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Tullie House heads East…

Since 2013, we’ve been working with the Zhou family, owners and operators of the Imperial Decree Museum (IDM) in Xuzhou and the No. 1 Scholar Museum in Suzhou, both in Jiangsu Province in China.

In June of this year we were invited over to show museum staff how objects from collections can be used to engage and inspire. Andrew Mackay (Head of Collections & Programming) and Anna Smalley (Learning & Engagement Manager) made the 7,700 mile journey to Shanghai and this is what happened on their trip…

Group pic

Han Tom picAfter a very long journey we arrived in Shanghai and hopped straight on the famous Chinese Bullet Train to Xuzhou, a relatively “small” city for China with a population of 10 million and rising! We spent the first few days of our trip getting to know the Guishan Hill Scenic District where the Imperial Decree Museum is located. Along with IDM, the area also has a beautiful garden sculpture museum and an amazing Han Dynasty tomb of national importance. The tomb dates back to 116BC and is the resting place of the Emperor Liu Zhu.

Kid pic 4On our fifth day we ran our object handling workshop for 21 local primary school children (10-12 years old) who luckily for us were selected for their English abilities! We created a session based around three activities: firstly, the children took part in an object handling session using the Roman artefacts from our collection which were split into categories of Technology (pottery, glass), Jewellery (brooches and bracelets) and Coins. Secondly, the children explored Latin and Roman writing using real wooden writing tablets and metal styli, having a go at writing in Latin and comparing the results with English and Chinese characters. Thirdly, the children looked at Roman costume, handling real Roman footwear and dressing up in replica costume. The pupils then created their own role play about daily life in Roman Carlisle, using the objects they had handled during the session as inspiration.

Kid pic 2The children found the experience of object handling incredibly inspiring: none of the pupils had ever handled real historical artefacts before, and the added factor of them being from a country thousands of miles away was even more exciting! We adopted the same object handling techniques as we would in our primary workshops in Carlisle, telling to the children not to worry about giving wrong answers: we wanted their ideas and to know how they felt about the objects. We encouraged them to use their senses, looking closely with magnifying glasses, feeling for different textures and even smelling the objects.

Tullie House China 4Next we travelled to Suzhou, known as ‘the Garden City’ and just half an hour by train from Shanghai. Our workshop here was for university students so we adapted our Romans workshop and added comparisons with Han Dynasty technology and costume. Once again the object handling was the most popular activity: the students loved wearing the gloves and handling the objects directly, and were particularly impressed by the jewellery. We also gave the students opportunities to try on the replica costume we brought, working with Han Dynasty re-enactors to compare the different types of male and female clothing. For the writing task the students wrote Latin and Chinese phrases on traditional fans.

As well as delivering workshops, presentations and meeting lots of new museum colleagues, we also worked on our plans for Chinese New Year 2016 – we hope to borrow items from the Imperial Decree Museum’s collection so keep an eye on the Tullie House website for more details!


Keep an eye on the blog for part 2 of our round up of the trip as Andrew continued to explore the culture and history of China, coming soon.


#askthecurators Tullie Time Travellers Special

Group shotThis 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.
squirrelsStella 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.
nettlesSammy 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.

spidersLeon asked “What are the names of the spider types in case 18?”

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.

The banana spider Heteropoda venatoria

The banana spider (Heteropoda venatoria)

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.

The Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria)

The Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria)

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.

IMG_0177IMG_0179A 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.

IMG_0170Another 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!

IMG_0165Other 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!

Happy Owls on Tour lands at Tullie House

This Easter we have welcomed a new exhibition into our Special Exhibition Gallery. HOOT (Happy Owls on Tour) is home to 60 felt owl wall hangings, designed and made by 60 units of Brownies in Cumbria North as part of the celebrations in 2014 for the Big Brownie Birthday. You’ll have to be quick to catch them though, they’re only here for a flying visit before heading off to their next perch on the 19th of April.


The Brownies celebrated 100 years of Brownies and created the Owls with the help of Girlguiding Cumbria North’s Assistant County Commissioner and local artist, Karen MacDougall. The Owls were first seen together at Muncaster when over 3,000 Brownies celebrated with the biggest ever birthday party!

