Monday, 25 April 2016

Shrivelled hearts and public engagement: a VERVE student placement

Hannah Duckworth, MA Fine Arts from Oxford Brookes University, undertook a work placement at the Museum for 8 days in December 2015 and February 2016. Here are Hannah's thoughts on her time here:

Poster for the LoveAnthro student takeover event
LoveAnthro poster @ Pitt Rivers Museum
"I was so excited, happy and humbled to learn that I would be taking part in a placement at the Pitt Rivers Museum. I didn’t know what to expect, but I did know that it would be extremely beneficial both for me and my art. My time spent working at the museum and being part of the team was incredible. I have gained new skills and confidence in myself.

"Throughout the placement I was involved in a variety of different tasks, including working with the museum database, helping move objects, and helping with events.

"Personally, I liked helping at the LoveAnthro takeover event run by the Oxford University Anthropology Society. It really helped me build my confidence. On the night of the event, I helped with object handling and conducted an object talk. I found the event extremely interesting and the topic well suited to the time of the year, just after Valentine’s Day. Whilst helping with the object handling, I learnt about different cultures from India, Africa to Indonesia. I learnt how each culture represents the themes of love, kinship and marriage in different ways through different objects, such as a brass bowl, shadow puppets and a drum. It was also nice to witness the public’s reaction to holding and learning about these objects in a new and more personal way.

"After the handling, I spoke about a human heart in a lead casket. I felt it suited the theme of the event as it related to the heart and love. I found the heart very interesting and I loved researching about its origin and the story of how it became part of the Pitt Rivers founding collection in 1884. I was very nervous to speak in front of people at first but felt calmer knowing they were interested in what I had to say. At the end of my talk I was extremely pleased with the crowd’s reaction to both the museum and the heart, and was happy to answer any questions they had.

Image showing shrivelled human heart in an open lead casket
Heart in a lead casket, Ireland. PRM 1884.57.18 © Pitt Rivers Museum

"All in all I really loved helping with the event and being able to see a different side to the Pitt Rivers as well as seeing such a beautiful museum lit up at night. Having the ability to interact with such interesting objects allows both the crowd and the staff of the event to connect more closely with different cultures and their past."


Friday, 1 April 2016

Noh to Noah: Highlights from the new Woodworking display

If you've visited the Museum this year and made it up to the first floor (Lower Gallery), you might have seen our new display of Woodworking, part of Phase 2 of VERVE's redisplay plan. Here we take a closer look at some of the objects featured in the display.

Selecting objects wasn't easy. There are literally thousands of objects in the Museum's collections made of wood. We decided that the case would follow themes established in the previous Metalwork display comprising tools, raw materials and finished products to showcase some of the shaping and decorating techniques associated with wood from across the world.

We eventually whittled a long list of 650+ objects down to 190. Using a large table we created a 'mock-up' outlining how the material might be arranged (and to ascertain that it would all fit!)

Pitt Rivers Museum woodwork objects laid out for new display
Woodwork layout © Pitt Rivers Museum











The main sections are concerned with carpentry (including joinery), carving, natural form, pyroengraving, fretwork, and veneer/marquetry.

You can see on the centre-right we've left a space called 'NOH'. This was for the inclusion of three new Noh masks from Japan, specially commissioned by the project from a master craftsman in Tokyo. Hideta Kitazawa's series and notes documented the process of making such a mask, from the selection of 300-year-old Hinoki (Japanese Cypress) wood, to the use of hammers and chisels, urushi lacquer and 30 coats of white oyster-shell paint. The finished mask is a ko-omote mask, depicting a beautiful teenage girl.


Japanese craftsman Hideta Kitazawa chiseling a wooden mask
Hideta Kitazawa making a ko-omote Noh mask for the Museum's displays © Pitt Rivers Museum

This video shows Hideta demonstrating Noh mask carving in Australia in 2015:



Another highlight in the display is a fantastic Noah's ark, known to date to before 1860. Originally thought to have been made in Worcester, comparison with other existing examples indicated that it was more likely made in the town of Seiffen in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) region of eastern Germany. Seiffen has been renowned for its wooden toy industry since the 18th century, and more than half the town's population is still employed in the woodworking trade.

