#AsktheCurators Your Questions Answered
Our new exhibition What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice is now open. It is your chance to explore some of the objects normally kept in our stores and your opportunity to have your questions answered by some of our curators.
We got some great questions in the first week of the exhibition, which have been posed to our curators, check out the answers below.
Good question Emily! The animals and fish are preserved for study and display by a process called taxidermy. When an animal is brought to the museum the first thing we do is freeze them in a giant freezer. It kills a lot of the insects and pests that live on wild animals, like fleas – freezing the animals also keeps them intact until we are ready to get them stuffed.
Once all the bugs have been killed, a taxidermist takes the skin of the animal and dries it. In the early days of taxidermy they would use chemicals such as arsenic to preserve the skin, but now we know that to be poisonous and dry the skins instead.
When the skin is dried it is applied over a model of the animal – the model is often made from a cast of the animal, or its skeleton and padded out with wood wool (very thin pieces of wood).
This method will preserve an animal so that they can be studied or shown in museums like Tullie House to help people learn about the animals in the world around us.
Well Aimee, much like the answer to Emily’s question, the fish has been stuffed to preserve it using taxidermy, however most taxidermists will say that fish are more difficult than other animals like birds or mammals, because their skin is much thinner and loses its colour very quickly.
Like with other animals they will be stuffed, but sometimes with a much softer stuffing, like foam. The taxidermists will then repaint the skin so that it matches the look of the fish when it was alive.
Melanie our Curator of Fine and Decorative Art tells us that the dress was worn by a Carlisle lady called Mrs Agnes Glaister. Unfortunately we do not know much more about Agnes, other than that she wore this dress to go to dinner dances in Carlisle in the 1950s, and clearly she had an eye for fashion!
When we collect items of costume today we try to collect as much information as possible about the person who would have worn it.
That’s another great question Anna, why would we show a toilet in a museum? Edwin our Curator of Social History answers:
“We collected the toilet because of where it came from. It is from the Old Garlands Hospital, a mental health hospital in Carlisle. It is a good object to begin a conversation on the history of mental health treatment in the area. The toilet is also highly decorative and was used by a patient in a private ward. This shows that wealthy patients received a different experience within hospital in comparison to the other classes.”
Good question! The bike in question is actually a penny farthing, it does have two wheels, but one is very small so its easy to see why you might think it is a unicycle. Edwin answers again
“There used to be step attached at the rear frame of the bicycle, however the one in our collection is missing this component part.”
This video shows how to get onto and ride the penny farthing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-Ocy0SPgcM
Thank you for all your questions so far – you can ask your own question to the curators by visiting What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice or tweeting us @TullieHouse using #askthecurators.
We’ll be back next week with more answers!