“Melt”

We recently ran a prehistoric bronze casting workshop with Creeping Toad – who has captured the moment in his poem, ‘Melt’.

Don’t splash,
Don’t spill,
Contain the excitement as the crucible lifts,
A magma pool in a mug.
Glowing,
Glowing,
I understand Incandescence now.

Shaped in sand and oil,
Pressed and hammered,
Malleted into form
And bound,
A dungeon for a trickle of dragon blood,
Or maybe a chalice to receive the waters of the sun.

It’s over in a moment.
A long, slow pulsing burn,
Sighing bellows,
Well-worked muscles.
A long, slow melt,
A long, slow gathering of hope,
Determination.
The fierce intention of ceremony in this.
Concentration,
Concentrated consideration.
Watch,
Wait.
Listen to the hot breathing of leather lungs.

Charcoal glows,
Building heat upon heat,
It must build, it must grow,
The heat must hold
To incubate an infant sun.
We know what we are doing,
Well taught.
The promise held and guided.
We are told, informed,
Photographed.
Sensible 21st century people, us,
And we can feel the wonder,
Sense the enchantment,
The sheer excitement of metal melting.

We pour our molten bronze
A brief libation to Vulcan, to Hephaestus
To the Dwarves who shaped the Brisingamen
To Goibniu in the Hollow Hills
To Wayland in his Smithy
No wonder blacksmiths became special people.

And in seconds,
We’ve poured.
Fire drawn into metal.
We’ve cracked the mould.
We’ve cooled the bronze,
And in seconds,
It lies.
Treasure and glory and wonder,
In our hands.

Read more and see pictures from the day at Creeping Toad’s blog below:

http://creepingtoad.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/shaping-bronze.html

 

Pictures in the Landscape returns

This week, as well as being the Derbyshire schools half-term holiday, the Discovery Days festival is being celebrated across the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. When we were asked to join in, we wanted to find a way to use the museum collections in a different setting.  We don’t have many objects that relate to the mills themselves but we do have some wonderful images of the local area.

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Cromford, taken from the Bridge. Watercolour by William Day, 1789.

 

Cromford has been attracting visitors since the 1700s, when artists came to paint the landscape and tourists came to admire the industrial innovations taking place at the mills. The images in the museum collection span the period from then until the 20th century, with the landscape reproduced in paintings, drawings, engravings and photographs.

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Engraving, published by Rock and Co, 1852

This is also a revival of a project that first took place in Dovedale in 2010 as part of the Derbyshire Literature Festival. This time round, we found 16 images of Cromford to reproduce and they have been hung along the short section of the canal from Cromford Wharf to Leawood Pumphouse, a route which is easily accessible and much used by local residents, day visitors and tourists.

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Pictures in the Landscape: Cromford, 22-30 October 2016

We hope everyone will enjoy seeing some historic views of Cromford along the canal during Discovery Days – and, if they haven’t been before, take the opportunity to visit Cromford Mills and High Peak Junction at either end to make it a real day of discovery.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery would like to thank our friends at Derbyshire Countryside Service, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and Cromford Mills for their help with all our Discovery Days events.

The BIG Project Update – 2016!

It’s been almost a year since we announced that our Stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund had been successful. We were faced with the both the joy and the horror of having to actually do the extensive list of work and activities that we’d set out in the bid!

After a slow start doing all the necessary recruiting, planning and procuring, things are really starting to gather pace. So it’s the perfect time to update all of our friends, partners and followers about where we’re at.

As some of you might know, the project has two goals – the refurbishment of the Wonders of the Peak gallery, and the extension of museum content online and into the landscape.

1. Wonders of the Peak

The old gallery is now officially closed and is currently being decanted into the Project Space. This means the collections are undergoing a rigorous process of condition checking, photography and packing.

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Empty cases? Acid-free tissue? The gallery decant has begun!

Meanwhile we’re working with our partners and designers to agree the concept design for the all-new Wonders of the Peak. Curators are also getting in touch with partner museums and institutions about some star loan objects. In some cases this means bringing Derbyshire objects home for first time since their discovery.

As the gallery work progresses you can visit and talk us in the Project Space, which is now open, but there’s more on that below…

2. Digital Access

In the project bid we imagined two types of digital access. ‘Pocket Wonders’ were phone and tablet friendly and could be accessed from the landscape. ‘Armchair Wonders’ would be accessed from home, and give more depth and detail to the collections.

Working with our digital designer, it’s clear that our online solution will be much more flexible than the two choices outlined above. The ‘digital experience’ will be an intuitive website that gives you different levels and types of content based the your situation and preferences. For example, where are you? What type of device are you using? How much internet connectivity do you have? Have you visited before and, if so, what have you already told us interests you?

