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A day in the life of… the Horniman Volunteering Team

The 5 November is International Volunteer Managers Day and to mark it, our Volunteer Managers are here to tell you a little bit about what they do.

The Horniman currently has over 140 volunteers and students who bring huge amounts of enthusiasm, experience and unique perspectives to their roles.

The Volunteer Team help us achieve many amazing things whilst making new friends, learning new skills and having fun along the way. The team is really diverse and includes people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. They volunteer all over the Museum from the Gardens to the curatorial departments to supporting visitors within the galleries.

It is the job of our Volunteer Managers to make sure that the Volunteer team is happy and safe, feels valued and respected and is fully supported to complete and enjoy their roles. Let's introduce you to our Managers...

Rhiannon

Hello, my name is Rhiannon and I am the Volunteering Manager. I have been at the Horniman for nearly two years and loved every minute of it! I have the wonderful job of working with colleagues across the Museum to identify new ways to involve volunteers, support them to work with volunteers, and shout out about all their wonderful achievements. This year alone we have celebrated many awards won by the team to recognise their hard work and commitment, they know who they are, but as far as we are concerned the entire team are winners in our eyes.

  • Rhiannon, Rhiannon dressed up at the Horniman Carnival this summer.
    Rhiannon dressed up at the Horniman Carnival this summer.

Kate

Hi, I’m Kate. I’ve been the Volunteering and Engagement Coordinator here for ten months. I was an Engage Volunteer myself between 2012 and 2014 whilst I was teaching and now manage the Engage programme – it’s amazing to see the other side of volunteering at the Horniman. I also support departmental volunteers, manage our student placement programme and facilitate trips and training for the team. I also do my best to spread the word about the incredible skills and knowledge of our volunteer team through regular blog posts on the website.

  • Kate, Kate, back right, on a trip with the Volunteer Team.
    Kate, back right, on a trip with the Volunteer Team.

Beth

I’m Beth, the Youth Engagement and Volunteering Coordinator. One of the main things I do is run the Youth Panel who meet every Thursday to plan events, give consultations and eat an enormous amount of pizza. My average day is pretty varied but usually involves a strong coffee, chatting to teenagers who need some support, lots of meetings, coming up with creative plans to get young people involved with the Museum, and finding ways to make the museum a useful, brilliant place for young people to be. We’re working on ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ at the moment – an amazing live music event for young people, by young people.

  • Beth, Beth and Volunteer Scott pose with their LVMA award certificates.
    Beth and Volunteer Scott pose with their LVMA award certificates.

We have many more colleagues not represented here that provide invaluable support to our volunteers and students, and our heartfelt thanks goes to them. We couldn’t do it alone.

We hope this has given you a bit of insight into what we do at the Horniman. We are always looking for more volunteers, so why not give it a go!

Mysterious matters at the Magic Late

On 13 October 2016, we opened our doors after hours for an evening of magic, sorcery and folklore. 

We had our whole English charm collection on display in the Hands On Base where visitors could see them up close and talk to Tom, our Anthropology Curator about them. 

We were also taking photos of the modern charms our visitors brought with them. We plan on using these charms for a specially-curated display in our new World Gallery

Also in the Hands On Base, we had a fantastic talk about Magic Wands from Philip Carr Gomm, Chosen Chief of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. We learnt about A.W. Rowlett, the old English wizard or ‘cunning man’ who collected many of our charms. We also experienced a specially commissioned work by artist Martha McGuinn and sound installation by artist and researcher Rachel Emily Taylor

In Gallery Square, we had a moving performance of 'She Who Walks' by Denise Rowe which paid honor to the women connected to the land who were persecuted during the witch hunts of the Middle Ages. 

We enjoyed watching the short film 'The Kingdom of Paul Nash' with live music to accompany it in our Conservatory, which was organised by the Cabinet of Living Cinema.

Our Museum was overrun by a wandering pigeon who led people to the Natural History Gallery where there was a specially-comissioned opera installation by Gestalt Arts called 'Feet', written from the point of view of a rock dove who's feet are one of the charms in our collection. 

The Natural History Gallery also saw our Deputy Natural History Keeper Emma-Louise Nicholls take visitors on a tour of the Gallery, pointing out links our specimens have with all things mysterious and magical.

Outside in the Gardens, Annie Horniman (aka Oliva Armstrong) was leading candlelit tours to the Bandstand where she told the tale of her life, the history of the Horniman and the occult. 

