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A shrine to pencils

Today is National Pencil Day.

This wonderful day is observed each year on 30 March because, apparently, Hymen Lipman registered the first patent for attaching a rubber – or eraser to our American friends – to the end of a pencil on this day in 1858.

The holiday is a US tradition, but we thought we would use it this year as an excuse to tell you about the pencils we found while decanting our Galleries.

Last year, our African Worlds Gallery closed as we started the exciting process of turning it into our new World Gallery. To do this, we needed to decant the Gallery and move all the objects back into storage.

  • A shrine to pencils, A shrine during the decant of the African Worlds Gallery.
    A shrine during the decant of the African Worlds Gallery.

As we took down our shrines, we realised that there were a few more objects inside them than had been there originally.

It seems that visitors, possibly school groups with a plethora of stationery, had been popping pencils and other items through the small holes at the bottom of the cases.

  • A shrine to pencils, A small, pencil-sized hole in the case.
    A small, pencil-sized hole in the case.

While we decanted the cases, our team took an inventory of the number of extra items that had been ‘added’ to the shrine. We present this here.

Haitian Vodou shrine:

1 pencil

Brazilian Candomble shrine:

14 pencils

1 hairclip

1 crayon wrapper

And the winner by a mile…

Benin Mammi Wata shrine:

58 pencils

1 biro

1 twig

1 plastic lolly stick

As you can see, that is a total number of 73 pencils added to our shrines. 

  • A shrine to pencils, So many pencils.
    So many pencils.

I guess, if pencils are good enough to have a holiday devoted to them, they are good enough to be worshipped in our shrines. 

Stories of Ganesha

Dotted Line Theatre tell us about 'Stories of Ganesha', their storytelling performance happening on 5 April as part of our Big Wednesday

‘The show includes three stories about Ganesha, 'How he came to have the head of an elephant' and two others (I don't want to ruin the surprise about which ones they are). They are introduced by a storyteller guide and a surprise cheeky accomplice, who has his own agenda.

One of our challenges has been that there are many different versions of each story, and who's to say which version is the definitive one. So we've tried to balance presenting a clear narrative with providing some alternative details.

  • Stories of Ganesha, A sketch for part of the design.
    A sketch for part of the design.

The show is lyrical and visually beautiful and there is some comedy too. I took my inspiration from the stories themselves and thought about the best way of using visual language to present both the drama within the stories and the different layers of meaning.

We are using a fusion of styles, blending together some Classical Indian dance with shadow puppetry, rod puppetry and some object puppetry using objects from the Museum collection.’

  • Stories of Ganesha, A test of a shadow puppet for the show.
    A test of a shadow puppet for the show.

About Dotted Line Theatre

The performers are: dancer Maanasa Visweswaran, puppeteers Jum Faruq, Ajjaz Awad and Almudena Calvo Adalia.

Dotted Line Theatre was formed in 2012 by Rachel Warr, a theatre director, writer and puppeteer. Dotted Line Theatre create original pieces with a playful quality and a strong visual style. Rachel's work includes productions at The Barbican Centre, Little Angel Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, Underbelly, and festivals in Prague, Berlin, France and Singapore. This will be our third production for the Horniman Museum and Gardens and we are delighted to be back.

A new full-length show!

Last summer we performed a piece called ‘Stories on a String’ at the Horniman as part of their Festival of Brasil.

The show was inspired by Brazilian Literatura de Cordel (literally translated as 'stories on string'). These are booklets with woodblock printed covers, sharing stories and news to the masses, sold at markets from carts. Literatura de Cordel are also an oral tradition performed through music and poetry. In our show, these wood block pictures came to life as puppets to tell the story of a young girl from the city on a quest for her grandmother through the Amazon forest. With music and song from Rachel Hayter (a composer/ musician who studied and specialises in music of Brazil) and the talented Camilo Menjura.

It was a 25-minute piece and we are going to be developing it into a full-length show that we can tour, for which we have some funding from the Arts Council England and some support in kind from the Little Angel Theatre. We are also fundraising to make up the rest of our financial target. See our Kickstarter campaign for more information.