Image of 19th-century German Noah's ark toy with colourful wooden animals
Noah's Ark, Grühainichen, Germany, 19th century PRM 1956.9.70

We included this object to illustrate two separate processes - straw marquetry and tyre-turning. The sides of the ark have been painstakingly covered with glued strips of straw, which have been soaked in water for different lengths of time to produce varying shades of gold and brown. Its 255 animals and birds have been produced using an ingenious method called Reifendrehen ('tyre turning') which enabled the cheap and efficient production of lots of wooden animals. A large disc of fir wood is put on a lathe to create a tyre-like 'Seiffen ring' of 30-50cm diameter,  the cross-section of which takes the form of the desired animal. Small slices are taken from the ring, which are finished and painted by hand. Many of the makers had never seen exotic animals and so used their imaginations to create green hyenas and red camels. We've deliberately placed this object low down in the case so that children can see it.


Museum staff selecting from trays of wooden toy animals
Choosing a selection from the 255 toy animals to display with the ark © Pitt Rivers Museum

Image of a small wooden toy unicorn
This unicorn was not part of a pair. Might it not have made it on to ark, thus explaining its 'extinction'?!

From a series entitled Reifendreher by Johannes Geyer, 2014. Reproduced under the CC BY-NC 4.0 licence

Another example in the 'Marquetry and Inlay' section is this beautiful Qur’an stand from Iran that folds out to an 'X' shape. Folding lecterns, or rahla, are among the oldest and most valuable furnishings in a mosque. Designed to support a large Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, early rahla were often made of luxury woods such as walnut or teak, and decorated with sumptuous inlay or openwork carving. This example is inlaid with wood and gold stars in a geometric pattern.

Detail of the decorative inlay pattern of gold stars on an Iranian Qur'an book stand
Qur'an stand, Iran. PRM 1965.12.46 A © Pitt Rivers Museum


My other favourite object in this case is neither beautiful nor remarkable, but it has a vernacular and rustic charm that is hard to resist. It is a large disc, around 33cm in diameter, carved with concentric circles of Icelandic script. It is a bread stamp, the inscription carved back-to-front so that it would appear the right way around when stamped into the bread dough prior to baking.




Image showing a circular wooden bread stamp from Iceland with inscription, dated 1876
Bread stamp, Iceland. PRM 1900.13.2 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Original view (left) and reversed (right) to enable the inscription to be read 

One of the huge advantages of being part of Oxford University is that it is home to experts in many academic fields. We were thankful to Dr Carolyne Larrington from the Faculty of English, who teaches Icelandic, for her translation of the inscription, which turned out to be a prayer:
FRÓNI ÁRTAL 1876 JD; BLESSI HERRAN ÞETTA VORT Á BORÐI BRAUÐ; SJER HVER MAÐUR ROMI, SÁR AÐ GRENNIST SULTAR NAUÐ

“Iceland, year 1876 JD; May the Lord bless this bread on our table in order to diminish the sore pain of hunger; this every single man should say.”



As you can see, there is a lot of variety in this display. I hope that next time you visit, you have time to head to the Lower Gallery to have a look at these intriguing objects in the flesh.


Helen Adams
Project Curator & Engagement Officer


 

Monday, 29 February 2016

Pitt Rivers Museum needs your help!

Call out for Archaeology Focus Group 

The Museum is developing new displays of world archaeology and we would like to ensure these displays are informative and engaging for all ages. As part of our families evaluation, we are looking for adults to join a small focus group taking place at the Museum on:

Tuesday 15 March 2016, 17.00-19.00

We are interested in talking to local parents, guardians or teachers of children aged between 6-11 who are occasional or regular museum-goers.

The evening will be an informal discussion with an external evaluator (so you can be as open and honest as you wish)!



The session will discuss:

  • is world archaeology of interest to you and/or your children? 
  • is knowledge of world archaeology useful for your child at school? 
  • what do you think of existing Pitt Rivers displays and labels? 
  • what would make for an interesting archaeology family-friendly activity programme?

All comments will be anonymous and confidential, recorded for internal museum use only. There will be wine (hurrah!) and we are happy to reimburse travel expenses where appropriate.

If you are interested in taking part, or have any questions, please contact Helen Adams as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Helen Adams
VERVE Project Curator & Engagement
Officer Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford




Friday, 26 February 2016

Kintsugi-woogi


Each year the VERVE project hosts a Visiting Maker (a micro Artist in Residence scheme). In the autumn of 2015, Muneaki Shimode and Takahiko Sato came to Oxford, all the way from Kyoto, to demonstrate and teach the Japanese method of ceramic repair known as Kintsugi.