HOOT4How they were made:

The Brownies were given a brief and created a number of designs for their hanging. Some units voted for their favourite design, other units chose a little bit from each – different ways of showing democracy and how Guiding helps girls to make decisions.

Karen MacDougall is an artist who works with communities, she took the girl’s sketches and worked out how these could be made in felt and made up felting packs for each unit.

Karen led all the felt making sessions, step by step, teaching and encouraging as girls, leaders and helpers from different units came together in halls throughout Cumbria North. The Trefoil Guild helped stitch on badges and tabs to the felts so that they can be exhibited in professional galleries and museums.HOOT2

Leaders learned something new and felt confident to be able to do more with their units. Everyone was amazed at the process and the results. The Owl hangings will become souvenirs and part of their unit’s history for the next 100 years.

Karen tells us how to make felt,

“To make felt you need soap (alkali), water (warm), fibres and friction (we rubbed for ages) in a controlled way. Bubblewrap was used (and reused until it fell apart) to give us extra fingers to shorten the rubbing time and the hanging was finished by rolling in bamboo mats and then rinsed, squeezed and then dried flat.”


On Sunday 12 April we will be holding a fun and informal craft session to make a free owl themed souvenir of your visit to see HOOT between 1pm – 4pm. You can also find out more about Brownies, Rainbows, Guides, Senior Section and Adult Volunteering opportunities in your area of Cumbria.

Tullie Time Travellers – Springwatch

We were promised sunshine for today’s Tullie Time Travellers session so we planned to head out into the gardens and look out for signs of spring. Not to be put off by cloudy skies we headed out anyway to see what we could find.

We started by splitting into 4 teams and doing a Spring Flower Scavenger Hunt. Our teams had to find and photograph 8 flowers – first team to get all 8 wins the scavenger hunt and gets themselves on the Tullie Shield.

Ladybirds 005

Rose, Izzie and Sammy (aka Team Ladybird) tracked down a patch of Daffodils in the Tullie House Garden

Team Lily (Charlotte, Maria and Lily) got a beautiful close up of the Helibore.

Team Lily (Charlotte, Maria and Lily) got a beautiful close up of the Helibore.

Mungo and Leon (aka Team Snail) knew their Miniature Narcissi from their Daffodils!

Mungo and Leon (aka Team Snail) knew their Miniature Narcissi from their Daffodils!

Team Paper Towel (we felt it best not to ask) snapped this pic in the Crocus patch

Team Paper Towel (we felt it best not to ask) snapped this pic in the Crocus patch

All the teams put in a lot of effort, but in the end it was down to the two teams of girls Team Labybird were off looking for green buds, when Team Lily headed back having found all 8!

After doing such a good job tracking down some spring flowers we set our nature hunters off to see if they could get photos of any of the birds or insects that call in to the gardens here at Tullie House. However, we soon realised that birds and sometimes even insects move a little too fast for our photographers in training!

"There was a bird there, honest!" Team Paper Towel (we're still not gonna ask!)

“There was a bird there, honest!” Team Paper Towel (we’re still not gonna ask!)

Team Snail didn't manage to find any of their namesake but they did find this lovely Woodlouse!

Team Snail didn’t manage to find any of their namesake but they did find this lovely Woodlouse!

Team Lily found the Lesser Spotted Lily crouching amongst the Daffodils

Team Lily found the Lesser Spotted Lily crouching amongst the Daffodils

Team Ladybird found these two cheeky monkeys hanging around by the Japanese Dogwood!

Team Ladybird found these two cheeky monkeys hanging around by the Japanese Dogwood!

When it got a bit cold we headed back inside to test our Time Traveller’s nature knowledge in our animal quiz – how would you do?

1. Can you name two of the three species of snake native to the UK?

2.The slow worm is a type of lizard with no legs, true or false?

3. The average mole weighs 80 grams, how many earthworms do they have to eat everyday? 5g, 20g, 50g or 100g?

4. What is the name for a group of cows?

5. All blackbirds are black. True of false?

6. Which of these animals is the fastest? A cheetah, peregrine falcon, snail or rabbit?

7. What type of animal is a barracuda?

8. What is the name for a group of toads?

9. What is the longest species of snake?

10. What is a vixen?

11. What do you call where an otter lives? A sett, a holt, a drey, or a nest?

12. Where are a grasshoppers ears located?

13. Which animal can sleep standing up? A cow, a horse or a sheep?

14. What is a baby kangaroo called?

15. Can ostriches fly?

Three of our teams tied for second place with 10 correct answers out of 15 – but the winners with an amazing 13 right answers was Team Paper Towel (better known as Bert and Matthew!) getting their names onto our Tullie Shield!

