many ‘Nature Notebooks’

 

One of Ted's many 'Nature Notebooks'

Amazing detail of Ted’s ‘Nature Notebooks’

In time, Ted became ‘Keeper of Natural History’, and one of his many lasting legacies here at Norwich Castle Museum, is of course, the ‘Ted Ellis Norfolk Room’. In America during the 1930s, old-style cases which contained row-upon-row of taxidermy were starting to be replaced by a new type of 3D vista, where nature that would usually occur together in the wild, was depicted in a natural-looking setting. Ted was the driving force behind designing and building Norwich Castle’s very-own set of dioramas, regarded at the time as the best in the world, and still well-respected to this day due to their attention to detail and accuracy.

Each scene depicts a different part of Norfolk, and contains birds, botany and landscapes unique to that area. Being a Breckland boy living in Norwich, it always warms my heart seeing the Stone Curlews, meres, gorse, sandy heaths, endless skies, and the belts of twisted Scots Pines that the Breckland landscape is so famous for.

The Breckland landscape in the Ted Ellis Norfolk Room at Norwich Castle Museum

The Breckland landscape in the Ted Ellis Norfolk Room at Norwich Castle Museum

 

A young Ted Ellis, and me

A young Ted Ellis, and me

Although Ted entered the professional museum world under the instruction and guidance of late Victorian and Edwardian curators, he was part of the new breed of museum professionals, tasked with evolving the museum world from their Victorian ‘curiosity’ obsessions, towards museums representing their local communities.

In this way, I can relate this to my own introduction into the world of museums. I spent 15 years working in the logistics sector, a role I never really enjoyed. I’d always had a passion for history and heritage, and to take the big jump into the museum world was never money or job-security motivated, it was purely down to wanting to share my passion with as many people as I could, and to make new memories, just as my trips to museums as a child did for me. Obviously, the heritage sector is ever changing, and through my traineeship, I have been able to draw on the experience and knowledge on some of the most forward-thinking and experienced characters within the sector. It is nearly time for me to push on with what I have learnt and to make my own mark, just as Ted Ellis did during his time at the museum. He learnt from the best at the time, and used that to springboard his own ideas. A testament to his passion and skill is that his work, including the dioramas, are still admired over 80 years since their creation.

Ted was a man who wanted to share his passion with as many people as possible, and I’ve also been able to do that over the last 10 months. And long may it continue, wherever my next chapter may take me.

If you’d like to hear more about Ted’s time at Norwich Castle Museum, see details about my talk through this link: https://www.facebook.com/events/327175364300893/?active_tab=about


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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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Bugs, Skulls & toilets!?

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees. Today we see John Holdaway, trainee with the Natural History section.

Wow! The first four months of the Teaching Museum traineeship have absolutely whizzed by! (And yes, as you will soon discover, I am the only male on this year’s traineeship!). It really only feels like yesterday when the 2016 trainees sat down for our first day’s induction, and for me, hopping straight on a train afterwards to head for Derby to attend the NatSCA (Natural Sciences Collections Association) conference. This was also the first official meeting with my supervisor, Senior Curator of Natural History for NMS, David Waterhouse. I can’t remember what I first found more daunting as I arrived, either meeting my new boss, or having to socialise (in a pub) with some of the most highly regarded Natural History curators in the UK! But once I arrived, I found them to be very approachable (albeit with a curious fascination with collecting animal dung!). It was a great event, both in learning valuable information that would help me over the next year, but also having an early chance to network with some major players in the museum sector.

Me, auditioning for a role in 'The Fly 3'

Me, auditioning for a role in ‘The Fly 3’

 

My fellow 2016 trainees and me

               My fellow 2016 trainees and me

During the month of June, I was involved in two public events held at Norwich Castle by the Natural History section. The first of these was to celebrate Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s 90th anniversary, which involved curating a temporary display of different objects related to naturalists during the 1920s, the same time as the founding of the trust. One of the star objects in our display was a 1926 nature diary by former keeper of Natural History here at the Castle/East Anglian nature TV celebrity, Ted Ellis. When Ted applied for the position of ‘Natural History Assistant’ at the Castle in 1928 (at the age of 19), he brought along a selection of his nature dairies to the job interview as proof of his love of nature, and it worked! So it is very likely that 1926 copy we had on display was used by Ted at that interview! It was great to be able to explain this to our visitors.For me, that is the very essence of what working in a museum and having a passion for history is all about. Being able to connect objects with people, and discovering a story that can be amazing, sad or funny, or even all three at the same time.