Muneaki Shimode and Takahiko Sato © Pitt Rivers Museum

Kintsugi can be roughly translated as 'Gold Joinery' and involves the repair of broken ceramics with Urushi lacquer, and then applying gold powder to the surface before the lacquer dries. Rather than disguise or hide the damage, the cracks and chips are accentuated with raised gold lines, celebrating cherished or valuable ceramics, and allowing them to be used once more.

This approach to repairing ceramics is very different from the usual European methods where any signs of damage are hidden away and disguised with near-invisible joins.

Although only here for 10 days in November 2015, Muneaki and Takahiko managed to pack in a huge amount including an evening event looking at Japanese Ceramics in Oxford (Fired Works Night), staff and public talks, and three taught workshops for 60 people to learn hands-on kintsugi repair techniques.

Muneaki and Takahiko also carried out kintsugi repairs in the museum galleries using damaged ceramics kindly donated from the Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum. This allowed members of the public to see the process up close and allowed Muneaki and Takahiko to share their expert knowledge and answer questions.


Kintsugi public workshop © Pitt Rivers Museum

Due to the materials and chemicals used in kintsugi, the workshops were restricted to adults, however a Children’s activity – ‘Marvelous Mending’ - explained the ideas behind the technique to a younger audience. A small case display was also installed to document the residency and showcase some of the work. All in all, no part of the museum was left kintsugi free!

So a little more about the artists: Muneaki Shimode works as a Maki-e artist, using various Urushi lacquers, pigments and gold powders to decorate Buddhist temples and altars. He does not describe himself as a professional kintsugi artist as there is no such profession in Japan. However it is common for Maki-e to carry out kintsugi as a sideline to their main work as they have the skills of using Urushi, extremely precise brush-work and handling gold powders.

Takahiko Sato is president of a family business producing the various forms of Urushi lacquer. Urushi lacquer is the refined sap of the Urushi tree, a tree native to SE Asia and a member of the poison ivy family. In its raw state, the sap is a translucent brown colour and can cause painful burns if it comes in contact with the skin. However, in the presence of oxygen and high humidity, the sap slowly hardens after which it can be handled safely.




Although Muneaki and Takahiko have now returned to Kyoto, they have not entirely left the museum.  Two of the ceramics they worked on and samples of the materials they used have been accessioned into the museum collection. These are very interesting pieces, as they both come from the first firing of the ‘Dragon Kiln’ built as part of the Oxford Anagama project at Wytham Woods. This is a special type of traditional wood fired Japanese kiln originally from the Bizen area of Japan, which has been built by a team of Japanese and UK master potters.

A repaired plate will also join the Museum’s handling collection where it will be used in future education and outreach activities to allow visitors to pick up and handle the plate and see how the repairs look and feel.

Having these objects in the collection, repaired in this traditional way, gives the museum a very unique link between traditional crafts in both Oxford and Japan and the craftspeople themselves.

Watch our short film where Muneaki and Takahiko explain the philosophy and skill behind the craft, whilst following the journey of a single broken dish - and its owner - through the repair process:

 
Kintsugi at Pitt Rivers Museum from Pitt Rivers Museum on Vimeo.

Our many thanks go to everyone who volunteered their time and helped with planning and organizing events, activities, workshops, breaking plates, donating ceramics and all the visitors who came and made the project a success.

Thanks also must go to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the principle supporter of the VERVE project, and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, who provided funding to bring Muneaki and Takahiko over from Japan. The greatest thanks of all must go to Muneaki and Takahiko themselves, who were so willing to share their knowledge.

If you missed their visit and would like to see the repaired ceramics, they are currently on display on the Museum’s Lower Gallery until 24 April 2016.

Display of Kintsigi repair on the Museum's Lower Gallery 


Andrew Hughes
VERVE Conservator

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Craft on the Grass: Pitt Fest 2015

Unlike the blazing sunshine of previous years, the September morning of our third annual Pitt Fest dawned cold and drizzly. Would the weather dampen the appetite of event-goers? Not at all; more than 3300 people came to make, handle, listen, watch, dance, eat, drink and be inspired on the Museums’ lawn – exceeding last year’s attendance by at least 10%.

Volunteer Tim Renders and the Museum's Director Dr Mike O'Hanlon welcome visitors to Pitt Fest 2015
© Pitt Rivers Museum

So what is the point of Pitt Fest? Of course it’s a great deal of fun but there are more fundamental reasons behind it. Two of VERVE’s aims are to impart a clearer message of what the Museum is (or can be) about, and to increase participation. The project’s interpretation of the Museum is not necessarily one of anthropology or ethnography but of technology. Many of the collections are handmade, pre-industrial artefacts that suggest intimate knowledge of materials, design and techniques. Pitt Fest takes just some of the ingenious craft processes evident in the collections and makes them accessible and immediate outside the Museum, to re-engage people of all ages with their hands, and to see things ‘being made’ to contextualise and reanimate those static objects sitting behind glass.