A fond farewell

Our Volunteering and Engagement Coordinator, Kate Cooling, is leaving to go travelling around the world. Here, she talks about her time with the Horniman Learning and Volunteering team. 

'When I was a primary school teacher, I was looking for a way to gain experience in museums and have fun in my school holidays, so joined the Engage team as a Volunteer. I was part of that team for more than two years between 2012 and 2014 and had a great time, meeting new people, sharing my love of museums and finding out more about a career that I thought could be the one for me.

After two fantastic roles in Museum Education elsewhere, when the role of Volunteering and Engagement Coordinator was advertised in December 2015 I jumped at the chance to get back to the Horniman… and the rest, as they say, is history!

  • A fond farewell, Kate on a volunteer visit to Kew Gardens and The Hive
    Kate on a volunteer visit to Kew Gardens and The Hive

From day one, the team here have made me feel welcome and included me in many exciting opportunities. Some of my favourites have been our Volunteers Week celebrations in June, getting to know more about our incredible Handling Collection, spending time in the beautiful Gardens and volunteering at our Museum Lates and Summer Festival.

  • A fond farewell, Kate stewarding the Horniman Carnival 2016
    Kate stewarding the Horniman Carnival 2016

I have loved collaborating with my wonderful colleagues and of course our incredible Volunteer team – such a diverse, talented, fun and friendly group of people!

Although managing museum volunteers was fairly new to me when I joined the team here, I have enjoyed every minute of it. Supporting our volunteers to find new opportunities in a range of roles has been a real pleasure. I hope they enjoy their time at the Horniman and understand how integral and valued they are here.

  • A fond farewell, Kate (far left) with volunteers at the London Volunteers in Museums Awards ceremony 2016
    Kate (far left) with volunteers at the London Volunteers in Museums Awards ceremony 2016

As I head off on my travels, I am looking forward to hearing how the Volunteer team goes from strength to strength with the new opportunities that arise from our Gallery redevelopments and Butterfly House. I will be one of the Horniman’s most avid followers and plan on visiting the new Galleries as soon as my feet are back on English soil next year!

Thank you for a wonderful year and for a chance to be part of the Learning and Volunteering team.'

Discover more about volunteering at the Horniman.

A trip to a Nigerian street market

Anthropology curator, Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, tells us about her research trip to Eko Market in Lagos, Nigeria.

‘In November 2016 I travelled to Lagos, Nigeria, to work with a talented photographer, Jide Odukoya.

Part of the Horniman’s new World Gallery will focus on Lagos – Nigeria’s largest city. We wanted to capture the vibrancy and energy of the markets on Lagos Island through photography and film.

  • A Nigerian street market, Jide Odukoya in Eko Market − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Jide Odukoya in Eko Market

Lagos is without a doubt the most incredible city I have ever been to. It’s noisy, sticky, busy and frantic, but also exciting and beautiful. There is never a dull moment.

Clambering off the back of a motorbike on my first day, I looked up to see four enormous white concrete horses galloping over the podiums lining the entrance to Tafawa Belawa Square. The monument is named after the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria who took over from British rule in 1960.

  • A Nigerian street market, Tafawa Belawa Square − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Tafawa Belawa Square

The square is also a major transport junction. From here you can pick-up another bike that takes you into the financial heart of the city.

Steel and glass high-rise office blocks owned by global banks tower over a vast network of street markets.

You soon realise that what may first appear as a chaotic throng of shoppers, buses, and market stalls is meticulously organised. Whether you need shoes, a new tablet, a watch, a blender, nappies, pineapples or a new pair of pants, there will be an area designated for it.

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes. − © Jide Odukoya
    Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes.

My favourite street was jam-packed with toy stalls and school stationery; squeaky children’s shoes, little neon plastic cars, and row-upon-row of Frozen backpacks.

