'Made in Roath' take some of the Museum’s specimens on a day out to Chapter
For this year’s Art Carbootique at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, 'Made in Roath' were lucky enough to be able to work with Annette and Jules, the natural science conservators at the Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales in Cathays Park.
The National Museum of Wales has a vast collection of approximately 2000 taxidermy specimens most of which are not on display, and some of which present interesting curatorial challenges because of their history and the stories they tell. Having long been fascinated by the stuffed animal collection on display in the Natural History gallery at the museum, we felt really privileged to be invited behind the scenes and view the specimens in storage.
This was an amazing experience; the conservator’s stores are wonderful - heartbreaking and fascinating in equal measure. We decided that our mission would be to make a ‘museum’ in our caravan of a selection of these unseen animals, allowing them to temporarily escape the museum archive and be seen by the public. In this context, the specimen is not just being viewed as a singular object but as part of a wider culture, referencing human practices such as hunting, shipping and collecting happening in the Victorian period, but which are still practiced today. Furthermore, a consideration of the specimen’s history within the museum itself, with its changing site, politics and attitudes, exposes how wider socio-political forces have shaped the specimen’s display, reception and curation at the local level of the museum. Jules and Annette were really helpful and accommodating when we told them what we wanted to do, they went up to Nantgarw to the stores there and selected some more specimens to add to the collection, many of which had not been displayed for many years.
We installed the work, with a lot of help from Jules, and drove over to Chapter – there is something very surreal about towing a caravan full of stuffed animals through central Cardiff on a rainy Sunday Morning, but it was worth it. The response from the public was great, both adults and children have such a fascination for taxidermy, the exhibition was a big success, we’d also photographed the animals and made masks to give to visitors, so the animals had another opportunity to ‘escape’. Although the emphasis was on fun, we had expected to get some criticism with people possibly disapproving of the museums stuffed animals, but apart from some healthy and thought provoking discussion about the way human beings treat animals, it was a hugely enjoyable day. Thanks to AC-NMW, especially Annette and Jules, for making it happen.
The 'Made in Roath' Team!
Find out more about the work of 'Made in Roath' at http://madeinroath.com/
Give and Gain Day 2014
Last week, as part of Give and Gain Day 2014, we had 50 volunteers from the Lloyds Banking Group helping with a number of projects here at St Fagans. Some helped with the Gardening Department, some helped the Historic Buildings Unit while some assisted with a project alongside the Alzheimer’s Society. Myself and Bernice had the help of 11 volunteers to build a dead hedge in the woodlands near the bird hide.
We had been planning on building a dead hedge in near the bird hide for a while, for a number of reasons. A dead hedge would act as a screen for approaching the bird hide, meaning that birds on the feeders would be less likely to be scared by the approaching visitors. A dead hedge also acts as a wildlife corridor, giving cover to a wide variety of wildlife as they move through the woodlands. Visitors had also begun cutting through the woodland, and one section of the dead hedge was to act as a deterrent meaning visitors would be more likely to stick to the paths.
The first task of the day was the sharpening of the fence posts. The posts are needed for structure and need to be driven firmly into the ground. Creating the sharp end obviously makes this much easier. After creating pilot holes, the poles were then driven into the ground using a sledge hammer. Once the posts were in place, we could then begin to assemble the dead hedge.
A dead hedge is built up of dead woodland material. Over the past couple of weeks I have been asking the gardeners and farmers here to help by collecting any trimmings and off cuts and delivering these to the bird hide for use in this project. Everyone was incredibly helpful, and we ended up with a vast pile of material… or so I thought. Dead hedging takes a lot of material, so along with some of the volunteers I headed into the woods to do a bit of clearing to gain more material.
After lunch, we headed up into the woods near the site of Bryn Eryr, the Iron Age farmstead currently being built. This area has previously been cleared so there was a lot of cut material for us to collect. This was loaded into a trailer and taken over to the bird hide. The afternoon finished with us using this material to finish the dead hedge. As an artistic final touch, we used some lime cuttings to add extra height and a certain je ne sais quois to the finished hedge.
As these pictures show, the day was a huge success! The weather could not have been better and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. The 2 sections of dead hedge we wanted to build got done, and I’ve already earmarked some projects for future volunteers! The amount of work done in a day was incredible, it would have taken me and Bernice a lot longer to do without the help of the volunteers. A huge thank you to everyone who helped us and the other projects too!
National Science and Engineering Week
Yesterday, Natural Sciences Staff took part in the 'Meet the Pollinators' Event run by First Campus, a partnership between higher education institutions, further education colleges and schools in South East Wales. The event was part of National Science and Engineering Week and was attended by approximately 100 Year 9 pupils from six schools. The pupils had the opportunity to speak to the curators and find out about 'a day in the life of museum scientists'.
