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The Mini-Museum of Travel

Helen Merrill fills us in on how our volunteers went about putting together their latest Engage Discovery Box, a mini-museum in itself.

In the run-up to the opening of the World Gallery later this year, many of us here at the Horniman have been trying to answer the question, What does it mean to be human?

As a part of this project, the volunteers from our Engage Discovery Box Project took the lead in creating new discovery boxes that will be used in conjunction with the World Gallery by visitors and groups for years to come. Discovery boxes act like mini-museums, containing objects that follow a theme chosen by the group.

A thirteen strong team was organised and a theme of 'travel' agreed upon to complement the vision of the museum's Founder, Frederick, J. Horniman – Tea trader, Collector, Philanthropist and Anthropologist. The team needed to search for Museum objects in the Horniman collection that considered this theme while taking into consideration a broad target audience of young families, outreach venues and other community groups.

The objects had to incorporate sight, colour, smell, sound, and touch. The catalogue of available objects was vast but the objects not only had to represent the theme but they needed to be the right size and shape to fit into the Discovery Box. Safe handling was also a key factor. Eventually, the list was whittled down to 8-10 suitable objects.

  • Saddled camel model
  • Horniman tea tin
  • Bike gear 
  • Compass 
  • Yugoslavian slippers 
  • Image of Dorothy’s shoes 
  • Indbanas head piece 
  • Masai milk gourd 
  • African head scarf
  • London tube map
  • Range of other maps
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Three smell pots out of a choice of cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, and coffee.

Once the objects were chosen, the next stage was trial and evaluation with visitors. A special session was run in the Hands on Base to gauge visitor perception. Questions and feedback focused on discovery, adventure, travel, transport, and nostalgia, giving a picture of how the objects fit into the theme of travel while some objects were potentially not so relevant.

On the whole, the experience was extremely positive and thought-provoking, and it was great to know that a whole host of specialist groups would benefit from the mini-museum. For their efforts the team were nominated for the London Volunteers in Museums Awards which took place in September 2017 at City Hall. The team were declared runners-up in the award for 'Best Team Contribution', clearly recognising the enthusiasm and hard work of this dedicated team.

The accolade proved that the Horniman Volunteer Teams certainly know what it takes to engage, inspire and enrich visitor experience.

How an idea becomes a gallery

Have you ever wondered how we put together a brand new gallery? Well, Sarah Watson from Collections Management tells us how.

This year the Horniman has been preparing for the opening of a new gallery which will show around 4,300 objects from our anthropology collection. The new World Gallery will redisplay a number of objects previously found in the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries, and importantly will include many more objects - some of which have never before been on display.

Once the World Gallery is open you will see inspiring and exciting objects from across the world highlighting different themes and cultures. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Before you rush to the Museum though there is still a lot of challenging work taking place behind the scenes in order for the doors of the World Gallery to open for the first time. 

Before any of the Museum's objects can be installed there needs to be decisions made about how they will be arranged and how these displays can be made possible physically. Considering how to arrange objects in a new exhibition is no easy task and one which our curators have been focused on for the last six or so years.

Some of these decisions are made at layouts when objects are set out in a mock-up of how a showcase might eventually look. Conservators, curators, collections management, documentation, and workshop staff all attend to discuss the practicalities and challenges of displaying particular objects. 

Prior to a layout, all of the required objects must be retrieved from the Horniman’s very own TARDIS - the Study Collections Centre (SCC) - our offsite storage facility which houses the majority of the museum’s collection.

Retrieving objects is carried out by the Collections Management Team who are responsible for the care, storage, and documentation of the collection. As part of this team, I work with my colleagues prior to each layout to identify the location of selected objects, collect them, and arrange them according to a design planned by curators. 

This process of retrieving objects from the SCC can be quite time-consuming, usually taking between one and four days depending on the number of objects needed and the complexity of moving them. One of the largest layouts we have done so far featured over two hundred objects. One of the challenges we encounter when retrieving objects is if they are heavy or large, or both, making them more difficult to move. This adds to the amount of preparation and time needed, and will often require the assistance of additional colleagues and lifting equipment to move them safely. 

