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Meet Mike

Meet Mike.

  • Mike - The Studio, Alison McKay
    , Alison McKay

Mike is a binaural recording device, modelled from the head of artist Serena Korda’s friend, also called Mike.

Mike – the model, still with me? – has microphones in his ears, and works by recording and playing back the sounds around him, to create immersive sonic experiences – so the listener hears everything just as if they’d been standing where Mike was.

We met Mike at the first meeting of The Collective attended by Serena, its newest member. Serena was chosen from a shortlist of artists to join The Collective, working together to create the first show in the Horniman’s new Studio space.

She brought Mike along to the meeting as an introduction to some of the ways she works. Much of Serena’s current artistic practice uses soundscapes because, she told us, she’s interested in the healing potential of sound. She wanted to show the group how binaural recording can creative emotive experiences, a sense of space and of the uncanny – what she calls ‘ghost sounds’.

  • Mike - The Studio, Alison McKay
    , Alison McKay

So we had the chance to create our own immersive soundscape while chatting in our circle around Mike – randomly making noises such as chairs scraping and pens tapping, then moving around the space, singing, chanting and even making chewing sounds into Mike’s ear.

Listening back to the recording was fascinating – some of us listened with eyes shut; some laughed out loud or jumped in surprise.

We don’t know yet know what role sound might play in The Studio’s first show but, now we’ve met Mike, we’re looking forward to working with Serena to find out!

Game of Thrones - Teen Takeover Day 2017

Our Horniman Youth Panel took over our Twitter feed as part of the Kids in Museums Takeover Day and led us on a Game of Thrones inspired tour of the galleries. They tell us about the experience in their own words.

This year we (Annie, Gabby and Jaz from the Horniman Youth Panel) were presented with the challenge of running a better twitter takeover than last year’s Pokemon hunt. When brainstorming the biggest pop culture sensations of this year we settled almost immediately and unanimously on Game of Thrones, as possibly the most widely watched television show of all time. We used our youth and cool hip-ness to run the best Kids in Museums twitter takeover so far and to advise old people on when to say on fleek (just stop it guys).


We were surprised by the number of Game of Thrones references we were able to find in the Natural History Gallery alone, with many taxidermy exhibits lining up with the sigils of the great houses of Westeros.

We thought it would be a good idea to ask the public who their favourite house was. The most popular was House Stark, represented by the Horniman’s own “Direwolf” - a beheaded wolf in the Natural History gallery.  


We used quotes from the show and jokes we made up to make our posts interesting. A hilarious example being Annie’s ’NEIGH-bourhood Dothraki’ pun, which was definitely the funniest thing said that day.


We were delighted to have a response from Sophie, who replied in Dothraki (nerd).

Much of our time was spent feverishly googling GoT references because it turned out none of us actually watch the show. Thankfully we had Ben, Digital Assistant and resident Game of Thrones nerd, helping us out with the more obscure trivia.

Obviously, at some point in our tour we had to include dragons! So when we discovered three dragon-like costumes in the Hands on Base to match Daenerys' children, we jumped on the opportunity to have a dragon dab. 

As it turned out one of our costumes was actually a snow leopard, but it looked dragony enough!

  • Teen Takeover 2017, Where are my dragons?
    Where are my dragons?

All that was left at the end of the day was giving the House of Horniman its own sigil, and the choice was clear from the start. The walrus is a resident celebrity and the perfect representative for the House of Horniman. 



SCC and the great anthropology redisplay

At the Horniman Museum and Gardens, we are in the throes of our most ambitious project for years – a redisplay of our designated anthropology collections, involving the closure and redevelopment of two galleries to create a new World Gallery and The Studio.

That’s 1,300 museum objects going into storage and 3,000 coming out – sounds like no problem, right? But what about the 18 months in between while the new gallery is being constructed, when all 4,300 objects need housing in an already full-to-capacity storage facility? You might think that calls for a TARDIS…

In lieu of The Doctor's command of space and time, museums call on their collection management specialists to work their own brand of magic. Adrian Holloway is the Horniman’s Collections Manager, based at the Study Collections Centre, home to the Horniman’s stored collections.

