Monthly Archives: June 2015
On Saturday we had a very special visitor to our What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition. As part of their roadshow from Land’s End to John O’Groats, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History brought their world famous dodo to Tullie House.
Where and when did dodos live?
Dodos lived in Mauritius which is a small island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, famous for it’s white, sandy beaches. Dodos were discovered in 1598 by Dutch sailors.
Why did dodos become extinct?
It is a common misconception that dodos were hunted to extinction. They were hunted but when the Dutch discovered Mauritius they settled and introduced pigs to the island. The pigs competed with the dodo for their food (fruit) and also dodos nested on the ground and the pigs ate their eggs. The dodo was extinct by 1662 – less than 70 years after it was discovered!
Do you think we’ll ever find dodos living somewhere else we haven’t looked yet?
No – they are gone for ever.
Are there lots of dodos in museums?
There are quite a few casts and models but only a handful of specimens were brought to Europe. Museums in Cambridge and London have fossils, but Oxford University NHM has one of the few specimens that arrived in Europe. Another real skull is in a museum in Copenhagen.
How do we know about dodos?
Dodos were easy to catch being flightless. If one was caught it would scream and others would come running making them an easy catch. We now know, from DNA analysis, that dodos were members of the pigeon family.
A huge thank you to our guests and their star exhibit. They also asked some questions about our 1840 Portinscale red kites – you can see the answers on their blog
This Saturday (13 June) come and see a famous Dodo as part of our What’s In Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition this between 10am and 11am at Tullie House. To celebrate we will be posting a Dodo Roadshow #askthecurators Special!
The flying visit to Carlisle is part of Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s Dodo Roadshow from Lands End to John O’Groats. The Oxford staff will be displaying the Dodo model from the Museum’s displays; a cast of the precious head, which is the only remaining soft tissue material of a Dodo in the world; and real foot bones from the same animal, representing some of the few organic pieces of Dodo remains.
This is your chance to #askthecurators about the dodo and the Tullie House star object it is coming to meet, the 1840 Portinscale Red Kite from Tullie’s Collections, one of the last of Cumbria’s indigenous red kites and oldest mounted bird specimen in our collection.
Either come along on Saturday morning from 10-11am (suitable for all, usual admission charges apply) or #askthecurators your questions about the Dodo or Red Kite to @tulliehouse on Twitter and Facebook.
As the dodo started out on its road trip, we asked it a few questions of our own…
So, tell me about yourself – who are you and where do you come from?
I’m the famous Oxford Dodo. I spent most of my life on the tropical island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Sailors arrived on the island in the late 16th century and everything changed. My life from then on is a bit of a blur, but somehow I appeared in Oxford around the 17th century and have been a museum treasure ever since.
What is it that makes you so special?
I’m a one off. Nowhere else in the world is there a Dodo with any flesh, but I’ve still got skin on my head and even a few little feathers, so scientists are fascinated by me. Dodo skeletons pop up in a few other museums, but it’s my skin that makes me really special. I was also used by scientists to explore Dodo DNA. Turns out I’m closely related to a pigeon! I’m literary too – I inspired Lewis Carroll’s Dodo character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Who looks after you in Oxford?
My guardian is none other than the Head of Life (Collections). Darren Mann looks after all of the Life collections in the Museum and makes sure I’m stored safely so I last another 350 years.
Do you remember life before the museum?
I know I haven’t always been in this building. In fact, 200 years before this Museum was built, I was on display at the Ashmolean Museum – the first public museum in Great Britain. I was lucky to survive with any skin left intact; back then visitors were allowed to touch me and some of them gave me some pretty rough treatment.
What does the future hold for you?
Who knows what scientists have lined up for me next? A few weeks ago I was taken up to the University of Warwick for a fancy new CT scan. Apparently they found out something pretty exciting, which they’ll be able to reveal soon. But right now, my head is out on display in the Museum’s Presenting… case near the entrance; so if you’re in Oxford before 19 July stop by and say hello!
It will be the dodo’s chance to ask our Red Kite these questions on Saturday – but what questions do you want to ask?
We are heading into the final weekend of our Anselm Kiefer exhibition, which has brought works one of the greatest European contemporary artist to Carlisle, thanks to the ARTIST ROOMS on tour programme, supported by The Artist Rooms Foundation, Tate and National Galleries Scotland. As we prepare for the end of our exhibition one of our Museum Assistants, Andy, has been reflecting on his experience welcoming visitors to the exhibition.
