Wednesday, 28 August 2013

How to store your objects museum style.

In their previous storage the bird skins were not in an optimal environment, it could fluctuate in humidity and temperature and in the long term this can be very damaging to collections where objects can warp, disintegrate, become mouldy, dry out, become brittle or fade. As a short term solution each of the skins was sealed in its own plastic bag so that it was buffered from external factors; now that they are in a new, stable storage environment the plastic can be removed.

The Discovery Centre was built specifically to store objects owned by Leeds Museums and Galleries that are not currently on public display. It houses everything from antique washing machines and televisions to old dentists’ chairs, shop signs, fossils, minerals, Medieval canoes, fishing spears, clothes, toys, natural history and everything else in between. It is a windowless room with special lighting so that there is very little Ultra violate (UV) light which can be damaging to certain types of materials and it is also temperature and humidity controlled. Having objects in a consistently cool, humidity regulated, low UV environment means that the objects will stabilise and last much longer for future generations to come.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Collections through Cake: Rajah Brooke's Birdwing

Dom, our Digital Media Manager, was inspired to re-create this beautiful butterfly from our Natural Science Collections, as part of the ever expanding Collections through Cake (#MusCake) curatorial activity here in Leeds (browse the blog for our other endeavours).

This Rajah Brookes Birdwing is from the Customs Collection. Objects from it are the property of HM Revenue & Customs, but are under our guardianship, so that Leeds Museums can use the confiscated objects for educational purposes. (To find out more about what crosses the borders, visit Mersey Maritime Museum, which houses the Border Force National Museum.) This butterfly is native to the rain forests of the Thai-Malay peninsula and other Indonesian islands.

The Rajah Brooke's Birdwing was named in 1855 by the naturalist Alfred Wallace, after James Brooke, the Rajah of Sarawak. It is the male who has the beautiful iridescent wings. The female is equally beautiful with wings in a range of olives and browns. It is the national butterfly of Malaysia. The butterflies gather in groups of up to eighty individuals to drink from puddles. The butterflies are threatened by habitat loss.

Luckily this chocolate version, was only threatened by Tuesday cake desire. Unfortunately, the cake is now extinct. Hopefully protection by CITES will halt the decline in numbers of these beautiful, charming arthropods.

Monday, 19 August 2013

How to order your collection

Storage is one of the most important things about a collection as it facilitates access and helps to keep the collection in good order. That storage has to be flexible, as collections can change over time with new additions, and allow people to keep an eye on things quickly and easily. It also keeps the collection safe, by protecting it from harmful environmental factors such as dust and ultraviolet light, which can fade specimens over time, just like the back of a sofa that's been left in the sun for many years.

Collections need to be ordered in a way which makes it most useful to the people that access it. If you have a collection that is primarily accessed by researchers then it will be arranged taxonomically. Taxonomy is a scientific word which basically stands for the tree of life and by looking at the tree you can see how things are related to one another, for instance, did you know that we share 57% of our DNA with chickens?

Our collection at Leeds Discovery Centre is mostly accessed by our education and public engagement team so we have organised our collection into 7 themes - colour, geography, types of beak, types of feet, kinds of flight, British birds and birds of prey/insectivores. This helps when they are showing the collection to the public as things are grouped in a simple way that can provide quick, basic information. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Before... Why the collection needed attention.

Boxes of mystery!

Previously the bird skin collection was stored in cardboard boxes (shown above) and these did not provide a suitable environment. The birds within the boxes were piled on top of each other and this could cause damage to feathers, beaks and wings, plus they were difficult to access. It would have been very time consuming when inspecting the collection to open each individual box and check every specimen so if there were any problems, such as a pest infestation or mould spreading from damp, the issue would possibly not be found until extensive damage had already occurred. As an interim measure each bird was sealed in plastic but this was not a long term solution. One of the Natural History Curators, Rebecca Machin, secured funding from the Arts Council to get new storage and hire someone for a year to move the birds into that storage, as well as document them all.  

Monday, 5 August 2013

Lifting and Shifting

When you start work in a new place at the beginning there is a certain amount of training that you must go through as each job has a different way of doing things, different equipment, etc. Well one of the bits of equipment at The Discovery Centre has a scissor lift! The racks in our storage facility are too high for your standard step ladder so to safely access our collection and to reduce risk while taking up objects we have a scissor lift. A good day was spent learing how to drive this little vehicle and it's already been useful several times.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Collections through Cake: Cypriot Spindle Whorls

Writes Classicist and volunteer Anna Reeve:

Inspired by Leeds Museums' brilliant ‘Collections through Cake’ series, I wanted to have a go myself! It had to be an object from the Ancient Cypriot collection, which I am researching. I was very tempted by an ‘Astarte Tatin’, but decided to play it safe and make ancient Cypriot gingerbread spindle whorls.

The four Cypriot spindle whorls in the Leeds Museum collection come from Enkomi in Cyprus, and were donated by the British Museum in 1902.

Spindle whorls were used with spindles to turn fibres into thread, which could then be woven into cloth. It was a labour-intensive task that would have been very time-consuming.

This example, a flattened cone in shape, is made of bone and decorated with concentric circles and hatching. The design may possibly reflect the stitches used in sewing. It dates from some time in the Late Cypriot period (1650 BC – 1050 BC).

The gingerbread is considerably more recent in manufacture, and very unlikely to last anywhere near as long!

Read more of Anna's research at Cypriot Art Leeds