Amgueddfa Blog

Regular visitors might recognise Arnie the guide dog. He helped us to develop National Museum Cardiff's audio description tours, visited our Quentin Blake exhibition and even blogged about his Museum adventures! Arnie has recently retired from guiding duties and has handed his harness over to Uri, an enthusiastic young pup just out of training.

Ever the cultured canine, Arnie wanted to make sure Uri gets to sample the best of the National Museum but for a young pup the first visit can be scary. He has written so has written a few words to help Uri - and other guide dogs - take their first steps into the Museum.

Arnie's advice

"The National Museum Cardiff is a very old, impressive building that towers into the sky. It looks similar to other buildings in the area, but you'll know it because it has a big set of steps in front and a giant ball on top called the dome. The road outside is usually busy with traffic so your humans will need your help to cross. On either side of the front steps is some grass. You can 'spend' here but make sure you indicate to your humans that there's a step down to the grass. They might be safer letting you on a long lead and staying on the pavement.

You may feel overwhelmed as you stand at the bottom of the steps looking up at the building. I still get queasy. The stone ceiling looks like it's being held up by stilts (Mum calls them 'Grecian columns'), but I've been assured they're safe. The steps up to the Museum are in two flights, with brass rails zig-zagging across. You will need to guide your owner to the next rail between each flight. If you're feeling adventurous you might want to use the magic glass box that lifts you into the air instead. This is to the left of the steps, through a gate. Once inside, look out for the large silver button to the left - this opens the door.

Once you reach the top of the stairs you will need to guide your owner through the massive brass doorway. Then you will come to a set of glass doors that open automatically. They are much safer for us guide dogs than the old revolving type - less danger of getting squished! Be careful as you enter the Main Hall - your paws may slip on the marble-effect floor. You will hear lots of noises echoing and reverberating because the ceiling is so high. Guide your owner to the reception desk, which is straight ahead across the hall.

And then the best bit. You will soon be hit by a whiff of cakes and biscuits from the coffee shop to your left. Drooling is inevitable, but stay calm. This is the first of many temptations you will encounter. The Museum is full of animals you can't chase, bones you can't eat, and rocks you can't spend a penny on. Enjoy!"  

We wish Arnie the very best in his retirement and look forward to welcoming Uri and other guide dogs to the Museum. Our next Audio Description tour is on the 10th August. Cultured canines and Guide Dogs in training welcome!

Back in March, four of us were lucky to have the opportunity to visit a town in central Sweden called Östersund to visit Jamtli, an open air museum, as part of the Erasmus+ program called ‘Sharing and Learning’. The programme’s aim is for staff from both museums to shadow each other, sharing skills and information.

Arriving in Östersund

Visiting Östersund itself was an experience. There was a thick blanket of snow everywhere, and the lake was frozen solid! So frozen that there were ice skaters, skiers and even people carrying their shopping on a direct short cut straight across! I don’t know what the poor legendary lake monster felt about the situation, but they do say he has a tunnel all the way to Scotland!

Jamtli

We spent three days at the Museum shadowing its staff. The Museum itself is a wooden building with a huge underground permanent exhibition (reachable by a slide in the shape of the aforementioned monster!). The permanent exhibitions include the Vikings and the famous tapestry from the period, daily life through the ages and the Sami, the indigenous population from northern Scandinavia.

Outside, there are acers of historical buildings from several different periods. There’s a village square complete with a shop and bank. It was quite a different shop to Gwalia Stores, although the triple decker brown paper roll holder could have potentially been the envy of the shop assistants! It was a working shop, as the Museum tries to bring the buildings to life and use them as much as possible. During the winter and the Swedish 'sports holiday' (like our half term) most of the buildingd were closed but the staff were ind enough to show us around.

I was shadowing different staff from the learning department, taking part in a couple of activities too like leading the reindeers on the ‘ride’ like the Sami would when moving camp from the mountains to the lower lands between the summer and winter and learning how to throw a lasso! Mark Smith and David Davies were with Mats Maloff, a carpenter, carrying out some maintenance work on the historical buildings, they became pretty good friends over the week! Rhian Morris shadowed the front of house staff, meeting some of the visitors like the little girl excited to have a chance to practice her English!

Like Joe, our favourite building was a house from the 1970s where we even had a game of table tennis! The farmhouse from the 1940s was also striking in its detail and how it really felt isolated. A lot of the buildings were wooden and elaborately painted, with several houses from 1895. An important year for Östersund because this is when the railway came to town.