The Participatory Forums
The Informal Learning Forum
Informal Learning in this context refers to learning outside of the school curriculum. The group consists of representatives from organizations across Wales that facilitate adult and family learning. Most members had previous knowledge of the project having participated in workshops during the planning stage. This group have agreed a remit of work which includes; helping to develop a programme of activities that appeals to people of varied background and ability and reviewing gallery content to ensure we provide appropriate interpretive methods for these audiences.
As a result of this Forum a group of adult learners from the Workers Educational Association (WEA) participated in interpretation workshops in July. The workshops provided an opportunity for the group to give their views on items intended for the ‘Wales is’ gallery. Objects studied at close hand included a tailors quilt and artefacts dating from the First World War. The sessions were facilitated by curators working directly with the objects – ensuring that the feedback gleaned has a direct impact on their work.
Archaeology Discovery Day
Tuesday 29th October saw many staff from Archaeology & Numismatics take over the Main Hall in National Museum Cardiff for our special half-term Discovery Day. We were overwhelmed with the positive response from all who visited us.
We wanted to give you an idea of a little of the vast range of work we do and see some hidden gems from our collections, which you might not otherwise get a chance to experience.
A special treat was one of our conservators, Penny Hill, working on a large Roman pot from the recent Caerleon excavations by Cardiff University. Normally the conservation work has to take place in a lab in our basement, but she managed to get this wonderful item upstairs for you to see the work being done on it. It was too fragile to be fully excavated in the field, so it was carefully lifted, mud and all, and brought to us. Penny was gently scraping off the centuries of dirt to reveal the pot and its contents of bone.
We’re not usually so lucky as to have a pot so intact. Usually they are broken into numerous pieces, with eroded edges and not all present. It’s like putting together a jigsaw, without the picture, lots of missing pieces, and with the existing pieces the wrong shape. Louise Mumford is also a conservator and brought along some replica pots to demonstrate how she works her magic on them. Our visitors learnt how to look for matching edges and assemble the pots. They also had advice on sticking back together their own broken treasures.
Siân, Jody, Mary, Julie and Alice led art activities based on pieces in our collection. Siân Iles’ specialism is medieval pottery, and she brought out some lovely examples of medieval tiles from our stores. Our visitors were able to see the wonderful designs on them, and how they built up across a floor to form a larger pattern. They then coloured in their own section of a “floor tile” on paper, to form part of a larger pattern which we displayed and added to throughout the day.
Jody Deacon works with prehistoric artefacts, and Mary Davis is a conservator with a particular interest in the analysis of materials, especially Iron Age and Bronze Age metals. They brought out some designs from Iron Age coins, and talked about how they were decorate with the symbols and patterns which meant something to the people of the time. Our visitors used multi-coloured scratch card to make their own beautiful designs.
Julie Taylor does the admin for the section, and Alice Forward is with us for a year on a Community Archaeology placement. Julie is a textile artist in her spare time, and is interested in the memory of places. An archaeological excavation can be like digging up the ghosts of the past – a small trace of someone, a stain in the ground, an unclear, faint picture. Julie and Alice helped the visitors to make “ghost pictures” – the visitors chose an object from our Origins gallery to draw on acetate, which was then transferred to light-sensitive fabric, making an ephemeral image of what you had seen. We have a few pieces which were left behind, so if you see yours here and want it back, do call to collect it.
Del Elliott can normally be found helping you to use the Clore Discovery Gallery or as a Museum Assistant in the general exhibitions. He also volunteers with our handling collection in the Origins gallery. He used a model of the “Celtic Warrior Grave” to talk to the public about the burial traditions of the Iron Age, the artefacts found in the grave and how they have changed over time.
Evan Chapman works with our Roman archaeology, and also looks after the image archive in the department. Some of our earliest photographs only now exist on glass-plate negatives; extremely fragile and difficult for anyone to use. The Museum has received a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn foundation to enable us to digitise some of these negatives, and Evan brought along a wonderful presentation of old photographs of excavations in Cardiff Castle, Llanmelin Hillfort and Segontium, also an archive of Early Christian Monuments from Glamorgan.
Last but not least, Jackie Chadwick and Tony Daly are the A&N illustrators. Photographs are a very useful record, but often a great deal of detail exists in the artefacts which simply cannot be picked up by the lens. Jackie and Tony have produced some incredible drawings, showing such things as the subtle marks left in the manufacturing process and the texture of an item. They also play a large part in the interpretation of a site or object, by illustrating how a site may have looked or an object used, based on the complex archaeological evidence. The visitors could chat to them about the process, see some of their work, and have a go at making their own illustrations.
We could not have done the day without our fabulous volunteers. Kym, Luke and Ciaran generously gave up their time and worked so hard with us to run the activities. A huge thank you to all of you!
The day was a bit of a swan-song for the Origins gallery – the gallery will close in February next year and the collection prepared for the new displays planned for St Fagans National History Museum. Archaeology & Numismatics is now part of the larger History and Archaeology Department, and the new displays are intended to cover the prehistory and history of Wales at a single site.
