View from the shop floor

This week Polly Redman, currently based at Buxton Museum working on Inspired Collections Retailing, looks at a museum exhibit from a different angle.

 

OK I’ll admit it: when I visit a museum, one of the things I look forward to most is the gift shop. Sometimes I’ll rush through the exhibitions wondering what treasures I could find at the end. A lovely card with that painting I really liked or a uniquely produced item that will remind me of my visit. On occasions I will spend more time in the shop than in the museum itself.

My name is Polly and I will be working with Buxton Museum on its retail offer and the shop. My life at the museum is all about playing shop and is very retail focused. So when I was asked, for a text writing workshop, to take my attention away from the shop and venture into the actual exhibitions and find an object to write about I had a minor panic attack. I decided I would not cheat or take the easy way out and pick something from the shop; hey, those things are objects too! But I would try to find an object from the exhibition that I could link to the shop. To prove that what we have in the exhibition is important enough to sell, give visitors something great to take home with them to remember their visit by and do a bit of cheeky advertising too.

The object(s) I picked for the workshop are from a selection of Ice Age remains titled ‘Adapt, Migrate or Die’ which sounds quite intense and had my attention straight away!

I found out that in 1901 some unique remains were discovered in a small cave near Dove Holes. They tell a story of animals living in these areas about one million years ago, mind-blowing I know, when they were faced with a battle for survival as plants alone were not sufficient to sustain their lives.

Among the remains were the bones of now long extinct beasts such as the Mastodon and Sabre Tooth Tigers. And it begged for the question; how and why did these bones end up in the cave? I bet Sir William Boyd-Dawkins, who presented this collection to the museum, could just picture the scene; the scene of the carnivore and its prey…

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A ferocious Sabre-Tooth Tiger creeping slowly towards a family of Mastodons and stalking his prey. Keeping low to the ground, circling in as closely as possible, sometimes pausing and hoping his cunning partner is distracting the baby Mastodons huge parents enough for it to move away and a bit closer. Raising and lowering his head the Sabre-Tooth judges the distance and angle to then suddenly spring from its cover and mortally wound the young Mastodon calf with its seven inch curved saber-shaped canine teeth dragging it back to the cave for his own family to feed from and survive another day in the harsh Peak climate.

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This fantastical scene and the magnificent Sabre-toothed beast takes me right back to our lovely shop and the wonderfully popular Ice Age items the museum stocks. Where amongst all the shiny gem stones and marvellous minerals the visitors have the opportunity to take home a soft, cute and cuddly but fierce Sabre Tooth Tiger or a Woolly Mammoth. They come in two sizes and make great gifts ready to get little (and large) imaginations running wild with scenes possibly like our own Sir William Boyd-Dawkins.

Pssst, why not consider the museum shop for your Christmas shopping. We have some great stocking fillers for creatures great and small!

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In Sickness and in Health

Some of the staff at Buxton Museum have been struck down by viruses recently. I myself suffered no less than two bouts of man flu just before Christmas. It seems to be an occupational hazard for those who work with the public. I was therefore entertained by a discovery from one of our volunteers last week: Brian turned up a poem about influenza written by none other than Sir William Boyd Dawkins. More famous for his innovative work in the fields of geology and archaeology, Boyd Dawkins is not really known for man flu or poetry.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins. Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins. Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

In an effort to illustrate for you a different aspect of the man’s character, I shall present the poem. Apparently, the following lines are to be sung to the tune of The Spider and the Fly, though I hope you are more familiar with this particular ditty than I.

Have you ever had the influenza, in the sunshine of young May,
When the East wind chills the flowers, as it hurries on its way
From the snowy steppes of Asia, from the Tartar’s sandy plain,
Over valley, over mountain, onwards to the Western Main?

If you have, you’ll know my feeling, as if my feet stuck to the ceiling
Head throbbing, downwards, looking on while boys are flowers stealing,
Or stray dog in garden gambolling is chasing a stray cat,
Or while from open entrance-hall thieves steal my Sunday hat.

Sneezing, wheezing, far from pleasing in my temper or my looks;
Growling, and not far from howling, sit I among my books.
Blinking like sad owl in desert, victim of an idle wish,
Or like pelican, who cannot in the sand find any fish.

The poem was published in the Pall Mall Gazette on May 27th 1891; a curious verse I’m sure you will agree. The vision of Boyd Dawkins blinking like a sad owl in the desert is not something you encounter every day.

Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

On a healthier note, Buxton was once famous as a spa resort. People with various afflictions and ailments would flock here to benefit from the high altitude and natural spring water. The building that houses Buxton Museum and Art Gallery started life as a hydropathic hotel. If you would like to know more, Collections in the Landscape has developed an app on the theme of Buxton Water and you can find it at http://www.buxtonmuseumapps.com/. Also see Jess’ earlier post about the history of Buxton as a spa town.

Creswell Crags

Jess and I visited Creswell Crags this month to brush up on our museum documentation skills. The refresher course was courtesy of The East Midlands Museum Service so thanks to them for investing in the development of the CITL team.

Church Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Church Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Creswell Crags is one of the most important archaeological sites in Britain and has long been on my list of things to see. Unfortunately, it was the 12th of February, a day when the country faced a variety of adverse weather conditions. Jess and I planned a look around the limestone gorge and caves that were occupied by humans as far back as the last ice age. However, the weather resembled that of the last ice age a little too much and we bottled out. I did get chance to look around their impressive new museum and I hope to return. You can plan your own visit here.

Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson collection

Buxton Museum is linked to Creswell Crags: Sir William Boyd Dawkins, the archaeologist and geologist who opened Buxton Museum was a key figure in the early excavations of the caves in 1875. His student and friend, Dr John Wilfriid Jackson, participated in later digs in 1923 and took responsibility for publishing many of the remarkable finds including animal remains and tools and jewellery used by nomadic humans between 55,000 and 10,000 years ago. This image of a mammoth’s milk teeth is from Jackson’s collection of lantern slides. It amuses me to learn that such a large and fearsome creature had milk teeth but it stands to reason when you think about it; they are mammals after all.

Mammoth milk molars, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson

Mammoth milk molars, Creswell Crags, J.W. Jackson

Back in Buxton, professional photographer Nick Lockett and his brother Steve have returned to provide us with more high-quality images of the collections. We had to figure out how to open more antiquated display cases, remove the objects, transport them to the photographer and put them back again. This process can be a slightly nerve-wracking challenge but I’m pleased to say that the objects remain intact! I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a collections assistant if I wasn’t careful. Needless to say, I would be happy if I never had to move a three foot-tall Ashford Black Marble urn again and Nick equally happy not having to take a shot (ABM is notoriously difficult to photograph). Here’s a picture of me taking credit for the great photography.

Rejected from Beegees tribute band but nonetheless happy

Rejected from Beegees tribute band but nonetheless happy

If you want to help us develop our technology and the future of the museum, you can volunteer to test our brand new apps https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/buxton-projects-information/

Two familiar faces at Manchester Museum

A fortnight ago the Collections in the Landscape team visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and Manchester Museum. We wanted to see how these museums use interactive and digital technology within their galleries. I expect we’ll be blogging quite a bit about our visit but I thought I’d kick it off by introducing two familiar faces. 

Ancient Worlds gallery at Manchester Museum

Ancient Worlds gallery

Sir William Boyd Dawkins and J. Wilfrid Jackson both take a starring role in Manchester Museum’s Ancient Worlds gallery. The gallery and accompanying app focus on archaeology, inlcuding local artefacts as well as those from Egypt and further afield. It also highlights the archaeologists and collectors who found and donated these objects.

Sir William Boyd Dawkins at Manchester Museum

Sir William Boyd Dawkins at Manchester Museum

Dawkins and Jackson were both curators at Manchester Museum and the Museum holds thousands of their artefacts including the majority of the bone material that Dawkins collected from Creswell Crags in the 1880s. These two cave hunters are of particular interest to us at Buxton Museum, as we hold their personal archives, along with some of their collections. In fact William Boyd Dawkins opened Buxton Museum and Art Gallery in 1928 and our Boyd Dawkins Study Room remains one of our most popular galleries.

William Boyd Dawkins Study Room at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

William Boyd Dawkins Study Room at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

The Ancient Worlds app at Manchester Museum gives further layers of interpretation to the exhibition. Many of the labels included a four digit code which you input into the app, unlocking further information e.g an interactive 3D image of the objects or an audio accompaniment. We thought some of these worked better than others, but overall it was interesting to see how apps can be used in-gallery to supplement more traditional approaches. 

Object label with the 4 digit code to unlock further infomation via the Ancient Worlds App

Object label with the 4 digit code to unlock further infomation via the Ancient Worlds App

A big thanks goes to Brian who took these photos for us after my camera battery died.  Brian has been working for the last four years on  Jackson’s archive at Buxton Museum.  You can find out more about Jackson and his correspondence on our website.