The British Library has put together a new exhibition on the power of the word – written, spoken and sung – in West Africa, and the Horniman has contributed by lending items from both the Anthropology and Musical Instruments collections.
The exhibition opened to coincide with Black History month earlier this year, and is exploring a range of fascinating stories from the region’s 17 nations. Focusing on West African history, life and culture over the last three centuries, it covers from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today.
Using a range of collections they have looked at text, story and writing and how words can be used to build and change societies, to challenge and resist, and sustain life and dignity. The exhibition highlights the rich manuscript heritage of West Africa and the coming of printing, as well as oral genres, past and modern.
The Horniman has loaned a talking drum and lamellaphone from our Musical Instruments collection and a Bwa plank mask, Gelede mask and divination board from our Anthropology collection to help bring the printed and written works to life.
I was contacted in the summer by the Project Manager of this year’s Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern - who lives in Forest Hill. He explained the basic premise of obtaining soil samples across London and seeing what grows from them. It all sounded very interesting and the Horniman Gardens team were really keen on helping out.
We have over 16 acres of gardens, perfect for soil harvesting
Empty Lot features a grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and over 23 tonnes of soil collected from parks and gardens all across London from Peckham Rye to Regent’s Park, and of course the Horniman Gardens.
By the end of the summer we had supplied over two tonnes of the Horniman’s finest soil. Spread across the site it was easy to supply that quantity without leaving gaping holes in our shrub borders. In September the artist Abraham Cruzvillegas visited the Horniman Gardens to see first-hand where the soil came from. It was great to meet him and get more of an idea of what he was planning.
Our celebrity soil being used by seedlings in our nursery
Last night (12.10.15.) members of the Horniman Gardens team were invited to the opening at the Tate and were blown away by the installation, which fills almost all of the Hall. The first seedlings could already be seen germinating and it will be fascinating to see what grows over the next few months - growing conditions have been artificially created using grow lights and hand watering the soil.
Sacks of Horniman soil packed up for the exhibition
Despite a few aching backs in the team from bagging up over two tonnes of soil it has been great to contribute to such an iconic art installation at Tate Modern.
I work on an Arts Council England funded project called Object in Focus whereby we proactively encourage museums to borrow objects from our stores. One of these objects is a beautiful ceramic shogi (chess) set from Japan.
The Horniman Museum is comparable to the Russell-Cotes Museum not only due to our similar collections, but also because of Richard Quick. Quick was resident curator of the Horniman Museum and Gardens from 1891 to 1901. His move to the Horniman coincided with the museum being open to the public, and he oversaw a change in museum practice: the retention of letters and receipts relating to purchases, production of annual reports, and rearrangement and relabelling of numerous displays.
During Quick’s tenure, he also acted as an agent for John Frederick Horniman and between 1897-1899, listed his entire collection in two bound registers including a ‘Geo-Global Survey’ of the ethnographic collection that listed a total of 7,920 objects.
After leaving the Horniman Museum he worked at Bristol Art Gallery and Museum until 1921, then moved to the Russell-Cotes where he worked until he retired in 1932. It is understood that Quick was handpicked by Sir Merton and Lady Annie Russell-Cotes due to his extensive Japanese knowledge.
Quick was married but his wife died not long after he started working at Russell-Cotes. His daughter, who was a nurse, also lived in the museum. When a visitor died of a heart attack in Gallery One, she tried to save him before the doctor arrived.
Quick gave many lectures both at the Horniman and Russell-Cotes Museums. He was a curator for 43 years and an original member of the Japan Society in London.
The Kakapo, a nocturnal and flightless parrot from New Zealand, has recently been voted the world’s favourite species on ARKive! This means a few people will be happy that we’ve just added one specimen to our Object in Focus loans scheme, making this species more accessible to other museums.
We've recently added a taxidermy specimen to our loans scheme
The Kakapo is the world’s heaviest parrot, a good climber, long lived and very rare. They’re also important from an anthropological point of view, as its skins and feathers have been used by Maori to make dress-capes and cloaks.
Kakapos are very popular with us at the Horniman, and we have a number in our collections. During the current Bioblitz review, one of our Kakapo skins was identified as a star specimen, showing its importance within our collection.
This specimen of a now critically endangered bird is one of the 'star' specimens uncovered by the project, Photo by Russell Dornan
We now have a Kakapo available for loan as part of our Arts Council funded Objects in Focus project, which aims to increase access to our stored collections and strengthen partnerships with other museums.
We've recently added a taxidermy specimen to our loans scheme
While many of you have been following his progress with our liveblog and on Twitter, Acapmedia have been filming the whole event. They've produced this fantastic timelapse film documenting the Walrus leaving the Natural History Gallery for the first time since 1901.
The Walrus will be away until September, but until then you can visit the Natural History Gallery and leave a message for him on the Walrus Wall.
We're very happy, relieved and glad to report that our wonderful walrus has been moved successfully. He's currently being packed up in a crate in advance of his trip to Margate. Here's a short video of him in the air - we'll have a longer video about the whole procedure later in the week.
9.15am, 14 May 2013
The Walrus has spent the night on his new platform at the front of the gallery. Today he will be carefully packed by the Conservation team and safely crated up ready for his journey to Margate.
The first task for today is for our conservation department to check the Walrus's condition, and make sure he's ship-shape for his trip to Margate.
Our famously over-stuffed walrus, weighing in at just under one ton, has been in our Natural History Gallery since 1901. Since then, he hasn’t moved more than 25 feet, so getting him out and on his way to the coast is a huge task for museum staff to organise.
Our conservation department has been working with specialist art handlers to ensure the move goes as smoothly as possible. Preparations are under way: the Walrus has already received his annual clean, and the larger pieces of his iceberg are being moved away.
, Photo by acapmedia
The Walrus' iceberg needs to be removed to allow access for the all-important lift.
The biggest challenge is the need to lift the Walrus out of the gallery over the other cases. The Natural History Gallery will be closed to the public next week while this is happening, but we've put together some simple sketches to help you picture what will happen.
The Walrus will be lifted on Monday 13 and will leave the Museum on Wednesday 15 May. The Natural History Gallery will be closed throughout, so this week is your last chance to wave goodbye and wish him well on his holiday. He'll return to the Museum in September.
Be sure to follow the Walrus' journey on Twitter, and keep an eye on our blog, as we'll be live-blogging throughout. You can even catch up with the Walrus' own comments @HornimanWalrus.