The upstairs of the museum feels very quiet now that the Wonders of the Peak Gallery and Gallery 1 are closed. Behind the doors however, there has been a hive of activity.
The cave area of the Wonders of the Peak Gallery
We have begun the process of decanting all the objects that were on display in the Wonders of the Peak Gallery into Gallery 1. This process involves condition checking, photographing and packing each object and then documenting its new location on our Modes database (our collections management system). There are over 1000 objects that need to go through this, ranging from tiny Neolithic beads to a large Roman altar and of course, the bear. This will be a lengthy and at times monotonous task but luckily we have a great team of volunteers who are assisting us.
Many of the objects will end up back on display in the new gallery but until then they need to be stored securely and we need to be able to lay our hands on them quickly.
Introducing the ‘Project Space’ formerly known as Gallery 1
Gallery 1 has been transformed into the ‘project space’ and this will be open to the public next month so you can come and see what we are up to.
Last week I met with Adrian Farmer and Sukie Khaira from the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site to discuss the possibility of creating a digital mobile trail. Our initial thought is to create a walking trail that begins at Matlock Bath railway station and ends at Cromford station.
Matlock Bath Station ‘then and now’
This route would take people past some of the key sites including Arkwright’s Masson Mill, Cromford Mill and the Cromford Canal as well as giving a glimpse upstream to Matlock’s High Tor. Other places of interest on this route include the Peak District Mining Museum, the Lovers Walk footpaths alongside the Derwent, Willersely Castle and a potential detour to Cromford Village.
Buxton Museum holds varied collections relating to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site including objects that it bought as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Collecting Cultures’ project. This included art works of the area and early souvenirs such as this porcelain cup and saucer made by the Derby Porcelain Company in 1795. The cup shows a view of Little Eaton while the saucer shows an image of ‘Sir Richard Arkwright’s Mill at Cromford’.
Big Picture Show
Yesterday I had a meeting at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) North where I had the opportunity to have a look around their galleries. I visited the museum about five years ago but spent the majority of my time in the temporary exhibition, so I was looking forward to seeing their permanent gallery. Martin, an Interactor at the museum gave us a whistle-stop guided tour pointing out some of their star objects. While we were in the gallery a ‘Big Picture Show’ started and the space was suddenly transformed with sound and images. It was a really moving experience to see the gallery flooded with images of soldiers who had died in the line of duty, both in recent conflicts and from WWI. The images were accompanied by audio and interviews from friends and families focusing on specific soldiers, giving a snapshot into the devastation caused by their death – a single death in a sea of faces. It was a very moving and immersive experience and changed the atmosphere of the gallery completely.
After speaking to Martin it turns out that the IWM North and our ‘Wonders of the Peak’ have something in common. Martin explained that the building designed by Daniel Libeskind in 2002 was purposely created to cause disorientation and at times uncertainty for the visitor, mirroring the emotions of war. While these emotions were not intentional in the ‘Wonders of the Peak’, some visitors have complained of them and a general feeling of claustrophobia. It was interesting to speak to Martin about this and he explained that once Libeskind’s design is explained to visitors they ‘got it’ and enjoyed the experience, so I guess it all comes down to expectations and information – something to bear in mind for our redevelopment.
Just a floor….
I thought the smaller images that were projected around the main gallery worked really well and this is something that could work at Buxton, especially when trying to explain geological time. You could have creatures (pre-fossilised) projected onto the walls giving an insight into the changing environment of Derbyshire, from tropical seas to Ice Age beasts. It would add a bit of drama to the gallery and keep it dynamic and fun.
For me the most daunting, but exciting element of the Collections in the Landscape project is the redevelopment of the Wonders of the Peak Gallery. We’ve blogged about the redevelopment quite a lot and been on various fact finding trips to other institutions, most recently to the newly redeveloped Manchester Central Library.
Meeting with designers
Yesterday we had a meeting with three designers who have all put forward ideas for what the new gallery might look like. It was really exciting to see the designs and it has made the development suddenly feel very real.
The current gallery is a chronological time tunnel, which takes visitors from the big bang through to the Victorian period. It is windy and dark (windy as in wiggly, not blusterous), with many stud walls and areas of false ceilings, making it difficult to envisage as a blank space.
The current Wonders of the Peak floorplan.
We intend to open up the gallery making it less claustrophobic and more accessible, while still trying to make the most of its small dimensions. We are still in the very early stages and will not be finalising designs or companies until next year, but it has given us something to think about.
Ideas for the new gallery
We’ve recently reclaimed a small area of the Museum foyer to display some of our lovely Buxton objects. Many of these feature in our Buxton Waters app, but we’ve also managed to squeeze in some additional objects too.
On display there are souvenir programmes for the Well Dressing Festivals, prints and ceramics, a miniature of Martha Norton and an array of Buxton Water bottles.
We’ve also put some of our favourite Buxton pictures up, including David Russell’s Exterior of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and a watercolour of the Thermal Baths from c. 1850s.
We are experimenting with getting our collections out and about on different online platforms. We currently use twitter, facebook , three blogs and a YouTube channel, with a varying degree of regularity and success.
Our newest venture is HistoryPin. HistoryPin allows users to ‘pin’ images, audio and text to maps, creating singular points of interest or curated trails. Our first foray has been to pin the images and texts from our ‘Stories of Shopping’ onto Spring Gardens in Buxton. Let us know what you think.
We are hoping to add audio soon and also create trails using the content from our other apps. It is early days for us, but it would be great if we could get more of our collections accessible online. Reading Museum have an impressive array of pinned collections and have created tours such as their ‘Three B’ tour which takes in flower Bulbs, Beer and Biscuits.
We are now racking our brains for suitably alliterative tour names… Wells, Water and Women? Flints, Firesteels and Faunal remains? We’ll let you know how we get on.
Earlier this week we ran a family activity called ‘Design the Wonders’. The idea was for children to have a wander around the Wonders of the Peak and choose their favourite object. Ben, acting as the glamorous assistant would photograph the object for them – you can spot him in the reflection below. The child then glued it to their nicely decorated worksheet and described why they had chosen the object, why they liked it and what they wanted to know more about.
Piping the bear to the top spot was the Liffs Low skeleton… ‘I’ve never seen a skeleton before’. With some kids wanting to know how he died and how long he had been buried for? The children proved to be a macabre lot with the skulls also proving popular.
Less predictably was the spear appreciation club; It is awesome ‘because they were used’ and it prompted the question ‘what did cave men kill?’
It wasn’t all morbid. The mermaid was chosen ‘because she looks like Aerial’ – she doesn’t and actually I guess she could almost be classed as another dead thing. But there was an appreciation for the Blue John and a piece of amethyst ‘because it is coloured pink and purple and these are my favourite colours’.
As well as being a fun activity it was interesting for us to see what objects the children were passionate about. We will be thinking about their responses in our design ideas for the Wonders of the Peak gallery.
One thing that really came across was that the children wanted to know the personal stories of the objects. What would the Liffs Low man have looked like? Whose skull was it? How and why did he die?
I have seen reconstructed skulls on TV and in museums, so this might be something we look at doing here in Buxton. What do you think?
You can see information on the reconstruction of Liverpool Museums Leasowe man here and National Museum Wales’ Penywyrold head here.