When the Horniman started working on plans to redevelop the anthropology galleries, its Study Collections Centre (SCC) was already full, wasn't it?

It certainly looked that way. Perhaps there’s a perception that items currently on display have a designated space waiting for them to go back to. If yours is a museum that continues to collect, you’re unlikely to have this luxury – we certainly don’t at the Horniman. Space is money, we don’t waste either.

Is the SCC, in fact, a TARDIS?

We keep increasing the storage capacity, so in a way yes. I’ve overseen five storage projects at SCC since 2002, all to increase capacity within the limited space available. We’ve been able to do this by redesigning layouts of the rooms and updating old storage systems with modern mobile racking. We do have some external storage for larger items too – if we kept everything at SCC that’s not on display then there’d be no room to work, and we’d struggle to provide access to our collections for researchers and others, which is part of our ethos.

But this latest, major redisplay still posed a problem. What did you do to prepare?

The point at which the two ‘populations’ of objects meet – those coming off display, and those destined for the new World Gallery – is the challenge. We had a designated ‘project room’ at the SCC, which was conceived to allow us space to process objects in and out of the stored collection, whether for acquisitions, loans or new displays. But at the beginning of discussions about the new gallery, the room was overrun with Hart birds[1] with nowhere else to go. We needed to make more space – essentially to return this room to its original purpose – to manage the demands of the redisplay affordably. The other option, to put everything coming off display into external storage, was far too expensive. Thankfully senior management and curators recognised our proposal was not only necessary to the anthropology redisplay project, but would also benefit the care of and access to the stored taxidermy collections.

How successful was the project in ‘creating’ space?

We were lucky to have exactly the right person focused on the project – Justine Aw, who was with us for a full year of decanting the collections (temporarily, into a previously upgraded store), room refurbishment, upgrading racking and then repacking and re-shelving nearly 2,000 specimens. This allowed us to free up 60-70m3 of space. The plan was to fit the entire taxidermy collection – including all those Hart bird cases – into one storage room. We weren’t 100% sure it was all going to fit until it did!

How many more objects will SCC contain after decanting the current anthropology displays? Are you sure that it will all fit?

We’re dealing with the movement of around 4,300 objects – 1,300 coming off display, more being acquired, and the rest leaving their stored location to be prepared for display in the World Gallery. We’re using external storage for a small number of larger items and new acquisitions – even so, at the moment I’m about 75% sure that everything else will fit in, with enough space left for us to work! As the objects are moving to the SCC in batches we have some opportunity to assess as we go and have a couple of other options to avoid grinding to a complete halt. The objects should also take up less space in storage than when in the packaging required for transport, which will be another factor in our favour.

So soon SCC really will be full. Is there a moratorium on new acquisitions?

It depends on how you define ‘full’. There’s still potential to improve capacity in future – I’ve got my eye on at least two more rooms – but that’s funding-dependent of course. Also, there are objects identified for disposal from our collection, following a series of collections reviews – but there’s work involved there in finding new homes for them that ideally keep them in the public domain.

So for now, yes, we’ll call it full. There’s no moratorium on acquisitions for the new World Gallery – the planned displays need some additions to tell their full stories. But for the other parts of our collection? Let’s just say we’re using greater caution…

 

 

 

Find out more about the anthropology redisplay.

Watch a timelapse film of objects being removed from display in what was the Centenary Gallery.



[1] Hampshire taxidermist and naturalist, Edward Hart (1847-1928). Hart's collection of mounted birds is one of the very best in Britain and most of the surviving taxidermy cases and notebooks are housed at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

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.'

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

World Book Day 2017

In celebration of World Book Day on 2 March 2017, Gill Poole shows us some of the fascinating books in the Horniman Library.

Our Library is an eclectic collection of books, old and new. We have some rare volumes from Frederick Horniman’s original collection as well as newer books acquired over the years to complement the Museum’s various objects and exhibitions.

