There is only a week left of our What’s In Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition and our curators Tim and Melanie have been answering some more of the great questions that we’ve been asked during the exhibition.
Hi Grace, thank you for your question – the simple answer is that unfortunately the Tullie House collection doesn’t have any dinosaurs in it. It is possible that there were dinosaurs in Cumbria as Britain was once home to around 100 different types of dinosaur. But there have not be any dinosaur bones found in the county, most of the dinosaur fossils in the UK are found on the South coast, known as the ‘Jurassic Coast’.
We would love to have an exhibition about dinosaurs and always keep an eye out for a suitable exhibition to bring to Carlisle.
One visitor asked “Why is it so dark in the corner?”
Melanie our Curator of Fine and Decorative Art answers “Light levels are kept deliberately low to enable the museum to look after the objects. Some of our objects can be damaged by light which can cause them to fade and lose their original colours“
Our Curator of Archaeology, Tim answered this one “The short answer to this is ‘Yes, they did’.
The Latin word for pig is porcus from which we get the word pork. Study of the animal bones recovered in excavations at Castle Street, in the early 1980s suggested that the animals were slaughtered before reaching the age of three years old which shows that they were being killed for food.
There are also some recipes for cooking pork that have survived from Roman times. The cookbook by Apicius contains a number of these such as one for pork kebabs. Another recipe that survives is for a pork and fig pie. However, many of them state that you need wild boar, which was hunted regularly, but there is no reason why they couldn’t have used domesticated pigs instead.”
Sophie T asked “Why do you have so much Roman stuff? Why not Tudors?”
Tim, who looks after the Roman collection here at Tullie answers “The Romans were here for about 400 years (72/3 AD to 410) and the Tudors for only about 100 years (1485 to 1603).
The Romans also had a large Empire to get stuff from and made things, like pottery, and so there was a lot to leave for us to find. The Tudors didn’t make stuff on such a large scale and so there was less around.
Also much of the Tullie House Collection comes from Hadrian’s Wall. This was only used by the Romans and so there are no Tudor objects from the places like Birdoswald because they did not live there.
There are some items in the museum which date back to Tudor times though, our Reivers gallery contains some pieces from Tudor times, as does our Guildhall Museum – which is a Tudor building in the city centre.”
Abby and Rose Holliday asked “How long has Tullie House been around for, when was it built?”
Melanie told us “The old house was built for the Tullie family in 1689, with the later Victorian extensions added in 1892.”
Tim adds “When these extensions were added it opened to the public and became a museum and Institute for the Arts. The date, 1893, can be seen over the door into the building at the top of the ramp from the garden. Until 1990, it was also the home of Carlisle’s library, which can now be found in The Lanes.
The carving on the stone is called a phallus and represents male creative energy. The Romans believed that this energy could be used to stop bad luck, They carved them onto their buildings to make sure that the buildings would be protected. They are found on many of the surviving building in the forts along Hadrian’s Wall as well as in Roman cities like Pompeii.
Jess P asked “Why do you have dresses?”
“The museum collects dresses amongst other items of clothing because they were often worn by local people and are an important part of human history.”
Kath asked “Can I buy the Dior dress?”
“Sorry Kath, we cannot sell items in the collections. The collections are permanently owned by the city for the benefit of the community today and in the future.”
As ever on #askthecurators the Natural Science collections are making people curious.
Jessica B asked “Where was the shark caught?”
Good question Jessica, our little porbeagle shark was caught just off the Solway Coast in West Cumbria, not far from Carlisle. Porbeagles get their name from the Cornish word por meaning harbour because they are often seen very close to the shore or in harbours.
The porbeagle is native to all coastal regions of the UK. The largest one in Britain was seen just off the coast of Tynemouth in the North East and is thought to have been about 12 feet long, about 4 times bigger than ours!
Jenson asked “Where did the peacock come from?”
Another good question Jenson, this type of peacock is not native to Britain, they were originally from India and Sri Lanka. But rich people in the Victorian times (about 150 years ago) would bring the birds home to keep as pets.
This one was collected from Cumwhitton in 1990.
Thank you all for your great questions on #askthecurators over the last couple of months – we’ve really enjoyed answering them and we’ve even learnt some more things about our objects! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of our answers.
