End of an Era – Stripping out the Wonders of the Peak

“You’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette”

That’s how the old saying goes, but still I must admit to having mixed feelings as I watch the strip out of the old Wonders of the Peak gallery. On one hand it’s an incredibly exciting time as the fake walls and ceilings are removed – but it’s still sad to see the old displays being dismantled.

I won’t go over old ground in explaining how and why we’ve decided to make these changes – they’ve already been summed in some of our previous posts.

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/design-ideas-for-the-new-gallery/

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/wonders-of-the-peak-gallery/

The low, winding tunnels of the old gallery are actually constructed within two large rooms. More and more of the original space is being opened up each and every day. We’ve been keeping a photo diary of the progress. My intention is to publish a series of slideshows at the end of the project – to show the changes that have taken place from certain viewpoints.

Just for you, here is a sneak peek of the story so far.

Recent visitors to the museum will have discovered the Buxton Bear has moved to the Project Space. Here’s a reminder of where he used to be, and what it looks like now. The stalagmites and stalactites have also been removed. Not many people realise they were real cave formations.

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These next images show the old Georgian Room, and what you can see from the same viewpoint today.

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The Roman Displays were perhaps some of the most iconic in the old gallery. Here’s a view of the roman altars looking towards the fire exit.

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And above it all, hidden for over 25 years, THIS ceiling.

THAT ceiling

Visit us in the Project Space to find out more about the new gallery design or our exciting digital plans. The new gallery, Wonders of the Peak: A Journey through Time and Place, is currently scheduled for a ‘soft opening’ in April 2017, so make a note in next year’s diary and come along to see the exhibits!

 

 

Stone Age Bling

Imagine if a loved one, or friend, picked up a stone and asked you to make from it a piece of jewellery which they could hang around their neck. And, that the only tools available to you to make this would be other similar stones, a selection of animal bones, water, and wood. How would you go about it? How would you shape and smooth the stone? How would you go about creating a hole with which to put the neck lace through without, accidentally, breaking the whole piece?  In an age when the wheel was only just being invented ( believed to be in, either,  Ukraine or Iraq — the jury is still out on that one –) it must have been quite a labour intensive, frustrating, and time consuming task to create what, essentially, is a non essential, luxury item. That person would have to be pretty special!

Neolithic Perforated Stone Pendant. 9 cm x 4 cm

This stone pendant was found at Chrome Hill, Derbyshire and dates back to around 3,500 BC during the late Neolithic Period (Stone Age). The Neolithic period was the age when large stone circles  such as Stonehenge and dolmens like the Bodowyr Dolmen in Wales were first constructed. Although Chrome Hill has no neolithic monuments it is believed to be an important site for both the Neolithic and Bronze age peoples as a possible place of ritual. It is known for its unusual, natural features where the hill resembles a giant, ridge backed, exoskeleton, bulging out of the land beneath the enveloping blanket of the Derbyshire countryside. It is also reported that a remarkable split sunset can be observed at certain angles over Chrome when standing on Chrome’s nearby sister – Parkhouse Hill – during Solstice.

Whether the jewellery piece was the ancient equivalent of a wedding ring or, perhaps, worn by warrior women and men as a battle talisman, or merely used for trade, we can never know. But, like a Rothko painting it confronts us with courage and boldness while within its simplicity lies a much deeper meaning. A meaning that we may never fully grasp in our modern society.

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.

 JP - 20140301_132205

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.  

 

RW 6-14

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.

Digital Interpretation

The use of digital interpretation is a hot topic for museums at the moment, but it’s a difficult thing to get right. As part of Stage 2 in the Collections in the Landscape project we are hoping to redevelop the Wonders of the Peak gallery, and we see digital interpretation as a key part of that. One of the best ways to understand what works and what doesn’t is to go and visit other museums, so that’s what we did! I have to admit that I was a bit of a digi-skeptic when it comes to museums, I visit to see objects not screens, but even I was won over.

Gold Coin of Trajan - This level of detail would be hard to see in normal gallery conditions.

Gold Coin of Trajan – This level of detail would be hard to see in normal gallery conditions.

 

A good reason to use digital is to bring small or hard to view items to life, and make them easier to see. It is hard to see the real detail in a roman coin, especially when there is 20cm of case between you and the object. To get around this visitors often move closer to the case in order to see the object properly, which causes problems for other visitors. I experienced this first-hand when visiting the British Museum’s current exhibition, Vikings: Life and Legend. The objects themselves were incredible but because of their size, and the busyness of the exhibition, it was a struggle to see them sometimes (and I am relatively tall!). The problem was partly the amount of people, which is unlikely to cause the same issues for us, but it was mostly the scale of the objects that made it difficult.

