Exhibitions


By Eileen Budd, Exhibitions and Design

Saskia de Brauw is a leading international model and artist, born in the Netherlands of Dutch and Scottish parentage.  Saskia’s artwork incorporates elements of photography and performance art as well as text and graphics.  The exhibition we were installing, The Accidental Fold is a collection of 21 prints, hung intermittently throughout the Sculpture Gallery on Level 5 of National Museum of Scotland.  The prints are photographs of a variety of found objects printed onto cotton, tissue and rice papers.  These found objects vary from locks of hair and bird feathers to detergent bottles and broken mirrors.

Installing the images.

Stuart on the genie lift measuring for wire placement.

The 1-3m long prints are layered in some sections and hang alone in others, each piece reacting to one of the classical pieces of sculpture which sit alongside as part of our permanent display. The work sets up a lovely juxtaposition between our sculpture collection and her artwork.  Solid stone, marble and bronze sculptures versus the butterfly wing delicate and ghostlike images.

Exhibition Officer Sarah Teale in the exhibition

Sarah, vigilantly invigilating!

Looking at the work in situ now, peacefully hanging in mid-air, so fragile they look as though they’re being held up by sunlight, it’s hard to imagine just how intense it was to get them up there.

Installing them was a real challenge, partly because of the height issues we faced in fixing these prints to the roof beams five floors above the Grand Gallery and partly because of how delicate the prints were. Negotiating permanent display cases with a large gene lift, a set of ladders and 21 sheets of easy-to-tear three metre-long sheets of tissue paper meant that moving slowly and precisely was the order of the three days which followed.

Stevie and Stuart, our Exhibition Technicians, did an amazing job, first fixing the wire along the beams to hang the prints from and then the continuous climb up and down ladders or yo-yoing up and down in the genie lift.  Thankfully our intrepid heroes do not suffer from a fear of heights!

Stevie and Stuart hanging the artwork

Attaching rings to the wire: Stevie, Stuart and Saskia.

We made sure to stick to very strict regulations about working at height and had to allow the correct distance from the balcony’s edge at all times. As intense, physically exhausting and challenging exhibition installations can be, it is also tremendous fun.  Saskia was great to work with and Stuart was particularly impressed to find out she had met his hero, David Bowie.  Saskia was equally impressed with our Elvis impressions and impromptu Scottish folk song renditions.

Ready for anything!

Team Alpha!

I would encourage you to go and experience walking among the artworks and as you gaze upon the giant image of a discarded orange peel, think that there can be beauty in the ordinary and there’s a real optimism in that.  Saskia’s work allows us to take a second look at something, to see it from a different perspective. Just as objects, seen in their true light.

The finished exhibition

The finished exhibition in the Sculpture gallery.

We are proud to be hosting Saskia de Brauw’s exhibition The Accidental Fold in partnership with the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival.  The exhibition is in the National Museum of Scotland’s Sculpture Gallery on Level 5 until Monday 28 July . Find out more on Saskia’s blog.

Jo Sohn-RethelBy Jo Sohn-Rethel, Project Co-ordinator, Next of Kin

The Next of Kin touring project centres on revealing the personal experiences of Scottish families during the First World War as a way of commemorating the centenary of the conflict. Through the personal effects of the servicemen and women passed on to their families and down through generations, the exhibition provides unique insights into their poignant stories of separation and sacrifice. After the exhibition closes at the National War Museum next year, the display will travel to nine museums across Scotland and the objects from National Museums Scotland collections will be joined by artefacts and people associated with the local areas of each venue. Along with the object case displays, these stories will be incorporated into a digital interactive on display and community groups will create their own responses to the topic through an object handling box.

Embroidered postcard sent by Private George Buchanan to his sister

Embroidered postcard sent by Private George Buchanan to his sister.

As coordinator of the project, my first few weeks or so involved helping the team to prepare graphics and audio-visual content for installation at the War Museum. Much time was spent editing down original newsreel footage acquired from Imperial War Museum collections which are being shown in a recreated wartime cinema room. The aim is to convey how families would have found out about the experiences of their loved ones on the fighting fronts, albeit through carefully selected footage such as soldiers from the Black Watch regiment at a sports day and ‘the wonderful organisation of the Royal Army Medical Corps’.

Still from 'The Wonderful Organisation of the R.A.M.C.' film, produced by the War Office, 1916, IWM 133, Courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

Still from ‘The Wonderful Organisation of the R.A.M.C.’ film, produced by the War Office, 1916, IWM 133, Courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum.

