Amgueddfa Blog: Cyffredinol

Every river has its source, starting small then gathering pace. Our project on freshwater snails is doing just that as we tumble into 2019. “Codi i’r Wyneb – Brought to the Surface is a 2-year project to create a new guide to the freshwater snails of Britain and Ireland, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Where better to begin than with Amgueddfa Cymru’s world class Mollusca collections?

This month we are joined by three new faces: our Project Officer, Harry Powell, and volunteers Jelena Nefjodova and Mike Tynen. Harry studied biology and ecology at Plymouth University, and is a former volunteer here himself. Mike spent many years with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Jelena is a current student at Cardiff University. All four of us have gotten stuck in to the snail collections here, of which we’ll say more in a moment.

To date over 1000 other people, and several organisations, have already engaged with Brought to the Surface. Our travelling display was especially popular at Swansea Science Festival in November 2018, where many members of the public took the chance to get up close (up to 50X magnification!) with British and foreign freshwater snails on our stand. We also showcased specimens at two conferences at the Museum, Unknown Wales (Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales) and at the Wales Biodiversity Partnership.

These displays will evolve as the project does, but also on the way is a more permanent exhibit at the Museum, now in the design stages. This gives us an excuse to feature a photo by our partner Hannah Shaw, of the magnificent Llangloffan Fen near Fishguard, Pembrokeshire. We’ve been looking for a lush landscape, captured in summer, to make a good backdrop for the display. It’s also a reminder that, having passed the solstice, outdoor snail activities are not too far away.

Summer will also bring our series of “Snail Day” training and key testing events around Wales. Our partner Mike Dobson has been especially quick of the mark in helping draft a comprehensive key to try out with the public at these. We are fortunate in having such a range of snail specimens from the Museum to use in these activities, but it will also be fun for people to have a go at finding and identifying their own. After all, the ideal key is one that should allow a total beginner to identify the very first snail they find…

And so back to the collections, the foundation of this kind of biology and a unique asset of museums. Harry, Mike and Jelena have been helping review and curate what we already have, and others have kindly been sending specimens from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland for our project. Particular thanks to our partner Martin Willing from the Conchological Society, who is hot on the trail of Britain’s more obscure freshwater snail species. Our Twitter account @CardiffCurator will feature many of these over the next couple of years with the hashtag #FreshwaterSnailoftheFortnight. The photos, descriptions and DNA sequences from 150 years’ worth of snail study will all be the basis for our eventual Field Studies Council publication.

We’ll report again as more people, places and snails join us on our journey.

Cultural heritage collections need a friendly home. 'Friendly' means: a building that protects the collection from the elements – wind, sun and rain. Conservators worry a lot - and rightly so - about pigments fading when they are exposed to light, about stuffed animals being eaten by insect pests, about wartime medals corroding because of the presence of air pollutants. But it’s no good having a fantastic pest management system if the roof leaks. Getting the basics right makes the job of the conservator an awful lot easier and is better for the collection.

Like many museums up and down the country, National Museum Cardiff is housed in a historic building. The museum contains 30 public galleries and 50 collection stores which accommodate almost 3 million objects. This is only part of the national heritage collection of Wales and arguably something we want to protect for the benefit of current and future generations.

But being in a historic building, as beautiful as it is, has its challenges. Much of the building infrastructure is aging and needs modernising. Our roof needs some tlc. Our air conditioning systems are so old, there is nobody left in the museum who was around when they were first installed. And the electrics in parts of the building are not far from receiving a birthday telegram from Her Majesty the Queen.

All of those issues are a problem not just for visitors and staff, but also for the collections. Therefore, we have started modernising our museum building. In the past few years we already had parts of our roof replaced. Less publicly visible was the recent replacement of the electrical infrastructure in the west wing. We are now in the process of undertaking much more work to improve the building.

Some of this work will happen behind closed doors: replacement of our chillers and humidifiers with new, modern and efficient technology, making the museum leaner and greener. Other work will be more obvious to our visitors, including works to the roof of our south wing. Various works will require the temporary closure of some of our public galleries – please bear with us during this time, we are keeping the rest of the museum open and, once the works are completed, all galleries will be accessible again.

One difficulty remains: once all the works are completed the museum will look like nothing ever happened – we do not have a brand new building to show off for all our efforts. BUT the building will feel and operate differently. It will form a more reliable envelope around our collections. It will require less maintenance, saving us money and staff time. It will be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing our energy bills and forming a substantial contribution towards lowering our greenhouse gas emissions.

During this time of potential disruptions please bear in mind the end product, which will include a better museum experience for visitors today (well, next year) and in the future. And a building that continues to help us look after Wales’ national collection.

Should you have any questions at all about our refurbishment programme in relation to the collections, please do get in touch. We will be happy to assist in any way we can.

Find out more about Care of Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here and follow us on Twitter.

Over the past few months the museum has been working closely with colleagues at the beautiful Oriel y Parc gallery in St Davids to bring together an exhibition celebrating Wales ‘Year of the Sea’ called ‘Coast’.

The exhibition fuses artworks and natural science specimens specially selected by the Oriel y Parc team from Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections, and displays these alongside some of the recent museum activisim work of Amgueddfa Cymru’s 'Youth Forum Group' highlighting the issues of plastic pollution.

