Amgueddfa Blog: Sustainability

Cultural heritage collections need a friendly home. 'Friendly' means: a building that protects the collection from the elements – wind, sun and rain. Conservators worry a lot - and rightly so - about pigments fading when they are exposed to light, about stuffed animals being eaten by insect pests, about wartime medals corroding because of the presence of air pollutants. But it’s no good having a fantastic pest management system if the roof leaks. Getting the basics right makes the job of the conservator an awful lot easier and is better for the collection.

Like many museums up and down the country, National Museum Cardiff is housed in a historic building. The museum contains 30 public galleries and 50 collection stores which accommodate almost 3 million objects. This is only part of the national heritage collection of Wales and arguably something we want to protect for the benefit of current and future generations.

But being in a historic building, as beautiful as it is, has its challenges. Much of the building infrastructure is aging and needs modernising. Our roof needs some tlc. Our air conditioning systems are so old, there is nobody left in the museum who was around when they were first installed. And the electrics in parts of the building are not far from receiving a birthday telegram from Her Majesty the Queen.

All of those issues are a problem not just for visitors and staff, but also for the collections. Therefore, we have started modernising our museum building. In the past few years we already had parts of our roof replaced. Less publicly visible was the recent replacement of the electrical infrastructure in the west wing. We are now in the process of undertaking much more work to improve the building.

Some of this work will happen behind closed doors: replacement of our chillers and humidifiers with new, modern and efficient technology, making the museum leaner and greener. Other work will be more obvious to our visitors, including works to the roof of our south wing. Various works will require the temporary closure of some of our public galleries – please bear with us during this time, we are keeping the rest of the museum open and, once the works are completed, all galleries will be accessible again.

One difficulty remains: once all the works are completed the museum will look like nothing ever happened – we do not have a brand new building to show off for all our efforts. BUT the building will feel and operate differently. It will form a more reliable envelope around our collections. It will require less maintenance, saving us money and staff time. It will be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing our energy bills and forming a substantial contribution towards lowering our greenhouse gas emissions.

During this time of potential disruptions please bear in mind the end product, which will include a better museum experience for visitors today (well, next year) and in the future. And a building that continues to help us look after Wales’ national collection.

Should you have any questions at all about our refurbishment programme in relation to the collections, please do get in touch. We will be happy to assist in any way we can.

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

Nearing the four-month mark since I stepped into National Museum Wales for the first day of my Professional Training Year (PTY) placement from Cardiff University, my goal of achieving new experiences in the world of marine invertebrate research is definitely underway. This is now taking form in the way of the Magelonidae, the shovelhead worms, a family of polychaetes with many unanswered questions hovering around them in regards to their ecology, taxonomy and behaviour.

Through starting with live observations in the museum lab in July of Magelona alleni, a rather chunky species of magelonid, my project has developed into some exciting discoveries regarding not only the feeding of these amazing worms, but also how they poo, hence the title of the blog post! As boring as worm defecation sounds, this is not the case when you watch how these amazing animals decide to actually get rid of their dinner (there will be more about the details of this in my next blog post when we have finished working on this interesting behaviour).

These findings have led me down a road of using many new techniques to be able to present my work in a professional and scientific manner. This includes scientific drawing using a camera lucida attachment on a microscope, photography in the way of time-lapse captures, film and image stacking, image editing, reviewing relevant literature, statistical analysis, dissection and SEM (scanning electron microscopy) to name but a few.

In addition to these skills I have learnt much about day to day tasks the museum carries out, including learning methods of curation for an impressive collection of marine invertebrates, holding over 750,000 specimens and having the opportunity to partake in sampling trips to collect more animals for the further development of my project and other projects around the museum. I have also settled into the role of tank maintenance for not only the shovelhead worms, but also some of our resident anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, sea potatoes and prawns. I have even tried my hand at outreach on one of the museum’s stands during the evening event ‘After Dark at the Museum’ with Cardiff University, which saw nearly 2000 people (mainly families) enjoy a hands on experience.

One crucial advantage that I feel I have obtained over these last few months is that I am starting to enjoy a great appreciation for the diversity of life in our seas, from the very tiny, such as organisms like diatoms and foraminiferans to the impressively large, like the young humpback whale skeleton on display in the museum, which I get the pleasure of walking past most days. All in all, my experiences so far have been beyond valuable and who knows what the next few months of research here will bring.

Find out more about how I got on when I first started at the museum

Here at the Mary Gillham Archive Project hub we’ve recently begun ‘timehopping’ on social media.

This involves using Mary’s detailed writings to find out what she was doing on today’s date, so many years ago, and then posting it on Twitter and Facebook (i.e. “on this date, in this year, Mary was doing this…”). It’s an interesting way to learn about Mary’s life history and see the many activities that she got up to in her day-to-day life.

A recent and particularly intriguing timehop posted on 16th October described how on that day in 1982, Mary witnessed the enormous humpback whale lying washed up on Gilestone beach at Aberthaw, near the Power Station.

This sparked the interest of many and after a twitter conversation with National Museum Cardiff it turns out that the bones of the whale are now on display at the museum, right here in Cardiff! This means that you can still visit this gigantic sea mammal today and see a part of Welsh history with your own eyes, just like Mary did.