Another immersive audio visual element in the exhibition is a soundscape of voices taken from letter correspondence between family members and diary entries on display. Original archive artefacts make up nearly half of the objects on display, including a poignant postcard sent by Private William Dick to his wife, a letter from a German soldier to the family of Private James Scouller describing their son’s last moments on the battlefield, and a letter from a Presbyterian Chaplain informing Mrs Buchanan of her son Private George Buchanan’s death. Recordings of actors (and museum staff!) reading out this archive material helps to evoke the personalities and emotions of the protagonists in the stories.

You can hear the stories here:

Family photograph of Private George Buchanan in uniform

Family photograph of Private George Buchanan in uniform.

Touring the exhibition to museums around Scotland presents other opportunities to incorporate family stories into object interpretation. Many partner museums are actively acquiring World War One related objects donated or loaned by local people who have developed a keen interest in their wartime family history due to the Centenary. Consulting these people about the personal value of these objects as tools for learning about and remembering their relatives will be an important way of discovering the continuing significance and impact of the conflict in Scottish families’ lives. Furthermore, museum staff are keen on carrying out co-curation activities with local community groups to collect perspectives of community groups to existing artefacts in the collection. The key challenge will be devising ways of communicating these contemporary interpretations in physical and digital displays alongside the original personal accounts of troops and families during the war.

Find out more about the touring exhibition here.

By Jacqui Austin, Malawi Project Co-ordinator

Museums as Agents of Change is an 18 month partnership project between National Museums Scotland and Museums of Malawi, funded directly by the Scottish Government. The project was designed to deliver training in a variety of museum skills and to update exhibitions and displays at the National Museum in Malawi. In November 2012 I was appointed to run the project and it has been a fascinating experience.

In early 2013 I travelled to Malawi for the first time to meet our colleagues in Blantyre, Malawi. I was made very welcome and myself and my colleague, Phil Howard, our taxidermist, travelled with them all to Liwonde National Park to carry out our first workshops.

Phil Howard and students in Liwonde National Park

Phil Howard and students in Liwonde National Park.

In April 2013 four key staff from Museums of Malawi made the return trip to Edinburgh for two weeks of intensive workshops. However, they did get the chance to explore Scotland at the weekend when we visited the other Blantyre, birthplace of Dr David Livingstone, the man who started the special relationship that exists between Scotland and Malawi.

Museums of Malawi staff at the David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre.

Museums of Malawi staff at the David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre.

After visiting the National Museums Scotland Dr Livingstone exhibition and his birthplace museum, on their return to Malawi the team started preparing for a new Dr Livingstone exhibition for their own museum. In September 2013 I travelled back to Malawi to assist with the installation.

This was the biggest display project the museum has undertaken since it was built in 1966 and the transformation has been remarkable. The exhibition was opened on Tuesday 17 September 2013 by the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife & Culture. The opening was also attended by the Deputy British High Commissioner and over 200 invited guests. We were treated to performances by cultural dance troupes, poetry readings and short plays by local schools. Visitor numbers at Chichiri Museum have increased by 35% in the 3 months since the opening.

The new exhibition at Chichiri Museum, Blantyre, Malawi

The new exhibition at Chichiri Museum, Blantyre, Malawi.

Traditional musicians and dancers at the opening event

Traditional musicians and dancers at the opening event.

After the exhibition opening it was back to work with some more training on collections care, looking at security and environmental monitoring.  I was also fortunate to be invited to the City of Stars arts conference and festival in the capital, Lilongwe. This was an excellent opportunity for everyone working in arts and culture in Malawi to share experiences and ideas. As usual in Malawi, there was a large Scottish delegation including the National Library of Scotland, Scottish festival directors, film makers and musicians. After the conference and four weeks of hard work it was a luxury to enjoy the City of Stars music festival on Friday and Saturday nights. There was music from the Malawi Mouse Boys (who featured on our exhibition film), Scottish band Bwani Junction and a choir from the Tilinanu orphanage, as well as many others.

The last phase of our project was delivered in February 2014 when two colleagues and I returned to Malawi. Jennifer Reid was running more collections workshops, Phil Howard returned to finish his taxidermy training and I was helping update the natural history displays.

Jennifer was leading a workshop on care of natural history collections, which meant a week in the stores dealing everything from snakes in jars to elephant bones.

Staff carrying out an inventory of the collections in store

Staff carrying out an inventory of the collections in store.

The new taxidermy was installed in a refurbished showcase and the display enhanced by some hands-on interactives.

The new natural history display

The new natural history display.

Skulls and horn hands-on interactives

Skulls and horn hands-on interactives.

