Shooting Star Objects.

Just before Christmas, we started the first phase of our public outcomes for the project. To do this we needed a set of professionally taken images to use in our displays, publicity material and do create web displays.

Photographer John Reynolds www.clickclickclick.net spent a day at each of the partner museums, photographing 10 of their star objects that had been re-discovered during the review process. I accompanied John on the photography days, and this time spent with the objects allowed myself and the curators with the opportunity to study the objects more closely, and really get a feel for them and how they might best be displayed and presented to the public.

Here are some (not so professional!) photographs I took of John photographing the objects at each of the museums. The fantastic results will be revealed soon in the on-line displays in March.

Rachel Heminway Hurst, Uniques Project Manager

Photographer John Reynolds and Curator Julian Porter arrange the Tatanua Mask ready for the shoot.

Photographer John Reynolds and Curator Julian Porter arrange the Tatanua Mask ready for the shoot.

 

John photographing an inro from Japan, at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery.

John photographing an inro from Japan, at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery.

John photographing a Samurai Armour from Japan, at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery.

John photographing a Samurai Armour from Japan, at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery.

John Reynolds photographing a belt from Montenegro.

John Reynolds photographing a belt from Montenegro, at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.

John arranging a headdress from Cameroon at Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery.

John arranging a headdress from Cameroon at Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery.

John photographing a robe from Nigeria, from Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery.

John photographing a robe from Nigeria, from Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery.

John photographing a hairdressing model from Nigeria.

John photographing a hairdressing model from Nigeria.

 

Advertisements

Shooting Star Objects

That thing in the store!

The project has solved an enduring mystery for me at Bexhill Museum. An object that is very familiar but which I had no idea what it really is. I’ve been working at the museum for a very long time, but this thing, like a long woven sock has always sat on a shelf and dared me to comprehend what it really was. I had a couple of pet theories which lasted for a while before I eventually gave up on them, maybe it was a fish trap (admittedly it would have to be for very small fish, who were living in a stream no bigger than a drainpipe) or maybe it was a rather cosy spear holder?

So it was a great delight when Len took one look at it and pronounced that it was a South American manioc squeezer and went on to describe it’s form and function.

As well as satisfying my  curatorial curiosity and plugging a gap in my knowledge it also unlocks the potential of that artefact – it would have been problematic to display an item which I had no idea (or rather no correct idea) what it was. I guess I could have tried the “We don’t know what this is, why don’t you try and guess?” label trick but without even knowing which continent it was from, there was no context in which to display it beyond that of ‘mystery object’.

Now you may be wondering what a manioc squeezer is, or even why it is a necessity to squeeze maniocs. Manioc (also known as cassava) is a staple food in many parts of the world but is poisonous in its raw state, the tubers need to be peeled, shredded and then soaked to remove the toxins – and this is where the squeezer comes into the story. The wet, shreds of manioc are packed into the squeezer at the open end and then it is suspended from a beam or bough by the loop end. By pulling down or hanging weights from the ring at the other end the structure constricts and squeezes out the poisonous juices.

Although this may seem a world away from our daily lives one product derived from manioc that we may be more familiar with is tapioca and of course that classic dish, tapioca pudding!

Julian Porter, Curator at Bexhill Museum

Manioc Squeezer, Bexhill Museum

Manioc Squeezer, Bexhill Museum

 

 

Hot in Horsham! Collections Review Day at Horsham Museum

Battling the heat with a rather small fan, I met Rachel and Len (project
manager and ethnography specialist, respectively) in the small storeroom.
They were on the lookout for ethnography with an Asian origin, something I
had no experience in, but enough enthusiasm to hopefully make up for it!

As each delicately pulled drawer revealed more items- long been touched
or identified- to be photographed, I realised how important Len’s
specialist knowledge was! Trying to identify the correct things exposed
cracks in my assumptions of ‘Asian’ ethnography- I’ll definitely do some
research before my next review day. The room contained a hybrid of things,
and as I’m still inexperienced, found it baffling (and great) that a small
town museum was looking after them.

Overall, as a third year anthropology student interested in museums and
ethnography, I’ve so far found this project to be a really valuable
experience. It is really exciting to rejuvenate life back into these
objects and thus making them accessible to the community that they now find
themselves in- looking forward to the next review day!

Matthew Cowling, 3rd year student Anthropology Student, University of Sussex

Inro, Japan, Horsham Museum

Inro, Japan, Horsham Museum

Asian metalwork, Horsham Museum

Asian metalwork, Horsham Museum

Carved Hornbill Beak, Horsham Museum.

Carved Hornbill Beak, Horsham Museum.

Hairdos and Head Ornaments from Angola

Inbal Livne, Head of Collections at Quex Park, Rachel Heminway-Hurst, Project Manager, and I have now looked at a broad selection of objects in the Powell Cotton collection from south-west Angola. These include domestic objects, tools and weapons, baskets, small figures, smoking pipes, and quite a number of personal ornaments.

