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#askthecurators More Questions Answered

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’.”

Group shot

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.


48 haaf netThere 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.

toiletOur Edwardian toilet from Garlands Hospital continues to provoke curiosity, with one visitor asking “Where did all the other lovely toilets go? I would love one!”

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


#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.

wolfEmily Ford asked “How do you stuff the animals?”

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.

troutAimee Ford asked “How did you get the fish stuffed?”

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.

christian diorAnother visitor asked “Who would have worn 4?” 4 refers to the Christian Dior dress on display in the exhibition.

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.

toiletAnna asked “Why do you have a toilet?”

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.”

penny farthingTwo visitors asked “How do you get up onto the unicycle?”

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

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!

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