Crowds on Aberthaw Beach

For those fortunate enough to be there in 1982 Aberthaw, the experience was an unforgettable one.

In her archive, Mary explains that it was almost “impossible to photograph the whale” due to the thousands of people congregating to get a glimpse.

The coastguard had tied the tail of the whale to a large iron post in the ground with ropes (to prevent the animal from washing back out to sea).

Mary describes how she got the chance to hold one of the whale’s gigantic flippers while Piers Langhalt, formerly of National Museum Cardiff, cut the large barnacles from the animal. These same barnacles can be found preserved at the museum, alongside the whale!

One volunteer on the Mary Gillham Archive Project, Julia Banks, recalls the “overpowering, rotting smell” of the beached whale that she witnessed as a young child. Julia visited the scene with her parents and remembers joining the masses of locals all gathering for the unusual sight, as well as seeing a group of people measuring the whale in order to figure out its age.

Julia also remembers visiting National Museum Cardiff when the skeleton was put up on display, and “feeling proud that [their] whale was in the museum”.

For more of the story and info on how the whale was managed by National Museum Cardiff, why not take a trip to the museum to see for yourself how it stands today?

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is a Heritage Lottery funded project at South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre
For more info about the project visit our website: https://marygillhamarchiveproject.com/the-project/

 

 

During the past two weeks our Geology galleries were closed for essential maintenance. Now they are open to the public again, much to the delight of anyone looking after dinosaur-mad 6-year olds, who, quite rightly, have been disappointed by the temporary withdrawal of some of National Museum Cardiff’s most popular displays.

So in you come for a peek of all those refreshed displays. But what’s that? Seemingly nothing has changed?? Everything still looks as it did before the ‘major refurbishment’ – so what was so major about it?

The idea of undertaking maintenance was not to change the displays – apparently our visitors are happy with the way they are – but to update technology and fix things that were broken. This is why you have to look closely to spot what we have been so busy doing. Very busy in fact; including the planning phase, which took several months, we had at least 23 people working on the gallery. It was very busy every day, with staff and contractors working around each other, from the dinosaur foot prints pavement all the way up to the ceiling (which is 12m high in this gallery).

What you won’t notice is that the fire beams were replaced to alert us early and reliably in the event of a fire. You’ll have to look closely to spot the new lights: the spot lights underneath the ceiling are now all converted to LED. You may find that the image quality of the display screens is a million times better than it was before. What you certainly should notice is that the displays are much cleaner. We also repaired damage to displays. As the saying goes: if you touch - we need to touch up. The paint work, that is. And if anyone happens to walk into a display case the specimens inside move sometimes. If we don’t spot this early enough, they can topple off their shelf and break. We used the opportunity last week to put them all back in their place, hence our plea to you: this is now not a race to see how quickly they can be knocked off their perch again, so absolutely no prize for anyone who thinks they can dislodge the displays. Our specimens – which, actually, belong not to the museum but to the Welsh public – are fragile and repairing them costs tax payers’ money, which we do our best not to waste.

There is one thing that is entirely new to the gallery, something which will be obvious immediately to said 6-year old dinosaur enthusiast (and those of any other age, too): the new Welsh dinosaur now has a permanent home as part of our dinosaur display. A life-sized artist’s impression, feathers and colours and all, is now peeking from the early Jurassic back to its Triassic cousins. It is truly magnificent and inspiring, and actually one of the first models to represent the latest research that these kinds of dinosaurs were clad in feathers. The enthusiast in myself wants to add pathos to this announcement, which is difficult to express in a blog. Hence I’ll stop myself right here and simply invite you to come and see it.

Oh, one more thing. While working in the displays in the past two weeks we found countless sweet wrappers, discarded chewing gums and bits of sandwiches and apples in various hidden corners. These kinds of things encourage pests which we don’t want in the museum any more than you would want them in your house. We have the restaurant, café and schools sandwich room where you are welcome to eat, and there are bins in the Main Hall before you enter the galleries. We would be immensely grateful if you didn’t take any food into the galleries.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.

Hello. Here is what has been happening play area wise in St Fagans!

Our artists have been talking to curators and visiting our stores. They now know all about the themes covered in the new galleries and are thinking of ways in which they can incorporate them into the play area design. Some of the themes are food, work, fun - which also covers toys and games (that one might work), customs and folklore, childhood, as well as the perhaps not so appropriate - sleep and death.

We have also been talking about language - having text in the play area, maybe incorporating lullabies and sound into it (or is that too horror film?), sound, music, pigsties, beds and enclosed spaces, gates! (we have a collection of photographs of lots of different gates in the collection, all with different names) roofs! washing.... so much we could do, so many things...

Fern Thomas (supporting artist) has been managing to do research into folk remedies for her own art work - she has been looking at remedies for physical ailments from all around Wales which all seem to say 'wrap a piece of bacon round it' whatever the problem is.

Imogen Higgins (supporting artist) has started documenting all the different play areas in Cardiff and has also started blogging about it. If you know of any interesting ones, perhaps you could let us know?

I went to talk to Woodlands Special Secondary School a couple of weeks ago and some of the students there are going to help us with the design. We have our first meeting this week, so I will let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, please share, comment, and let me know stuff you've come across. Will be updating again soon.