Gill works in our Library and has the important task of caring for our books and all the requests from people who want to read them. Gill has picked out some of her favourite books from the collection to share with us here for World Book Day. Take it away Gill…

Japanese Fairy Tales

HASEGAWA, T. ,  THOMPSON, David ,  CHAMBERLAIN, Basil Hall  &  HEPBURN, James Curtis  (1885-1889)

These beautiful books area a joy to read because they are so gorgeous. Each volume is colourfully illustrated and the pages are made from crepe paper which makes them soft to the touch. They are story books, translated into English to share to a wider audience all the wonderful fairy tales from Japan.

  • World Book Day 2017, Japanese Fairy Tales
    Japanese Fairy Tales

  • World Book Day 2017, Japanese Fairy Tales
    Japanese Fairy Tales

The Anatomy of Horses

STUBBS, George  (1853)

I love horses and I wish I could draw like this! These are the anatomical drawings made by George Stubbs before he started painting his famous horse portraits such as ‘Whistlejacket’. You can see each picture is meticulously accurate, down to the position of each bone, which is why his later paintings are so beautifully lifelike.

  • World Book Day 2017, The Anatomy of Horses
    The Anatomy of Horses

  • World Book Day 2017, The Anatomy of Horses
    The Anatomy of Horses

Ocean Flowers and their Teachings

HOWARD, Mary Matilda  (1847)

This is a rare book and part of Frederick Horniman’s original collection. It is special because it contains 38 real specimens of seaweed pressed inside. It is amazing that is has survived for so long.

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

Episodes of Insect Life

 BUDGEN, L. M.  (1849-18)

This is a wonderful book. In it, the author tries to make insects seem less… yuck. By creating short stories and poems, he hopes to inspire people to overcome their initial prejudices about insects and get them interested in entomology. It is a very modern approach and makes the book very readable, unlike many dry and dusty books about entomology of the time.

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

This Sunday we are celebrating World Book Day at our Library Open Day. Come and drop in, no need to book an appointment, and see these fascinating volumes, as well as many more. 

How to empty a Gallery

Our Collections and Documentation team take us behind the scenes during the decant of our Galleries. 

Hello, my name is Sarah and I’m one of the two Collections Management and Documentation Trainees at the Horniman. Thomas, the other trainee, and I started working at the Horniman in July 2016.

Usually, we are based at the Horniman’s Study Collections Centre where many of the fascinating objects in the Museum’s collection are kept. We work in the Collections Management and Documentation departments to care for these objects and make them accessible for current and future generations of Museum visitors.

Thomas and I have spent some of the last six months working directly on one of the Museum’s major projects, the Anthropology Redisplay. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) the project re-evaluates the incredible objects in the extensive Anthropology collection in preparation for a new permanent exhibition opening in 2018.

  • How to empty a gallery, The Centenary Gallery during the decant process
    The Centenary Gallery during the decant process

In readiness for the new exhibition two of the Museum’s previous exhibition spaces - African Worlds and the Centenary Gallery - have closed and will be refurbished over the course of the next year. Along with other colleagues from the Collections Management team, Thomas and I spent eight weeks decanting the numerous objects in these galleries, packing them up to travel back to the Study Collections Centre.  

As trainees, decanting these gallery spaces and moving over one thousand objects has been an amazing experience as well as a very good opportunity to test our skills. 

With many different types of objects across two galleries, we were able to try out various methods for packing. We often spend lots of time trialling and experimenting with packaging to ensure it provides adequate protection to each object, therefore preventing any potential damage that could occur while in transit.

Certain methods of packing are more suitable for some objects than others, many objects we worked with during the decant required bespoke packaging to be specially made for them.

One of the most challenging objects Thomas and I worked on was a Naga headdress from north-east India. The headdress was delicate and had a number of large feathers which could be detached.

  • How to empty a gallery, Sarah and Thomas look at the Naga headdress
    Sarah and Thomas look at the Naga headdress

Advised by project conservator Natalie we removed the feathers and packed them separately from the rest of the headdress.

