Partnerships


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.

Karyn McGheeBy Karyn McGhee, National and International Partnerships Intern

On Tuesday 24 September I joined the Scotland Creates Volunteers on a trip to The Roslin Institute (where Dolly the sheep was born!)  Having no idea what to expect, the whole trip was enlightening, educational and all round good fun.

The volunteers are part of a project called Scotland Creates:  A Sense of Place. They are working to curate an exhibition based on National Museums Scotland’s Science and Technology  collections, and have chosen Dolly the sheep as one of their objects to study.

The group outside The Roslin Institute

The Scotland Creates group outside The Roslin Institute, with Karyn and Scotland Creates Project Officer Fiona Young (right).

We were greeted by Nicola, The Roslin Institute’s Public Engagement Officer, who gave us a tour of the new and very flash building.  We were then taught about the basic science of Dolly and genetic modification. This gave us an insight into the research taking place at Roslin, its importance and how it relates to present day issues.

The afternoon brought us to Dryden Farm. Here we were met by Chris Proudfoot, a research fellow at The Roslin Institute, and John Bracken. John was a key member of the Dolly the sheep team – he was the person who came up with her name! We toured the farm where we were shown genetically modified sheep and pigs.

My initial thoughts on genetically modified animals were unclear, as it’s a subject I knew very little about.  Visiting The Roslin Institute taught me that there are very important reasons behind their research, such as tackling diseases. Being able to modify animal’s DNA could massively reduce the chances of major outbreaks of diseases such as Bird Flu.

Sculpture of Dolly the sheep on display in The Roslin Institute

Sculpture of Dolly the sheep on display in The Roslin Institute.

Karyn poses next to Dolly the sheep!

Karyn poses next to Dolly the sheep!

As a group, we discussed the display of Dolly in the museum.  Some of the group found it difficult to grasp the concept of a natural history specimen being located in the Connect gallery, which focuses on science and technology.  However, after visiting The Roslin Institute, a number had begun to fully appreciated her scientific significance and found it an appropriate place for her to be on display.  The majority of the group liked her interpretation and the ethical questions it raises, along with the choice of touch screen display. The spinning motion of Dolly’s display was hotly debated, with some members finding it expressive of her importance to science while others found it unsettling. Overall, after learning about Dolly’s love of attention and natural curiosity for people, perhaps this is what Dolly would have enjoyed, observing everyone and being put on a pedestal.

Dolly the sheep on display in the National Museum of Scotland

Dolly the sheep on display in the National Museum of Scotland.

Dolly the sheep stars in one of three animated films developed by our Scotland Creates volunteers, which  are showing show in our Science and Technology galleries at National Museum of Scotland from November 2013 – January 2014. Find out more at www.nms.ac.uk/scotlandcreates.

Jennifer ReidBy Jennifer Reid, Partnerships Officer

On 19 June I received a phone call from my manager asking whether I “would mind” going to Benbecula for two nights to celebrate the opening of an exhibition?  Would I mind?! Let’s just say it wasn’t a difficult decision.

A week later I joined two colleagues from Learning and Programmes, Christine and Fiona, to board a (tiny!) flight to the Outer Hebrides.  We were on our way to visit Museum nan Eilean, Sgoil Lionacleit, whose exhibition ‘A Reir na h-Aimsir’ was opening the following day.  The exhibition was produced as part of a two year partnership project called Scotland Creates – A Sense of PlaceA Reir na h-Aimsir was curated by young people from across the islands and includes objects from the collections of National Museums Scotland and Museum nan Eilean. It focuses on weather and the effect that changes in weather conditions can have on life on the islands.

Rain gauge.

Rain gauge in the exhibition.

I am ashamed to admit it, but prior to this trip I had never been to the Outer Hebrides before. This trip provided me the perfect opportunity to visit, as well as see the exhibition. Thankfully Fiona and Christine had both visited before, and knew their way around.