See some of the pictures our visitors' shared from the night

Moving the Merman

You may have noticed that our famous Merman now has a new home. You can find him in his own case at the back of our Natural History Gallery.

The Merman used to be displayed in our Centenary Gallery. The Centenary Gallery closed last month as we began our exciting anthropology redisplay project. We have been decanting all the objects on display in the Centenary Gallery and taking them to our stores, where they will be processed by our Collections Team.

You can see a video of some of the team decanting some of the objects from our Centenary Gallery here.

Our Senior Workshop Technician, Alistair MacKillop, tells us how they created a new case for the Merman.

‘The Workshop were asked by the Learning Team to place objects from the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries in cases around the Museum so that schools could still follow trails and find these objects.

We thought the old vivarium case, at the back of the Natural History Gallery, would be a good place to house the Egyptian artefacts, as it had lighting already installed.

  • Moving the Merman, Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.
    Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.

  • Moving the Merman, This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.
    This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.

The problem was, it was still full of tanks and pipes where our lizards and snakes use to live. So we set to work clearing the case and building an insert case in the same style as the cases we had already designed for the Natural History entrance redisplay.

  • Moving the Merman, The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.
    The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.

It was such a success that when we were asked to think about the relocation of the Merman, it seemed a great opportunity to use the other end of that case. We wanted to make sure the Merman looked special, and by creating an aperture into a small case in a matching style to the Egyptian end, I think we achieved our goal.

The Merman had been out with our ‘Object in Focus’ outreach scheme not so long ago, so it seemed like a good idea to use the mount created by my former colleague Rebecca Ash. The mount consists of brass bar that has been brazed together with silver solder, the mountmaker works directly with a conservator to determine the best shape to give support to the object. The Merman has a very unusual balance point and is also very fragile. Of course, the mountmaker’s art is to then design a way for the mount not to be seen or be too obvious to the viewer.

This mount was filed and sand-blasted to remove any sharp edges. Then sprayed grey, we apply a sticky backed conservation felt that we call ‘Fluffy’, to any surface of the mount that touches the object, this prevents any rubbing and gives a comfy fit to the object.

I attached the mount to a painted plinth which can be moved on top of the case plinth, so we could find the best spot for the lighting and the balance of the finished look of the case.’

Our Exhibitions Officer, Lindsey, gathered together information and research about the Merman and edited the text for our graphic panel, which was then designed and produced by our Graphic Designer, Stew.

We think the Merman looks great in his new temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery. Pop by for a visit and say hello.

Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies

Our new pollinator bed is designed to be a banquet for pollinating creatures like bees and butterflies. Andrea, our Gardner, shows us around the pollinator bed and tells us the best way to plant for pollinators at home.

This summer, you may have noticed a new border spring into life in the Gardens. Last autumn we started to plant up the bandstand terrace bed with herbaceous perennials, which began flowering in the spring, and are still going strong, creating a lovely splash of colour. As it is still the first year, some of the plants might look a bit sparse, but over the next couple of years, they will get bigger and fill out the bed.

This border contains about 50 different species of plants and has been designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. Pollinating insects like bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping the plants to fruit and set seed.

As farming practices have changed over the last few decades, there has been a steep decline in the wild flower population that was previously their main food source. As a result, many of their populations are in decline. This may result in problems in the future with food production, as so much of our food is reliant on plants being pollinated, so it is important to help them out.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

There are many different pollinators, and there is no one plant that is a good food source for them all, which is why variety is important.

Some flowers, like those in the daisy family, are popular with a variety of pollinators. The flower head is made up of many small florets, each one a nectar source for the insects. This includes flowers like the Echinacea purpurea (Purple coneflower), and the Echinops ritro Veitch’s Blue (Southern globethistle).

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Other flower shapes are not so simple. The Salvia guarantica ‘Black and Blue’ (Hummingbird sage) has lipped flowers with long tubes. Bumble bees and solitary bees use the lip as a landing platform and push their heads inside the flower to reach the nectar, coming back out with pollen covering their back.

Others, such as the Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese cross), have their nectar deep inside a small tubular centre to the flower, which moths and butterflies are able to access with their long thin tongues.

As well as planting a variety of different plants, it’s a good idea to try and create a display that has a long flowering season – especially early and later in the year, when alternative nectar sources might be scarce. Winter/spring bulbs like Crocus, Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop) and Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) can provide a food source early on in the year, while plants such as Salvia and Rudbeckia (Coneflower), that continue flowering into the late summer and early autumn, cover the other end of the year.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Over the next few years, we’ll continue to tweak the planting display. We’ll be adding some more spring bulbs, as well as assessing how well the plants are doing, and replacing any that have died or are struggling. We’ll keep a good mix of variety and seasonal food source for the pollinators, as well as ensuring there is a long lasting and colourful display for all our visitors.