It has been a hugely successful project with staff from both organisations learning from and supporting each other. Although our project has come to an end, Museums of Malawi and National Museums Scotland continue to have a connection through our shared history and collections.

The Museums of Malawi and National Museums Scotland staff at the end of the workshops

The Museums of Malawi and National Museums Scotland staff at the end of the workshops.

The final event in the formal partnership project took place on 31 March 2014 when the National Museum of Scotland hosted the Scotland Malawi Partnership Youth Congress. It was a fitting final event, with its theme of inspiring a new generation to get involved in supporting projects in Malawi.

Conor HullBy Conor Hull, Community Engagement Officer

We were so excited about hosting the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition here at the museum that we decided to share our excitement through a mini-outreach programme. We ran a series of visits to community groups around Edinburgh and worked on exciting in-depth projects with Knightsridge Primary, West Lothian and the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital.

We travelled to community groups with our boxes of skulls, teeth and even a real elephant poo. We told Ice Age tales of Mungo the mammoth: poor Mungo has an identity crisis – he doesn’t want to be a mammoth anymore! This leads him on a journey to find other animals he might like to be instead. He makes new friends and when a fire sweeps through the woods, he saves the day, realising it’s not so bad being a mammoth after all.Afterwards there was a craft activity where the children decorated a cotton bag in a cave painting style.

Mammoths on the move

Conor Hull, Community Engagement Officer, showing a little girl elephant poo at Dads Rock, Westerhailes (left). Mungo and his new friends (right).

Above: Conor Hull, Community Engagement Officer, showing a little girl elephant poo at Dads Rock, Westerhailes (left). Mungo and his new friends (right).

We visited…

  • Murrayburn Childminders group
  • Circle Haven, Craigroyston x2
  • Lone Parent Scotland Fathers’ Group
  • Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre
  • Gilmerton Community Centre
  • Dads Rock, Westerhailes, WHALE Arts
  • Knightsridge Primary School (P3)
  • Carrickvale Community Centre
  • Royal Mile Primary (P1)

Across these nine different organisations we reached 177 kids and 150 adults. Seven out of the nine groups decided to come along and visit the exhibition as a result of the outreach.

Laura Bennison and Karyn McGhee at Circle Haven, Craigroyston

Laura Bennison and Karyn McGhee at Circle Haven, Craigroyston.

After our visit to Knightsridge Primary, the class decided to base all class work for the next 11 weeks around the topic. They transformed their classroom into an Ice Age cave, complete with cave paintings.

Project work at Knighstridge Primary

Project work at Knighstridge Primary.

They designed their own beasts by mixing and matching real Ice Age animals and they even wrote their own story – the next chapter in Mungo’s adventures!

Mungo the mammoth

Mungo the mammoth and his mum.

You can also download the story here [PDF 1.3MB].

Two classes from the school came in to visit the exhibition on 25thMarch. To top it all off we asked our good friends Macastory to come out to the school and perform the show they performed at the National Museum of Scotland over the February half term.

Macastory

Macastory go Ice Age.

The Macastory crew bring Ice Age mayhem to Knightsridge Primary

The Macastory crew bring Ice Age mayhem to Knightsridge Primary.

It was a roaring success – lots of fun, while painting a fascinating picture of life in the age of the mammoths.

The feedback from the groups has been extremely positive. Here’s what some group members had to say:

“I thought I’d let you know in end of session feedback the group you visited with the Ice Age outreach said it was the best session! They would like more of the story plus craft as they particularly enjoyed it!”

“The visit to Museum was fantastic. Lots of things to see and touch”

“I’ve been telling everyone about it, and telling them to go to the Museum!”

A guest post by Morag Brown, aged 7.

Morag and her friends Alexander Marshall (8) and Jessica Grier (8) from the ESMS Junior School, Edinburgh helped the National Museum of Scotland with the launch of the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition and Murdo the Mammoth bus. Here she tells her story about a mini mammoth’s adventure.

I went on an orange bus with my friends Jessica and Alexander and it looked like people were in it and it had a big huge mammoth on the outside. We wore some special mammoth outfits which had round heads and a suit which was quite boiling and hairy.

Morag, Alexander and Jessica crossing the road in front of the Mammoth bus.

Morag, Alexander and Jessica crossing the road in front of Murdo the Mammoth bus outside the National Museum of Scotland.

A lady from the Edinburgh Evening News came and took pictures of us and there were pictures of us walking across the road outside the museum and lots of us playing inside and outside the bus. We went on the front page of the newspaper and inside it.

