Shells, Scorpions and Shopping Centres
I started out writing a long meandering post about galleries, but what I came to say is this: I've really enjoyed the I Spy Nature exhibition at National Museum Cardiff, which runs until April 2015. Each time I've gone down to see it, the place has been full of families, conversations, and children dressed up as bugs and scientists, hopping from display to display.
I Spy... Nature gives you a chance to see the world as seen through the eyes of a bat, a scientist, or a fly. Provided you're under 10, you can even to dress up like one as you explore the creepy-crawly specimens, 3D printed corals, interactive quizzes and activities. The giant, interactive microscope screen mentioned in David's post can be found in a beautiful cabinet of slides. For those of you who prefer 'the real thing', there's also a working laboratory microscope, with a spinning table of fascinating slides to choose from.
The I Spy... team have also been taking the show outside to different places, bringing their amazing collection with them. For example, here's @CardiffCurator with a curious object at the Eisteddfod:
The I Spy... pop-up museum will be, er, popping up, for one last time this summer. Catch them at the Capitol Centre in Cardiff between the 28th and 30th of August. In amongst the handbags, sandwiches and end-of-season sales, you'll find scorpions, creepy-crawlies and a seashell that's bigger then your head. Pop down to see them between 11am and 3pm to see what you can spy!
What’s your Cardiff Story?
The first workshop to create content for the pop-up museum at the Museums Association Conference in October at the Wales Millennium Centre was held today at the Cardiff Story Museum. Staff from the Cardiff Story Museum, Amgueddfa Cymru- National Museum Wales and the Heritage Lottery Fund came together with a group made up of National Museum Wales and Cardiff Story Youth Forum members and volunteers to test the processes that are needed to create a pop-up museum.
Participants agreed that using Cardiff as a theme was a good idea. What is your Cardiff story? Or what does Cardiff mean to you? provides opportunities for people to give their opinion about Cardiff – the capital city of Wales, whether they’ve visited before or not. It includes those who are Cardiff born and bred and those who’ve stepped off the train for the first time; delegates at the Museum Association conference and families visiting the Wales Millennium Centre as part of the Welsh Museums Festival.
A conveyer belt of museum processes was set up with everyone taking turns to write text, photograph their object, be photographed themselves and be filmed talking about their Cardiff story.
In one hour, we created a mini museum in its most basic form. 12 objects, 8 stories, 7 voxpops, and 12 photographs all saying something different about Cardiff and what it means or has meant to the participants today or in the past.
Arran Rees, Curator of collections at Cardiff Story kicked off the session by showing his chosen object and sharing his Story.
Everyone joined in and within 30 minutes, a variety of different objects ranging from Welsh cakes to a fossil revealed something about Cardiff. One participant used Welsh cakes to show her fondness of the stall in Cardiff Market and how she identified with Cardiff and Wales by getting to like Welsh cakes even though she hated dried fruit. Another object was a ring that was a symbol of friendship and good times at Cardiff University. Another contributor told of her experience as a performer in the Cardiff Mardigras in 2013. Everyone wanted to read other people’s stories and the objects inspired discussion about Cardiff – good and bad, past and present.
The session was incredibly useful. The group confirmed that a broad theme is better, more inclusive and has more potential to inspire diverse responses than something too specific. Simple low tech methods work, and can be used to create interest and discussion – even when technology lets you down.
Now that the method has been tested and some ideas put into practise, we are ready for the next workshop. This will be an open workshop again at the Cardiff Story, 30 August 11am – 1pm. Come along and share what Cardiff means to you.
Contact Arran Rees at the Cardiff Story for more details:
"Our Cats" by Harrison Weir 
We recently participated in #MuseumCats Day on Twitter and this involved a quick search through our holdings for some interesting pictures of cats to Tweet and what a gem we have found! Please enjoy this selection of wonderful and [in some cases] bizarre illustrations of cats from the book "Our Cats and all about them" written and illustrated by Harrison Weir in 1889.
My personal favourites are the surreal disembodied heads [see above], "Sylvie" [she of the magnificent moustaches] and the Russian cat who [in my opinion] has a most unsettling human expression.
Weir was a very interesting character; he was born in 1824 on May 5th [d.1906], and is known as "The Father of the Cat Fancy”. He organizied the first ever cat show in England, at The Crystal Palace, London in July 1871 where he and his brother served as judges. In 1887 he founded the National Cat Club and was its first President and Show Manager until his resignation in 1890. Our Cats was the first published pedigree cat book.
Weir was employed, for many years, as a draughtsman and engraver for the Illustrated London News as well as many other publications and in his lifetime he both wrote and illustrated other books such as The Poetry of Nature (1867), Every Day in the Country (1883) and Animal Studies, Old and New (1885). In 1845 he exhibited his first painting at the British Institution and during his career he was an occasional exhibitor at the Royal Academy.
He was a keen animal fancier, an experienced breeder of cats, carrier pigeons, and poultry and for thirty years often acted as a judge at the principal pigeon and poultry shows. In 1903 he wrote and illustrated the exhaustive book Our Poultry and All About Them.
More information on Harrison Weir via the following links:
This book was bequeathed to the Library back in May 1916 along with around 500 other books by the Welsh artist, champion of Wales’ cultural heritage and one of the founding fathers of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Thomas Henry Thomas.
Along with the books, Thomas also bequeathed his entire catalogue of prints, drawings and watercolours to the Museum.
