Thursday, 26 June 2014

Selecting Objects For Maori Carving Display

I'm pleased to let you know we've selected the objects for a forthcoming display highlighting the art of Maori carving. Staff from collections, conservation, and technical services will all be working on the display. We finalised the selection in a team meeting, which enabled us to discuss ideas and practical issues from a wide range of perspectives.

Left: laying out the objects ready for the meeting; right: discussing the display © Pitt Rivers Museum

Curator, Jeremy Coote talking with Technicians, Chris and Alan
© Pitt Rivers Museum
The wooden carvings are a mix of house panels, feather boxes, canoe parts and associated material. In collections we need to think about a story line and possible sub-themes for the display. We can then write the display text and labels and, if useful, find images to include in the display.

Talking through our ideas with technicians, who will actual install the case, means we can think collectively about the most effective way to display the objects. We can consider their actual placement in the case, the best angle to position each object, and ensure supports and fittings can be made.

Conservation staff clean the objects and carry out any necessary treatments before the objects go on display. Working with the collection in front of us, meant conservators could check the current condition of the objects and assess how long they will take to prepare.

Left: Head conservator, Heather, checking the condition of the objects;
Right: Technicians, Chris and Alan, considering how to angle door jamb PRM 1930.85.7 .2 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Placing the canoe balers
© Pitt Rivers Museum
We were all able to realistically see how many objects to include in the display. Having measured out the area of the case, we could move the objects around and decide on a workable layout.

Moving objects around
© Pitt Rivers Museum

The meeting was really useful. I think we are all pleased with the final selection and agreed initial design.

The majority of the carvings are from the reserve collection so this a great opportunity to put them on display. Keep an eye on this site for future blogs about this forthcoming display.

Basic layout of the carvings in the new case © Pitt Rivers Museum
Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Preparing Wellcome amulets for loan

Later this year, approximately 120 amulets will be loaned for display at the Wellcome Collection's new Reading Room exhibit. 

The amulets selected are a curious assemblage of objects from Europe, South America, Africa and Japan that were considered by their owners as 'lucky' or able to offer protection. Included are mole's feet to protect from toothache, a sheep's heart stuck with pins said to have been used to break a spell cast by a witch over a farmer's cattle, miniature shrines, hands of Fatima, miniature shoes and an ash tree twig, used as an amulet for long life, to name a few. 

Making sense of such an eclectic mix planned for display in one showcase can be difficult. To make things easier staff from collections, conservation and technical services met with Wellcome curators to try out different arrangements of the amulets and plan how they would be displayed for the Reading Room. Using masking tape, we marked out on a table the dimensions of the display case and set about laying out the amulets in categories which linked them together. Fortunately, thanks to a previous project involving amulets from the collections (Small Blessings), there were already some themes highlighted which we could borrow for the Reading Room display. After an afternoon with the objects we agreed on a layout for the case:

The final case layout decided for the amulets © Pitt Rivers Museum

Our conservator, Jennifer Mitchell, will now prepare a condition report for each object and pack them in readiness for their travel to London in September for display at the Wellcome Collection.

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Photographing the Wellcome Amulet Collection

Just before the Easter break we had a visit from staff from the Wellcome Collection and freelance photographer Jon Stokes. Stokes was employed by Wellcome to photograph objects from the Pitt Rivers collection, which will feature in their new Reading Room exhibition, opening in autumn 2014.

Spurred on by the success of other collaborative amulet projects with Wellcome in 2012 - namely selected amulets loaned from the Edward Lovett collection for the exhibition 'Charmed Life', curated by the artist Felicity Powell, and the project 'Small Blessings', cataloguing and exploring amulets collected by Adrien de Mortillet - more amulets housed at the Pitt Rivers Museum have been catalogued and selected for display in the newly revamped Reading Room. 

The Reading Room display will include a selection of 120 amulets collected by both Lovett and de Mortillet, but also Walter Leo Hildburgh  - all three prolific amulet collectors and folklorists. Just as the previous amulets projects gave the Museum the opportunity to catalogue, research and improve the long term storage of the Lovett and de Mortillet amulets, so this Reading Room collaboration has enabled us to start to do the same with the Hildburgh collection. The display will include amulets from Europe, North Africa, South America and Japan. Hildburgh spent significant time in Asia, whereas the de Mortillet collection and Lovett collection are almost exclusively European with a few exceptions. One of the major themes to be explored in the display is that of faith - faith in a god or belief in an object; ideas in this instance epitomised in the form of amulets encompassing different cultures and religious beliefs. 

The amulets are mostly small, delicate things, which makes display a challenge. It is unlikely that there will be room in the display case in accommodate interpretive labels as well as the amulets themselves, so Wellcome are working on producing an illustrated guide book for the display.

Jon with a temporary photography station set up to photograph amulets © Pitt Rivers Museum

Jon was with us for three days to photograph the amulets so that there are high quality images of all of them to use for interpretation. We had to work long days to get all of the photography complete. Jon had an array of impressive equipment and cameras to produce good shots of all the amulets. 

Some of the amulets which will be displayed in the new Reading room, including Carapace of a crab, 
painted with a demon face and inscribed on the inside; 1985.53.649 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Our conservator Jenny Mitchell will now work on condition reporting and packing the amulets so that they are ready to be loaned later this year. 

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Providing Access

The Pitt Rivers Museum is committed to making all its collections accessible, and to this end supports more than 300 research visits every year to examine material in the collections. We regularly provide researchers with access to museum objects in our reserve collection. In preparation for a research visit I need to retrieve the requested objects.

Cataloguing North American stone arrow heads © Pitt Rivers Museum

I catalogue the objects, ensuring the database record is up to date. I physically assign the accession number (unique museum identification number), write a description, transcribe labels, measure, photograph and check the condition of the objects. I then store the artefacts in a temporary holding room before the visit.

Inside the temporary object holding room © Pitt Rivers Museum

All enquiries concerning the Object Collections should be addressed to Julia Nicholson and Jeremy Coote (Joint Head of Collections) at

Madeleine Ding
Assistant Curator