8 Things we Learnt from our Pop up Museum

Whilst Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is closed for refurbishment, the staff have taken the opportunity to do something unusual. Equipped with a rather swanky gazebo and an assortment of artefacts, we have braved the single-figure temperatures and taken our “pop-up museum” out into the landscape. You may have seen us around. Our aim is to tell people a bit about the history of the Peak District and the Collections in the Landscape project. We try to draw attention to the fact that this part of the world was inhabited by brachiopods, mastodons and Romans and how its story can be told through objects. The education worked both ways and we actually learnt a few things ourselves:

Plesiosaurs are reptiles, not dinosaurs

The Peak District was not a land mass at the time of the dinosaurs but there is a piece of fossilised Plesiosaur from Dorset in Buxton Museum’s collection. However, as one clever young man was quick to point out, although these creatures flourished during the Jurassic era, they are classified as reptilian. We knew that – honest!

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There were underground toilets on Buxton Market Place

Many people are interested in how the landscape has changed within their own lifetime. When we popped-up at the Buxton market, we exhibited a few old photographs and residents were reminded of the subterranean water closet that can be seen in this 1929 photograph by J.R. Board. More conveniences were situated at the bottom of The Slopes. Apparently, they were both filled in and tarmacked over in the 1970s.

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Collections Assistant Laura Waters made a couple of observations whilst running the pop-up museum:

Keep it real

I noticed pretty quickly that people weren’t interested in replicas – so when I went with Gordon to Dovedale in half term and I had the replica coins, as soon as people realised they weren’t real they weren’t bothered about them at all: they only wanted to see and handle real stuff.

Look with your fingers

Also people really love just being able to touch things – so parents will come up telling their kids ‘do not touch anything’ or adults will come up really sheepishly assuming you can only look at things and then be amazed to discover that you can handle it all. It’s great to see how happy it makes people being able to actually get hands on with historic objects which isn’t something you get to do very often.

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Events Coordinator Gordon MacLellan, aka Creeping Toad also had some revelations:

Any excuse to talk but we need to listen

Objects are good starting points, but people want to talk as much as listen to us, so we need to be ready to listen to their stories of things found, treasures lost and wonders to be discovered

Connections to immediate environment

Our handling collection largely comes from the Peak District and it helps a lot to have a good sense of just where objects have come from and to be able to talk about those sites. But where objects have come from this immediate location that generates even more reaction; or again being able to talk about artefacts found here is really good for getting people talking and looking beyond the walls of our pop-up museum; being specific helps.

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Have something to do: Mix standing and chatting with an activity

We have drawn huge pictures on long rolls of paper, made boxes to keep personal treasures in, given out clipboards and invited people to go drawings; keep everything active -not everyone will participate but the opportunity is valued

Enjoy the opportunity

Relax, let go of worries about other work not being done and just enjoy meeting people and sharing these fascinating artefacts….

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Keep an eye on our website for more events. If you spot our pop-up museum when you’re out and about, come and say hello and tell us something we don’t know!

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A Pause for thought

The Stage 1 development of Collections in a Landscape is drawing to a close, and as we beaver away making finishing touches to the Stage 2 application I wanted to pull together what the team have got out of the project so far. But fret ye not! The blog will be alive and kicking until we hear about the Stage 2 application, so do not go anywhere.

  ML Martha LawrenceMartha Lawrence

Working in a museum means you have creative ideas for projects every day. Some of them never get beyond the “It’d be great to…” stage. Some of them, however, like Collections in the Landscape, you nurture and grow by discussion with colleagues, applying for funding, expanding the team, exploring new concepts and putting flesh on the bones to make something tangible. Coming to the end of the Stage 1 development year, having let our ideas and dreams develop into something we’ve written down and shared with people, albeit with the caveat “If we get the Stage 2 funding…”, I’m trying not to let myself get too excited about the future, in case our grant application isn’t successful. But, if it isn’t, this year has still been worth every minute and every penny as we’ve seen, done and learned so much. The museum is not the same place it was in August 2012 when the Stage 1 application was submitted.