The multidisciplinary nature of the display explores how the sea has inspired artists for centuries, highlights the biodiversity of the Pembrokeshire coast, and how plastic now impacts on the environment and our everyday life.

Centre piece to the art works is Jan van de Cappelle’s masterpiece ‘A Calm’, surrounded by sea and coast inspired paintings from a selection of other artists including Cedric Morris and John Kyffin Williams. Amongst these works are specimens from the natural science collections capturing the richness of Pembrokeshire's wildlife, including the skeleton of a leatherback turtle found dead on Skomer Island in 1988.

The turtle had in the past been on display at the visitor centre on Skomer, but was removed a number of years back when the buildings on the Island underwent redevelopment. In need of some repairs and cleaning, the specimen became an excellent project for one of our conservation student placements at the museum, Owen Lazzari. The end result has enabled us to bring the specimen back to Pembrokeshire to form one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.

Other highlights from the natural science collections include one of our historic Blaschka glass models dating from the late 1800s, and a Goose barnacle covered builder's helmet found off the Welsh Coast.

Further information can be found on Oriel y Parc's website: https://www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales

 

Hi, I’m Thea, a sixth form student from Shropshire who decided to create this short video as part of my work experience at the National Museum Cardiff.

I had heard about Who Decides? before I became involved in the exhibition, so I was very eager to find out more. After working with the public opinion cards, speaking to the people involved in the museum and doing some short interviews, I created an animation that I thought would best reflect the aims of exhibition and the feedback it had received.

I am passionate about art and against the idea that art and museums are ‘elitist’ or should be for the ‘privileged’ rather than the majority, so I wanted to focus on this issue in the video.

Working with the Wallich

The exhibition itself was incredibly eye opening for me; the museum had decided to work with the charity The Wallich to involve people with experience of homlessness in the process of designing and creating the exhibit and gives the public the chance to choose some of the artwork on display. I haven't seen an exhibition that has ever taken this kind of approach, so I found it intriguing to see how others reacted to the idea.

I hope this refreshing approach to curation will be an archetype for future exhibits and museums because it challenges what we usually connote with galleries and exhibits and hopefully encourages more people to visit exhibitions and museums.

Who Decides? is on show at National Museum Cardiff until 2 September 2018. You can also contribute to Who Decides? by voting for your favourite work to be ‘released’ from the store and placed on public display.

Part 2, Working with our community partners.

 

Powysland Museum is working with the National Museum’s Saving Treasures; Telling Stories on an Archaeological Jewellery project.

In this update we hear from some of their community partners.

Welshpool Camera Club

The club has around 40 members of all abilities, from pros, advanced, to amateurs, who all ‘club together’ to ensure members’ photographic skills are challenged regardless of technical ability. They look at mastering camera techniques through hands on experience and invite speakers to give presentations.

With many of the archaeological jewellery pieces in Powysland Museum’s project being small, with delicate decoration, it was obvious that the project needed the expertise of good photographers to capture the details and refinement of the pieces.

Powysland Museum was therefore delighted when the Camera Club agreed to be one of the project’s community engagement partners.

The club’s members have got up close and personal with some of the objects and have taken some great close-ups, which have fed into the museum’s work with the other community engagement partners.

Welshpool Young Carers

Welshpool Young Carers are a group of young people who look after and care for one or more members of their family on a full-time basis. Alex Sperr, the project’s community engagement officer, ran a workshop with the group, which produced a delightful and colourful display.

The workshop focussed on the art of the museum display. A display is often the only chance you have for capturing the attention of your intended audience.

It must grab audience members at first glance, hold them there to see what it offers and persuade them to further explore the museum and the artefacts on display.

A display can be used to tell part of an object’s history, and in this workshop we focussed on making jewellery and displays for the Saving Treasures exhibition at Powysland.

The group first visited the Saving Treasures jewellery exhibit, looking at the ways in which objects are displayed.

Exploring how to display rings in the exhibition, the group then made Plaster of Paris hands by using rubber gloves as moulds. Casts of the children’s hands were made using plaster bandage or modroc, and rings were made using recycled materials.

The children then set up their displays as they would like to see them in the exhibition, along with their names.

Buttington-Trewern School

Local poet and writer Pat Edwards has run the “Off the Page” young creative writers’ club at Powysland Museum and is also runs the annual Welshpool Poetry Festival. Her quirky and exciting mind was guaranteed to engage the children.

Pat visited the museum to work with all the junior classes. The children were shown the archaeological jewellery and were even allowed to touch and hold some of the sturdier artefacts – obviously while wearing white, cotton gloves!

This was a unique opportunity for the children to see the objects outside their usual display cases.

Pat Edwards then discussed the theme of jewellery with the children, helping them develop ideas and create stories, poems, posters and other written works involving one or more of the museum objects. Some of the results and photographs from the sessions are on display.

Together with Pat, the museum is planning to develop this creative experience by offering writing classes at the museum during the exhibition period, where visitors can seek inspiration from the objects and practical help from Pat to write and tell their own stories.

The Archaeological Jewellery exhibition runs at Powysland Museum until September, after which you can catch it at Radnorshire and Brecknock Museums.