Thursday, 6 April 2017

Taking over the Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum regularly holds events curated by young people taking over the Museum.  Recently we hosted two evening events with groups of young adults working in collaboration with staff to organise and curate alternative social evenings at the Museum, drawing on themes suggested by the collections. This initiative is part of the Need Make Use project.   




In February Oxford University Visual Material Museum Studies students and Oxford Brookes Anthropology Society committee jointly organised an event inspired by women Anthropologists, entitled Journeys. The evening event was planned over a few months. Two key female figures, Mary Kingsley and Beatrice Blackwood, were chosen and objects collected and donated by them were selected to form a trail around the museum.  The students organised every aspect of the event from designing the poster, to creating ticket booking links, inviting speakers to talk, writing text about objects on the trail and curating temporary exhibitions with objects from the collection and artefacts collected by current anthropologists. 

Photographs by Wenqian Wang

On the evening the student volunteers manned the door, helped staff the bar and ran craft activities inspired by journeys. Even the drinks were inspired by Anthropologists, such as gin and tonic, highlighting the quinine Kingsley took medicinally.  Shannon said ''It was a fantastic experience and definitely something I would be interested in taking part in again''.









In March students from Reading College put on a fashion and accessories showcase 'Reading College Fashion meets Pitt Rivers'.  During a visit to the museum the students were challenged with the task of creating outfits under the themes of ‘armour’ and ‘multiform’ that were inspired by the Museum collections.  The students then displayed their final pieces in a fashion show at the Museum. The show highlighted the diverse range of objects and artefacts that inspired the costumes.  The balcony was utilised to display the accessories, sketchbooks and a film of the students talking about their creations.  The film and production side of the event was also student led, undertaken by Reading College media students.  Members of Pitt Youth Action Team helped out at the event by running craft and interactive activities with the education handling collection.  




When ask what they liked about the event one visitor said ''That designs were from objects in the museum, great designs, ideas and impressive pattern cutting and finishing and materials. It was a great show, well done!''.


Photographs by Reading College
Madeleine Ding
VERVE Volunteers Officer and Curatorial Assistant

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Casts and copies


The last of our new Archaeology display cases deals with an often-unconsidered part of a museum’s collections, replicas. Authenticity is key with museums, but when used properly we can learn a lot from replicas. Our excellent education team have several in their handling collection that they use to teach with. However, the Museum’s main collection also has around 500 plaster casts, as well as other replica objects made in different materials. Many of these were created as teaching aids in the 19th and 20th century.


Layout for the new Casts and Copies case

Our new Casts and Copies display will show the breadth of replica objects that the Museum holds. They include a plaster cast of the "Clacton Spear", a 400,000 year old wooden point excavated from Clacton on Sea and a plaster cast of "The Venus of Dolni Vesternice", one of the earliest known ceramic objects. This replica was donated by Karol Absolon, who excavated the original and it is known to have been used by Derek Roe, Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at the University in the 1990s in his teaching. 
1921.30.1 Cast of the “Clacton Spear”             
1931.43.1 Cast of the “Venus of Dolni Vesternice”    
Making plaster cast replicas of important objects allowed academics and students to study them more easily. General Pitt-Rivers, like many other collectors of his era, amassed replicas alongside original objects. He also had a great interest in experimental archaeology reproducing objects to attempt to discern how they were used. We have several of these in the Museum’s collections.


1884.125.148 and 1884.122.2 Casts of a palaeolithic hand axe. 1884122.2 is painted with lines showing how it was produced.

One of our more unusual objects included in the new display is a replica Bronze Age spearhead found in Kirtomy Moss, Scotland. At first glance, this appears to be another painted plaster cast, however, it is actually made of paper, carefully painted to resemble the original bronze. A fact that is not really apparent until you lift it up and discover it is almost weightless! 


1894.25.1.1 Paper cast of a Bronze Age spear

Replicas can also become extremely important if the whereabouts of the original object are unknown. The Museum holds a collection of four plaster casts made of the West Buckland hoard, a Middle Bronze Age hoard comprising a torc, bracelet and two axe heads. Two of which will be displayed in our new case. The original objects were never part of Pitt-Rivers’ collection and their location is now unknown, making the plaster casts that the Museum holds even more important. The casts were made by a member of the Ready family. The Ready's worked as restorers at the British Museum in the 19th century and early 20th century. They also sold and restored objects for private collectors, such as Pitt-Rivers, which is how these plaster casts were obtained.


1884.82.121 plaster cast of a bracelet 


1884.119.140 plaster cast of a hand axe 

Work on our new archaeology displays will be happening throughout 2017 so keep watching the Upper Gallery cases for new installations.

Sian Mundell 
VERVE Curatorial Assistant