From this, and similar information, you will be able to find out about the collections you are interested in, and plan your own journey into the Derbyshire landscape.

This solution will offer both the ‘Pocket Wonder’ and ‘Armchair Wonder’ concepts we’d originally imagined, but also offer a whole ranges of experiences in between.

And yes, there will be downloadable content. If you’ve ever tried to use a mobile phone in Dovedale then you’ll know why this is so important…

But the online news doesn’t stop there. We’re also going to be launching and testing an online catalogue for our website. So everyone from the curious web surfer to academic researchers can search an ever-increasing collections database. As we iron out the creases, more and more data from our museum documentation  database (Modes) will be available to search online, or be downloaded and used as open data (under a Creative Commons BY-NC license).

The Project Space

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The Project Space in all its glory.

Finally, we can’t wait to welcome you to the Project Space, an area where visitors can see some of our amazing collections, find out more about the project, and meet the team face-to-face. We’re really interested to hear your views on a range of subjects and to get your feedback on the work we’re doing.

The Project Space will open to the public on 16 February, with free half-term family activities all week. It will be open until September 2017 – hosting a range of activities for you to join in with. Keep in touch with us through our Facebook or Twitter for more information, or sign up to our mailing list.

Who’s Who

In the last 12 months we have recruited staff and volunteers and a team of specialists to help deliver the project. We are pleased to be working with:

Project Managers – Rex Proctor & Partners

Gallery Designers – Redman Design

Digital Designer – Ben Bedwell (Digital Economy Consultants Ltd, in partnership with the University of Nottingham Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub)

Copy Editor – Pete Brown

Project Evaluators – Innovate Educate

Marketing Plan – Jen Francis

Workshop Facilitator – Gordon Maclellan (Creeping Toad)

Artists in Residence – Kidology

Education Specialist – currently recruiting

HLF Monitor – Janince Bowman

HLF Mentor – Fiona Marshall

…as well as our many partners and supporters.

 

 

 

 

Going Underground

There’s only so much we can do for the project from behind a desk. We also need put on our walking boots and get into the landscapes that we want to tie closer with the collections. Last week I was lucky enough to join partners from National Trust in a tour of Fox Hole Cave.

The cave is high up the steep sides of High Wheeldon, a dome-shaped hill that dominates the landscape near the border between Derbyshire and Staffordshire, close to the village of Earl Sterndale. The museum holds a significant amount of material from the site, some of which will be described below. I’ve visited the area many times, climbing High Wheeldon as a youngster and staring into the gated entrance, pondering what secrets might lie inside. But this would be the first time I ever had the chance to venture into its depths.

Getting ready - High Wheeldon in the background

Getting ready – High Wheeldon in the background

Our guide, Paul, handed us our hardhats and lamps before leading us up the steep slopes of High Wheeldon. The cave entrance is tucked away and easy to miss. The site was rediscovered in 1928 when a dog disappeared down what appeared to be a fox hole. A boy, crawling in pursuit, returned clutching a bear skull and news that the ‘fox hole’ was in fact a cave. Early excavations followed, uncovering the bones of a brown bear, Neolithic pottery, stone tools and a bronze wire armlet identified as Roman.

Venturing into the dark...

Venturing into the dark…

We carefully lowered ourselves through the unlocked gate into the entrance chamber. We followed the passage into the First Chamber. Paul described the layout of the cave and pointed out clues to its formation. The entrance passage was a distinctive keyhole shape, indicating it had been formed by a high pressure stream of water creating a tube in the rock. Later, as the flow lessened, it carved a trough in the base of the tube.

It was in the entrance of the cave, and the passage leading to the Main Chamber, that most evidence for human activity had been discovered. Evidence indicates the cave was used in phases, from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Romano-British period, perhaps becoming lost then rediscovered many times. Highlights include worked antler points, dated to the Late Upper Palaeolithic, and pottery sherds and hearths associated with the Beaker culture.

Worked stone and antler from Fox Hole Cave, now on display at Buxton

Worked stone and antler from Fox Hole Cave, now on display at Buxton

I could rattle on about discoveries at Fox Hole for some time, and there’s plenty more to discuss. If you’d like to know more I’d recommend checking out the Derbyshire HER record. It’s also worth keeping your eye on the Buxton Museum website, where we’ll soon be launching an online catalogue of our collections, including objects from the cave.

A lot of material has been excavated from the entrance chambers and passages. A line of carved dots on the wall indicated the original level before excavations began in the late 1950s. This wouldn’t be first the ‘archaeology of archaeology’ we encountered.