Archaeology will still have a strong programme of events in this new structure – look out in the What’s On guide for our regular series of lunchtime talks and Behind The Scenes tours. Another Discovery Day is on the cards during the CBA’s Festival of British Archaeology next July, and we are planning a one-day conference for next autumn; dates to be confirmed.
If you want to volunteer with us, you can get in touch with the Museum’s volunteer co-ordinator Ffion Davies.
We’d love to hear your thoughts – what did you think of the day, what would you like to see at the next one, what can we do better? Just comment below.
Bye for now
The Participatory Forums
The Young Ambassadors
This group of young adults first met in early June. They have expressed great passion for the Museum’s redevelopment project and an enthusiasm to create and run an outreach programme aimed specifically at youths in Wales. The group will also be reviewing the programme of activities for young people and providing insight into gallery content and interpretation. They participated in the interpretation workshops in July (depicted below) and were described as ‘inspirational’ by staff involved in the session.
The Participatory Forums
The Our Museum Participatory Forum was established in 2011 during the development of the HLF redevelopment project bid and the bid to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to develop community engagement within the Museum. This has meant that the two programmes have been integrally linked from the outset. The forum consists of Museum staff, Trustees and representatives from third and public sector organisations who work closely with community groups in Wales. Through their involvement in the forum the needs and interests of the communities they represent are voiced, and thus become a core element of the Museums methodology.
The aim of the Forum is to embed and sustain volunteering at the Museum and create a ‘Community of Volunteers’. The central aim is to ensure the volunteers needs are at the heart of what we do, making volunteering more accessible and relevant to the diverse communities we represent as a NationalMuseum.
Over the summer we ran a large scale volunteer recruitment drive. With the help of the Community Partners we placed approximately 50 volunteers in roles across the Museum with Departments such as the Historic Buildings Unit, Learning, Estates and Events. The volunteers have come from all walks of life and are all volunteering for different reasons; some retired, some students, some looking for a new challenge and others looking for routine and activity in a beautiful place where they can learn new skills and meet new people.
The Diversity Forum
This group is formed of representatives from organizations that work closely with diverse community groups. The group was formed with the goal of ensuring that the redevelopment of the Museum is accessible, of interest to and representative of all. They first met in April and discussed collaborative methods, approaches to engaging key audiences and the importance of developing models of best practice.
As a result of this Forum a group from South-Riverside Communities First participated in interpretation workshops in August. Objects discussed included an idol of the Goddess Durga and a cluster of archaeological artefacts relating to the oldest human remains found in Wales. The curators involved commented that it was refreshing to see the objects through fresh eyes. The group were eager to place items in the context of global history – an interesting approach that would help to engage both those of diverse background living in Wales and the wealth of foreign visitors to the Museum.
The Participatory Forums
The User Design Forum
This is an intergenerational group consisting of young adults from Caerphilly Youth Forum, their Youth leaders and four teachers from Secondary Schools in south Wales. The group have been meeting for over two years and have worked closely with the architects on the designs for the new building (Gweithdy) and the developments to the Main Building. They have also been meeting with the exhibition designers (Event) to provide feedback on ideas relating to the gallery spaces. Their most recent involvement was in attending interpretation workshops where they were able to respond directly to objects and discuss methods of presentation and interpretation with the relevant curators.
The photos depict the group on a benchmarking trip to M Shed in Bristol (an exhibition space designed by Event) and at the interpretation workshop in July.
The Participatory Forums
Hello, and welcome to the first instalment of what will become a regular blog following the development of Participatory Forums at St Fagans National History Museum. As part of its exciting redevelopment project (the result of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund) the Museum has been developing public consultation methods and engaging with representatives from third sector organisations and individuals from across Wales. These groups symbolise a transformation in our methods of working and are a key step towards our goal of becoming a truly participatory museum.
Discussion and debate is set to be a predominant theme throughout the new gallery spaces. The curators are currently working with the design team Event to develop methods of recording public opinion and responses to objects on display. The plan at present is to open up the floor for further debate online – to create a forum where people can respond to the gallery spaces and to each other, creating a platform for debate which will inspire the Museum’s continued development.
There are a number of issues that will need addressing along the way if we are to ensure that the Museum is representative of Wales as a whole. These will include:
- accessing close-knit community groups who may not see the Museum as representative of their histories
- addressing the poverty barrier to ensure the Museum is accessible to all
- ensuring we provide for people of different ages, ability and varied background.
The primary issue now is to ensure that we are representative of Wales today and that our reach is Wales wide. These are concerns that publicising our ventures can help resolve. We can be Wales wide and representative of all by making the developments visible to all and opening the floor for discussion and debate.
So, let’s set the debate off now! The theme for the first gallery will be ‘Wales is…’ looking at the stereotypical ideals of ‘Welshness’ while also opening the floor for a debate on what Wales is to others, and how Wales has developed throughout history. So, what is Wales to you? We are developing a great Word Cloud of responses. If you email five words that you believe sum up Wales to the link bellow, we will add them to the Word Cloud and post the results here!
And, watch this space for updates on how the Forums have been helping the Museum achieve its goals…