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.

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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