Romilly Swann of The Outside demonstrates natural dyes © Pitt Rivers Museum

This years theme was 'handmade' crafts. So visitors to ‘Pitt Fest: Handmade’ could learn about dyeing techniques with The Outside, fire-making with Axe and Paddle Bushcraft, see a pole-lathe in action with Alistair Philips, or have a go at stone carving, leatherwork or basketry with Nancy Peskett, Katherine Pogson or the Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Of course no festival is complete without music, shopping or food, and we tried to inject a global flavour into our line-up; you could try Tibetan dumplings or Peruvian ceviche (raw fish) whilst listening to Ugandan song or Brazilian capoeira, before perusing the market stalls of fair-trade and local artisanal goodies.

Families could have a go at face-painting, object handling making badges or a host of other creative activities run by museum volunteers. All day long, the these tables were filled with people of all ages busy making clay pots, paper hats, stick harmonicas, peg dolls and willow hurdles.

Volunteers and expert paper milliners Emma and Megan (left)
and staff from the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) from Reading (right) © Pitt Rivers Museum


Krisztina helping a child decorate a peg doll @ Pitt Rivers Museum
  
Volunteers Liz and Martin teach people how to weave willow © Pitt Rivers Museum


Volunteer Damon showing a visitor an mbira (thumb piano) © Pitt Rivers Museum


To get a taste of the day check out our short film:

Putting on a festival takes enormous amounts of time, planning, brawn, and goodwill. We are grateful to the many staff, collaborators and volunteers who helped make Pitt Fest 2015 such a success. Now time to start planning next year!


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Visible Mending with Tom of Holland

This autumn we ran two 'Darning Masterclasses' with textiles practitioner Tom van Deijnen (AKA Tom of Holland). They sold out almost instantly. Here, Tom explains his techniques and celebrates 'visible mending', many examples of which can be found on objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum collections!



Detail of a gourd vessel, decoratively repaired
using beads; 1979.20.167 © Pitt Rivers Museum
"There is a temporary case exhibit at the Museum (until 3 January 2016) called 'Preserving What is Valued' and an accompanying museum trail. They demonstrate how people from all parts of the world repair their material culture. Conservators study objects in great detail and part of their role is to determine at what stage a repair has been made. If the repair was made by the originating community while it was still in use this provides an additional level of information and can give the object a deeper resonance. Identifying an original repair can raise questions that make us think about the object’s history differently.


"I was invited to run two darning classes as part of the events accompanying this display. My name is Tom and I’m a self-taught textile practitioner, and one of the things I do is run the Visible Mending Programme. Through this programme I seek to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.



"A mother's work" Repair commission for a private client © Tom van Deijnen

Left: Swiss darning in action by one of the participants. Right: a completed practice swatch,
showing a stocking darn and rows of Swiss daring in bold colours. © Tom van Deijnen


"The darning classes were well attended and the participants were taught two classic knitwear repair techniques: firstly Swiss darning, also known as 'duplicate stitching', which is a good way to reinforce thinning fabrics such as elbows on sleeves, or to cover up stains.


"The second technique taught was the classic stocking darn, using a darning mushroom. It creates a woven patch that is integrated with the knit fabric, and is a good way to repair holes. Of course this is best known for sock repairs.

"Throughout the classes, I shared many hints and tips on repairing, such as what tools and materials to use for best results, examples of my work, and how to look after your woollens. Half-way through  we had a break, and everybody was encouraged to see the display cabinet and follow the museum trail to find original repairs.



The Pitt Rivers Museum is home to many repaired objects from all over the world, as well as closer to home. Shown here are details from a delicate muslin handkerchief with some rather crude darns, and and a tortoiseshell comb mended with a riveted metal strip, both from a collection made in Essex, UK; 1949.9.121 and 1949.9.373 © Pitt Rivers Museum

"I found the repairs very inspiring: an inventive use of locally available materials such as baste fibres, small decorative additions such as beads, or the neat way stitching cracks, the use of staples, or even items made in such a way that they could be easily repaired in the future. I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s fun so go and see it all for yourself!


Tom van Deijnen

http://tomofholland.com

The Preserving What is Valued case exhibit and museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 29 June 2015 – 3 January 2016. More information."