We will try to recreate a stall from this street in the new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Toy Street − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Toy Street

As I followed it up a hill, the street turned into a Lagosian winter wonderland – piles of bright tinsel and great bundles of colourful flashing lights, Christmas trees with fibre-optic pine-needles and mechanical Santas that sang Jingle Bells.

Jide chose to photograph and film Eko market – the place to buy handbags, sunglasses and clothes. His images capture the Lagos hustle.

  • A Nigerian street market, A trader selling denim dungarees− © Jide Odukoya
    A trader selling denim dungarees

Whether you want replica Prada sunglasses, leather belts, denim dungarees, or a crisp white shirt, you can find it here.

His photographs show a meticulously dressed shopper cast a discerning eye over bright patterned dresses and two women sharing a joke after a deal has been struck.

They are vivid and playful – both terms which we hope will be reflected in our exciting new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Two women share a joke− © Jide Odukoya
    Two women share a joke

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses− © Jide Odukoya
    Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses

This trip was generously funded by an ICOM WIRP travel grant.’

Find out more about the development of the World Gallery

A Calm Visit to the Horniman

Want to find a quite and peaceful spot in our Museum? Engage Volunteer, Anahita Harding, has just the ticket. Here, she tells us her favourite calm spots and the best times to visit them. 

'Sometimes the Museum can feel quite busy and hectic but for those in the know, there are some places that are a bit quieter where you can get find some peace.

The Gardens are a lovely place to go when a quiet spot is needed but on a rainy day this isn’t always ideal. If you ever need a quiet spot to think and be calm, here are some indoor spaces I like to go to during my breaks.

Nature Base

If you want to see the harvest mice, come to the Nature Base in the morning, as this is the best time to see them running and climbing! The harvest mice are crepuscular, which means that they are most active in the mornings and in the evenings.

The quietest time tends to be in the morning when the Museum has just opened but the Nature Base can get busy during other times of the day.

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, The harvest mice in the Nature Base are best seen in the morning.
    The harvest mice in the Nature Base are best seen in the morning.

The Natural History Gallery balcony

The Natural History Gallery balcony has a variety of cases with interesting specimens in them. There is also a nice space here to read stories and books. A grand clock is near the staircase, and it gently chimes every fifteen minutes. It is called the Apostle Clock and was made during the 19th century in Germany.

Usually, the balcony is very quiet and is a nice space to learn while watching everyone in the gallery below. There is also a good view of the walrus!

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, The apostle clock is on the Natural History Gallery balcony
    The apostle clock is on the Natural History Gallery balcony

The Aquarium

Have you seen the jellyfish in the Aquarium? As you enter the Aquarium you will see a space lit up with a calming blue light, and jellyfish gently moving through their tank. It is lovely to watch them move. Above, you will see a large turtle hanging from the ceiling, can you find it? This is one of my favourite spots, and I hope you enjoy it too.'

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, Watching the jellyfish can be very calming
    Watching the jellyfish can be very calming

The Museum is at it's quietest after 2.30pm on weekdays during term time. 

Share your favourite peaceful spots from the Museum and Gardens with us using #horniman.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman

SEND schools programme shortlisted for award

We are very excited that our SEND school programme has been shortlisted for a Museums & Heritage award this year. Here to tell us more about the programme is our Schools Learning Officer, Maria Magill. 

'The question I get asked most is, 'What do you do when you’re not teaching?' Among other things, I get to work on developing our offer for schools, particularly for special educational needs schools. This is one of the most fun aspects of my job.

Our programme of sensory sessions and resources has been shortlisted for a Museums & Heritage Award this year in the category of Education Initiative. The Schools Team couldn’t be more excited!

SEND Sensory Session: A Musical Adventure was developed as part of the legacy of a project with Peoplescape Theatre Company. It is a music session using instruments from Brazil and Nigeria. Pupils help a character ‘Rebecca’ and travel to each country to collect instruments to bring back to the Museum.