We’ve had a busy week here at Tullie with the start of the Cumbrian summer holidays! Lots of visitors to our What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition and lots more questions for our curators via #askthecurator.
Whilst the curators are busy answering some of the other questions we’ve had this week we’ll start off with some questions about one of the most popular items in the exhibition, our very proud grey wolf.
7 visitors have asked questions about our wolf, so thank you to Ella, Aimee, Gemma, Molly, Erin, Nathan and Amy.
Ella and Aimee have both asked “Where did the wolf come from?”
This wolf lived at an animal park here in Cumbria and came to the museum in 2002. There are no wild wolves left in the UK – although there used to be lots of wolves in the UK and particularly in Cumbria. The wolf is not an endangered species though, they are still found in a lot of countries across the world such as Canada, the USA and Russia.
Amy asked “How did the wolf die?”
The wolf died of natural causes in about 2002 – as it lived in captivity this means it was probably quite old.
The museum does not accept any animal specimens which were hunted or killed on purpose.
The museum collects all different types of animals, plants and insects for all kinds of reasons.
Museums first started collecting animal species like this wolf for research purposes – often travellers or hunters would find a species that we didn’t know much about and would bring it back for people to study. Some of the older specimens in the collection were collected in this way – but we don’t kill animals just to add to the collection anymore.
Other people might come and ask to see our animals to draw them – lots of animators will base their drawings and computer animations on animals kept in museums because they make very patient models.
The main reason we keep animal specimens though is so that we can show them to the public in exhibitions like this one. It is hard to make people interested or care about animals who need our help if they don’t know about them. By displaying our specimens we can encourage people to learn more about the environment and nature, and who knows they might become vets or zoo keepers or scientists who can help care for the world around us.
Thanks for you question Gemma, unfortunately Health and Safety rules mean that we can’t have a live wolf in the museum, particularly one that has developed a taste for eating boys!
It wouldn’t really be fair to keep a live wolf in the museum, but if you would like to see a live wolf there are a few zoos and animal parks in the UK that keep wolves. Or if you’re heading to Canada or Russia (and lots of other places) you might get to see one in the wild!
Also this one is much better at staying still so that people can have a look 🙂
And Nathan has asked “Can I take the wolf home for Courteney?”
I hope you were thinking of giving the wolf as a gift to Courteney and not to scare her Nathan! Unfortunately, for you, the museum has a strict policy of not letting visitors take objects from the collection home with them. We look after the objects in our collection ‘in trust’, this means we look after the objects on behalf of the government and private collectors so that they might be seen by visitors for many many years.
Thank you all for your wolf questions, here are a few of our favourite wolf facts thrown in for free!
- The wolf is related to all breeds of domestic dog. It is part of a group of animals called wild dogs which also includes the dingo and the coyote.
- Wolves can adapt to a number of different environments and have been found to be living in more places in the world than any other mammal, except humans.
- Wolves have two layers of fur, an undercoat and a top coat, which keeps them warm in temperatures as low at minus 40 degrees Celsius! In the summer they shed their fur, like domestic dogs.
- A wolf’s howl can be heard around 10 miles away, they howl to call other members of their pack to them and mark their territory to keep rival packs out of their area.
- Most wolves live in packs, but a wolf that lives on its own is known as a lone wolf. They don’t scent mark or howl and live off of very small animals such as rodents due to the fact that they have to hunt on their own.
This week our #askthecurators questions have come from the Tullie Time Travellers, our group for 8-13 year olds, who meet at the museum once a month. Sammy, Holly, Leon and Stella met up and had a look round the exhibition and posed our curators a couple of questions.
Stella asked “Why are there dead red squirrels here if red squirrels are endangered?”
Good question Stella, we don’t kill any animals anymore just to add to our collection. Most of the specimens on display are very old, more recent specimens were found dead, often killed by cars.
Collections of endangered animals like this can actually help scientists to save an entire species. Scientists can study how squirrels have changed over time, what they are eating and where they are living,. This helps them to understand more, so that they can help to keep more of them alive, it is important we keep them in good condition.
By displaying animals we can help create the future generation of scientists as well, a child visiting the museum might see animals like this and become interested in looking after them when they grow up.
Sammy asked “What’s the point in studying nettles?”