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Joe Perry

I feel very fortunate to have been swept along on the CITL ride. It’s given me the chance to work with some really interesting technologies and, more importantly, some really interesting people! It’s been a privilege to work with the team and I’ve got my fingers crossed that the hard work we’ve put in leads to great things in the future. My personal highlight was conducting research and app testing at Arbor Low, you really can’t beat a good henge…

 

 BJ - ben's a baby eagleBen Jones

It’s been an honour to serve with the CITL team; their enthusiasm and creativity knows no bounds, and nearly everyone watches Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, which is a bonus. I hope the hard work we’ve done is of benefit to the future of the museum. My favourite part of the project was recording memories of Buxton residents for the Stories of Shopping app. I fear that a lot of knowledge is getting lost because no one is recording or writing it down, so I’ve come out of stage 1 wanting to do more. I’ll also be pestering my managers to give the Randolph Douglas collection a permanent display and trying to persuade them that live medieval combat in the galleries is a good idea.

 

JC Croxden abbey Jess Coatesworth

Collections in the Landscape has been a challenging, fast-paced, educating experience. As a team we’ve been very lucky, we all get on (still!) and have worked really well together; the museum Digital Trails are testament to this. I’ve enjoyed getting to grips with social media and have grown to love Twitter. I know things about fossils that I never thought I would and have spent more time designing things than I would have anticipated. It is good to know that Collections in the Landscape project has benefitted the museum too, adding more detailed records, high quality photography, and improving the museum’s digital presence. There are some really great partnerships developing from this project and, regardless of the success of the Stage 2 application, Collections in the Landscape has introduced a way for us to all work together to publicise the wonderful history and heritage of the Peak District.

 

 AR - DSCF1526  Anna Rhodes

I was a bit daunted when we started Collections in the Landscape as I knew very little about innovative ways to use technology in museums. I was still getting my head around what apps were, let alone knowing how to go about making one. In the end I realise that it is no great mystery and the same skills are needed in both traditional and digital interpretation. The technology side was more accessible than I imagined and I think we sometimes do ourselves a disservice in thinking that we are too ‘museumy’ and won’t be able to grasp the technological side of things. If you had told me a year ago that I would be going into the ‘back end’ of an app to edit it, I wouldn’t have believed you. Oh, and I never thought I’d be such a fan of twitter hashtags, now I just need to get #TrumpetBroochTuesday viral.  

 

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I think the final work should go to the Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood:

 Where has the year gone?

 Collections in the Landscape is not just a project. It brought together many people, the team working here, our colleagues across the council, new partners, regular and new volunteers and experienced, wise advisers.

I always expected it would be an opportunity to learn new skills and see fledgling ideas grow and mature. The bonus has been the accumulation of information on databases and available to our users through a variety of routes. What is reassuring is that that the concept is sound. We have found ways that we can develop these ideas and make the collections available out there, in your pocket or at an internet link near you: your armchair, public library or local internet café.  

 Like all big adventures, there is lots of planning needed, and you make friends along the way. Stay with us – we are on the start of a wonderful adventure in the Peak.

Dovedale, Revisited

Dovedale, Revisited

On a dark, wintery day in November, Anna and I went to Dovedale to try and tackle the problem of what to include in our app. The day reminded us how changeable the Derbyshire landscape can be. In the morning the weather was crisp but cold, I even tweeted about it:

It may be cold but that doesn’t stop us @BuxtonMuseum! Today we go to #Dovedale to think of content for our new app #collectionslandscape

 However, the afternoon soon took a turn for the worse but true to Buxton Museum form we didn’t let that hold us back. Armed with our waterproofs (or not, in Anna’s case) we waded through the flooded path, the nearly submerged stepping stones, and onwards into Dovedale.

The first challenge - navigating the flooded footpath.

The first challenge – navigating the flooded footpath.

The main aim for going to Dovedale was to see how we could link items from our collections with the landscape, and to see what the landscape was like at the points where we have objects. It soon became obvious that we needed to think about this area a little differently. A large amount of our Dovedale collections are either fossils or artwork – how do we tie those in to the landscape in a way that will make it exciting for visitors and families? We decided games and activities would be the most interesting method to use.

Dovedale is traditionally most well-known for its dramatic rock formations. The first rocks we reached were Dovedale castle. One of our colleagues had already suggested renaming the rocks in Dovedale as an activity, so we thought we would give it a go. Anna decided that Dovedale Castle actually looked like a gorilla and chimp sitting together (I couldn’t see it). Next we arrived at the Twelve Apostles. From Lover’s leap these rocks look quite threatening and I didn’t think the ‘Twelve Apostles’ was suitable, perhaps they could be more suitably called ‘The Guardians’ as it looks like they are hiding a big secret. Neither of these areas are well covered by our collection so we moved swiftly on.