Encountering storms on the sea (making wave sounds with our ocean drum), visiting the Brazilian rainforest to be surrounded by butterflies and birds (fluttering tissue paper shapes), and helping to pack a suitcase, as well as learning a Yoruba song of welcome, all form part of this fun session.

SEND Sensory Session: Ancient Egyptian Mummification was developed due to teacher requests. Pupils engage with a sensory story exploring how Mr Horniman collected artefacts from Egypt.

They explore the process of mummification through a range of sensory experiences and objects. They have a go at bandaging, exploring the spices and tools used in mummification (salt, frankincense, cedar oil, beeswax) and handle real Ancient Egyptian objects including a mummy mask.

Alongside the sessions, we’ve worked to make the Museum visit more accessible and inclusive.

There is a social story on our website showing the rooms schools will visit, the things they will see and who they will meet.

We’ve had training to help us incorporate Makaton signing into our sessions and we’ve got software to enable us to create Widgit flashcards as another communication tool.

We’ve had a rethink about how we set up our workshop spaces, changed our tablecloths to make objects easier to see and made cushions available to sit on the floor.

  • SEND schools programme shortlisted for award, Widgit cards
    Widgit cards

Next steps involve creating a new science sensory session linked to our Aquarium and creating a day schedule using Widgit cards which we can share with schools before they visit.

To be shortlisted for a Museum & Heritage Award shows us that we are on the right track, and gives us a renewed burst of enthusiasm to keep improving our offer, making it more accessible for all participants, and to keep improving our professional practice. We’ve just started and we’re excited to keep going!

If you would like to find out more or book a session please contact us at 0208 291 8686 or email schools@horniman.ac.uk.

For more information visit this SEND group page on our website.'

Specimen of the Month: The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls, gets to know the enigmatic Platypus. 

Our Venomous Piece of the Past

We have a number of platypodes (or platypuses if you prefer, but never platypi), however, this one is part of the original Frederick Horniman Collection. That enigmatic accolade means it must have been acquired by our illustrious founder, and prior to the Museum opening in 1906. So in modern social media speak, it’s well old.

We don’t know what the platypus looked like when it was first acquired by the Museum; it could have been either a skin or a taxidermy mount. Either way, at some time in the past the platypus was ‘re-set’ (wording on record card), by the taxidermist Charles Thorpe, into the swimming position that you can see in the image below. The price for this exquisite demonstration of skill was £0 d7 s6. For those who didn’t suffer through the confusing period of decimalisation, £0 d7 s6 means zero pounds, seven pennies, and six shillings, the value of that price today is around £10 (an exact figure is impossible to calculate on the basis we don’t know what year the work was carried out).

  • Specimen of the Month: The Platypus, Our platypus is over 100 years old, and was given a make-over sometime in the early to mid-1900s
    Our platypus is over 100 years old, and was given a make-over sometime in the early to mid-1900s

We know the specimen is a male as it has a sharp spike, called a spur, on the rear of each thigh. Platypodes* are one of the few mammals that are venomous, and the small amount of venom that can be injected through one of these spurs is potent enough to kill mammals many times their size. I was told by a friend who works in a zoo in Australia that their colleague was once spurred in the arm. Apparently, it was so painful he was pleading with the doctors for his arm to be amputated, ouch! During the mating season the amount of venom a male produces increases, which presumably means one of the main purposes of evolving such potent venom is to fend off rival males and get a girlfriend. In more anthropogenic cases, recent research suggests platypus venom could be used in a treatment for Type 2 diabetes. For which they have frisky platypuses to thank I guess.

They Don’t Have Teeth

Platypodes don’t have teeth in the traditional sense. Their fossil ancestors had teeth but the modern platypus decided the sound of growing their own enamel was reason for concern, and produced coarse keratin pads instead. A mouth full of hair** sounds disgusting, and it only seems to work ‘fairly well’ to boot, as according to a number of sources, platypodes will also scoop up coarse gravel to aid mastication. Perhaps they should have planned it out better before embarking on their otherwise admirable attempt to avoid expensive dental bills.