So, what happens after the layout has finished I hear you ask. After the curators, conservators, and workshop staff have met and agreed on which objects can be displayed and how collections management carefully pack all the selected objects so they are ready to transport from the SCC to the Museum. Objects that haven’t been chosen will be packed away and go back into storage. As with retrieving objects, packing them also takes time, often as many as four days as we need to ensure that objects are packed as to not sustain damage while in transit. 

To get to the point where we start retrieving objects to the moment they are packed and ready to transport can take the best part of two weeks, particularly if there are a lot of objects involved. Once the layouts are complete we will begin the process of installing objects in the refurbished exhibition space for the World Gallery to open in 2018. In the meantime, we are getting very good at packing, and are delighted to see so many fascinating and unusual objects going on display from the collection.

Crowdfunding success - thank you

Our crowdfunding campaign for the World Gallery recently came to a close and we have been overwhelmed by your generosity.

Thanks to you we managed to raise £25,957 over 42 days from 310 supporters, including a large donation from Lewisham Council, who gave £8,000 of funding.

As well as lots of local businesses, members and regular visitors donating, we saw backers from around the world pledge their support.

We’ve now got lots of work ahead to fulfil the rewards for backers, not to mention completing the World Gallery itself, so watch this space for updates.

If you missed the Crowdfunder, but would still like to help contribute you can do so online - donate to the World Gallery appeal.

Behind the Scenes with Jaz

Jaz from the Horniman Youth Panel shares his photo diary with us, taking us behind the scenes of their film project for the World Gallery.

Hi, my Name is Jaz. Recently, I took part in a project filming for the Horniman with Chocolate Films. It went really well.

  • _MG_0100, Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.
    Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.

There were lots of cameras and lots of people I did not know and it made me shy, but I got my confidence up by joining in and taking photos behind the scenes.

This photo is of a little girl showing us her microphone, bell, whistle, and medal. She was more confident than me and that’s where I got my confidence from.

This photo is of a lady in her dress, called a Muumuu and she has a volcanic rock for smashing food to make a paste. I took the photo because her dress looks nice and the dress comes from Hawaii.

I had a camera every day to take photos. This photo is of London and I was adjusting the setting on the camera so I can take a good photo of the city and the Shard.

I was adjusting the light levels, zoom, and focus. Doing the settings made me calm and confident.

  • Jaz Photos Before+After, These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.
    These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.

For anyone who has not been to the Horniman you should come because it is a nice park. If you are like me, who likes trees, animals, and gardening, you will like it.

Thank you for reading.

New Ornamental Grass Border for Horniman Gardens

Award-winning plantsman Neil Lucas has designed a new ornamental grass border now on display in the Horniman Gardens.

Over the past few weeks, the Gardens team has been hard at work planting a new border of ornamental grasses in the Horniman Gardens.

Grasses from around the world will feature in a new design by specialist plantsman Neil Lucas, a recognised authority on ornamental grasses and owner of Dorset's Knoll Gardens

  • , New ornamental grass borders on display in the Horniman Gardens.
    New ornamental grass borders on display in the Horniman Gardens.

Neil – holder of 10 consecutive Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medals – has created a bespoke design for the Horniman that highlights 20 different varieties of grasses planted in regular-shaped blocks, for a bold visual effect.

Currently surrounding the Horniman’s seasonal pumpkin patch, the border will, in time, frame a more naturalistic central display garden, which will be linked to the opening of our World Gallery in 2018.

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.

Let's go fly a kite

Ahmadzia Bakhtyari has been hard at work over the last few months, making kites which will go into our World Gallery in Spring 2018.

Watch this video below to see how he has made these kites.

You can meet Ahmadzia at our Refugee Week event on Saturday 24 June, and take part in his free kite-making workshops. Once you have made your kite, come and fly it with us in the Gardens at the end of the day.

Find out more about Refugee Week 2017 at the Horniman or the World Gallery.

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 the space 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 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. 

Our team enjoyed these 'offerings' and made sure they were recycled and put to good use. 

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

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

Why do we need specialist logistics for collections?

As part of the exciting refurbishment and redisplay of two of our Galleries, Constantine Ltd was asked to move the existing collection of objects on display. We asked Sascha Hurrell from Constantine why we need specialists to help move our collections.