So it’s almost auf Wiedersehen Herr Kiefer; you’ve been a real experience.
This modern German art-monster has really got under people’s skin. Because of the initially black – literally and figuratively – nature of many of the works in the show it’s been interesting how so many visitors, completely unfamiliar with Anselm Kiefer, have felt the magic of the man.
They came in initially a bit bemused sometimes, wondering what they’d paid their £3 for – especially on first sight of the mighty Palette. But so many left, some after an hour or more on their feet walking from Norns to Hortus, from Oedipus to Aurora, from Untitled to Ohne Titel, with a quite obvious sense of enlightenment and even quiet excitement. Look at the visitors book: it’s busy, enthusiastic and very positive indeed. Oh, except for….
Yes, oh yes, some were puzzled, a few were just dismissive, a very tiny minority were filled with scorn. Notable among these one visitor who complained about Kiefer and all “the others” – Emin, Hirst and so on – being charlatans and cynical exploiters. But she really got her money’s-worth from the ensuing hot debate around the gallery about the nature of good art. There is of course no obligation to like an exhibition.
The BBC broadcast an “Imagine” film about Kiefer last year, and because of that many visitors have arrived clued up but at that point maybe not quite fans. Even if they hadn’t been fully prepared for exactly what they would be looking at and the amount of thinking Kiefer would be encouraging, they were at least steeled for something rather different and challenging. They’d done their homework and reaped the benefit.
And then there’s the Kiefer devotees, switched on and pre-tuned-in to the Fates in the starry heavens above broadcasting to their inner palettes: the ones who saw him at the Baltic five years ago; the ones who saw him at the Royal Academy last winter. The RA held a huge retrospective, but some of those who came to the Tullie’s Kiefer, have been adamant that our show was more of a revelation: two works finished for us, a good spread of his engrossing and disturbing manipulated photo collages, two characteristically huge canvasses and that strangely enchanting collection of golden human organs laid out on a so subtly-finished table cloth of lead.
That final work brought home to many that had it not been for the efforts of retired art dealer and collector Anthony d’Offay in whose home it was once displayed, The Artist Rooms Foundation, might not exist. Because of ARTIST ROOMS Kiefer came to Carlisle, McCullin went to Shetland, Warhol to Peterborough and Koons to Norwich. And it’s continuing: check out the busy calendar at https://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/on-now-coming-soon-23445/ . But at the moment the Tullie exhibition looks like your last chance to see Kiefer in the UK this year…so it’s Tullie before Monday or Paris in December.
Thank you to Andy for his reflections on the exhibition, to make your own mind up about Anselm Kiefer you’ll have to be quick. The exhibition closes on Sunday 7 June at 5pm.
Following out Natural Science special our curators have been racking their brains to answer more of your great questions on our #askthecurators board in What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition.
First up, Tim our Curator of Archaeology is tackling Caitlin’s question How do you make pottery, can you do a fun day where you make pottery?
“Pottery is made of clay which is a sticky type of soil which is often found near rivers and lakes. This is collected and all the bits of twig as well as stones are removed. It is then thumped to make a block that has no air bubbles in it. It is now ready to use. The block is then shaped into the kind of pot that you want, such as a bowl or a jug. This is allowed to dry out and then it is ready to be fired. The pot is placed, with others that have been made into a type of oven called a kiln (although it is possible to use a bonfire, a kiln is more efficient). The kiln is then heated up slowly to over 1000 degrees centigrade. This causes chemical changes in the clay, making it hard and water resistant. The kiln is then allowed to cool and the pottery is removed. It can be used as it is or be decorated with a glaze. Glazes are chemical coatings that stick to the surface of the clay and give a shiny surface that is waterproof as well as being decorative. The pots are heated in the kiln again to make these chemical changes happen. Finally when they are cool, they are ready to be sold and used. Pottery is very long-lasting as pieces have been found in Cumbria that are over 3000 years old, and the basic process has always been the same. Pottery is very fragile and easily broken so it is usually the pieces rather than the complete pots that survive.”
In terms of pottery fun days, we have run sessions on making pottery before—coming up we have a drop-in session to make clay tiles as part of our Eye for Colour opening weekend on Saturday 27 June, from 1pm until 4pm.