Another good question, whilst we see nettles all the time and they might not seem very interesting—a historical collection of plants like this can tell us a lot about how the environment has changed, what is in the water or the air, whether a place is hotter or colder and how plants are affected by these changes.
That’s a tricky one Leon, unfortunately we do not have any information on what the different species of spider in this case are. Tullie House currently doesn’t have any spider experts (or arachnologists) here at Tullie House to give us a definitive answer.
However some of the specimens look very like the well named banana spider (aka Heteropoda venatoria) a species thought to be native to Asia, which has become prominent in other tropical countries because it frequently hides in banana shipments. It is rare to find banana spiders in fruit shipments today because of changes in how bananas are transported.
If you did find one of these then there is no need to panic – although they can deliver a painful bite if handled badly they are harmless.
Another species found in fruit shipments is not so safe though, the Brazilian wandering spider (aka Phoneutria ) is in the Guinness World Records book as the most venomous spider in the world. It is still incredibly rare to find this spider in bananas that reach the UK!
Holly asked “How did you collect the dead animals?” and “How do you store things?”
Both good questions Holly, firstly the animals are collected in a number of different ways. Some of the older specimens in the collection were hunted especially for the collection, but we haven’t done that for nearly 100 years. Nowadays a member of the public might find the animal and bring it to us, we don’t accept animals who have been hunted or trapped. For larger and important animals we might be contacted to collect it.
In answer to your second question different things are stored in different ways, here’s a sneaky look at some of the ways we have stored items.
A lot of our collection is stored in what is known as ’roller racking’ . These are shelves that are on tracks, so we can open them up to get at items—but then they close up, meaning they take up less space in the store—which is great because our stores are not quite big enough for everything we have collected.
Another way to save space, is shown here in our Large Picture Store— large paintings are attached to the mesh which is pushed back into the rack—meaning we can store lots of big paintings in a very small room!
Other objects are kept on shelves in various stores throughout the museum, we have 12 dedicated storage areas which are all secure. It is also important for some of the collections that the temperature and humidity is controlled, so that it doesn’t get too warm or too damp, which would damage a lot of the collections. Our Fine Art and Costume collections are particularly vulnerable to this, so their storage areas have special systems in to remove warm damp air and keep the temperature constant.
Thank you all for your questions – What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice is on display until August 16th so if you’re heading in over the Summer holidays then please leave us a question and we’ll post the answer here on the blog!
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?
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.
A busy bank holiday and half term has filled up our #askthecurators board with some really great questions. Our curators have been hard at work trying to answer some of your questions.
We’ve had so many questions we’ll have to do two blogs! First up our visitors during the school holidays have been particularly interested in some of the animals on display in What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice, so we’ll start with a Natural Science special!
That’s a really good question Jack these spiders were all found in Cumbria, in shipments of fruit. If you look really closely you will see that most of them came in crates of bananas. Most of the bananas in Britain come from South American countries like Columbia, Equador and the Dominican Republic – so it is very likely that is where the spiders came from too!
Molly and Megan would both like to know a bit more about spiders, Molly asked How many different species of spiders are there? And Megan told us I have learned and read about spiders and I want to know more about spiders.
Its great to see people so curious about spiders as often people are scared of them, so here’s our top five spider facts for you Molly and Megan.
- There are about 37,500 species of spider that have been identified and named, but new species are discovered all the time.
- Spiders live on every continent in the world, except Antarctica
- The biggest species of spider is called a Goliath birdeater and can grow to 28cm wide.
- The smallest species of spider is called the Patu marplesi and is only half a millimetre wide!
- Spiders repel water, making a layer of air between themselves and the water – meaning they don’t get wet and can float or even survive under water!
Daisy Ditchburn has asked Do you have more about frogs? Unfortunately Daisy we don’t have a great deal about frogs, there is some information in the Wildlife Dome, but to tide you over, here’s our favourite frog fact:
For centuries the frog has been considered lucky in Scotland. So you may see stone frogs in gardens and they often given as housewarming gifts.
The porbeagle shark is one of around 50 species of shark that live in UK waters, another British shark is the basking shark, Archie asks What do basking sharks eat? The basking shark eats plankton it is one of only 3 planktivore sharks. Plankton are small animals and plants that float in the water.
