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This week is Chemistry Week and our Preventive Conservation team got involved. Two local high schools (St Teilo’s Church in Wales High School and Cardiff High School) were invited to participate in a workshop with live demonstrations and hands-on activities.

We organized the workshop in a collection store and one of our analytical laboratories at National Museum Cardiff. Neither space is laid out for large numbers of people and it’s always a bit of a squash. But once we had squeezed the last of the year 12 and 13 students into each room and closed the doors, there was no escaping the exciting world of analytical chemistry.

The students learned about Wales’s largest and most important mineral collection, the challenges of caring for it, and some of the analytical tools that help us: X-Ray diffraction (XRD), gas detection tubes, infrared spectroscopy (IR) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). The XRD is part of the National Museum's own analytical facilities, operated by Tom Cotterell and Amanda Valentine-Baars in the Mineralogy/Petrology section. The other two technologies are covered by the curriculum and the students enjoyed the opportunity to prepare real samples, analyse them and interpret the results. To them, this made the subject a lot more real than just learning about them from books. It was also important that the analyses were undertaken not simply as a method per se, but in the context of answering genuine research questions at the museum.

What does chemistry have to do with the care of collections? We undertake our own research on objects and specimens in the collections, and we collaborate with researchers at universities. In addition, the act of preserving our common heritage often throws up problems, as objects degrade and conservators need to work out why, and how to stop the degradation.

Often we cannot do this on our own, in which case we work with partners to investigate, for example, the corrosivity potential of indoor pollutants and their effect on mineral specimens in storage at National Museum Cardiff. These partners include Cardiff University’s Schools of ChemistryEngineering and History, Archaeology and Religion (Conservation Department).

One of these collaborations sparked yesterday’s schools engagement project, run in conjunction with the museum's Conservation and Natural Sciences departments and kindly supported and funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry (South East Wales Section). The Royal Society of Chemistry provided an entire bench full of portable analytical equipment for the day, which the society's Education Coordinator, Liam Thomas, set up in the Mineral Store. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the project, additional support came from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.

 

If you’re a regular visitor to our blog pages, you may have read about our work to improve the visitor experience for those who are blind or visually impaired. We’ve had training with Cardiff Institute for the Blind, worked with our Youth Forum to make our art galleries more accessible and even discovered a specially created exhibition from the 80s.

We were proud to host RNIB Cymru’s launch event introducing a series of Welsh-language Roald Dahl Talking Books. The RNIB’s Talking Books (neu Llyfrau Llafar yn Gymraeg) scheme offers a library of over 25,000 free audiobooks that helps create a lifeline to the outside world for people who are blind or partially sighted. The service’s 6,000 customers will now be able to listen to Dahl’s stories in Welsh for the first time.

At the launch, there were inspiring talks from RNIB staff, S4C announcer/Talking Books narrator Huw Charles and a long-time Talking Books subscriber who shared just how big a difference the service can make to people’s lives.

We were then treated to readings from The BFG and Jiraff, a'r Pelican a Fi by Melangell Dolma, a Welsh-language Talking Books narrator, who demonstrated how expressive and engaging Talking Books can be.

Following the event in the Main Hall, we ran brief audio description tours of our illustration exhibition, Quentin Blake: Inside Stories. The tours were designed to offer a taster of our audio description gallery tours, which are now on offer to the public. As the day was a celebration of Roald Dahl, we focused on Blake’s illustrations from two Roald Dahl stories.

First we explored artworks from The Twits, describing how Blake captures the mean and disgusting title characters using scratchy lines and drab watercolours.

To add a tactile element, we passed around several tools that Quentin Blake might use, including watercolour paint brushes, metallic dip pens and feather quills. The brave among the group were also given the opportunity to sample the scent of Mr Twit’s beard, a striking blend of sardines and Stilton cheese.

Finally we moved on to illustrations from Matilda, focusing in particular on Matilda’s tyrannical head teacher, Miss Trunchbull. The story is one of Roald Dahl’s most popular books and was a fitting end to the morning of Dahl-themed fun. The tour was then repeated for our Welsh-speaking visitors.

We were also lucky enough to welcome RNIB Connect Radio, who did a segment on the launch, including interviews with visitors and members of staff. The comments from CIB member and good friend (along with our number one canine visitor) Sian Healy showed how the tour made Quentin Blake’s work more accessible to people with visual impairments.

“Through the description that the guide gave us of what was in the picture,” she said. “I could piece it together and know what I was seeing. I got the feel of the whole energy of the painting. And that’s what Quentin Blake can give, that energy”.

Sian also said some very kind things about her role in helping us develop these tours, proving that, although we still have a lot to learn, we’re certainly on the right track.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being involved, getting to know the staff here, getting to know more about the Museum …It’s been lovely to have this sort of response from the Museum who have really embraced the idea of making the Museum accessible with these tours.”