I was surprised the next day to pull up to a High School, but Fiona was quick to explain that the museum was in the High School! We had also arrived on the last day of term, and safe to say there was a feeling of” excitement” in the air – and not a great deal of work being done! We made our way through the crowds of school children, and into the exhibition space at the heart of the school building. And wow! What a wonderful job everyone at Museum nan Eilean had done. The team had been working with a group of 16-24-year-olds on the design, layout, text and photography for the exhibition, which has led to a creative and engaging exhibition. I particularly enjoyed the way they had incorporated stories, legends and sayings about the weather, and investigated whether or not any of these had any real basis in meteorology.

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh

Scotland Creates volunteers Peter and Ruiridh.

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition

Scotland Creates volunteer Peter shows Community Engagement Manager Christine McLean round the exhibition.

Jenn chats to staff at the Museum

Jennifer (centre) chats to staff at the Museum. In the background is a Harris Tweed suit designed by Vivienne Westwood, on loan from National Museums Scotland.

At the opening event we were treated to a talk by Dr Eddy Graham, a renowned meteorologist based in Lewis, and a dance performance by pupils from the lower school.  There was also an impressive supply of cake!

Weather inspired dance

Weather inspired dance performed by pupils from the lower school.

The group has also been working with musicians from the band Skerryvore through Live Music Now to compose a piece of music inspired by the changing weather, which will be incorporated into the exhibition.

I would definitely advise checking out the exhibition if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Outer Hebrides over the summer months, I am keeping my fingers crossed for another phone call…

You can find out more about one of the star objects in the exhibition, a green Harris Tweed suit designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood, in our feature, written by Scotland Creates volunteer Bethany Lane.

Eve HaddowBy Eve Haddow, Assistant Curator, Pacific Collections Review

In April I joined the team in the Department of World Cultures here at National Museums Scotland as Assistant Curator. Over the next 18 months I will be working on a Pacific Collections Review project supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

What’s the project all about?

This is an exciting partnership project between National Museums Scotland, Aberdeen University Museums, Glasgow Life, and Perth Museum & Art Gallery. Although I will be based at National of Museum Scotland, I will be visiting the partner museums to carry out work there too. One of the main aims of the project is to reconnect dispersed collections of Pacific material held in museums across Scotland. We know that there are connections between different Scottish collections and want to spend time exploring these relationships.

Pacific material from National Museums Scotland’s collection (L-R): Drum from the Papuan Gulf, Papua New Guinea, 19th century; Rectangular wooden house panel, Ngati Porou Territory, New Zealand, c. 1870; Bride’s shell necklace, Papua New Guinea, 20th century.

Pacific material from National Museums Scotland’s collection (L-R): Drum from the Papuan Gulf, Papua New Guinea, 19th century; Rectangular wooden house panel, Ngati Porou Territory, New Zealand, c. 1870; Bride’s shell necklace, Papua New Guinea, 20th century.

The Pacific collections at all four partner museums are largely from the period of the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century, when Scottish engagement with the Pacific peaked. At this time, many collections found their way into museums through local Antiquarian Societies. The early date of these collections means that many are of international significance, particularly to communities in the Pacific. It’s also possible that some significant artefacts have still to be identified. We hope the project will have relevance not only for Scottish museums and the development of resources for those working with Pacific objects in their collections, but will also improve access for international scholars and source communities.

The four core project partners (clockwise from top left): National Museums Scotland, Aberdeen University Museum, Perth Museum & Art Gallery and Glasgow Life

The four core project partners (clockwise from top left): National Museums Scotland, Aberdeen University Museum, Perth Museum & Art Gallery and Glasgow Life.

Once I have reviewed the collections, I will be creating Collections Level Descriptions which will be accessible online. Collections Level Descriptions, or CLDs, are exactly how they sound – descriptions of a group of objects, rather than in-depth descriptions of specific artefacts. The CLD will illustrate stories that emerge across the collections, such as historical associations with particular collectors. As the project progresses, I will also produce an introductory guide to Pacific Collections. I hope the result will be a useful tool for people working with Pacific collections in future who are unfamiliar with Pacific material culture.