Most of the pieces are made of organic materials, and show the  ingenuity of their makers (mostly women?), such as the necklace of minutely worked sections of scented root fibres (see A36/676). Some of the head ornaments and figures showing forms of hairdressing  (eg A36/2521,  a small female figure with an elaborate hairstyle, from Dombondola) serve to illustrate the relevance of a comment in the catalogue for the collections of the Lisbon Overseas Museum of Ethnology, made to highlight some head ornaments:

“Hairdos and head adornments have a special importance for the people of Southwest Angola because they are a sign distinguishing the various groups, while at the same time they point the position of an individual within her own group. So, in order to become a hairdresser it is not only necessary to go through an apprenticeship but it is also essential that the spirit of an ancestor and a former professional manifest itself. Often, hairdo is the only way to find out to which group an individual belongs. Conditions like widowhood, pre and post puberty rites, proximity of marriage, mourning, etc are transmitted by many of the peoples of the southwest through their hairdo. These hairdos are so aesthetically rich that one gains the impression that the whole potentiality of beauty was channeled towards them.” 

The maize cob core collected in 1936 from the Luvando people of Kanguli village, the fringe which has been used as a practice piece for dressing the hair (see A37/333), is a rare piece of evidence of how much care goes into this activity.”

Project Consultant Len Pole

A36676 necklace

Root fibre necklace, Angola A36/676.

Small female figure with elaborate hairstyle, Dombondola, Angola A36/2521.

Small female figure with elaborate hairstyle, Dombondola, Angola A36/2521.

Maize cob with plaited 'fringe' A37/333.

Maize cob with plaited ‘fringe’ A37/333.

The Cherry on the Cake of Museum Work! Collections Review Day at Bexhill Museum

Since the completion of our rebuild in 2007, work at Bexhill Museum has comprised a blur of exhibitions, shifting stuff, meetings and putting on events. What a joy it is to get stuck into some proper behind-the-scenes collections work! Our curator Julian Porter, Rachel Heminway Hurst – the Uncovering Ethnography Project Manager, Len Pole – museum curator and Ethnography Specialist, our work experience student Melita and myself have been ferretting through our two stores finding all sorts of beautiful and interesting objects and improving our identification, knowledge and manual/digital documentation of our ethnography collections. – These haven’t been reviewed for a century! This is what I call ‘the cherry on the cake of museum work’.  Currently we’re concentrating on objects from Africa and Australia, but will move to other continents from September. We’re examining, assessing condition and identifying/re-identifying each object, repackaging it correctly, updating our accession records and creating a digital database of images and information which will eventually be transferred onto our MODES system. Objects have included beadwork, basketwork, woven or felted cloths and figurines. The work is careful, intense, focused, detailed and immensely enjoyable for those of us lucky enough to be part of this.  When we’ve completed this project stage, we will be putting an exhibition together to be opened in 2015. Can’t wait to see what the other museums involved in this project have been doing!

Yvonne Cleland, Collections Assistant Volunteer, Bexhill Museum

Australian Shield, Bexhill Museum

Australian Shield, Bexhill Museum

Len Pole and Yvonne Cleland examining a spear at Bexhill Museum.

Len Pole and Yvonne Cleland examining a spear at Bexhill Museum

Commencing Collections Review

I have started reviewing the collections we are focusing on. The Angolan items at Powell Cotton Museum are outstanding I think, both for their condition and the detail of the data about them, so carefully collected and recorded by the Powell Cotton sisters, Diana and Antoinette. There are so few collections from the south-west of Angola in this country, this must rank as one of the most detailed. More to come.

Len Pole, Project Ethnographic Specialist.

Len Pole and Collections Volunteer, reviewing the Angola Collection.

Len Pole and Collections Volunteer, reviewing the Angola Collection.

Project Press Release

Uncovering Ethnography in Kent and Sussex (Uniques Project)

Collections Review and Community Engagement Project for 2014/15

Bexhill Museum in East Sussex has been awarded an £80,000 grant to run a collections review project with four other partner museums in West and East Sussex and Kent.  This project is being funded by the Arts Council England’s Strategic Support Fund.

Ethnography collections traditionally contain the material culture of other societies. These multifaceted collections are both specific to their source communities, but also relevant to all other cultures and societies, as they signify how people live their lives. These powerful and revealing collections are held in our local museums, and many are still waiting to be fully discovered.

This project will enable the five partner museums to increase access and knowledge of unidentified, underused and under-researched ethnographic collections in the region. The partners will be engaging with university students and academics and local community groups, as well as carrying out collaborative research and skills sharing across these countries. An ethnographic collections support network for the region will be set up, and ethnographic specialists from across the country will be invited to assist with identification and additional research.

Staff who care for ethnographic material and academics across the South East and wider regions will also be invited to participate and share skills, through invitation to two symposiums planned for winter 2014 and spring 2015.

Bexhill Museum will be exploring their African Collection, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery will be investigating their Baltic Costume Collection, Horsham Museum will be looking at their Asian Collection, Maidstone will be exploring their diverse ‘Blackburn’ Collection and the Powell Cotton Museum will be finding out more about their Angolan Collection. Objects will be selected for public displays at each of the sites, as well as web displays and collections resources for visitors to explore at the museum sites.

A freelance project team working with the five partners will carry out the reviews and help the partners to provide public and professional access for new significant finds.

To find out more please contact Rachel Heminway Hurst, Uniques Project Manager rheminwayhurst@gmail.com