Me at Lover's Leap noting down our activity ideas.

Me at Lover’s Leap noting down our activity ideas.

As we descended from Lover’s Leap and made our way to Church Rocks and Reynard’s Cave we were reminded of the tale of Dean Langton, who fell to his death in 1786 whilst cavorting up the hillside with Miss De La Roche. His horse sustained only minor injuries. In full it is a great story and it could work well as audio on our app. Next up were Church Rocks and Tissington Spires. This area was a favourite of artists’ and we have a lot of paintings and prints of here. Could we inspire people to take a photo or make a drawing and share it with us? We would love to see how others view the landscape too, not just 18th Century artists!

Reynard’s Cave is certainly my favourite spot in Dovedale and I have memories of scaling the path up to the cave with ease. Sadly those days are long gone and it is more like a crawl now, but the cave is still a spectacular sight. This is a ‘must –have’ location for our app as Reynard’s Cave is the only site with archaeological remains in Dovedale. We could also get phone signal & 3G here so we can potentially ask more of our app at this point. Anna suggested having a game linking to the archaeology of the cave.

Phone signal! 3G!

Phone signal! 3G!

After battling up stream we arrived at the Straits, a very narrow and overgrown section of the walk. There was such a different feel here that it seemed like we were adventurers. The plant life in this narrow stretch is particularly abundant and you are so close to it – could we have a plant identification activity here? This complements the original purpose of the Dovedale which was to be a nature conservation spot. This ethos is still upheld by the National Trust to this day.

                Pickering Tor and Ilam Rock was our penultimate stop of the day. Here the valley really opens out and you can start to see other areas around Dovedale. This spot was a popular area for activities like fishing and picnicking and with such great views it’s not hard to see why. According to J.W. Jackson, one of Buxton Museum’s main collectors, an old Irish woman used to live in the base of Pickering Tor. The path also splits at this point and offers walkers the chance to cross the river and go up into Hall dale, or continue on to the Dove Holes. We opted for the easier route to Dove Holes.

Me at the Dove Holes.

Me at the Dove Holes.

 The Dove Holes was our final stop. Like a dark set of eyes in the landscape, the caves eyed us suspiciously as we walked closer. Anna and I liked the sense of mystery attached to this spot. We both thought that it would be interesting if there was a story attached to this area, perhaps a sinister tale. We are currently in the process of tracking down stories of the area, however, if you happen to know of any then please get in touch.

At this point we were interrupted by a Tawny Owl telling us it was time to go home. The light was fading fast and we decided the owl was right, it would be a good idea to head back. It was a productive walk and we can only hope that the pilot app is as interesting as our walk through Dovedale. Thanks to Anna for all the photos and for capturing my double chin so nicely. We highlighted a lot of different points in our walk but for our pilot app we will not be using them all. When it is up and running, we would really like to know what works and what doesn’t, as well as if there is anything else you would like to be included. We hope to be trailing the Dovedale part of our app in February half-term and will be looking for volunteers – sign up to our blog or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to here all the latest on the Collections in the Landscape project.

Please note: we would not recommend walking in low-light levels or poor weather conditions, even on good surfaces, as it is potentially very dangerous and you could easily incur an injury. Both Jess and Anna are experienced walkers, are familiar with the area, and were fully aware of the risks before setting out.

Museums Association Conference

Guest post by Ros Westwood

I’ve just attended the Museums Association annual conference which was held this year in Liverpool. Have you been there recently? It is a fabulous city. The conference centre is right alongside the Mersey, and really near some of their iconic museums. I was so busy talking that I’m afraid photographs did not take priority.

I took time out to go to see the Museum of Liverpool. It’s a new building, very bright white, rather than the mellow tones of the Three Graces on the Liverpool waterfront, but internally feels like a Tardis. The staircase loops beautifully around in the centre, drawing your eye upwards.

Photo bt Nathan Stazicker

Photo bt Nathan Stazicker

I didn’t have time to do the whole museum, so the Beatles will have to wait. On the top floor is a gallery called The People’s Republic. It covers the recent history of Liverpool, in the words and artefacts of the people themselves.  As always, I landed up going backwards through the gallery, I think.