Our audio description tours run once every other month. For more information and future dates, please call (029) 2057 3240.

The @CardiffCurator Twitter account tweets the latest news, research and events from the Natural Sciences Department at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. This can be anything from shells, insects, plants and fossils to minerals and birds. From specimens in our collections, to an insight of the research that happens every day just beyond the museum gallery walls. So what are our followers most interested in?

Here's a look back at the TOP TWEET and TOP MEDIA TWEET of each month during 2016 from the the account: TOP TWEETS 2016

 

Sometime at the beginning of the Bronze Age, about 2,250 to 2,000 BC, some people walked through the wetlands where Swansea Bay now lies. Perhaps they used one of the wooden trackways which had been laid across the wet ground, parts of which can still be seen when the tide is out.

They had with them a special object, a fine flint dagger, a piece of exquisite workmanship made by an expert craftsman. The dagger was part of a Europe-wide culture, and was perhaps an important part of their identity.

For some reason the precious object was dropped; perhaps by accident, but more likely left as a deliberate offering in shallow water in a place of special significance.

Rediscovery

The dagger remained submerged, first in the water, and then, as the environment changed, in peat beneath the sands of Swansea Bay, for four millennia. Then, in 1971, a student, Paul Tambling and his girlfriend, Angela, were walking across the bay and saw it sticking out of the sand.

They picked it up and took it home, and it became a treasured object once more, associated with happy memories and a unique symbol of their relationship.

Reporting

Early in 2016 Paul and Angela heard of a flint knapping demonstration being held at Cyfarthfa House Museum in Merthyr Tydfil and decided to take their dagger along to show an expert.

The flint knapper recognised the dagger’s significance and it was reported to Mark Lodwick, the Portable Antiquities Scheme finds co-ordinator at Amgueddfa Cymru.

The dagger was identified as a ‘Beaker Dagger’, more commonly found in south-eastern England, often accompanying high-status burials, with only four other examples known of in Wales.

The discovery was exciting, and Mark contacted Paul and Angela, who brought the dagger in for recording and told him their story.

Recreation

Ideally, an object of this importance would belong in a public collection in a museum, but it is understandable that Paul and Angela want to keep it, given its personal significance to them.

Happily, a solution has been found in the form of flint-knapper Karl Lee, who attended Swansea Museum’s Welsh Museums Festival event in October and made a replica for display in their galleries.

It will now become a part of Swansea Museum’s Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay project, which invites communities to respond to the deep history of the bay through the many archaeological items found there by members of the public.

Here at the Mary Gillham Archive Project hub we’ve recently begun ‘timehopping’ on social media.

This involves using Mary’s detailed writings to find out what she was doing on today’s date, so many years ago, and then posting it on Twitter and Facebook (i.e. “on this date, in this year, Mary was doing this…”). It’s an interesting way to learn about Mary’s life history and see the many activities that she got up to in her day-to-day life.

A recent and particularly intriguing timehop posted on 16th October described how on that day in 1982, Mary witnessed the enormous humpback whale lying washed up on Gilestone beach at Aberthaw, near the Power Station.

This sparked the interest of many and after a twitter conversation with National Museum Cardiff it turns out that the bones of the whale are now on display at the museum, right here in Cardiff! This means that you can still visit this gigantic sea mammal today and see a part of Welsh history with your own eyes, just like Mary did.

Crowds on Aberthaw Beach

For those fortunate enough to be there in 1982 Aberthaw, the experience was an unforgettable one.

In her archive, Mary explains that it was almost “impossible to photograph the whale” due to the thousands of people congregating to get a glimpse.

The coastguard had tied the tail of the whale to a large iron post in the ground with ropes (to prevent the animal from washing back out to sea).

Mary describes how she got the chance to hold one of the whale’s gigantic flippers while Piers Langhalt, formerly of National Museum Cardiff, cut the large barnacles from the animal. These same barnacles can be found preserved at the museum, alongside the whale!

One volunteer on the Mary Gillham Archive Project, Julia Banks, recalls the “overpowering, rotting smell” of the beached whale that she witnessed as a young child. Julia visited the scene with her parents and remembers joining the masses of locals all gathering for the unusual sight, as well as seeing a group of people measuring the whale in order to figure out its age.

Julia also remembers visiting National Museum Cardiff when the skeleton was put up on display, and “feeling proud that [their] whale was in the museum”.

For more of the story and info on how the whale was managed by National Museum Cardiff, why not take a trip to the museum to see for yourself how it stands today?

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is a Heritage Lottery funded project at South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre
For more info about the project visit our website: https://marygillhamarchiveproject.com/the-project/