Amgueddfa Blog: Learning

 

I am an artist, studying for an MA degree in contemporary design craft, specifically the sculptural potential of prosthetic limbs. My visit to the Mollusca collection occurred after I came across a blog about the interior structure of shells on the museum website, and I made the connection between the interior structure of shells and how 3-D printers work and correct form. On the blog there was a contact number for the Curator of Mollusca, so I contacted Harriet Wood, not knowing what to expect in response.

Photograph of cross-section of 3D printed cube, showing internal supporting structure
Internal structure of 3D printed object © Matthew Day 2017

Looking inside shells - shell sections

When I explained my work on prosthetics to Harriet, and the connections with the interior structure of shells and 3-D printing she seemed very excited and invited me to come down, and also offered to introduce me to the person who runs a photography lab who uses 3-D printing and scanning for the museum.

Going Behind the Scenes

I could not have imagined it could have gone as well as it did. I met Harriet at the information desk of the museum and we then headed behind-the-scenes, where the collection is kept. Walking around the museum to get out back was really nice and modern. It reminded me of an academic journal I read not long before my visit, from the International Journal of the Inclusive Museum: ‘How Digital Artist Engagement Can Function as an Open Innovation Model to Facilitate Audience Encounters with Museum Collections’ in the  by Sarah Younan and Haitham Eid. 

photo showing a large cabinet full of specimen drawers
Some of the archives at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

Behind the scenes at the museum was quite a special environment - generally the general public are not allowed access unless arranged. It was a great privilege to be walking through rooms and rooms full of shells that people over the years have discovered and appreciated for their beauty. What was really fascinating was how the shells had been cut so perfectly. The cut shells looked almost as if this was their natural state – the way they were cut blended in so well with the form of the shell. This is what I wanted to see.

Black and white photograph showing a selection of shell sections
Shell sections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

I was speechless when I saw these collections of shells – especially seeing that part we’re not supposed to see. It was really exciting to see interior structure revealed by the cut, as it added a whole new value to the shells. They really reminded me of work by the the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose work I really admire.

black and white photograph showing a single conical shell, cut to show its internal spiral structure
© Matthew Day 2017

We see shells all the time on beaches and they just fascinate me, especially the broken ones which reveal part of the interior. It’s a very imperfect break, very different to the quality of the shell which has been sliced purposely to reveal what is inside. A natural object sculpted by man: I feel that this is what I am drawn to.

3D Scanning: Art and Science

Before examining the shells myself, Harriet offered to take me down to see Jim Turner, where we ended up spending most of my visit because what he did was just very interesting. Jim works in a lab which uses a photography process called “z-Stacking” (or extended depth of field – EDF) which is used extensively in macro photography and photo microscopy.

Jim is also creating an archive of 3D scanned objects for the museum website, where people can interact with scanned objects using VR headsets - bringing a whole new experience to the museum.

I understood what he was doing immediately from my own work. He explained the process and I understood the technicalities. It was a real pleasure to speak to someone who is using 3-D scanning in a different way to me. Jim is using 3D scanning in a way that was described within academic texts I had read - and even though he wasn’t doing anything creative with shells, he was still putting the objects into a context where people could interact with them using digital technology such as VR headsets, and on the web via sketchfab.

'Like being on a beach...'

When we got back to the Mollusca Collection I was able to take my own time and was under no pressure - so I got to have a good look and explored the shells. It was like being on a beach spending hours of exploring all wonderful natural objects.

black and white photograph showing a single conical shell, cut to show its internal spiral structure
© Matthew Day 2017

This visit had an amazing impact on my MA project - and I cannot thank Harriet and Jim enough for their time. This visit also gave me the confidence to approach other museums, such as Worcester Medical Museum, where I worked with a prosthetic socket from their collection. I 3D scanned the socket and, with the inspiration from Harriet’s collection of Mollusca, I created a selection of Sculptural Prosthetic sockets, drawing inspiration from the internal structures of shells, and illustrating sections of the shells that I was most drawn to. 

'A sculpture in its own right': my collection of sculptural prosthetics

Side by side photographs showing a sculptural prosthetic sock and a shell section. The prosthetic is shaped to emulate the internal structure of the shell.
Prototype conceptual prosthetic sock sculpture inspired by National Museum Cardiff's Mollusca collection © Matthew Day 2017

photo showing a black sculptural prosthetic socket with a yellow decoration
Prototype prosthetic sock sculpture inspired by National Museum Cardiff's Mollusca collection © Matthew Day 2017
photo showing a grey sculptural prosthetic socket with a yellow decoration
3D printed, fabric dyed prosthetic sculptural socket, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

photograph showing prosthetic socket with a large yellow decoration shaped like a round shell
3D printed, fabric dyed prosthetic sculptural socket, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

 

What’s next?