Constantine Ltd has remained a family business for over four generations. With our longstanding heritage and expertise in fine art logistics, we hold the necessary knowledge and skills to move many intriguing objects that included the striking Uvol headdresses from New Britain, the largest island of the Bismarck Archipelago.

  • Constantine moving our objects, Packing objects, Constantine Ltd
    Packing objects, Constantine Ltd

The most well-renowned object the team handled was the famous painted papier-mâché figure of Kali, the mother goddess, which was part of Frederick Horniman’s original collection.

Constantine’s Technical Manager, Laurence Burley, could see what a unique project this was, “The objects that we packed were varied in size, weight and age, which proved quite challenging. This was especially true of the headdresses and masks, which were designed to be ceremonial and so not made to last. Our technicians worked very closely with the Horniman Museum and Gardens staff, and our relationship was essential to ensure we completed the work on time to the highest standard”.

What happens when a museum wants to move or change a display? It is vital to have specialists with relevant skills and expertise to complete the task efficiently with the upmost care and attention to detail.

  • Constantine moving our objects, Making sure objects are safe for transportation, Constantine Ltd
    Making sure objects are safe for transportation, Constantine Ltd

Before any artwork or object can be moved, it needs to be assessed by the technical team in charge of the project. Here are 10 factors that need to be taken into consideration for each object:

Fragility

If the objects are fragile they will require additional preparation from the museum team and expert technicians, to ensure the safety of the piece for future generations. In some cases, bespoke equipment and forms of support must be created to complete the task. The structure of an object determines the method of handling and moving.

Weight

This will determine how many technicians are required and if the object can be moved manually, or whether a lifting operator is required with specialist lifting equipment.

Age

Knowing the history of an item is crucial in determining how it should be moved. In many cases, objects could be on display in the same location for many years, so any movement could unsettle the object and may cause lasting damage. The museum’s own archives can be an invaluable source of information.

Assessing location

Before any work can begin, the Technical Manager must confirm what part of the building the objects are currently placed and whether it is easily accessible. They must work out how the objects can be removed from its current position. Knowing what existing lighting is available in each room is incredibly important when deciding how any item or collection is moved. In many cases, additional conservation lighting is required to ensure the safe movement of the objects.

Destination

It may sound obvious, but a big part of the technician’s job is to assess where the objects are being moved to. The final destination can affect the quote of the project, the timescale, the number of staff and crate preparation.

  • Constantine moving our objects, Removing objects from the galleries, Constantine Ltd
    Removing objects from the galleries, Constantine Ltd

Bespoke crating and packaging

Are the objects staying in the museum or are they being shipped nationally or internationally? If they are staying in the museum, the technicians must determine whether they are being placed in short-term or long-term storage, as each requirement entails a different method of packing and conservation. Careful planning and precise handling is vital, with the safety of the object being paramount.

Timescale          

Efficient planning to ensure work is completed by a specific deadline is of great importance to contractors and the museum. Possible challenges which may occur during a project must be taken into consideration. Completing a project on time is also crucial to developing a strong relationship with the museum team.

Surrounding space

Rooms holding collections of paintings or objects vary greatly in size, so it is important to access the area before work can begin. This can have an impact on the overall timescale of the project and can greatly determine what equipment can be used. It is very important to have a clear work area and sufficient transporting space to enable work to be moved freely from other objects and displays. Once large objects are removed it is often surprising how much space can be made available. This is most obvious when packing and crating component parts of a larger piece.

Building structure

Any building with listed status means the protection of the fabric of the building is of specific concern. The team would usually proceed with guidance from Historic England. This can dramatically affect the way a collection is moved or re-installed.

Expect the unexpected

Technicians must be prepared for any challenges that arise. Every project is different and requirements can change at any moment. It is of great importance that the team complete the work to the client’s deadline, so any unexpected challenges must be resolved quickly.

Any of these 10 factors can be challenging for technicians and museum staff. They highlight the many logistical stages that must be considered when relocating collections, and the importance of detailed planning and research before a project begins.

Find out more about Constantine Ltd's work on Twitter and Instagram.

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