Dots carved to mark the original height of cave deposits

Dots carved to mark the original height of cave deposits

Venturing into the Main Chamber we imagined how prehistoric cavers may have experienced the space, turning off our torches and lighting a solitary candle. The gentle orange light transformed the space, deepening the shadows but providing a more diffuse light than the harsh, directional glare of our head torches. How would only ever experiencing a cave by firelight affect your perception of the space?

Here we also found more ‘archaeology of archaeology’, the remains of a cable system used by the Peakland Archaeological Society to haul sediments to the entrance for sorting.

Studying the remains of the cable haulage system

Studying the remains of the cable haulage system

Next the cave offered us into two routes. First we pressed straight ahead to the end of the cave. The passage grew lower and tighter as we progressed and we soon ended up on all fours, crouched in a tiny space as far as any sensible human being could go. Amazingly, the mud and stone in which we were sitting was littered with tiny bone fragments from small mammals and amphibians. I learnt this is often referred to as ‘Frog Earth’.

Retracing our steps to the Main Chamber we turned left and followed the passage to Bear Chamber, so called because of the bone material recovered here in the past. Even recent tours had spotted bear remains, so we were all keeping our eyes peeled for a bear skull peeking through the mud. No luck this time though. In fact the only thing we found was a long abandoned trowel, ‘archaeology of archaeology’ again!

Passing around a bear tooth in Bear Chamber

Passing around a bear tooth in Bear Chamber

The bone material from Fox Hole far outweighs the artefact count. Some of the animal remains recovered are particularly ancient and include lion, horse and reindeer, as well bear. None of these were still roaming wild in Britain last I checked.

After a thoroughly enjoyable and informative scramble underground I didn’t really think the afternoon could get any better. Then we emerged to this view:

No words required...

No words required…

Although the cave is usually locked to protect it’s important archaeological value, National Trust can arrange access to the site and run a number of public tours throughout the year. You can find out more by calling the White Peak Estate Office on 01335 350503 or find out more on the National Trust White Peak website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-peak/.

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Blue John – New Partnerships

In this post Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood, introduces a new partnership with Treak Cliff Cavern and Buxton Artclubs Artbox, supporting Made in Derbyshire.

In one of my earliest conversations with my mother-in-law she told me how much she loved Blue John, the unique blue, purple, yellow and white stone from just two mines above Castleton in the Hope Valley.  So she is very envious that I look after the Buxton Museum collection. The ornaments which bring ‘oohs!’ and ‘aahs!’ from visitors, include the silver mounted milk pail – surely a sugar bowl? –  dated 1803, and the narrow window attributed to John Tym from the middle of the 19th century, as well as unworked specimens, some huge boulders and many small hand specimens (not all of which are pretty!)

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Silver-mounted ‘milk pail’, made from Blue John, dated 1803

So if anything is ‘Made in Derbyshire’ it must be Blue John. Formed within the limestone, Blue John is a fluorite. It is not very hard (only 4 on Moh’s Scale of hardness).  The cubic crystals grow in veins through which the distinctive purple and blue layers alternate with white and yellow, providing zig- zag stripes of various intensities. This colour combination makes it attractive for ornaments and jewellery despite being quite a fragile material. There are many ideas of how the colour comes into the stone, whether this is impurities within the fluid, the introduction of hydrocarbons or the occurrence of radioactivity. None really satisfy the mineralogists, yet!

A piece of unworked Blue John from the museum collections

A piece of unworked Blue John from the museum collections

Recently, the museum was offered the opportunity to commission an artwork as part of the Made in Derbyshire campaign. What better suggestion then to explore a commission of worked Blue John to be included in the museum’s new displays.  I invited Vicky Harrison of Treak Cliff Cavern with Gary Ridley and Jack Mosley to discuss the possibilities while looking at the museum’s collection, particularly the unworked Blue John, and then artist Caroline Chouler -Tissier and I went over to Treak Cliff Cavern. It was one of those amazing autumn days and the view as we walked up to the cavern of the Hope Valley was spectacular, in the warm October sunshine.

The view from Treak Cliff Cavern

The view from Treak Cliff Cavern

The view from the workshop was equally captivating, but soon we were deeply interested in learning how Blue John is worked, taking a friable material and making it into artefacts as thin as glass.

In the workshop

In the workshop

Caroline and I were taken through the Cavern, and chanced to see the amazing Witch that flies through it as well as the newly discovered Ridley vein of Blue John, named for Gary Ridley. Meanwhile we discussed our ideas and plans.

To celebrate several events – Made in Derbyshire; Collections in the Landscape and even as an advance 125th birthday present for Buxton Museum (in 2018), the museum is commissioning two exciting new pieces of worked Blue John for the collections.  Importantly, much of the work will be made by people under 25, a chance to learn about geology, engineering, art, and something unique to Derbyshire, all at one time.

