Amgueddfa Blog: Community Engagement

Each week, hundreds of people will walk through the front doors of the National Museum Cardiff. Yet despite visiting the exhibitions on display, many will be oblivious to what goes on in the background. Conducting a work experience placement at the museum gave us a rare insight into how much work and effort goes on behind closed doors.

 

With the intention of creating a video for the Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project, we were taken on a tour around the archaeology department on our first day of placement. We were fortunate to be shown around the stores, where many remarkable items were kept for preservation and research. Some of the items we viewed were Roman and prehistoric pots, vases and burial urns, which allowed us to explore how communities and cultures operated thousands of years ago.

 

The following day we attended Cyfarthfa Museum in Merthyr Tydfil, which is to acquire a hoard of five Roman Denarii, with thanks to funding from the Saving Treasures project. We filmed museum staff and the finders of the hoard, and heard about its significance. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the metal detectorists who discovered the hoard, and how proud they were of their achievement.

 

We spent the next few days editing the video together back at the University of South Wales campus. This proved to be a difficult job, as there were so many great shots to choose from, so it was difficult to decide which to cut out. However, the staff were always on hand to answer any questions we had and help out where possible.

 

Working at the National Museum Cardiff was a wonderful experience, and we were able to appreciate just how much work goes on behind closed doors to create the exhibitions we see. This work and research has helped us to understand history and past cultures in greater detail, and we would like to thank all the staff for their friendliness and a great week.

"If you asked me what a magelonid was 18 months ago, I would have looked at you with a somewhat muddled expression. Let me tell you, a lot has changed since then. Roll onto the present day, after a year at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for my Professional Training Year (as part of my Zoology degree at Cardiff University), I could talk for as long as you are willing to listen about this fascinating family of marine bristle worms, commonly known as the shovel-head worms (Annelida: Magelonidae)."

            When my application was first approved from the Natural Sciences Department at the museum, I didn’t know what to expect. I had always loved anything marine and knew from the start this is the area I wanted to build a career around. This was a very broad declaration and beyond this, I was rather diffident in what I wanted to pursue. Therefore, my number one priority was to keep an open mind and make the most of everything the experience would offer. This view shaped a year filled with opportunities, that has not only been indispensable in developing my scientific skills in both hands on research and writing, but also in giving me a direction I am interested in for the future. 

            The majority of the placement involved both behavioural and taxonomic studies on European magelonid species, through the practicing of methods such as time-lapse photography, live observation, scanning electron microscopy, high definition photography using a macroscope, and taxonomic drawings using a camera lucida attached to a microscope. As a result of this work, some very interesting findings were highlighted for the Magelonidae, with important implications for furthering our understanding of these enigmatic animals. Perhaps the most fascinating arose through extensive time-lapse photography and observing animals in aquaria within the marine laboratory, in which an un-described behaviour emerged in the tube dwelling species Magelona alleni. Later termed as ‘sand expulsion’, this behaviour was a highly conspicuous method of defecation where M. alleni would turn around in a burrow network, raise its posterior region into the water column and excrete sand around the tank. Just knowing I was most likely the first person to ever witness this was a very rewarding experience in itself! To understand why this novel behaviour was exhibited, the posterior morphology of M. alleni was compared to additional European species. These findings have led onto my first publication in a peer-reviewed journal, of which two more papers and an article are due to follow as a result of working closely with my supervisor throughout the year.

I also got the opportunity to participate in tasks that are essential to the upkeep of the museum, such as curation, specimen fixation and preservation, along with invertebrate tank maintenance. Additionally, I participated in sampling trips, including a visit to Berwick-upon-Tweed and outreach events, such as ‘After Dark at the Museum’, which saw over 2,000 visitors, and the RHS show Cardiff.   

            Overall, the museum is a very friendly, intellectual and dynamic environment that has more to offer than perhaps meets the eye. This is why anyone who wants to study the small, whacky and wonderful world of marine invertebrates should not pass up an opportunity to undertake a placement here. Spend any prolonged amount of time amongst the hundreds of thousands of specimens kept in the fluid store, and I guarantee you will not be able to escape a visceral appreciation of the natural history of our world. With this comes a feeling of preservation for all we have and a reinforcement of why museums are such a crucial component of our society today, something that is too easily forgotten. 

Read more about Kim's journey through her PTY Placement at National Museum Cardiff:

https://museum.wales/blog/2017-08-04/A-new-world-of-worms---beginning-a-Professional-Training-Year-at-the-museum/

https://museum.wales/blog/2017-11-15/A-tail-of-a-PTY-student/

https://museum.wales/blog/2018-02-07/The-early-bird-catches-the-worm/

 

 

Over the past few months the museum has been working closely with colleagues at the beautiful Oriel y Parc gallery in St Davids to bring together an exhibition celebrating Wales ‘Year of the Sea’ called ‘Coast’.

The exhibition fuses artworks and natural science specimens specially selected by the Oriel y Parc team from Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections, and displays these alongside some of the recent museum activisim work of Amgueddfa Cymru’s 'Youth Forum Group' highlighting the issues of plastic pollution.