Edinburgh Evening News front page featuring Morag, Alexander and Jessica with the Murdo the Mammoth bus,

The next week, we went to the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition to meet some people from the newspapers and television to have some more pictures and video taken.

Alexander, Morag and Jessica hiding in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

Alexander, Morag and Jessica hiding in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

There were lots of pictures taken of me and my friends in the Mammoths exhibition and they appeared in the newspapers the next day all over Scotland and United Kingdom.

Morag having a staring competition with a Sabre tooth cat. © Ian Jacobs

Morag having a staring competition with a Sabre tooth cat in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

My favourite picture was the one of me and the Sabre tooth cat having a staring competition.  Me and my friend Jessica were on the television news wearing our mammoth outfits talking to a lady and Alexander was really busy playing with games around the exhibition. Jessica’s mum also went on the television news but my mummy didn’t want to speak to the people from the television.

Morag beneath the Colombian Mammoth in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

Morag beneath the Colombian Mammoth in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

The exhibition is really, really good and the best bits are the bones and plastic people and the big mammoth was almost touching the roof and was as big as a bus! I liked the mammoth head fighting game with tusks and I was playing this with Jessica and the tusks got stuck together. Alexander also went ice skating in his hot and hairy mammoth outfit too!

I really liked the exhibition and when my friends Philip and Kyle from Boston in America came to Scotland on holiday I took them to the Mammoths exhibition. I would like to go again before it ends.

Morag with her friends from Boston, USA when they came to visit Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition at National Museum of Scotland.

Morag with her friends from Boston, USA when they came to visit Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition at National Museum of Scotland.

A guest post by Tom Carroll, Fathers’ Worker, Lone Parent Scotland, with introduction by Conor Hull, Community Engagement Officer

During autumn the Learning and Programmes team brought the Ice Age to family learning groups around Edinburgh. We have visited six groups so far, including the Circle Haven group at Craigroyston Primary, a group of childminders in Sighthill and a family craft group at the Goodtrees Centre in Gilmerton. We told Ice Age tales about Mungo the mammoth and his friends, gave children the chance to touch real fossil teeth and replica sabre tooth skulls, before creating their own cave paintings.

One highlight was our Poo Detectives activity. Looking through mammoth dung is an important way that scientists can find out about their diet and habitat. Anything scatological is universally popular with children so we designed an activity around this important science. Poo Detectives and other Ice Age activities will be running at National Museum of Scotland to accompany our new exhibition Mammoths of the Ice Age, which runs from 24 January – 20 April 2014.

A workshop was set up to teach a group of children, aged between two and 10 years old, all about mammoths and mastodon. The children had some ideas about these animals, mainly through watching the Ice Age movies.

To start the session, a visual representation of time was created. Some children stood up in front of the class and held a long piece of string and attached pictures representing humans, dinosaurs and mammoths. The space in between the pictures represented time. The children were amazed to learn that the mammoths lived millions of years after dinosaurs.

From here the children were shown bits of a mammoth and had to guess which part it was. There were a lot of guesses and with a little help from his dad one child got one of them right. The larger of the two parts proved to be a bit more difficult for all parties, but finally we were told it was a mammoth’s tooth. All were amazed at how big it was!

Everyone was amazed at the size of the mammoth tooth

Everyone was amazed at the size of the mammoth tooth.

The group were also shown skulls of a cave bear and sabre tooth cat.

Then, everyone prepared themselves for the next session. Some of the children had heard about what was coming and could not wait to get started.

The items were all laid out: straw, different types of flower seeds, bits of stockings, lemon juice and tomato ketchup. A talk was given by Conor around what mammoths ate, after which the children were given a piece of paper with certain ingredients listed on it, and all the ingredients were placed around the room. With help from their fathers the children had to find and put the ingredients into the piece of stocking they were given, add some water and squeeze and mix all the ingredients up. After draining the water the stockings were cut open to reveal the mess that popped out, much to the delight, laughter and squeals of “it’s disgusting” from the children.

Who made this mess?

Who made this mess? Everyone enjoyed making mammoth poo.

After swapping the trays around, having a good look and sniffing the ingredients, guesses were made of which type of elephant or mammoth had made the mess.

After a short break it was back into the room, aprons on, to do some cave paintings onto cloth bags. The children had the use of some stencils, which included prehistoric animals and cavemen. Both children and fathers had fun stenciling away.

Making cave paintings

Making cave paintings.

A short walk around the museum whilst the bags dried out, then once all the tidying up had been done it was time to head home.