On a similar note another visitor asked Can you do a fun day for over 12 year olds? Thanks for you very much for your question. We have family fun days at the start of family exhibitions and at Christmas with activities for all the family. We also have a two Tullie Time Travellers club, one on Wednesdays from 4pm – 5.30pm, and another once a month on a Saturday from 1pm-3pm, especially for 10-14 year olds and our Yak Yak Youth Group for 14-19 year olds meet once a month on a Saturday.
Tim, our Curator of Archaeology and Edwin, our Curator of Social History have been thinking about some really tricky questions from Charlotte and Caitlin, first Charlotte asked What is your favourite thing here and why?
My favourite thing at Tullie isn’t a ’thing’ as such, it is probably the sense of place captured in the museum. This is hard to define but it involves the coming and going of exhibitions, the familiar and less familiar objects, our diverse museum disciplines, the interaction of visitors and the past and present staff who make it all come together. I am proud to be a Curator here and part of the museum’s very own history.
I like the selection of coins that are on display. I think it is a great example of someone coming up with a really good idea – standardised pieces of metal that can be exchanged for ‘stuff’. I love the way the basic idea has not changed for over 2000 years. It is also fascinating to see how the idea has been used in different ways – design, metal used, size, way the coins are made – at different times. Also some of the designs are good examples of miniature works of art.
Caitlin set our curators a very tricky question, asking Why do people go to Tullie House?
There is no one answer to this question. I go to museums when I am on holiday for many reasons and I think that some of them are the same as why people come here. I go to see things I have read about in books or seen on the internet as well as to see new things. Often the buildings themselves are interesting. With some museums, it is a case of nostalgia when you see something that you used to own (or your parents used to own) and it brings back memories.
People come to the museum for a variety of reasons. Some may come with their family on a day out. Others make specific visits to see a particular object or examine collections and historic themes in more detail. Tullie House also provides many people with a place to meet friends. I come here with my young children and they are already seeing that the museum offers something completely different and enjoying trying to understand what a ‘museum’ is all about. I think people come here to discover and can find inspiration amongst the buildings collections and associated history.
Perhaps though we should turn this question on its head and get the Curators to ask you? Why do you visit Tullie House or other museums?
Thank you again to all of our visitors for your questions, there is still plenty of time to visit What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice at Tullie House and leave your own question for our curators, and there’ll be another blog shortly with more answers to your questions.
As we’re in the middle of national volunteer week, we thought it was a great opportunity to celebrate and offer a very warm and heartfelt thank you to the 59 volunteers who have contributed to Tullie House over the last year.
Your support over the last 12 months has made a real difference to the 250,000 visitors who enjoy and learn from your museum.
Tullie House has volunteers?
Many don’t realise that Tullie House is a charity, and along with most other charities it welcomes the support of volunteers. There are a number of services that we could not offer if people were not prepared to give up their time. Volunteers form an integral part of our team and work and show us that successful volunteering isn’t just about getting a job done but it’s about local people getting involved with their museum and supporting their community.
How do volunteers help?
Over the past 12 months volunteers have supported the museum in so many ways. In the early part of the year 12 volunteers met with our visitors to carry out surveys to find out about their time in the museum. The information gathered is being used by us to make sure we’re providing the services people want.
Towards the end of the year, we started a new project to inventory over 8000 boxes of archaeological material. Through their work our team of seven volunteers are helping us plan for future collection needs and find the next treasures to go on display.
We also have many long-serving volunteers who give their time tirelessly to keep our gardens lovely for all to enjoy and our longest serving volunteer who has contributed regularly for over 25 years to catalogue our collections.
In addition, there are volunteers who help deliver activity sessions for visitors in the museum, and those behind the scenes at the Cumbria Biodiversity Diversity Centre. In my new quarterly blog posts I’ll introduce you to the volunteers we have at Tullie House and the difference they make to our museum and the communities we serve.
Volunteering is a way of joining in and making a difference. It’s also a great way for volunteers to develop and share skills. So if you’ve been inspired and would like to get involved or find out more please visit our website.
To all our current and previous volunteers: thanks for all that you do, whether it’s out in the garden on a rainy Tuesday, creating inventories of our thousands of boxes of archaeological collections or meeting visitors to find out about their time in the museum; we wouldn’t want to do it without you.
Claire, Volunteer Co-ordinator