Thursday, 14 December 2017

Celebrating Catterns – lace day at the Pitt River’s Museum

1917.28.20 White lace made by Mrs Campbell of Bicester

On Saturday the 25th of November the Museum welcomed lace makers from the local Oxfordshire lace makers group ISIS lacemakers and Oxford Historian and lace expert David Hopkin. Visitors, including me had the opportunity to make some lace themselves. I really enjoyed the process and thought that it would be more complicated than it was. I enjoyed comparing modern lace makers tools and materials with the historical ones from the collections finding that plastic has joined wood and bone bobbins. David had kindly baked traditional cattern cakes made with caraway seeds. If you missed this year’s celebrations we will be celebrating Saint Catherine along with ISIS lacemakers again next year!

Explore more about the lace collections at the Pitt-Rivers Museum online or visit the display in case C.115.A in the Museum Court.

1918.16.29 Wooden lace bobbin with bead and button weights 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Sensing Culture at the Pitt Rivers Museum, October 2017

In October Jamie Cameron (Research Assistant, Oxford Internet Institute) came to the Pitt Rivers Museum to 3D scan an object in the museum’s collection; a model of a totem pole (also known as a crest pole) made by the Northwest Coast Haida (1891.49.13 .1 - .2). The scan will be 3D printed and used for Sensing Culture, a Heritage Lottery funded project, led by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). One of the aims at the project is to develop and produce ways in which the visitor experience for blind and partially sighted people can be improved. Other museums within the University of Oxford GLAM (Gardens, Libraries, Archives and Museums) are also involved.

 Jamie Cameron '3D scanning' the model Crest Pole © Pitt Rivers Museum

Our colleague Laura Peers (Curator of the Americans and Professor of Museum Anthropology) recommended the wooden model of a Haida totem pole for 3D printing. The pole was made in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada, most likely by artist Charles Edenshaw. Our documentation tells us that the model pole was collected by resident missionary Charles Harrison (who published accounts of the Haida) at the end of the 19th Century. The pole itself is carved with ‘crest figures’ that relate to lineages, aspects of status and property rights. To the Haida of the Northwest Coast, the act of looking up at these representations shown on the sides of giant crest poles would have triggered a visual reminder of the stories of how ancestral beings bestowed certain rights on a family. The figures on this particular model pole include an eagle, bears and their cubs in human or ancestral form, frogs and humans.

Unfortunately we don’t yet have insight into why this particular model totem pole was made. Could it have been a prototype for a much larger pole that was never carved? Was it a commercial product for Europeans, or could it have been made to order by European collectors to illustrate the types of narratives on totems that the Haida produced?

 © Pitt Rivers Museum (1891.49.13 .1 - .2) 
In 2009 the museum received a Haida delegation as part of the project “Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge”. The delegates, when looking at the model crest pole, observed that some of the original museum labelling is incorrect, and that the bear at the bottom of the pole was holding in its mouth a prawn or shrimp, and not a crayfish as had been labelled. They also added that this pole might be depicting the bear mother story, a popular Haida narrative. These observations were added to our online database, a living document which reflects the multi-vocality and dynamism of the museum’s collection. Visits like these highlight the importance of retaining relationships between museums and the living communities from which material culture was taken from, often under very difficult and problematic circumstances. The Pitt Rivers Museum always aims to be at the forefront in repairing relationships damaged in the past by European colonial collecting practices. We continue to generate positive outputs such as material repatriation, loans to source communities, access for originating communities to engage with and reconnect with the collection both physically and digitally, and collaborative work, such as the Great Box Project in 2014

Jamie used 3D imaging technologies, including photogrammetry, to create a ‘scan’ of the totem pole. This will be 3D printed, and such prints will allow visitors who are blind or partially sighted to ‘read’ the object through touch. Haida art uses a structured formline design, where different coloured paints highlight certain features, and on carvings such as the model pole, formline appears in incisions in shallow and deep relief. Visitors will be able to feel the incised lines on the 3D print to help understand the layout and proportions of the totem pole. Many museums are using 3D printing to engage their visitors, and it is just one of the ways that the Pitt Rivers Museum works to enable access to its collections.

Nicholas Crowe 
Assistant Curator