 So where is the Pacific?

One of the questions a lot of people have asked me since I started the project is ‘What do you mean by The Pacific?’ In the context of this project we mean the Pacific Island regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, located in the Pacific Ocean. For anyone not familiar with these places, visiting the Facing the Sea gallery in the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is one best ways to find out more.

Map showing Pacific Islands

Map showing Pacific Islands. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Looking forward

My first month or so has been a busy one and I anticipate this will continue! As is often the case when working on a project with tight deadlines, it’s been important to hit the ground running and get stuck into things straight away. I have had the opportunity to spend time in the stores at the National Museums Collection Centre with Chantal Knowles, Principal Curator of Oceania, Americas and Africa, and Ross Irving, Assistant Curator for Oceania, Americas, and Africa and of Ancient Mediterranean Archaeology.

As well as familiarising myself with the general procedures and considerations when working in the stores, I’ve been learning about specific aspects of working with material from the Pacific. For example, it is believed that Maori carvings are imbued with ancestral spirits so it’s important to thoroughly wash my hands after any handling as it could be dangerous for me. I have also visited each of the partner museums to meet my colleagues there and for an introduction to their collections and stores.

My first visit to the stores at Perth Museum and Art Gallery

My first visit to the stores at Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

In the office, I have been researching other collections reviews and considering what would and wouldn’t work for this project. I have also begun a review of the Hawaiian collection at National Museums Scotland. This will allow me to try out my review process and think about what can be modified to be more effective as the project continues.  The Hawaiian collection numbers around 90 artefacts and is relatively small compared with those of other geographical regions covered by the Pacific collections here. The majority of objects show status and wealth, such as the feather cloak below.

Cloak, or ‘Ahu‘ula, of red and yellow feathers, Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands, Polynesia. The date of production is unknown but cloak was gifted in 1853

Cloak, or ‘Ahu‘ula, of red and yellow feathers, Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands, Polynesia. The date of production is unknown but cloak was gifted in 1853.

You can find out more and keep up to date with the project as it progresses here.

Jennifer ReidBy Jennifer Reid, National Partnerships Officer

Working at National Museums Scotland, no one day is the same.  As part of my job as National Partnerships Officer I co-ordinate our Knowledge Exchange Programme. Through these training courses I get the opportunity to meet and work with some great people from museums all over Scotland, while at the same time learning lots about areas of museum practice – both things that I love!

Earlier this year, I worked with Margaret Maitland, Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean at National Museums Scotland, to put together and deliver a course to introduce our Egyptology collections and share knowledge on the care and identifications of Shabtis.  As a child I loved reading about Ancient Egypt and its customs so I was particularly excited about the opportunity to arrange and attend the course and learn lots from Margaret.

What are shabtis?!” I hear you ask! I thought the exact same thing when Margaret suggested them as a topic for the day. It turns out that they are small funerary figures used in Ancient Egypt, and they made for a fascinating knowledge exchange workshop.  They are charming and stylistically complex objects which feature in a number of Scottish museums’ collections. Some information and images of shabtis in National Museum Scotland’s collections can be found here.

Curator Margaret Maitland showing some of the group objects in store

Curator Margaret Maitland showing some of the group objects in store.

The event kicked off down at the National Museums Collections Centre – our storage facility in Granton – with Margaret giving the group a tour of the Egyptology collections that are in store.  This was a great opportunity for me to get behind the scenes and see some fab objects that I normally wouldn’t have access to.  We were treated to seeing some beautiful carvings and sarcophagi, as well as a lot of funerary material and – of course – some shabtis!

Margaret led us through the evolution of shabtis, their purpose, and stylistic and conceptual development.  Then came the fun part – getting our hands on some actual shabtis! Prior to the group arriving, we had got some beautiful examples of shabtis out of their store and brought them down to the room. The group were kitted out with gloves and we dressed the table to make it suitable for handling. We split up into small groups and had a go at applying the skills we had developed in the morning to see if we could identify the figurines and read some inscriptions.