Vikings: Life and Legend. No problem viewing Roskilde 6, but the cases at the back look a little busy.

Vikings: Life and Legend. No problem viewing Roskilde 6 but the cases at the back look a little busy.

 

One of the ways to get around this is by digital interpretation. There was no digital included as standard in the Viking exhibition, however, there were guides on iPhones available to rent. The additional charge put many visitors off, myself included, and only around 3% of people in the gallery were using them. The visitors with guides did seem to be using the space differently and were spending less time at the objects themselves; perhaps they were seeing things the rest of us weren’t. We have thought about designing an app or specific guide for Buxton Museum but the uptake in audio guides is so small that it isn’t practical for a museum of our size. We are also quite interested in touch tables. Although not a fan of digital in galleries, I would have loved a massive touch table in the Vikings exhibition featuring the Vale of York hoard. Not only could it have been used to view the objects in detail but an extra layer of information could have been added, making the objects far more accessible. This could be a useful interpretation tool for the recently acquired Kirk Ireton coin hoard and is already successfully being used for the Staffordshire Hoard.

Ed, Anna and Jess all using the digital interpretation on offer at Archives+

Ed, Anna and Jess putting the digital interpretation at Archives+ through its paces.

 

Archives+, in the Central library in Manchester, have embraced new digital approaches in their redevelopment. They have recently re-opened after a complete redevelopment of the building, funded by Manchester City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. We were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the new space and got to test out their digital offer. As a digi-skeptic and lover of archives I didn’t know what to expect. Archives+ face a different set of challenges to us; archives are hard to work with and difficult to engage people with. Paper is one of the most delicate materials to display, and, for conservation purposes, items can only be exhibited for a limited time. Audio and film archives can be intrusive and annoying in open gallery spaces. Archives+ avoid these problems by having a carefully designed space. Audio and film archives are available in separate booths to the side with directional speakers or headphones, and cases can be changed by a single member of staff.

The Oculus - situated in the centre of the building, it acts as a focal point.

The Oculus – situated in the centre of the building, it acts as a focal point. Audio booths can be seen behind.

 

There is very little original material on display in Archives+; instead they let the digital do the work. You can scroll through maps of Manchester from 1640, or look through the photographic archives of immigrant families. This is an approach that works well with delicate collections. The interactive that impressed us most was the Oculus in the middle of the gallery. It consists of three touch screen terminals that allow visitors to navigate a map of Manchester. The map contains around 50 points of interest and various different topics are covered by these points. The best thing is that everyone can see what and where the users of these terminals are looking at via the central map. We found this really drew people together and made you want to use it as a group. It was a positive visit and we all left feeling motivated about the digital options that are available. Digital seems to work well as a focal point, but is also a good way of making difficult items more accessible. While it should never replace original objects, it can be used to complement and support exhibitions to great effect.

The Journey Begins…

Welcome to Collections in the Landscape!

Over the coming months we’re hoping to develop some really exciting ideas at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. We want to give visitors more choice and more control in how they access and experience our collections.

The concept of the project is to link objects in the museum collections to places in the landscape. Where did that fossil form? Where was that arrowhead discovered? Where did the artist sit to sketch that view? This will be achieved through digital media in the landscape as well through media inside the museum galleries.

Visitors enjoyed seeing real images during 'Pictures in the Landscape'. Will digital work as well?

The ‘Pictures in the Landscape’ successfully brought real images to the landscape. The next step is to offer even more content digitally.

Digital versus Physical

Without wanting to sound clichéd, we’d like to try to blur the boundaries between the digital and physical visit. In the case of somebody who is only ever going to visit us online, don’t we need to ensure they can get as much from this experience as possible?

There’s a rapidly growing argument that says museums need to change to meet the needs of the 21st Century to ensure they continue to be relevant. Like it or not, the future is looking more and more digital. I’m told that by 2020 around 50% of the public will be using smartphones and, as data services improve, so will the speed and online capabilities of these devices.

Of course, whilst this is all very exciting, we cannot escape the fact that museums are centred on real objects. As a result we’ll also be ensuring that the project will improve the displays at the museum with the inclusion of more objects and more choice in terms of how visitors access information whilst in the galleries.

Follow the Story

We’ve been awarded a Stage One Pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund to pilot ideas and develop the Collections in the Landscape project. If successful, we hope to start implementing our plans towards the end of 2014.

This blog will track the work of the project team as we collect ideas and develop pilot schemes. We want to hear what you think about the work we are doing or your own thoughts about how museums should or could embrace the digital age.

Navigate around the site to find out how you can get involved or to find out more information. Alternatively, simply leave us a comment below. Collections in the Landscape – let’s start the conversation.

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