To finish off the session we stayed in the warmth and headed up to the Border Galleries to see if we could spot any animals amongst the objects on display, not including the natural history collection of course!

Team Lily got this great shot of our Flying Reiver on his horse.

Team Lily got this great shot of our Flying Reiver on his horse.

Team Paper Towel found this bird adorning one of the objects in our Medieval Carlisle display!

Team Paper Towel found this bird adorning one of the objects in our Medieval Carlisle display!

Team Ladybird spotted this great dish in Carlisle Life!

Team Ladybird spotted this great dish in Carlisle Life!

Team Snail spotted this miniature Border Reiver herding livestock in the Pele Tower diorama in the Reivers gallery!

Team Snail spotted this miniature Border Reiver herding livestock in the Pele Tower diorama in the Reivers gallery!

Don’t forget, the next Tullie Time Travellers is on Saturday 18 April and we’ll be looking at our ARTIST ROOMS Anselm Kiefer exhibition and making some of our own Kiefer inspired masterpieces. If you are or know a child aged 8-13 who would like to join the Time Travellers contact

Answers to the quiz: 1. Grass snake, Adder or Smooth snake. 2. True. 3. 50g. 4. Herd. 5. False. 6. Peregrine Falcon. 7. Fish. 8. Knot. 9. Python. 10. Female fox. 11. a holt. 12. On its knees. 13. Horse. 14. Joey. 15. No.

Your Art Space – Half Term Family Fun

Print, splodge, spray, kneed, shape, stick, paint, fold and fun time comes to Tullie House this half term. Our Family Learning Officer Geoff lets us know what our family visitors have been taking part in this week.


Just over a week ago our ARTIST ROOMS Anselm Kiefer exhibition opened in the Art Gallery. We’ve got lots of exciting events linked to the exhibition, including some family friendly activities over the half term holidays.

‘Your Art Space’ is our weeklong series of art and craft based family workshops running every afternoon this week until Sunday. I write this as we hit the half way mark of the event, which has been hugely popular with visiting families.

Producing family friendly activities linking to Kiefer’s often controversial work was initially a little tricky, but the problem was solved by local artist Helen Walsh, who came up with the idea of basing the workshops on Kiefer’s mixed media approach and materials rather than the subject matter of his work.

Each workshop is based upon a different artist technique. We kicked off on Monday and Tuesday with clay, which as anyone who has worked with children in any clay based event will tell you, is immensely popular. The two days did not buck this trend with over 200 people through the door making tiles, pots and a whole host of animals as well.

Art6On Wednesday we replaced clay with recycled materials, with families creating printing blocks using a range of materials and then to use them to print. As I type my trusty team of staff and volunteers are working away on the last of recycled sessions.

Starting today we finish the week off with a weekend of painting and drawing workshops.

Kiefer uses many materials in his work, including real plant material so Helen decided to use this to try to tie all seven workshops together. So far this has had mixed results; many families inevitably will do there own thing and others will push the envelope in directions we couldn’t even hope to imagine. This approach is never to be discouraged as family fun and creativity is something we encourage in all our visitors.


Linking to the Artist Room aspect of the exhibition, we’ve been displaying the work of our families as they finish it, both print works and the clay creations from earlier in the week. Not only will the display help us to record what our visitors have done here, but more than that, families will hopefully see their work on display, take pride in their achievements and take a little ownership of their museum too.

If you want to get involved our drop-in Paint and Draw sessions are on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1pm-4pm. Come by anytime and drop-in for FREE.

Guest Post – A busy term for our Primary Programme!