Jack has been asked to turn a new chalice for the museum, made from the Ridley vein.  Jack has been working Blue John for three years, and this exciting commission will mean his work will be in the museum collections for all to see. We hope to film him making of it.

Jack at work

Jack at work

Meanwhile we will work with members of Buxton Artbox Artclubs to make the first Blue John window for over 100 years, following in the creative imagination of John Tym.  The Artbox members will visit the cavern and help in the workshop to select material for slicing and polishing. Supported by their artist-in-residence, Caroline, they will suggest ideas of what the finished window may look like. Here at the museum we will look in the vaults at some of the specimens which outwardly look very dull which may find a new life in the window

This will be an exciting creative programme with lively input from many young people. Its early days yet, and everyone is very excited to get things on their way. We will keep you updated through the Collections in the Landscape blog as the work takes shape.  We may need your help to wet-and-dry the Blue John slices – Vicky tells us its takes a long time, but it could be good fun!

 

Refloating the Ark

Hello…again

I’m very pleased to be back at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery and to be involved once more in Collections in the Landscape. I’d only been at my desk for a couple of days last week when I was whisked away to attend a conference hosted by Manchester Museum.  Refloating the Ark explored the role natural history collections can play in engaging the public with environmental issues, and also how they can contribute to, and attract, new research.

Collections in the Landscape is all about connecting people with museum collections and the Derbyshire landscape. We want to foster a sense of place, and an appreciation and pride in our heritage. Speakers at the conference spoke of ‘Nature Connectedness’, when people feel like part of a wider, natural community. There’s much to gain from this vision, and in our project we certainly do want to connect people with the environment, both the natural and man-made elements . Can we call this ‘Derbyshire Connectedness?’ Suggestions on a postcard please…

 

Participants explore the barrow built in the bank at Arbor Low

We got people exploring the great outdoors during the project’s development phase. In this photo some of our volunteers are enjoying the natural and archaeological features around Arbor Low.

You can find out more about what happened, who spoke, and about what, through the link below:

https://naturemanchester.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/refloating-the-ark-detailed-conference-programme/

And you can see what everyone else thought on Twitter, #RFArk

There was simply too much to cram into a single blog post, so here’s a short list of some of the lessons learnt that were most relevant to Collections in the Landscape.

Contact with nature is good for you…and the environment

Ok, so we all know that getting out and about in the great outdoors is a good thing. But speakers at Refloating the Ark really managed to sum up the positive impact that a project like Collections in the Landscape could have.

Contact with the natural environment is good for physical and mental health, learning, and also our relationships with each other. People spending time in outdoor spaces are also more likely to hold pro-environmental views, so nature gets something out of it too.

Appeal to hearts, not just minds

Evidence shows that facts alone are not enough if you want to engage people to act, or respond to, your messages. You got to appeal to people’s love, awe or wonder for something. This approach turns a passive respect or appreciation into a more passionate, engaged experience that is more likely to provoke a response and interaction.

So understand your audience, what are their values and motivation, what will make them say, ‘wow!’?

Great objects displayed well can really help appeal to visitors love or wonder for a subject - like these specimens in Manchester Museums  Natures Library gallery.

Great objects displayed well can really help appeal to visitor’s love or wonder for a subject – like these specimens in Manchester Museum’s Nature’s Library gallery.

If you want researchers to find you, DIGITISE!

Where do we all turn when we want to find something out? The internet of course! Getting data online is a major step in attracting new research into your collections. Make your data easy to find. Speakers even mentioned examples of new, scientific discoveries that had been made by researchers exploring museum’s online data. So don’t hold back!

We’re moving towards making our own collections available online, so watch this space for future news and updates.

Volunteering, but not as we know it

Finally, the concept of museum volunteering is being transformed, and there’s lots of good practice to be found within the natural history community. Citizen Science projects provide online platforms where members of the public can create or process data in response to a research question.

A very successful example is Old Weather, in which online volunteers are asked to study digitised pages from 19th century ship’s logs and pick up reference to weather. This project has helped to improve our understanding of historic weather patterns and has extended the historic data available for climatic research. Participants help digitise and transcribe weather reports, earning points as they do so and progressing in rank from Cadet all the way up to Captain!

Example page from the OldWeather Citizen Science project

Example page from the OldWeather Citizen Science project

Lastly, I’ll take this opportunity to thank the team from Manchester Museum for being excellent hosts who kept us all topped up with food, coffee and inspiring speakers. Refloating the Ark was packed with good ideas, sensible advice and interesting case studies. The next challenge is apply all of this to Collections in the Landscape.