  • How to empty a gallery, Thomas separates the feathers of the Naga headdress ready for packing
    Thomas separates the feathers of the Naga headdress ready for packing

Some other really exciting objects we worked on during the decant where the Museum’s Mummies. Moving them was a real challenge and quite different from the Naga headdress we had previously worked on. Being so large and yet extremely fragile meant that many hands were needed in order to transfer the Mummies from the display case and into a packing crate. It took a team of seven to move each one safely.

We finished the decant in November so Thomas and I are now based back at the Study Collection Centre working to find space for many of the objects that will be staying in storage.

Every day is different and poses new challenges for us to solve. We’ll be continuing to write about our experience as trainees at the Horniman over the next year and a half so keep an eye out for updates on our progress.

Find out more about the Anthropology Redisplay and World Gallery

Nares Hornimani

Artist in residence Joshua Sofaer describes some of the work he has been doing at the Horniman.

‘For the last quarter of 2016, I have been lucky enough to be artist in residence at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

I have been exploring the Horniman collections as inspiration to create a series of false noses. There are many places to look.

The most obvious is perhaps the Anthropology collection: dance, devil, carnival, and ‘ugly’ masks. Equally, I could turn to the Natural History collection: the spoonbill’s beak, the paleomastodon’s nascent trunk, the nine-banded armadillo’s curled protective shell. Less obvious, but no less inspirational, is the collection of instruments: an orchestral horn false nose, a concertina false nose, of course the nose flute already exists.

I collect false noses. I have hundreds of them. Most are human noses, but I also have witches noses, clown noses, animal noses, and other oddities. I even have a plug nose and a socket nose.

In 2013, I showed a series of 452 self-portraits wearing my false noses at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The thing about this collection is that there is a rapidly decreasing pool of noses to collect. As cosplay becomes more popular and affordable, people are dressing-up more ‘authentically’. The false nose, alas, has probably seen its day.

In an effort to try and add to my own collection, I have started making false noses myself. I have made painted noses, papier maché noses, brass noses, clay noses, cardboard noses, crochet noses, and gold noses. I have recently started a digital Nose Museum on Instagram.

Bang slap in the middle of our faces, the nose is often overlooked. There are odes to beautiful eyes, sonnets on the perfect shape of lips, hair practically has a strand of literature to itself. The nose, however, is often cut off. The nose has a rich narrative potential for the absurd, the comic, the mysterious and at the same time, the entirely knowable. We all have a nose after all. As Dr Seuss reminds us, ‘They grow on every kind of head’.

My personal opinion is that all people can be divided into two categories, those who collect, and those who do not. As a collector myself I am interested in people who collect. Frederick John Horniman (1835-1906) was a collector in the Victorian tradition and on an epic scale. It is, of course, his collection that forms the bedrock of the Horniman collection.

In what used to be the main reception of the Museum, but is now the staff and goods entrance, perched on a pedestal, is a bronze bust of Horniman.

  • Nares Hornimani, The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer
    The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer

Nobody seems to know much about it. My hunch is that it was created at the same time as the building, which opened to the public in 1901. It fits too perfectly into its nook to be a later addition. One option is that it is the work of sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy (1856-1924). Pomeroy made a bronze bust of Horniman’s daughter-in-law in 1898, and also a memorial tablet for the Museum. I’m still in pursuit of some solid evidence that confirms or contradicts this theory. (If you know something, get in touch!)

  • Nares Hornimani, A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer
    A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer

In tribute to the man that endowed this fantastic Museum, I want to create a Horniman false nose. And what could be a more fitting material for a tribute, than gold?

After discussing my plans with the conservation team, writing method statements, and making patch tests, I was given the go ahead to make a cast of the nose and moustache area of the bronze bust.

  • Nares Hornimani, Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer
    Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer

Despite having used the alginate and plaster bandage technique literally hundreds of times to successfully cast faces (most recently on the life mask of another Victorian and Edwardian collector, Henry Wellcome) the process failed. Perhaps I had been over cautious about what materials to use, not wanting to affect the patina of the bronze, but still, I thought it would work. The alginate can sometimes ‘go off’ but the batch seemed fine to me. Anyway, for whatever reason, possibly the cold temperature of the bronze, it wouldn’t release without tearing.