Platypodes are bottom feeders (legit term), which means animals that feed off of the substrate in aquatic environments. In the case of the platypus, it lives in rivers and uses the receptors in its bill to pick up the electrical signals given off by their prey, which are normally found in the form of insects, insect larvae, worms and shellfish.

  • Specimen of the Month: The Platypus, As platypodes don't have teeth, the keeper was in no danger of being bitten.− © Adrian Good
    As platypodes don't have teeth, the keeper was in no danger of being bitten.

They Do Have Teeth

Platypodes don’t have teeth… I wasn’t lying before. However, platypodes are monotremes which means they lay eggs. One of only two mammals to do so, the other being the echidna. As with more traditional egg breaking youngsters like those belonging to birds and many reptiles, for example, the tiny egg-bound platypus has to break its way out of the egg. For this, its ancestry provided it with an egg-tooth on the top of its bill. This tooth is only a temporary facial addition that, once the baby platypus has broken free of its yolky home, will normally be shed within the next two days. The egg-tooth is not a real tooth as ours are, but a sharp, tooth-shaped structure made of keratin, around 0.3 mm high. That may seem ridiculously small but a freshly hatched platypus is only around the size of a kidney bean so any larger and it would probably get neck ache.

  • Specimen of the Month: The Platypus, These line drawings show the development of the platypus from the day of hatching to five days post-hatching. The egg-tooth can be seen in the first two columns of sketches. The protuberance on the bill in the two right-hand columns represent the caruncle, or fleshy nub, left behind by the egg-tooth. , Image from Manger et al., 1998
    These line drawings show the development of the platypus from the day of hatching to five days post-hatching. The egg-tooth can be seen in the first two columns of sketches. The protuberance on the bill in the two right-hand columns represent the caruncle, or fleshy nub, left behind by the egg-tooth. , Image from Manger et al., 1998

* The more I say it, the more you’ll get used to it
** Keratin is the protein that makes up your hair and fingernails

References

ARKive
Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Live Science
Platypus Facts 

Manger, P. R., Hall, L. S., and Pettigrew, J. D. (1998). The development of the external features of the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 353 pp.1115-1125

National Geographic
Platypus 

Project Britain
Old English Money 

Tosatto, D., and Zool, W. S. (2016). Feeding and digestive mechanisms of Obdurodon dicksonii and its implications for the modern Platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Unpublished. pp.1-12

Redstart Arts Discovery Box

Redstart Arts have been running creative projects at the Horniman for several years. Here, artist Cash Aspeek describes their current work on the Discovery Box project.

Over fifteen different community partners are helping the Horniman create new boxes that will be used by visitors and groups for years to come. They are like mini museums, selecting a group of objects that follow a theme chosen by the group.

Redstart Arts are making their own Discovery Box for the Horniman. The objects the group are choosing are from the Horniman’s Handling Collection as well as handmade objects by the Redstarts (artists with learning disabilities) themselves, made especially for the project.

Redstart Arts’ theme is ‘Protection’.

During the past two years, the Redstarts have become familiar with the Horniman's galleries and many of the objects displayed in them. Each Redstart artist has had been allowed the time and space to select objects that they are particularly drawn to and make studies of them. These objects all had the common theme of protection.

All the sessions for this project involve a group activity where we come together to look at and experience a selection of objects.

Each Redstart is able to connect to different areas of the Horniman's collection and show their interest in the form of drawings, photographs, and conversation, which may come about through storytelling and dramatic scenarios.

The artist educators and Horniman staff are excited with the way the project has developed and are captivated by the incredible focus of the individual Redstart artists. 

  • Redstart Arts Discovery Box, Kimberly is making objects inspired by shells that create incredible and varied protective environments for sea creatures. Kimberly is using model magic and milliput.
    Kimberly is making objects inspired by shells that create incredible and varied protective environments for sea creatures. Kimberly is using model magic and milliput.

  • Redstart Arts Discovery Box, Byron is making his own protective mask and talisman pendants working alongside Hannah who is using plaster and modeling materials.
    Byron is making his own protective mask and talisman pendants working alongside Hannah who is using plaster and modeling materials.