We all came back having had an amazing experience. It was great to get the opportunity to meet and spend time with staff, seeing behind the curtains and feeling like part of the team. It would be great to come back in the summer season when more of the buildings are open, with Historieland in full swing and the children’s TV set putting on shows! The visit was inspiring for us all, and we’ve all come back full of stories and ideas.

In parts one and two I discussed the highlights of the galleries, learning department and the carpentry. In this post I will be discussing the highlights of the historic buildings.

Historic Buildings

On the final day of our exchange we had a full tour of the historic buildings with Marina, head of Historyland. The buildings we visited included a 19th century Inn, 18th century timber farm fortification, a 19th century school, a 1940s house and 1970s buildings. The tour also included a chance to look inside a 1950s bus which was used as a mobile shop. The bus reminded me of the van I used to load when I worked in a fruit and veg store back in my teenage years (in the 2000s not the 1950s).

One of the highlights of the tour was the 19th century inn, which was also used as a court house. Underneath the inn was a cellar that was not only used for storage but also to house prisoners before a trial. It would have been a tight squeeze to fit in this tiny space! Another highlight were the desks in the 19th century school that had a sandbox across the top for young children to practice their letters. In our Maestir school we have small sand boxes for this purpose, so it was interesting to see these on a larger scale. 

My favourite area we visited was definitely the 1970s. This area included a country shack for hippies to escape the hustle and bustle of the modern world and a luxury family villa. Both buildings showed how immersive Historyland must be when it’s in action. It was like walking back in time into someone’s home. The buildings were full of clothes, furniture and working 70s technology. You were free to fully explore and even look inside the drawers and cupboards which were full of bits and bobs from the 70s. Each room of the villa was a different world to explore. In the parents room there were clothes and wigs, in the children’s room there were toys, in the teenage girl’s room there were drawings of her favourite pop stars, and in the teenage boy’s room there was even a 1970s adult magazine hidden away in a drawer! I can’t imagine a British museum being so risqué!

Overall experience

Overall it was a great experience to see another open air museum in action and to pick up some tips on making the visitor experience more interactive. All the staff were very friendly and informative and the people we met in Östersund were all very friendly and courteous. I look forward to an opportunity to return to Sweden and I would definitely like to see Historyland in full swing.

On 29th July, we are going to take part in an international event to support tiger conservation across the world.

You may be shocked to realize that we have lost 97% of all wild tigers. Worldwide, tigers are on the brink of extinction with many species listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered. The goal of the day is to raise public awareness of tiger conservation issues, and to work to find a way to halt their rapid decline. This is an annual event that we will be taking part in for the first time.  The day was first celebrated in 2010 following the Tiger Summit held in St. Petersburg.

Many international organisations will be involved in events across the globe, working towards increasing the numbers of tigers in the wild. So what will be happening at the museum on international tiger day?

The star of the show will be Bryn, a most handsome Sumatran Tiger. Bryn came to the museum in 2016 after spending his life at the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay. You can find out more about him by reading my last blog. Bryn will only be on display for this one day, so do not miss this opportunity to come and see him up close.

Helping us learn more about Bryn will be the ever-wonderful Dr Rhys Jones. Lecturer, reptile specialist, jungle man and wildlife welfare warrior, Rhys has worked with many charities in conserving and rescuing endangered and exotic animals.

We are especially pleased to announce that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will be joining us, one of the key charities involved in conservation efforts across the globe. WWF work closely with governments around the world to provide support for surveying and protecting tigers and have launched Tx2. An ambitious conservation project aiming to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022 – the next Chinese year of the tiger.

I am also incredibly excited to announce that the fabulous Nicola Davies (@nicolakidsbooks) will be with us running big cat activities throughout the day. Nicola is a wonderful children’s author with an infectious enthusiasm for animals and the natural world. Join her for storytelling sessions and rhyming activities (bookable on the day).

There will also be drop-in activities throughout the day so there is plenty to keep you and your family busy. We can't wait to see you. You can find out more on our Facebook event page, or What’s On.

You can follow global tiger events on social media using a range of hashtags: #doubletigers, #iprotectTigers, #TigersForever, #3890tigers.

If you want to find out more about what is being done to protect tigers, here are some useful webpages: Project Tiger, Tigers ForeverSave the Tiger fund, WildTeam & Save Tigers Now.  

There are numerous hash tags celebrating the natural world on Twitter. However, #FossilFriday remains one of our favourites. Each week we showcase the wonderful paleontological collections that are housed at National Museum Cardiff as well as the research that goes on every day behind the scenes.

We not read some of our latest #FossilFriday Tweets and discover more about the fascinating world of fossils