School’s out for Christmas and our Primary Education department are celebrating the end of a brilliant term, Anna has written a guest post to give you an insight into what the Primary programme is all about here at Tullie House. My name is Anna Smalley and I’m the Programming Manager for Learning & Events at Tullie House. As part of my role I manage the very popular Primary Schools programme. We offer a menu of workshops focussing on the history curriculum, from the Ancient Egyptians and Prehistory to the Victorians and the Second World War, along with Special Event Weeks and Outreach sessions. We provide a much-loved service for our community, and our quality and passion has recently been recognised on a national level – in 2013 we were one of the recipients of the prestigious Sandford Award for Excellence in Heritage Education, a quality badge that will last for the next five years. We think giving children opportunities to get up close to and handle our amazing collection is the most important thing we offer, and all of our workshops have object handling at their heart. We also bring in other subjects too, like Art, English, Maths, Science and Drama. In our Viking session, for example, we get our pupils to act out the story of what happened when the Ice Giants stole Thor’s Hammer, with one lucky pupil dressing up as Thor himself disguised as a bride! This term has been our busiest ever, with lots of new workshops being offered to our schools. These have included Africa Week (where Museum staff were kept entertained with the sound of drumming for five days!), Christmas through the Ages with storyteller Ian Douglas and a new session focussing on the lives of ordinary men, women and children during the First World War. holding handsWithout a doubt though, our most popular new session has been Prehistory – schools have been very excited about the opportunity to handle real prehistoric artefacts from thousands of years ago. As well as handling objects in the session, pupils also explore our galleries, build a Stone Circle using their bodies and create their own Bronze Age lunula! 1926_25_1_group_view1 For more information about these or any of our other sessions, please get in touch using

Guest Post – ‘Dazzle’ When Painting Went to War

Mark Gibbs our Secondary Learning Officer gives us an update on one of his projects with local Secondary schools.

“This week one of the things I’ve been getting ready for is an Arts Award workshop for 15 year 7s from William Howard School. I’m really looking forward to it, particularly as it coincides with some of my own artistic interests. The workshop combines a number of subjects that are particularly current; the First World War commemorations, our visiting War Games exhibition from the V&A Museum of Childhood, and the upcoming ARTIST ROOMS: Anselm Kiefer exhibition [7th February- 7th June].

On Friday 5 December I lead an art workshop called ‘Dazzle – When painting went to war.’ It is a workshop which seeks to mix art and military history, followed by a visit to War Games.

With U-Boats around, how do you camouflage a huge ship, especially when the pesky sky keeps changing colour? One minute its grey then a bit of blue- you could splash a bit of everything on and hope for the best, or choose an average. Thing is, even if you are lucky with your colour choice, First World War ships were powered by coal, so there’s a huge smoke plume acting as a signpost for every periscope around.

Artist Norman Wilkinson, inspired by bird plumage came up with Dazzle camouflage- you don’t try and hide the ship, you try and to make it difficult to tell how far away it is, and even, which direction it’s steaming in. So this is why ships appeared in zebra-like, migraine inducing stripes as so;


USS West Mahomet 1918 in dazzle camouflage Photo #: 19-N-1733, Naval History and Heritage Command website

In fact if you look closely it’s difficult to see where the ship ends. As an artist I’ve become a bit obsessed with these patterns and a have made a series of sculptures inspired by them and by the historic photographs of the ships. As so;

Dazzle- image embedded in resin on raku ceramic Mark Gibbs 2014 Detail

dazzleSo inspired by Wilkinson and his team of artists our students camouflaged some ship cut outs- learning about colour mixing, contrast and pattern, as they went. Then we held a competition, comparing designs against a selected sky colour [the carpet colour actually!] Only the most confusing survived, and here were our winners.

The Winning DesignsThis workshop was followed up by a full day outreach workshop lead by myself and artist Celia Burbush, focussing on Kiefer’s work. For day 2 we  made our own version of one of Kiefer’s monumental; ‘ploughed fields of history- splash it on an inch thick’ paintings…. That’s an official art historical term.

dazzle workshop 2

Many thanks to Celia and the students from William Howard School.


Tullie Time Travellers: Viking Christmas

Today was our last Tullie Time Travellers session of the year, so we spent the afternoon learning about the Viking festival Yule and learning how to write in a Viking runic alphabet known as Futhark!



We started our session by having a look at the Viking objects on display in the Border Galleries and taking rubbings from the replicas of the Bewcastle Cross, to learn more about the Vikings in Cumbria.