My MA is now reaching a climax, and I am starting the final major project module after the summer, which I am very excited about.

For the final part of my studies, I want to take all that I have explored and incorporated into my research to date, and use it to create a concept prosthetic limb which would be wearable, but also a sculpture in its own right – work which is now on track.

3D illustration of a design for a prosthetic leg, with decorations inspired by the internal structure of shells
Concept design of prosthetic sculptural leg, inspired by the Mollusca collections at National Museum Cardiff © Matthew Day 2017

I aim to create a really spectacular prosthetic limb using 3D printing, further incorporating the shell-inspired aesthetics you see in this blog.

More of my work can be found on my website: Matthew Day Sculpture

 

With the school summer holidays once again upon us, it is time for the Learning Department at St Fagans National Museum of History to once again look back at the year that was and begin the preparations for September. There certainly won't be much time to put our feet up this summer!

This is a very exciting time for the team here. With the newly redeveloped main building now open, September will see us welcoming schools to the brand new Weston Centre for Learning. This will give us a dedicated reception desk for group visitors as well as two new learning studios, a lecture theatre and a fantastic sandwich room. We really can’t wait for September to arrive so we can begin to show off these spaces to schools!

With new spaces, come new opportunities. With space having been at a premium during the redevelopment process, it has been hard for us to increase our offer for schools. However, from September onwards, we will be running a range of new workshops for schools, as well as seeing the return of another, much loved session.

Discussions with teachers as part of our Formal Learning Forum have led us to increase the workshops that we offer that complement each other. This allows schools to book more than one workshops for groups, filling their visits with activities linked to the curriculum. For information of workshops available for Foundation Phase and Key Stage 2 groups, please visit the learning pages of the website. They can be found here: https://museum.wales/stfagans/learning/

As we are eager to show off the new Weston Centre for Learning, we are hosting an open evening for Primary School Teachers in September. The open evening will be an opportunity for teachers to explore the new spaces and familiarise themselves with the new spaces as well as meet the ever so friendly learning team! We will also showcase the workshops we run for schools so teachers can be sure of what they are booking. The open evening is taking place on September the 20th, and booking information can be found here: https://museum.wales/stfagans/learning/teachers/

We don’t want to wish the summer away, but we can’t wait to get started again in September. Hopefully we will see you then!

There are times in life when a problem and its solution come together seamlessly.

The problem – one which every museum faces: cryptic causes of deterioration of stored objects.

The solution: investigation using the latest chemical analyses.

One step better: to combine this analysis with the mission of museums – inspiring people – and undertake the investigative work with full public engagement.

Like most museums, National Museum Cardiff has the task of slowing down corrosion to preserve collections. Think of your family silver tarnishing and you know what I am talking about. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of metal objects in our collection and you understand the herculean task we face when we come to work every day.

Like most museums, we do not have much equipment to undertake complex chemical analyses. So when we want to investigate the magnitude of potential sources of corrosive airborne substances in our collection stores, we often work in partnership with academic institutions.

SEAHA is an initiative between three universities with industry and heritage partners to improve our understanding of heritage science. Heritage science is multi disciplinary and includes experts with chemistry, imaging, IT, engineering, architecture and other backgrounds. One of SEAHA’s amazing facilities is a fully equipped mobile laboratory. We submitted an application last year for the mobile lab to come to Cardiff which, amazingly (there is much demand for this vehicle), was approved. Last week, staff and postgraduate students from University College London, one of SEAHA’s academic partners, visited National Museum Cardiff.

The Mobile Heritage Lab was at the museum for two days. During this time, we assessed environments and pollutants in collection stores and in public galleries. We undertook this work with full involvement of our museum visitors. The mobile lab was parked next to the museum entrance where we encouraged our visitors to explore the on-board analytical equipment. UCL staff and students were at hand to explain how science helps us preserve heritage collections, for example how UV fluorescence is used to explore paintings.

We received a visit by A-level students from Fitzalan High School in Cardiff in the morning. The students were especially interested in chemistry. After a quick introduction, we gave the students an ultra-fine particle counter to produce a pollutant map of the public galleries at the museum. The students used this equipment to measure ultra-fine dust inside and outside the museum. We are still analysing these data, but the early results indicate that the museum’s air filtration system is doing a good job at keeping dust out of the building. This is important because the gases associated with ultra-fine particles (for example, SO2) can damage paper and other organic materials.