If you want to help out at home, you can. A list of pollinator friendly plants can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society website. By adding any of these plants to your garden, you’ll be doing your bit. You don’t even need much space. A window box full of spring bulbs or a pot with a couple of sunflowers in will be a welcome refreshment for the pollinators flying around your area.

Send us your pictures of pollinator-friendly plants using the hashtag #Horniman. 

The Pollinator boarder has been created with support from the Finnis Scott Foundation

Who is Saci Perere?

Local performance group Whippersnappers go in search of the Brazilian folklore character of Saci Perere before their show at our Festival of Brasil.

‘Saci Perere is one of the most well-known mythical characters of Brazil. We have been busy speaking to our Brazilian friends and family and asking them what they know about Saci Perere.

Everyone seems to know what Saci looks like. They all say he wears a red cap, red shorts and has one leg. Some people say he lost his leg when he escaped from his slave master in the 18th century and others say he lost his leg when playing capoeira, but most people say Saci Perere has one leg and that is just how he is.

Legend has it that if you grab Saci’s red cap you are granted a wish, but the cap’s smell is so bad, you may never rid yourself of it.

Nobody has ever seen Saki Perere but they have all heard stories about how mischievous he is! Saci is a trickster and is blamed for all the things that go wrong in life – he burns the food and hides children’s toys.

We travelled to Ghana in May where we asked local tailors to stitch some of the backdrops for our performances and had a local puppeteer, Yevo a Togalese, create a Saci mask and puppet.

We were interested in the influence that enslaved African people had over the appearance of Saci Perere in Brazil. There are similarities between the African folklore character of Anancy (a trickster spider) and Saci Perere.

The performance

Our performance at the Horniman’s Festival of Brasil is an original theatre piece entitled “Cade O Saci Perere?” (Where is Saci Perere?)

It will draw inspiration from Brazilian handcraft. Brazilian handcraft is influenced by indigenous, African and Portuguese culture and enriched with the European and Asian migration’s touch, creating unique and colourful art.

Some of our decorations are based on the Brazilian ‘fuxico’ technique. Fuxico is where a piece of fabric which is cut into a circle, the edges are sewn and then pulled into the centre to create a round decoration. The name ‘fuxico’ is old slang for gossip as traditionally women would get together to sew these and gossip.

The show is also inspired by Brazilian ‘Folguedos’. Folguedos are traditional folk celebrations that feature live music, dance and theatrical performances some of which are performed on the streets around Brazil. Some Folguedos have religious roots and have over time been modified with new choreographies, costumes and masks.

Our performance will feature live music from Alba Cabral who will be playing Berimbau, pandeiro, surdo, tamborin, reco-reco (guiros), caxixis (shakers), the guitar, ukulele and kalimba.

Our show will be suitable for all the family and will have a sensory content to ensure it is accessible to children and adults with special needs. If you want to make sure you get a comfy seat bring your own cushion as we are expecting a lot of people. The word is spreading that Saci perere is coming to Forest Hill so if you live locally watch out he doesn’t turn your milk sour or put salt in your dough!'


See Whippersnappers’ performances of Cade O Saci Perere on Wednesday 24 August and on Sunday 4 September.

Saving Coral Reefs

Did you know we are doing ground-breaking coral research behind-the-scenes? Our Aquarium Curator, Jamie Craggs, tells us about the threat to coral reefs around the world and how we are working to solve it.

‘Coral reefs are incredibly diverse habitats. One square metre of coral reef contains as many different types of animals (genera) as a whole hectare of Amazon rainforest.

They also support millions of people through food security, coastal protection and income through tourism.

But coral reefs are under threat. Human activities like pollution, overfishing and climate change mean we are losing coral reefs at an alarming rate.

How do we stop this?

The only way to understand how to recover the coral reefs is to understand coral reproduction. We need to look at the way reefs naturally rebuild themselves, so that we can help the process.

In their natural habitat, most corals reproduce over one or two nights a year during a mass spawning event. All coral in one area spawn at once and the event is dependent on the right climatic conditions, temperature and phases of the moon. 

But once or twice a year is a very short time to study coral reproduction!

That’s where Project Coral comes in.