Reading hieroglyphics - Lucy (on the right) turned out to be natural!

Reading hieroglyphics – Lucy (on the right) turned out to be natural!

Trying to identify characteristics on the figurines proved to be quite tricky!

Trying to identify characteristics on the figurines proved to be quite tricky!

We had a lot of fun trying to identify characteristics and inscriptions on the great range of shabtis that Margaret selected. Even a novice like me was able to identify the odd hieroglyphic! Attendees to the workshop brought along with them photos of shabtis from their own collections and Margaret and the group had a go at identifying them too.

The day was a great success – the group found lots of common ground in their Egyptology collections and we discussed the possibility of a project together in the future. Margaret and I are now putting together a workshop for later in the year to further develop the group’s skills in reading hieroglyphics. For me, a particular highlight was getting to handle the shabtis and have a go at the identification. I am already looking forward to attending the next course and seeing if my childhood attempts at hieroglyph reading were any good – though something tells me I won’t be giving up my day job just yet!

Me, looking very excited to be holding a shabti!

Me, looking very excited to be holding a shabti!

Klara RohelBy Klara Rohel, Volunteer with the Scotland Creates project

Our Scotland Creates volunteers are working with curators and other staff from National Museums Scotland to create an exhibition on the theme of Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place. Recently, the volunteers visited our storage facility at Leith Custom House to investigate some objects with curator Val Boa, from the McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock, one of four partner museums taking part in the project.

Val Boa from the McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock joined us in Edinburgh to look at National Museums Scotland’s Clyde pottery collections at Leith Custom House. The Clyde Pottery Company, in Greenock, produced wares from 1816 to the early 1900s, and was an important industry in Inverclyde. McLean Museum has the largest collection of Clyde pottery in the world, and Val is an expert in the subject.

During the session, however, Val baffled us all with an intriguing object, which a member of the public had brought into the McLean Museum.

The mystery object

The mystery object.

This gargoyle-like owl stumped us all.

Klara with the stone owl

Klara with the stone owl.

Curator Lyndsey examines the mysterious object

Curator Lyndsey examines the mysterious object.

Earlier in the session, Val and Lindsey Mcgill, Assistant Curator of Scottish History, had talked us through the selection of Clyde pottery and showed us how to spot the real McCoy.

Curators Lyndsey Mcgill and Val Boa displaying items of Clyde pottery

Curators Lyndsey Mcgill and Val Boa displaying items of Clyde pottery.

Artefacts of questionable authenticity were not uncommon it would seem, with museums often unwittingly acquiring fakes for their collections, though we are told these counterfeit objects are getting easier to tell apart from the real deals.

Val Boa explains how to spot fake Clyde pottery

Val Boa explains how to spot fake Clyde pottery.

Val then presented her stone companion to Lindsey who – after some musings of her own – called upon the expert help of the Museum’s resident archaeologists. After the initial fear that their brains would not be at our disposal due to the infelicitous timing of luncheon, hope was restored with the promise of a visit in ten minutes.

Fraser Hunter, Principle Curator of Iron Age and Roman Collections, arrived from the other end of the building, knowledge at the ready to vanquish our blundering preconceptions. We awaited his verdict in an atmosphere of piercing anticipation.

Fraser Hunter examines the stone owl

Fraser Hunter examines the stone owl.

Awaiting Fraser's verdict

Awaiting Fraser’s verdict.

The conversation passes in a blur. ‘Aha’, ‘yes that’s right’, ‘really’, ‘a fake’, ‘well I did wonder’, ‘how fascinating’ and so on.

As it turns out, the area from which the pottery comes was a hotspot for faked relics. Fraser believed it was one of a number of objects planted around a crannog in the Inverclyde area around a hundred years ago. So our little friend most likely belongs to that trend of forged objects.

Watch this space for more revealing behind the scenes stories…

Photographing the session

Photographing the session.

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