We also measured concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in collection stores and found that levels were higher inside drawers in the Entomology collection than in the store itself; this is important in the context of entomological pin corrosion. We managed to confirm that work we undertook recently to reduce the levels of VOC in the museum’s Mineralogy store had been effective and successful. In addition, we used a thermal imaging camera to check whether relatively high temperatures in a display case are caused by heating pipes in the wall behind the case, or by in-case lighting.

The Mobile Heritage Lab’s visit provided us with an opportunity to answer some important questions about the way we care for the museum’s collections. At the same time, we managed to teach students the practical applications of investigative science and analytical chemistry. Lastly, we spoke to many museum visitors about the role played by science in the preservation of heritage collections. We are extremely grateful for the fruitful partnership with SEAHA and hope to collaborate on additional projects in the near future. For example, there are some interesting questions surrounding the deposition of different types of dust which we discussed over a beer on Thursday evening. Watch this space as multi-disciplinary heritage science is becoming ever more important for answering questions of collection care and preservation. Museums are best placed to working in partnerships on important scientific questions while achieving public impact by explaining to a wider audience how science works.

Find out more about Care of Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here and follow us on Twitter.

Every year a highly achieving school from each participating country is selected as a winning school for the Spring Bulbs for Schools Project. The Edina Trust arrange prizes for England and Scotland (and next year for Northern Ireland) and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales arrange prizes for the winning school from Wales.

This year’s winners were Tonyrefail Primary School. Their prize was a trip to St Fagans National Museum of History with a free coach and educational workshops. It was fantastic to meet the group and we had a lovely time exploring nature at St Fagans.

I met the group from the coach and escorted them through the site to Hendre Wen Barn, which is not usually open to the public and has only recently begun to be used as a facilitation space for schools. This served as our base for the day, and the group were very excited to hear about the bats and birds that make the barn their home!

To begin, I thanked the group for all their hard work on the project, and asked them about how they managed the project in their class room. I provided a brief overview of the projects findings, to highlight how their work has helped input into the long term study of the effects of climate change on the flowering dates of spring bulbs. Interesting feedback from the group included that they used a rotor to keep track of whose turn it was to collect data each week, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to take part.

Following this briefing, we split into two groups. Group A went with Hywel to the Tannery to explore the wildlife that live in the tanning pits; pools of water that have collected in pits that were once used in the process of making leather. The group were on the hunt for the variety of creatures that have made these tanning pits their home. In the process of exploring this habitat they found a number of different creatures and discussed their life-cycles and habitats. The group were also able to hold a palmate newt, which most said they had not had the opportunity to do before!

Group B went with me to the bird-hide, where we took sketches of the woodlands and used binoculars and bird-spotting sheets to see what birds we could find. We were very lucky, and saw an array of birds including a great spotted woodpecker! We were also visited by squirrels and wood mice, which we were as excited to see as we were the birds. We discussed the different species of birds, their colours, life-cycles and habitat. We also discussed how the feeding-space benefits wildlife and what we could do in our gardens or school grounds to help wildlife.

After this, the groups swapped over, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to explore the woods and the ponds. We then had lunch in the barn, and Hywel answered lots of questions about the protected species of Brown Long-eared bats that roost in the barns rafters.

After lunch we discussed habitats in more detail, and thought about the different insects that we might find in our back gardens. This discussion helped the group with the next activity, making bug-hotels to take home with them. We used recycled plant pots, straws and straw to make the bug hotels, and discussed where the best places might be to place the hotels to attract different insects. Some of the group decided they would place their hotels high up, in sunny areas to attract solitary bees and others decided they would place theirs on the ground in shaded areas to attract insects that prefer cooler conditions.

We finished with just enough time to make our way back to the coach, and were looking out for different insects while we walked the winding paths back. Hywel and I had a fantastic day, and from the smiling faces and feedback it looks like Tonyrefail Primary had a lovely time as well – thanks again Bulb Buddies!

 

Some of the feedback from Tonyrefail Primary:

‘I think this is one of my favourite trips because I have not seen most of the things I saw today and it is so interesting.’

‘I had a good time and enjoyed bird spotting and pond dipping. I liked bird spotting because it is interesting and I could learn about species that I didn’t know about before.’

‘I enjoyed this today especially because of the pond dipping and bird watching.’

‘I found it fun today. I liked the bird spotting because I saw some birds I’ve never seen before.’

‘I enjoyed holding the newt because it felt like I was holding living putty, and I also liked spotting the birds because they looked very cute.’

‘I liked it because it was my first time holding a Newt. I liked it because my bug hotel turned out great.’

‘I had fun meeting everyone and I loved making bug hotels because it was quite fun. It was fun today.’

‘I liked making bug hotels because I liked making things.’

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!