It is an object rich gallery, so that you hardly know what to look at, there is so much choice. I wanted one of those devises that maps where your eye is looking, because there was so much to see and it would have been interesting to see the journey across any one of the cases. Actually, for our project, this is an important lesson:  we need to make sure that we don’t put in so much that the visitor doesn’t see anything – an interesting thought when CITL is committed to putting 10% more artefacts on show!

Ashford Black Marble

Our object rich displays in the ‘Wonders of the Peak’ gallery

There were several talking head videos. I thought these would irritate me, but they didn’t. What the people had to say was interesting and moving, and in the quiet of the gallery, you felt the place had people in it. Perhaps if these soundtracks were all restricted under sound hoods, they would not have had the same impact.

The breath-taking view up the waterfront and all the way to America rather steals the show, particularly on a sunny day.

However, I had only nipped out from the conference, and wanted to see Liverpool’s version of the History Detectives on the first floor, covering the arrival of people in the area, again to the present day. Rather than talking heads, here there were quotes instead – and this common interpretation appealed to me. Short extracts supported by succinct interpretation. The objects ranged from stone tools, through to beautiful porcelain, archaeological potsherds form all periods of the city’s history, ephemera and social history. Object labelling was really important to the curators, but often it got in the way of some of the displays. Also, the maps were not as precise as I might like, with assumptions that the visitor knows where every place is. But this is one of the areas that I know we want to do better in the new gallery.

We want to improve the labels in the new gallery!

We want to improve the labels in the new gallery!

Back at the conference, I went around the trade stands looking at display cases and lighting systems, environmental monitoring and the range of digital interpretation currently on offer. With loads of people to talk to and lots of good practice, the ideas and lessons need to be fed into Collections in the Landscape.

Visit to British Geological Survey

On 29th July myself, my colleague Ben and one of our Volunteers Brian visited the British Geological Survey (BGS) to take a few of our fossils specimens for photography and 3D scanning. BGS are coming to the end of a digitisation project called GB3D type fossils, run by Simon Harris and Dr. Michela Contessi and funded by JISC, which has been 3D scanning all the type fossils in museums in the UK. The data will soon be freely available on their website and the results are quite impressive. If you have the equipment the 3D scanned fossils can also then be downloaded and printed on a 3D printer.

The 3D scanner in action

The 3D scanner in action

One of our type fossils being photographed at BGS by Simon Harris

One of our type fossils being photographed at BGS by Simon Harris

Our specimens were particularly small so only one item, a brachiopod, was big enough to be scanned. The other two fossils, holotype and paratype trilobites, were photographed on both sides and the labels of the items were also photographed as a record. It was also a great opportunity for us to learn some tips to improve our own photography, for instance objects should be lit from the top left when photographing.  

BGS retain borehole cores from all over the UK in their massive stores

BGS retain borehole cores from all over the UK in their massive stores

The Victorian cases in the BGS museum stores

The Victorian cases in the BGS museum stores

Whilst there we were also lucky enough to be shown around their museum collections, library and stores by Simon Harris, who will soon be the collections conservator at BGS. We were surprised by the size of their stores – 28,000 trays housing over 3 million specimens, and that isn’t including all the borehole samples they retain! The type, figured and cited collection alone is around a quarter of a million specimens. The museum collections are still kept in wonderful Victorian wooden cases and we were interested to find that they hold several fossils collected by one of the main contributors to Buxton Museum & Art Gallery’s collections, J. W. Jackson.

Specimens collected by J.W. Jackson from Mam Tor, Castleton, Derbyshire

Specimens collected by J.W. Jackson from Mam Tor, Castleton, Derbyshire

As part of the GB3D Type fossil project, later this month there will be a treasure hunt for 3D-printed fossils created from the 3D scans. A printed fossil will be hidden in some of the museums that have taken part in the project and the BGS are inviting visitors to search for the 3D prints and enter the treasure hunt! The treasure hunt will run between 22nd August and 12th September. We will select five winners from the entries at our museum and those winners will get a VIP tour of Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. The winners will also be entered into the grand prize for a chance to win a tablet preloaded with 3D fossils. Details of how to take part will and what to look for will be updated shortly.