What is Project Coral?

Project Coral is a research project looking at coral reproduction led by the Horniman Museum and Gardens along with international partners. The main aims of Project Coral are:

1. To understand reproduction.
Coral have occasionally spawned in aquariums, but it has always been accidental. By understanding what makes coral tick in the wild, we have created a research system which mimics their natural environment. This allowed us to produce the first planned spawning event in an aquarium in 2013. We are now developing protocols so that corals can be spawned at different times of the year.

2. To share our knowledge.
If the research community has access to the same set up as ours then we could potentially be looking at far more spawning events every year then we currently have. This would give us more chance to study how coral reproduction will be affected by future ocean conditions as a result of climate change.

3. To help restore the coral reefs.
Once we have more opportunity to study coral we, along with the international scientific community, will have more of a chance to produce baby coral which can be used to reseed dying reefs.

4. To supplement the hobby trade.
If we get to a point where we can produce baby coral, we might also be able to produce them for the aquarium trade, a practise that will provide alternative sustainable income for people that rely on coral reefs.’

Read more about Project Coral.

You can help save the coral reefs by supporting Project Coral research.

Heaven & Hell - What Else?

A huge new Carnival installation has been installed in Gallery Square as part of our Festival of Brasil

The artwork was made as part of a joint project between artists Charles Beauchamp and Julieta Rubio from Mandinga Arts and Brazilian artists and performers Robson Rozza and Saulo Eduardo.

The artists were inpired by many of the exciting Brazilian objects at our Study Collections Centre, where they were shown round by our Collections staff.

The installation represents both heaven and hell. The angelic white figure is contrasted by the rise of a red wing, revealing a strange and tainted side to every great being.

The costume is inspired by the energy of Carnival in Brazil and revolutionary Brazilian icons like Xica da Silva and Ney Matogrosso, symbols of hope and champions of equality. 

The huge artwork will hang in the installation space above Gallery Square for the whole summer season during our Festival of Brasil. It will then be taken down and worn as part of a parade through the gardens at our Horniman Carnival on the 4 September. 

Brazil's melting pot in South London

Mariana Pinto from Gandaia Arts has been giving us the low down on how they are involved in the Festival of Brasil, what being Brazilian means to her and what you can expect at Festa Julina and the Horniman Carnival.

​“This season we partnered with the Horniman to develop the elements of decor, costume, dance, games and drumming, in workshop sessions for the opening event Festa Julina and the Horniman carnival. We are blending the use of traditional materials and techniques with the different groups we have worked with. This meant a very creative gathering of buntings, glittering, painting and dance fusions with Trinity Laban amongst many!

“Being Brazilian means that, wherever you go in the world you are welcome! Brazilian culture is a big part of our daily lives so in my case it was natural to make crafts whilst listening to music at home. My mum used to take me to Sambas as our family is from Rio. I was born in Brasilia as my parents moved there from Rio to work and by being brought into Brazil's melting pot, I learnt how to admire the difference between the two cities. This has prepared me to adapt and learn from all the many 'Brazils' and each of their cultural wealth, which I am proud to share via my work in dance, music, making and production!

“Similarities are very few between the UK and Brazil. Maybe the one that I can clearly see (especially about London) is that like Brazil, the UK has been filled with people from all over the world. London is a world city that embraces other cultures! ​I think the festival is already bringing smiles and fun to those involved.

“We have the making sessions with music and it’s great to see not only the kids or participants, but also their group leaders, singing and dancing around as even they lose track of the time. Both Festa Julina and the Horniman Carnival will be a true burst of the result of over 40 sessions! As for the audience, I can’t wait to see them joining in and enjoying every bit of it, as the costumes will be filled with dancers and characters.

“The Horniman Museum itself will be dressed in full Brazilian style!”

About the Art: Dotted Line Theatre

Dotted Line Theatre have been telling us about the work they have been doing for the Festival of Brasil.

Can you tell us a bit about your theatre piece?

At the Dotted Line Theatre we create an original performance with a playful quality and a strong visual style. For the Festival of Brasil we have created a puppetry and music performance called Stories on a String. This is our second project for the Horniman and we are delighted to be back.

How did you come up with the ideas for Stories on a String?

We have been inspired by Brazilian literatura de cordels, booklets of stories, poetry and news, with woodblock printed illustrations on their front covers. The booklets are hung up for sale on cords or string. A literal translation of the term literatura de cordel is ‘stories on a string’.