An anonymous young visitor asked What do sharks do? That’s an interesting question, and all species of shark are a bit different. Porbeagles like the one in our exhibition spend their days swimming, if it were to stop it wouldn’t be able to breathe. The porbeagle shark is also interesting because it may be one of the few fish species that plays, they have been spotted chasing one another and passing floating objects to each other.
Jessica Gourdino asked How many sharks are there in the world? No-one is quite sure how many sharks there are in the world, there are about 450 known species, some are critically endangered but others are quite numerous. It is also thought that there are many other species of shark living in very deep water which has not yet been discovered. It was recently estimated that 100 million sharks are killed every year by people, for food and sport.
And one visitor asked the tricky question Will there ever be a boy born that can swim faster than a shark? What a brilliant question! And here is something resembling an answer! The fastest swimmer in the world in Frederick Bousquet, who swam at an average speed of 5.34 miles per hour, over 50m. The fastest shark in the world is the shortfin mako shark which can reach speeds of about 60 miles per hour, so it is very unlikely a human will ever catch up with the mako. However the Greenland shark travels at about 0.3 miles per hour, and is thought to have a top speed of 1.7 miles per hour. So even a slow human swimmer could outrun a Greenland shark!
The dolphin’s skull has come from a real dolphin, more specifically a Common dolphin. It was collected in 1975 We do not have the rest of the skeleton, but an adult Common dolphin would have reached between 1.9 and 2.5m and weighed about 80-150kg.
There will be more of your questions answered in our next blog, if you have a question for our curators then leave a note in What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice, or tweet us @TullieHouse using #askthecurators
A few weeks into our new special exhibition ‘What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice’, we have had some more questions from our brilliant and inquisitive visitors.
Edwin, our Curator of Social History and Melanie, our Curator of Fine and Decorative Art have got some answers to your questions.
Amanda and Luke visited the exhibition and left this lovely comment “We liked the Lowry pictures and my son started to sing the matchstick cats and dogs song, a song they sing at Caldew Lea School” so we asked Melanie if this song was written about LS Lowry. She replied:
“Yes, the song ‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’ was written in 1977 by Brian and Michael, in memory of LS Lowry who had died the year before. The title refers to Lowry’s signature style of painting figures, which can be seen in both the Lowry works on display in ‘What’s in Store’.”
Sophie, age 9, asked “Where do you get all the stuff?” That’s a really good question Sophie, Tullie House’s collection of ‘stuff’ now adds up to over quarter of a million objects, but how did we get them?
The collection here at Tullie House began in 1893. Objects are often given to us by members of the public, but we have to make sure these donations fit into our collecting policy as we don’t have the space to collect everything! Other items, particularly those in the Fine and Decorative Art collection come to us as bequests, which means someone has left them to us in their will when they have passed away. The museum also has some loans which we might need to fill a gap in our collections for an exhibition, these come from other museums and private collections.
There is some information in the exhibition about where some of the objects on display came from, for example, this medieval jug was found in the gardens here at Tullie House – whilst a proud fisherman donated this haaf net to help us to protect and tell the story of a traditional method of fishing.
The toilet is part of Edwin’s collection, so he replied “Most Victorian and Edwardian toilets were disposed of and replaced with modern toilets. Some have ended up on the antique market, but there are others in museums, which allows them to be seen by many people.”
One visitor wondered “Have you got any more memories or bits and pieces for Her Majesty’s Theatre?” which was a theatre, cinema and gig venue on Lowther Street in Carlisle, which closed in 1979 and was demolished in 1980 to make way for a car park.
Edwin looks after collections relating to the recent history of Carlisle and replied “the museum has very little of HM Theatre but would be interested if any one had any further material they could donate. For the time being I would recommend a book by Mary-Scott Parker, that charts the history of the theatre from 1874-1979.“
Jessy asked “How do you become a curator?” Good question Jessy, Edwin answered this one:
“Normally you would go to University and get a degree in the subject you are interested in curating, so for Social History you might study History. You can also study courses in Museum Studies at many Universities now too. To get hands on practical experience working in a museum volunteering and work experience placements can help and open doors to becoming a curator.”
Thank you all very much for some more great questions! If you’re visiting Tullie House over the bank holiday or half term be sure to take a look at What’s in Store: The Curator’s Choice and take the opportunity to #askthecurators. You can also ask us a question via twitter. Tweet us @TullieHouse using #askthecurators
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!