This blog follows my placement with Research & Cultural Collections at the University of Birmingham in January 2014, where I will undertake a range of collections management projects to further develop my skills in research, cataloguing, exhibition and preventive conservation.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Telling a story

Over the past four weeks, I have had the opportunity to observe and participate in several educational workshops run by the Learning & Access team at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. One of the (many!) benefits of the Museums & Collections Award is that it takes recipients outside of their comfort zone to develop skills in areas in which they have no prior experience.

 I was involved in two clay-modelling workshops aimed at primary school-aged students and a writing workshop with secondary school students in their final year. As an area in which I’d had no involvement before, I found the educational programs to be a very different way of interpreting and engaging with collections – and a lot of fun! It was fascinating to observe how different age groups responded to the same objects, and to note the similarities and differences in the delivery of workshops and the reception from the students. Common across the sessions I attended, the workshop leader would tell a story about the collection, using a particular painting or sculpture as a ‘hook’ to spark the students’ interest. Items from the collection would then provide the creative stimulus for students to produce a work of art or piece of writing.
As a conservation student, I often find it interesting to reflect on why we might value a particular object and decide that it deserves to be cared for and preserved. Invariably it is because an object can tell a story about a significant historical period, person, place or event. An object may have very little material value, but it is the intangible value and meaning that we place on objects, and our ability to communicate that significance, which ultimately determines if and how we care for them.
A favourite with the kids: A Rhinoceros Called Miss Clara, bronze, about 1750. Image from:
One of many stories from the Barber collection:
'Miss Clara' was an Indian rhino whose mother was killed by poachers. As a baby she was adopted by a Dutch sea captain who took her back to the Netherlands in 1741. He happily kept her in his house until she grew too big and then toured her extensively across Europe. There she was a sensation, eagerly viewed by the public and paraded in front of royalty.
Funnily enough, I spied a certain 'celebrity rhino' in one of the images I mounted for the 'Art of Anatomy' exhibition a few weeks back...
Albinus, Tables of the Skeleton and Muscles, (1749). Image source: Cadbury Research Library

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