More information on Thomas Henry Thomas here:
The illustration above appeares in the Chapter "Performing cats". Other chapters include, "Cats as tormentors", "Dead cats", "Fishing cats" and "Lovers of cats" [would you believe... Cardinal Richelieu?].
This book is available to view electronically via the following Project Gutenberg link:
Biographical information on Harrison Weir taken from Wikipedia.
All photographs in this post taken by the author.
summer art activities
As I am now working in St Fagans National Museum and National Museum Cardiff, I can share loads more works of art and design! It also means that I've had a lot of help preparing and delivering the art workshops, so thank you to Heloise,Liz, Sally, Ellie, the two Catrin's, Marged, Marsli, Tracey, Angharad and Hywel!
In St Fagans this summer we've been asking visitors to design a new play area for us (we will be building a new play area in the near future as part of the redevelopments) and we have had the most amazing designs and ideas. I think my favourite are the fireman's pole shaped like a worm and a tree house that explodes with sweets every five seconds. Lots of people want tree houses, zip wires and monkey bars!
For the workshop based on the Wales Visitation exhibition we are taking families to look at some of the paintings and objects on display and asking them to create a landscape using image and text. They can use any words they want, but we have also been providing them with quotes from the Allen Ginsberg poem (from which the exhibition gets it's title) as there are such gorgeous and visual parts to the poem, such as:
"Valleys breathe, heaven and earth move together,
daisies push inches of yellow air, vegetables tremble,
grass shimmers green
sheep speckle the mountainside, revolving their jaws with empty eyes,
horses dance in the warm rain"
(Art activities continue throughout August, for more details about the workshops and activities, please visit our 'What's on' pages)
Students from Oman at National Museum Cardiff
Two final year biology and crop protection students from Sultan Qaboos University, Oman have arrived at the National Museum Cardiff for 2 weeks on an internship to learn more about the identification of two groups of insects, flies and bugs and the techniques we use to study them. For Sara Mohamed Ahmed Al Ansari and Salma Saif Salmin Almabsli it is their first time outside of Oman. After the time here they will spend 2 weeks at the Natural History Museum, London to widen their knowledge of taxonomic techniques before returning to the warmth of Oman.
I-Spy Micrarium Touch Screen (VADU part II)
There is an exhibition showing at National Museum Cardiff called: I-Spy…Nature (until April 2015). One of the touch screens (picture 1) focuses on a selection of diverse, interesting and beautiful biological and geological slides from the Museum’s Natural History Collections. This blog is about the small aspects of the touch screen that I was involved with; plain and simple.
Resources & Outlines
- One general overview image of 36 slides
- 12 very high resolution images of some of those slides
- 27 inch touch screen
- Complement an actual Micrarium, which would be displayed neatly above the touch screen
- Incorporate a Victoriana style
- Target audience: young folk
All the controls were laid out in plain sight, hopefully to reduce any learning curve when approaching the interactive; and since the touch screen is quite large (27 inches) we had the space.
Five additional features were added to the zoom screen (picture 4):
- Zoom controls
- Navigation controls
- Home button
- Information button
- Change language (English/Welsh)
n.b. where possible I tried to avoid using words to describe button functions, hence why the home button is only an image, but this idea fell down a little when it became clear you couldn’t avoid a word or two to help the visitor work out what specimen they were observing.
Into the Arms of a Microscope
Once or twice someone may have caught me saying things like: “Plagioclase Feldspar” or “Olivine”. Anyhow, part of the fun with looking at slides is the process of selecting a new slide, I thought so anyway - you were never sure what would be on the other side of the glass.
I wanted to avoid the conventional method of changing between images, which is usually to include a ‘next’ and ‘previous’ button; so tried to incorporate some of my vague science memories with a quick reconnaissance mission (picture 5) to see the microscope that was being prepped for the exhibition.
Since there were 36 lower resolution images on the home screen, but twelve high resolution images on the slide selection screen, it gave some space to move a simple microscope stand into view, which provided the excuse to animate the microscope arms and float the slides back and forth. The iris transition between the microscope slide view and the zoom view is loosely based on the idea of looking down a microscope eyepiece.
We’ve been using Firefox for a while as its platform independent and has neat little add-ons (R-Kiosk and Block Site). In this case, the operating system is Windows 7, with a locked down user account which only has access to Firefox and the touch screen drivers.
Usually we use Google Analytics to record button events, to give us an indication of how much the interactives are being used, but Google Analytics is designed to work with regular domain websites, which is not the case when running locally from simple hard drive files. Therefore the button events are recorded by the web server through AJAX calls.
I've included a short demo video for posterity:
Fifty years of a golden reign: a souvenir of the Queen's Jubilee 
Well now, here’s a pretty thing…
A souvenir booklet celebrating the fifty year reign of Queen Victoria. It was published in 1887 by Eyre & Spottiswoode, who were the official printers to Her Majesty at that time.
Our volunteer [Alison] has been working her way through old pamphlet boxes and all manner of forgotten things and very kindly passes to me items that are interesting, unusual or just lovely to see, and this one falls into that last category.
It measures 11 x 13.5 cm, has 16 pages and, our accessions register states that it was donated to us in May 1935 by a Mr Charles Barnwell Esq.
The book also contains a poem written by Lord Tennyson especially for the occasion. Tennyson had been Poet Laureate since 1850 [after William Wordsworth's death] and held the position until his own death in 1892.
Interestingly, Eyre & Spottiswoode [established in 1845], went on to merge with Methuen Publishing in the 1970s.
All photographs in this post taken by the author.