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The Great Hands on Base Audit

Learning Assistant Siobhan Brown fills us in on the mammoth task of the annual Handling collection audit.

At the Horniman we have a fantastic, 3,000 object-strong Handling collection. We use the Handling collection in all our Learning programmes: with school groups learning about a huge range of topics, families visiting us on the weekends, community groups visiting the Horniman together, and with young people on our Youth Panel.

  • B_HandsOnBase__002-PS, The Handling collection includes 3000 objects that you can interact with
    The Handling collection includes 3000 objects that you can interact with

The Learning Team have collective responsibility for the collection. The whole team clean the Hands on Base, the home of the Handling collection, four times a year and get together monthly to repair objects and update displays.

A major event in the Learning Team calendar is the annual Handling collection audit, which takes place at the start of January. This year, with the help of our colleagues from the Collections Management team, we checked all the objects in a record-breaking two and a half days.

We work in pairs to take each object from its location, check it against the record on our collections management system, and then record anything we need to know about its condition.

Anything that is where it shouldn’t be is put on the orange tables in the Hands on Base, and at the end of the audit we put our heads together to figure out where they need to be.

We also take photographs of all the cases to help us put everything back in the right place for the year to come.

  • Shayna and Vikki, Schools Learning Officer Shayna and Volunteering Administrator Vikki hard at work
    Schools Learning Officer Shayna and Volunteering Administrator Vikki hard at work

Though most of the objects are in the Hands on Base, some are stored elsewhere. A particularly fun task undertaken by Schools Learning Officer Lucy and I, was auditing the objects in the freezer, which is kept in an unheated room, on what was one of the coldest days of the year.

Putting 52 chopsticks in the correct order or identifying 24 wood samples that all look pretty much the same, might sound like the sort of tedium you would hate to kick the year off with. But it’s a great time to get together as a team, rediscover our favourite old objects and share knowledge about new ones, all while eating the leftover Christmas chocolates.

  • Lucy (1), Schools Learning Officer Lucy updates object records.
    Schools Learning Officer Lucy updates object records.

Keep an eye out on the blog this year for more on the Handling Collection and some of our favourite objects.

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.

Learning with Lucy

In our latest blog post, Lucy Maycock, Schools Learning Officer, at the Horniman reflects on her first few months in the post.

Having now spent two months as Schools Learning Officer here at the Horniman, I thought it might be time to share my early experiences of the role. I was truly delighted when my application for Learning Officer was successful. When I was offered the position, I’d already worked at the Horniman as a Learning Assistant for two-and-a-half years and really couldn’t see myself working anywhere else.

My first half term as a Learning Officer was a little overwhelming. The Schools Team here offer nearly 40 different school sessions on a wide range of topics, from ancient history to biology. With a background in music and humanities, I’ve really loved teaching ‘Ancient Egypt’ and ‘Musical Instruments around the World’. I’ve also been really surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed teaching ‘Prehistoric Britain’. I never learned about the Stone, Bronze, or Iron Age in school, but am now completely fascinated by the skill and ingenuity of people who lived during that time.

The really special thing about teaching at The Horniman is our department’s incredible, 3,000 object-strong Handling Collection. Each object is available for visitors to touch, investigate, and even smell. In our ‘Ancient Egypt’ and ‘Prehistoric Britain’ sessions, children handle real museum objects that are thousands of years old, not to mention the hundred-million-year-old fossils in our 'Evolution' workshop. There’s something incredibly special about empowering children to investigate and discover things for themselves - showing that we trust them to carefully handle such precious objects.

Although the amount of learning that I still have to do is a bit daunting, I’ve been surprised by how much I’m enjoying revisiting and revising topics that I haven’t thought about since school, including animal classification and evolution. I’ve learned so much from watching and talking to my experienced and incredibly patient colleagues and also from the school pupils in my sessions.

Terrifyingly, children and adult helpers really can ask you anything but constantly amaze me with their enthusiasm, ideas, and knowledge.

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

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