  • Nares Hornimani, A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer
    A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer

I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty embarrassed. After all the efforts to secure the permission and cordon off the area, I felt a bit incompetent. Luckily for me Lindsey Bruce, Exhibitions Officer, and my main point of contact at the Museum, was unperturbed. “We will make it happen,” was her refrain.

It was back to the 4D model shop in Whitechapel to see what other casting agents I could safely use. Armed with a pack of Gedeo Siligum, a silicone based moulding paste, I returned to the Museum to run a test on a bronze scrap. It seemed fine, and Julia Gresson from the conservation team, gave me the go ahead for a second attempt.

Poor Frederick looks a bit miserable having his nose cast.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer

This time, success! A very good cast that also picked up some dirt, which must have gathered up his nose over the years. Once the cast was off, Julia gave him a good clean.

  • Nares Hornimani, A good cast, Joshua Sofaer
    A good cast, Joshua Sofaer

Taking the mould back to my studio, the next step is to make a wax template. Yes, I know this looks like a school project gone wrong, and yes, that yellow stuff really is Play-Doh. Play-Doh is a great way to build up the sides of a wax mould. It’s cheap, washes off easily, and can form a tight seal.

  • Nares Hornimani, Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer
    Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer

After a couple of hours leaving the wax to cool and harden, I stripped back the Play-Doh, and removed the mould. The Horniman nose and moustache wax template stands proudly before me.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer

Now that I had at least one good wax copy, I made a plastic polymer version from the same mould as an insurance.

  • Nares Hornimani, Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer

The next step was to take the template to a metal workshop to have it copper electroformed. Electroforming is a process that builds up a metal surface through electrodeposition. Because wax is not conductive, the area to be electroformed has to be treated chemically with a conductive layer, something like a metal paint. The technical term for the template is ‘mandrel’. The mandrel is then put into an electrolytic bath with a copper solution in it and the copper crystals slowly form around the conductive pattern.

  • Nares Hornimani, The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer

A couple of days later I returned to the metal workshop to collect the mandrel. The wax is now covered with a beautiful layer of copper.

  • Nares Hornimani, The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

To get rid of the wax, I simply popped the thing into the oven (130 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes) and let the wax melt out through a wire grid into an aluminium take-away carton.

  • Nares Hornimani, Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer
    Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer

Back in the studio, I cut out the shape I wanted, following the natural line of the moustache, punched out the nostrils, and drilled some holes for the thread ties.

  • Nares Hornimani, Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer
    Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer

This is the final shape.

  • Nares Hornimani, The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

Then it’s back to the metal workshop for the golden jacket. The copper nose-moustache-combo has to be polished and thoroughly cleaned. The first bath is just washing-up liquid and water; the second running water; the third acid, in which you can see the dirt fizz away!

  • Nares Hornimani, The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer

  • Nares Hornimani, The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer

Then Mr Horniman’s nose is plunged into a bath of gold. In fact, it is just gold dust in a solution, and the process of gold plating is similar to that of electroforming, only much quicker. I tried to distract the technician, asking questions for as long as possible, so that an extra thick layer of gold would make its way onto the surface (only joking). In reality, it’s only a few microns deep. If you rough handle gold plate, you will see what’s underneath.

  • Nares Hornimani, Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer

And there we have it. One gold Horniman nose and moustache.

  • Nares Hornimani, Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer

However, I’m not sure it’s quite finished yet. I want to give this nose some kind of totem. One that makes it an object worthy of the taxonomic principles that form Horniman’s collection and which that collection helped to create.

There are several species to which Horniman lent his name. This happened when entomologists were invited to survey Horniman’s collections. Although Horniman did go on big world travels later in his life and brought crate loads of stuff back to the UK, most of his early collections were purchased through intermediaries. Someone goes off to Africa and collects a bunch of specimens, brings them back to London, and Horniman buys them at auction, for example. He would then welcome experts to look at what he had amassed. Specimens include a moth, Eusemia hornimani, (now Heraclia hornimani), a true bug, Tesserotoma hornimani, and the ‘Horniman beetle’, Ceratorhina hornimani (now Cyprolais hornimani), from Cameroon, described by naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates in 1877.