The multidisciplinary nature of the display explores how the sea has inspired artists for centuries, highlights the biodiversity of the Pembrokeshire coast, and how plastic now impacts on the environment and our everyday life.

Centre piece to the art works is Jan van de Cappelle’s masterpiece ‘A Calm’, surrounded by sea and coast inspired paintings from a selection of other artists including Cedric Morris and John Kyffin Williams. Amongst these works are specimens from the natural science collections capturing the richness of Pembrokeshire's wildlife, including the skeleton of a leatherback turtle found dead on Skomer Island in 1988.

The turtle had in the past been on display at the visitor centre on Skomer, but was removed a number of years back when the buildings on the Island underwent redevelopment. In need of some repairs and cleaning, the specimen became an excellent project for one of our conservation student placements at the museum, Owen Lazzari. The end result has enabled us to bring the specimen back to Pembrokeshire to form one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.

Other highlights from the natural science collections include one of our historic Blaschka glass models dating from the late 1800s, and a Goose barnacle covered builder's helmet found off the Welsh Coast.

Further information can be found on Oriel y Parc's website: https://www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales

 

Hi, I’m Thea, a sixth form student from Shropshire who decided to create this short video as part of my work experience at the National Museum Cardiff.

I had heard about Who Decides? before I became involved in the exhibition, so I was very eager to find out more. After working with the public opinion cards, speaking to the people involved in the museum and doing some short interviews, I created an animation that I thought would best reflect the aims of exhibition and the feedback it had received.

I am passionate about art and against the idea that art and museums are ‘elitist’ or should be for the ‘privileged’ rather than the majority, so I wanted to focus on this issue in the video.

Working with the Wallich

The exhibition itself was incredibly eye opening for me; the museum had decided to work with the charity The Wallich to involve people with experience of homlessness in the process of designing and creating the exhibit and gives the public the chance to choose some of the artwork on display. I haven't seen an exhibition that has ever taken this kind of approach, so I found it intriguing to see how others reacted to the idea.

I hope this refreshing approach to curation will be an archetype for future exhibits and museums because it challenges what we usually connote with galleries and exhibits and hopefully encourages more people to visit exhibitions and museums.

Who Decides? is on show at National Museum Cardiff until 2 September 2018. You can also contribute to Who Decides? by voting for your favourite work to be ‘released’ from the store and placed on public display.

Part 2, Working with our community partners.

 

Powysland Museum is working with the National Museum’s Saving Treasures; Telling Stories on an Archaeological Jewellery project.

In this update we hear from some of their community partners.

Welshpool Camera Club

The club has around 40 members of all abilities, from pros, advanced, to amateurs, who all ‘club together’ to ensure members’ photographic skills are challenged regardless of technical ability. They look at mastering camera techniques through hands on experience and invite speakers to give presentations.

With many of the archaeological jewellery pieces in Powysland Museum’s project being small, with delicate decoration, it was obvious that the project needed the expertise of good photographers to capture the details and refinement of the pieces.

Powysland Museum was therefore delighted when the Camera Club agreed to be one of the project’s community engagement partners.

The club’s members have got up close and personal with some of the objects and have taken some great close-ups, which have fed into the museum’s work with the other community engagement partners.

Welshpool Young Carers

Welshpool Young Carers are a group of young people who look after and care for one or more members of their family on a full-time basis. Alex Sperr, the project’s community engagement officer, ran a workshop with the group, which produced a delightful and colourful display.

The workshop focussed on the art of the museum display. A display is often the only chance you have for capturing the attention of your intended audience.

It must grab audience members at first glance, hold them there to see what it offers and persuade them to further explore the museum and the artefacts on display.

A display can be used to tell part of an object’s history, and in this workshop we focussed on making jewellery and displays for the Saving Treasures exhibition at Powysland.

The group first visited the Saving Treasures jewellery exhibit, looking at the ways in which objects are displayed.

Exploring how to display rings in the exhibition, the group then made Plaster of Paris hands by using rubber gloves as moulds. Casts of the children’s hands were made using plaster bandage or modroc, and rings were made using recycled materials.

The children then set up their displays as they would like to see them in the exhibition, along with their names.

Buttington-Trewern School

Local poet and writer Pat Edwards has run the “Off the Page” young creative writers’ club at Powysland Museum and is also runs the annual Welshpool Poetry Festival. Her quirky and exciting mind was guaranteed to engage the children.

Pat visited the museum to work with all the junior classes. The children were shown the archaeological jewellery and were even allowed to touch and hold some of the sturdier artefacts – obviously while wearing white, cotton gloves!

This was a unique opportunity for the children to see the objects outside their usual display cases.

Pat Edwards then discussed the theme of jewellery with the children, helping them develop ideas and create stories, poems, posters and other written works involving one or more of the museum objects. Some of the results and photographs from the sessions are on display.

Together with Pat, the museum is planning to develop this creative experience by offering writing classes at the museum during the exhibition period, where visitors can seek inspiration from the objects and practical help from Pat to write and tell their own stories.

The Archaeological Jewellery exhibition runs at Powysland Museum until September, after which you can catch it at Radnorshire and Brecknock Museums.