That gave us the idea of creating a puppet show where the woodblock printed characters of literatura de cordel come to life as puppets and exist in a world of paper and string.

Cordels are sold in market places and shops, so our show takes place on a market stall cart. Our puppets and landscapes fold out from the cordels hanging up for sale, and take over the cart space.

Brazilian cordels also form part of an oral tradition of performed music and poetry. We have a group of musicians in the cordel tradition, who accompany our puppet show and have created our own literatura de cordel story.

Why did you want to tell this story?

We wanted to create a story that had a broad sweep of Brazilian life, quite ambitious in a 20-25 min performance! Our story travels from the city to the Amazon forest, from the South to the North, it has characters that are old and young, real and mythical.

Our central character is a young girl from São Paulo, who travels on a quest for her grandmother. Some of the folklore of the Amazon appears in our story, so you’ll get to meet the mythical characters of Saci Perere, Curupira and Matinta Pereira.

How did you go about creating the puppets and the music?

We’ve been working hard on our puppet designs, under our lead illustrator Jum Faruq, who is also one of our puppeteers, and with Emilia Liberatore and Tom Crame, and our designs are all in the style of the woodblock cordel illustrations. Our puppets are 2D so we have tried to be inventive with the perspective they are drawn in, how they are revealed and how they move to tell our story.

Our music has been composed by Rachel Hayter with Camilo Menjura. It draws on the musical tradition of literatura de cordel but with some modern and atmospheric music added to the mix to help underscore the drama when the puppets are moving. There is so much energy and rhythm in the music of the country, it is a joy to work with. We hope you might join in with the music in a few places during our show!

We’ve developed the piece collaboratively in the rehearsal room, so the script, the design and the music were all created in relation to one another. It can be a bit ‘chicken-and-egg’ as a creative process, but hopefully that means that all the elements are cohesive.

I hope it gives a flavour of our influences, the cordels and the Amazon!

What does Brazil mean to you?

Rachel, our composer, has lived and worked in Brazil, and specialises in performing and teaching Brazilian music. It is her passion. You can see photos about her experiences (particularly her time in the Amazon with the Turudjam tribe) on Rachel’s blog.

 Catch Stories on a String from Dotted Line Theatre at Festa Julina (3 July) and on Big Wednesday (17 August).

About the Art: Flavio Graff

As part of our Festival of Brasil, we’ve been speaking to Flavio Graff, a London-based artist, who has created an installation and performance called Theatrical Giant Puppets of Olinda. His creations and performance will be debuted at Festa Julina on 3 July and also at the Horniman Carnival in September.

How did you come up with your ideas for the giant puppets and performance?

I was inspired by the amazing collection shown at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, especially the masks and a massive puppet sculpture in the African gallery. I wanted to connect them with the Brazilian Giant Puppets from Olinda but in an interactive way, as people would be able to go inside and experience what they discover inside the puppets.

The idea is to create an intersection between the Brazilian culture with its traditional food and songs from Festa Julina, crossed with the traditional puppets from Olinda’s Carnival that were inspired in turn by the puppets used in religious parties in Europe, especially in Belgium.

How did you go about creating the puppets?

It was a handcrafted process just like how the original puppets used to be made. The heads are made of papier mâché, hand painted, and the fabrics used for their costumes are the traditional colourful Chita.

How will the giant puppets work as part of your performance?

The installation will be set up in the Gardens connecting two giant puppets (four metres in height) – a couple which are reminiscent of the two first puppets designed for the Olinda’s Carnival in the 1920s. Instead of two separated puppets their bodies give shape to a tent where people can go inside. Visitors will be offered a Brazilian traditional sweet just as it happens in the traditional food stalls at the Festa Julina. Three traditional characters – Harlequin, Columbine and a Clown - from the Brazilian Carnival will interact with people inviting them to visit the installation and telling the story of the puppets.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I would like to bring the festive atmosphere of Carnival and Festa Julina from the streets of Olinda to central London. I want to create a feeling of happiness, joy and laughter when people see the bright and colourful puppets. I want to invoke the feeling of celebration with music, dancing and performance.

What does Brazil mean to you?

Brazil is a multicultural continental place where so many different people from all around the world live together sharing their experiences and traditions. From this rich crossing the Brazilian culture emerges in unexpected, creative and most of all inclusive ways.

I think that every culture mix is important to improve our development as open-minded people learning from different points of views and unusual perspectives how to be more generous.

See Flavio’s creations at Festa Julina (3 July) and at the Horniman Carnival (4 September).

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