Then after a quick trip to the badger sett (because no Tullie Time Traveller can resist a wander through the badger sett) we headed back down to the Community Room to learn more about the Vikings, the traditions of their winter festival that many people still follow at Christmas-time and pick up the basics of Futhark!

The group learned that the Vikings did not celebrate Christmas, as pagans they worshipped many gods, including Thor, Loki and Odin (other Marvel characters are available) but they did have a celebration at this time of year, celebrating the Winter Solstice. The festival of Yule lasted about two weeks, and people feasted and told stories (not unlike Christmas party season now!)

One of the Christmas traditions that may have had its origin in Viking times is that of the Yule Log, some historians think a log was burnt on the fire during Yuletide and people made wishes for the coming year. So the Tullie Time Travellers wrote their own wishes for the coming year on our very own Yule logs!


For those of you whose Futhark is a little rusty, the Tullie Time Travellers wished for all sorts in the next year, from I-pods to health and happiness to success in exams to gaining First Class Cadet! Thankfully we didn’t have to burn these logs – the chocolate type are much nicer to eat!


As well as the Yule log, we learnt about where the Vikings came from and what they traded for and what they traded with – by decoding a world map written in Viking runes. Did you know that the Vikings reached the Middle East, trading some of the furs and walrus ivory they had at home for silver, spices and even slaves?!


Finally our Vikings dressed up and throught about what they might have wished for on the Yule Log over 1000 years ago – our warriors wanted new swords and boats, whilst the ladies of the group prefered gold and necklaces and the sheep on the end, well he wanted more food!


Happy Yule from the Tullie Time Travellers and hope all your wishes for 2015 come true!

Remembrance 100 opens in THe Shed

The first of our series of seven exhibitions opens in THe Shed tomorrow.  The co-curator of Remembrance 100 Mark Gibbs is our guest blogger today who shares his expereince of creating an exhibit from such thought-provoking subject matter.

Remembrance 100   6 Nov- 23 Nov
A big part of my job is to build connections between schools and Tullie House, so I’m delighted with how Remembrance 100 has turned out. It’s a show in Tullie’s new experimental Shed space, where we try to do displays differently. The project is a partnership between the Museum and Trinity School in Carlisle. It combines student artwork, powerful artefacts, a web based archive and an interactive peace wall.  Continuing the theme of collaboration, I’ve enjoyed working closely with the Curator of Social History Edwin Rutherford.
The background to the show comes from Tullie’s interest in marking the 100th anniversary of the War’s outbreak, and the research two Trinity teachers carried out.  Trinity’s Head of History, Linda Hodgson and maths teacher Sarah Lee-Adamson researched the service history of the school’s old boys who were killed in the First World War. Through this they found three names not recorded on the school’s memorial plaque, and so these were added in a dedication service led by the Bishop of Carlisle this October. Their research is recorded in Trinity’s Memorial website, which visitors can access in the show or at home. The school’s year 9 (13-14 year olds) were then asked to design an image to use for the invitations to the event.  

Eloise helping out

Remembrance 100 combines this display of 100 of these student artworks with artefacts from our collections, including a set of letters from Lance Corporal Joseph Hall, who was killed in action at Arras in 1917. We have his last letter home, family photograph and death notification telegram.  This is powerful stuff which made a big impact on the group of eight Trinity students who came over to design the labels and information boards: ‘Our first impressions were indescribable’ said one student pair.  That’s where the innovation comes in.  One group of students designed most of the text in the show and a second group of six students came over to install the show – Museum Assistant Eloise Stott helped us to put the display up making sure everything was level – no mean feat with 100 small artworks!

So Remembrance 100 is a jointly curated show, with student artworks, powerful stories,
and the Memorial website providing a digital element. There’s also an interactive part; a peace wall where visitors are encouraged to think how we can all promote peace, and post that thought on the wall. Suggesting perhaps that Remembrance can be active, and continuing the interest that Tullie has already shown in conflict resolution with the Living Wall display, in the Roman Frontier Gallery (this reminds viewers that border walls are still very much part of our world). It also connects with the debate on the ethics of war themed toys in our current Wargames show.
A short documentary film will provide a permanent record of the show.
Filmaker Paddy preparing for the big shot

Mark Gibbs
Secondary and post 16 Learning Officer

Tullie House
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