 

The Natural History display cases for Norfolk Wildlife Trust 90th anniversary event

The Natural History display cases for Norfolk Wildlife Trust 90th anniversary event

The second public event was a ‘How the Horse Became’ handling session, to coincide with British Art Show 8’s ‘History Train’ event, which saw heavy-horses delivering the artwork to the Castle. Our display centred on the evolution of the Horse, from its relatively unknown evolutionary links to Hippos, how they are able to generate such speed, right up to why Horse-chestnuts gained their name. My favourite part of this display was the real Hippopotamus skull, and the excitement on visitor’s faces when asked if they could identify which animal it was.

A large part of me deciding to try and forge a career in the museum sector was down to the memories I developed from visits to museums when I was a child (especially Ancient House Museum in Thetford). It was amazing to see how excited our younger visitors became when faced with the huge Hippo. I truly hope that memories were formed that day which will inspire a future generation of museum goers, or even future museum professionals!

The Hippopotamus skull used in our ‘How the Horse Became’ event at Norwich Castle

                          The Hippopotamus skull used in our ‘How the Horse Became’ event at Norwich Castle

 

To sum up my first third of the traineeship in a paragraph is a difficult task. The ‘Understanding Museums’ training really did open my eyes to how many different factors come in to play when dealing with museum work. Even though it didn’t really feel like I was being schooled at any time, my knowledge of how museums work has expanded on a huge magnitude. My days are so varied, which makes the time absolutely fly by. I’ve been well and truly adopted into the Natural History section, and feel that any idea I have, great or small, is always considered and never muted. I could have written all day about the different experiences I have had over the last few months.

I’m sure that when I come to write my next blog entry, my museum knowledge will have stepped up another level.

And, if it all goes wrong, I could cut out another career path with a certain skill I’ve recently acquired… (See photo below)

Me, cleaning a Victorian toilet-bowl at Gressenhall

Me, cleaning a Victorian toilet-bowl at Gressenhall

 


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Terrific Trails Training Day

Over the past year I have been organising a programme of family trails at Lynn museum, King’s Lynn. The trails have been really popular with our October Half Term trail ‘Amazing Autumn’ getting over 180 visitors.

Amazing autumn trail

Amazing Autumn sticker trail

world war one trail

Remembering World War One trail

As part of the Teaching Museum development programme which runs alongside our work I was asked to develop and deliver a day of training at Lynn Museum about making fun and engaging museum trails. I spent some time before the day pulling together all the ideas and thoughts which go into making engaging trails – not just another worksheet! From running a training day about ‘What do curators do?’ back in June I had a better idea about timings and knew activities are often more popular than just lecturing!

The trainees all made the journey over to King’s Lynn and warmed up with plenty of tea and coffee. We started off by all having a go at two very different trails used at Lynn Museum over the last year and thinking about what a visitor would get out of a trail. The first was an Amazing Autumn sticker trail and the second an object spotting trail titled Remembering World War one. Everyone had some great comments about the two trails and each person had brought an example trails from another museum to talk about and compare.

We discussed the learning principles which underpin trails and take them from a fun activity into an engaging learning experience. We talked about how a museum can encourage visitors to learn through being welcoming, providing accessible activities and rewarding achievement. The Every Child a Talker initiative and the Early Years Foundation Stage Principles of Learning  are good examples of the ideas the trails programme has been based on.

After looking through the trails I had produced for the summer holidays we talked about making activities relevant to your museum and which of the Lynn Museum trails had done this better than others. For the afternoon session I was keen for the trainees to have a go at putting what we had discussed into practice. We all enjoy some arts and crafts and I set everyone the challenge of picking a theme from the museum and designing a spotting, sticker or colouring trail to take families around the museum.

Group working on activity

Everyone hard at work coming up with ideas for trails

Seahenge trail

Lauren’s trail about Seahenge

 Everyone got into the activity and produced some great ideas which I would love to be able to use at the museum. Lauren put together a lovely sticker trail asking visitors to find the missing parts of Seahenge hidden around the gallery. Rachel did a very different trail encouraging visitors to find all the different objects in the museum relating to domestic life, answering questions as they go.

domestic life trail

Rachel’s trail about domestic items in the collection

I really enjoyed developing the session and was pleased that everyone had lots of questions during the day and enjoyed the activities. Delivering the session has been a great opportunity to try out some of the activities and discussion we hope to run as part of a SHARE Museums East training day about making museum trails which will be held at Ancient House Museum, Thetford on 1st December. Click HERE to find out more.