  • Nares Hornimani, Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer
    Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer

Perhaps the most beautiful species named after Horniman is the ‘Horniman Swallowtail’, Papilio hornimani, known only from the northern forests of Tanzania and the southern hills of Kenya. As Jo Hatton, Keeper of Natural explained to me, it was identified by Victorian entomologist W L Distant in 1879, when he was looking through Horniman’s vast collection of butterflies.

  • Nares Hornimani, This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer
    This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer

As an aside, if you’ve ever wondered how all those Victorian insects were pinned at just the right height, Jo showed me the entomologist’s ‘Pinning Stage’, a metal block that is used to set the specimens and their labels at a consistent height on the mounting pin. You pin the specimen, pick which height you want, and push the pin into the stage. By using the same hole each time, the specimens will always be at the same height.

  • Nares Hornimani, Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer
    Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer

Here is the defining Papilio hornimani on its original pin, with two labels beneath the butterfly.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

It is almost always the open wings of the butterfly that we see pinned up, because they are traditionally seen as the most pretty, the reverse side, which is, I suppose, more commonly seen in nature as the butterfly sits on vegetation, have their own muted beauty. The Papilio hornimani is made up of soft dusty browns, greys and creams.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

As you might expect, over the years, the Horniman Museum has acquired many examples of its lepidopterous namesake.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

Where does all this fit into Horniman’s gold nose? Well, I’m thinking of giving him a Swallowtail nose ring, in the spirit of anthropology. I have drawn out the shape and will soon laser cut a piece of 0.5mm steel, which I will then have plated in gold, to match the nose.

  • Nares Hornimani, Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer
    Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer

Horniman fell in love with Japan (as in fact, have I) and so I have ordered a length of ‘kiki himo’ (literally 'gathered threads'), 100% silk braid made by craftsmen in Uji, Kyoto, which is being sent over from Japan, as the string to tie on the nose.

Soon I will be able to reveal Nares hornimani. Watch this space.’

Back to books!

One of our Volunteers, Chiara, tells us about her experience in the Horniman Library.

‘I’ve been working as a Librarian in a public library for ten years, back in Italy.

When I moved to London, I lost contact with what had meant so much to me: dealing with the public (especially kids, since I was mostly working in the library’s children section) handling books everyday (the smell of paper...and dust! How wonderful!) and being in daily touch with local communities. At the beginning of my time in London, I felt a little bit lost.

So when I had the opportunity to join the taster session for Volunteers at the Horniman, I was very excited. Somehow I felt I could be again part of something special.

  • Back to Books!, Discovering books in the Horniman Library
    Discovering books in the Horniman Library

I volunteered with Engage for some months and this reminded me of the brilliant curiosity of children. I also took part in the Half Term activities and I could breathe again the happy atmosphere of families playing and learning together. But there was still something missing for me.

Anytime I could, I started sneaking into the Library to help Helen, the librarian, mending the children’s books. When a volunteering role for a library project arose, I couldn’t resist applying. Then the magic happened, I was working again in a library in the reclassification project!

Now, anytime I go to the shelf, pick a book, browse through it and discuss with Helen the most suitable place for visitors to find it, I feel the ‘librarian thrill’ again.

When I handle the ancient books of the special collection, touching them very gently to respect their age and fragility, I feel again as if I was in one of the ancient libraries I used to attend in Rome.

  • Back to Books!, Examining books in the Horniman Library
    Examining books in the Horniman Library

I feel a little bit homesick, but also home again, because if home is where your heart is...well, my heart has always been beating for books.

I have had experience of various different volunteering roles at the Horniman, having also spent some weeks in administration. It has been amazing to experience different and sometimes surprising opportunities, but in the end I’m so very glad that this way took me back to books.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman.

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