  • Redstart Arts Discovery Box, Uduehi enjoys drawing and is particularly interested in how animals protect their families.
    Uduehi enjoys drawing and is particularly interested in how animals protect their families.

  • Redstart Arts Discovery Box, David is embroidering images from the Natural History Gallery onto blue satin discs. This will become a protective cloak to be worn. Each disc has a drawing by all the Redstarts.
    David is embroidering images from the Natural History Gallery onto blue satin discs. This will become a protective cloak to be worn. Each disc has a drawing by all the Redstarts.

  • Redstart Arts Discovery Box, David is embroidering images from the Natural History Gallery onto blue satin discs. This will become a protective cloak to be worn. Each disc has a drawing by all the Redstarts.
    David is embroidering images from the Natural History Gallery onto blue satin discs. This will become a protective cloak to be worn. Each disc has a drawing by all the Redstarts.

  • Redstart Arts Discovery Box, Colleen is designing fabric inspired by African figures. The fabric will be used to protect the Akuaba doll. This doll was given to women to look after as if it were a baby in order to aid their fertility and allow them to be ready for motherhood.
    Colleen is designing fabric inspired by African figures. The fabric will be used to protect the Akuaba doll. This doll was given to women to look after as if it were a baby in order to aid their fertility and allow them to be ready for motherhood.

Our Conservatory under wraps

We are carrying out some essential conservation and improvements to our Grade II listed Conservatory.

We host a range of events in our Conservatory, especially weddings and civil ceremonies, and the work will include the installation of heating beneath a beautiful tiled floor, interior lighting and better drainage.

The work is due to be completed in March 2017.  

Did you know?

The conservatory was originally built at the Horniman family house at Coombe Cliffe, Croydon, in 1894.

Coombe Cliffe house had been the home of our founder's parents, and Frederick Horniman's mother lived there until her death in 1900. After being sold in 1903, the house later served as a convalescent home for children, college of art, education centre and teachers' hub.

Over the years, many voices spoke out for the need for preservation of the Coombe Cliff Conservatory, as the house was eventually left abandoned and suffered from neglect. In 1977, the building suffered considerable damage in a fire.

Eventually, it was decided that the best way to preserve this listed building was to dismantle and move it to another location.

The dismantled Conservatory was eventually moved to the Horniman in 1986, and its reconstruction began in June 1987. The ambitious restoration project was completed in 1989.

We hope, with these restoration works, we can keep the Conservatory in use for many years to come.

Find out how you can hire the Conservatory for your wedding or event. 

International Women's Day 2017

Today, 8 March, is International Women's Day, where we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world. 

This year's International Women's Day theme is Be Bold For Change

Here at the Horniman, we have a whole host of amazing women working and volunteering in our Museum and Gardens. We invited some of them to share how they are going to be bold this year. 

The responses were great. Some were personal challenges for the year ahead, some were calls to action and all of them were personal and empowering. 

Here are some of the ways the women of the Horniman are going to be bold. 

  • International Women's Day 2017, Volunteering again with Cultural Heritage without Borders in a new city in Kosovo
    Volunteering again with Cultural Heritage without Borders in a new city in Kosovo

  • International Women's Day 2017, Turn my words into actions
    Turn my words into actions

  • International Women's Day 2017, Do more for my kids in Zimbabwe - www.themichaelproject.org
    Do more for my kids in Zimbabwe - www.themichaelproject.org

  • International Women's Day 2017, Release more creativity
    Release more creativity

  • International Women's Day 2017, A mum returning to the workplace after a decade at home!
    A mum returning to the workplace after a decade at home!

  • International Women's Day 2017, Trek Machu Picchu (must go to gym first!)
    Trek Machu Picchu (must go to gym first!)

  • International Women's Day 2017, Support art made by women
    Support art made by women

How are you going to be #BeBoldForChange this year?

Share your answers with us using #horniman

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