All the children had a great time learning about mammoths, handling the skulls of the cave bear and the sabre tooth cat, and even more fun making the poo: “Next time can I make brown poo?”  said one child. The fathers enjoyed the session as well; they know their children like dinosaurs so the chance to take part in such a workshop was a joy to all. All look forward to returning in the New Year to see the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition and hopefully the children will remember to bring their painted bags along.

Cave bear skull

Cave bear skull.

On behalf of all the children and fathers, a big thank you to all who helped make this an enjoyable session.

Mhairi MaxwellBy Mhairi Maxwell, Glenmorangie Research Officer

How time has flown past! Our special exhibition Creative Spirit only has a few weeks left at the National Museum of Scotland until it closes on 24 February, when the objects will be packed away. So be quick to catch a glimpse of our attempts to breathe life again into Scotland’s rich Early Medieval craft heritage.

Creative Spirit showcases our recreations made in collaboration with artists and craftspeople, employing a wide range of traditional and innovative techniques, both hand-crafted and digital. Working with artists and craftspeople in order to reveal the sophistication of Early Medieval objects has been a privilege.

Meet the Maker day

Meet the Maker day, 7th December 2013. Left to right: Mhairi Maxwell (Glenmorangie Research Officer), Kerry Hammond (Powderhall Bronze), Colin Goldsmith (Ratho Byres Forge), Adrian McCurdy (cleft oak furniture maker), Peter Hill (Ratho Byres Forge), Jennifer Gray (designer and maker), Martin Goldberg (Senior curator of Early Historic and Viking collections), Johnny Ross (Sutherland Horncraft). Ian Dunlop (Satchel maker) and Barry Grove (stone sculptor), and digital whizzes at RelicArte could not make it along.

As an archaeologist I am familiar with rusty, incomplete shadows of objects, worn with the patina of age. Making anew these fugitive fragments from the past has given me an enriched appreciation of the skills involved in past and present craft. I am still in awe of the surprising and bright beauty of the finished pieces! Here I thought I would take the chance to highlight some of the challenges and themes which have arisen from our recreation projects.

For example, the drinking horns made by Johnny Ross of Sutherland Horncraft are glassy and luminous, causing me to re-evaluate my appreciation of horn as a material which is so often considered to be an ancient form of utilitarian plastic. I have fond memories of spending a week up in Sutherland with Johnny documenting the painstaking processes of boiling, scraping and polishing; an arduous but satisfying process!

Drinking horns

Designer and maker Jennifer Gray and Johnny Ross of Horncraft Sutherland with the finished drinking horns.

Martin Goldberg (Senior Curator of Early Historic and Viking Collections) and I have scrutinised and examined Early Medieval hand-bells in our collections and were constantly perplexed at exactly how the bells had been coated inside and out with a thin layer of bronze. In order to solve this mystery, by collaborating with the expert and specialist knowledge at Ratho Byres Forge and Powderhall Bronze, we explored four different methods of making a hand-bell. This was certainly one of the most challenging recreation projects undertaken! Indeed, in the past, there was potentially more than one way to make a brazed iron hand-bell.

Hand-bells

Hand-bells made by Ratho Byres Forge and Powderhall Bronze, using different techniques.

This film shows one of the processes we developed for our recreation based on the best preserved brazed iron bell from Scotland, kindly loaned by Birnie Kirk for Creative Spirit.

For our 3D recreation of the Monymusk reliquary, the challenge here was negotiating the line between imagination and authenticity: our result is not an attempt to make it brand new, but it functions as a complete object and allows privileged close-up and interior views.

This has also made me think about the craft of 3D digital recreation: similar considerations and decisions are involved in virtual recreation as in physical recreation, while you still get a feel of the sensory experience of objects. The opportunity to work with maker and designer Jennifer Gray, who uses a combination of 3D digital carving and traditional silver casting, effectively explored the tension between traditional and new techniques. I feel that the very ethos of the Glenmorangie project is encapsulated in her process, which effectively brings the past alive using innovative tools available to the present generation.

Bird head fitting for drinking horn

Bird head fitting for drinking horn created in ‘virtual wax’ by designer and maker Jennifer Gray.

What makes me most excited about digital technology is that it opens up the archive to everybody and offers new possibilities for interrogating objects. The crowd-sourced Pictish Puzzle online laboratory (#PictishPuzzle) developed in collaboration with RelicArte aims to refit thousands of fragments which were chipped off the face of the stunning Hilton of Cadboll stone. This has evolved to become a truly global effort. Log in at www.pictishpuzzle.co.uk to get involved and becomes authors of this recreation!

So now it’s over to you…

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