Monthly Archives: January 2011

Creating “Real or Fake” for Secret Egypt

To say you love your job because of the people is usually a cliché, but on one soggy, bleak Winter day I found myself well and truly confirming that cliché. We were filming for our latest team project “Real or Fake” the game which will feature in the forthcoming Secret Egypt exhibition.  A green screen is at the end of the day, just a sheet of green paper, but it turns our crew into excited big kids, me included.  The excited kids include film makers Jo Sampson, Simon Wellman and Jim Turner, our boss Rich Elms steering the script and me, taking photos. Our host for the game and former employee, Ben Goodwin arrives in a gold, lame jacket to complete the scene; I know I am in for an epic day.

The Legendary Lame JacketThe brief we were given was to produce an interactive game based on the Real, Fake or Copy section in the exhibition.  Our solution was to produce a “Blockbusters style game show”; Ben would be the host and introduce the objects, providing players with a few clues along the way.  I’ve never seen anyone camp it up so delightfully, adding a touch of the Dale Winton to our Bob Holness aspirations (now you can guess how old I am!).  Ben had found his lame jacket in a shop in Birmingham, the owner let him in with her key so being the only one there he was obliged to buy something, and luckily his choice was perfect. Read the rest of this entry


The Eagle has landed…


Er, or should I say the falcon has returned? This little guy is one of our series of Egyptian Explorer amulets (all lovingly handcrafted by Herbert staff) which are currently travelling the world. He was released into the wild last August and returned home to roost in December. OK – I’ll stop with the ridiculous puns; you get the point.

Horus the falcon is a Travel Bug. Travel Bugs are trackable items which are moved around the world by geocachers. Geocachers are people who hide and seek containers called geocaches. Geocachers place Travel Bugs into geocaches; another geocacher then takes the Travel Bug and leaves it in another geocache, and so on. The Travel Bugs move from cache to cache to fulfill a goal set by the Travel Bug owner. (If all of this sounds bizarre to you, just think of geocaching as high-tech treasure hunting using a GPS (SatNav) device. You can read all about it and Travel Bugs here:'s Gold Funerary Mask

Through the kindness of geocaching strangers, Horus here has fulfilled his goal of travelling from Coventry to London to pay his respects to Howard Carter – now a resident of Putney Vale Cemetery. Howard Carter was a foremost British Egyptologist and archaeologist who excavated in Egypt during the early 1900s. He is perhaps most remembered for being the principal archaeologist behind the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. There is a wealth of information, including scanned pages from Carter’s diary, photographs of the excavation and a database of objects excavated from Tutankhamen’s tomb on the Griffith Institute website.

Horus is the first Travel Bug to return home to the Herbert. At the moment, we have about 30 Travel Bugs in circulation around the world. We are hoping that more will return between now and the close of Secret Egypt in June 2011. While Secret Egypt is here, we will be displaying the Travel Bugs in the museum with journals and photographs of their journeys. Visitors will be able to find out more about their journeys and the influence of Egypt both in Britain and abroad.

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A Look Back at the Herbert 50th Display

Some amazing objects held in the Herbert could be seen in two display cases in the covered court by the shop during 2010. What were they? Well they were 50 objects (one per week), each choice had been accessioned in one of the 50 years the Herbert has been open. They were all chosen by people who had worked with the Herbert in the past to celebrate our 50th anniversary.

Herbert 50th Display Cases

They ranged from paintings and prints to stuffed birds and toys but all were relevant to the person who selected them for many different reasons. Some of those that stand out in my mind are below for your enjoyment.

Rhino Beetles (1974 choice) were great with long projections that look like horns. Everyone shudders at creepy crawly insects. A card game called ‘The Pit’ (1975 choice) was simple to spread out and display. Toy and games were popular choices reminding everyone of their own childhood.

A red throated diver (1976 choice) was an interesting one and led to new bases being made for some of them for display. Shoes were a very popular subject choice but for the year 1987 a pair of child’s red shoes sat next to a pair of ladies court shoes.

Ladies knickers were an unusual choice for 1997 but the poem accompanying them is hilarious following an appeal by the Herbert as at the time we had few in the collections.

We had some 'Quackers' objects!

Bayko (1998 choice) was a fun choice where I had to build one of the buildings pictured on the construction set leaflet. It’s a hard job sometimes being a curator but someone has to do it!

This was an unusual project that resulted in many different objects being on display for just a week. The quick case change-overs and new labels were a challenge but a fun one involving all aspects of a curator’s job from research through to photography and text writing. This has been something I was very glad to be a part of given how special the Herbert’s collections are.

Paul Thompson

Keeper of Collections (Archaeology & Natural History)

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Hue and sky

One of the joys of this job is the range of work we take on, and how it is so easy to be intensely focused on one task while your colleagues are immersed in quite different ones.  The storm and buzz of our forthcoming exhibitions All Dressed Up  and Secret Egypt have largely ignored me, which his just as well given we have Spotlight: Belsen Head fast approaching and the planning for our summer early years exhibition started to gather speed.

Spotlight: Belsen Head continues a thread of exhibitions focussed on a single powerful object, in this case a recently acquired sculpture by Raymond Mason.  We’ve asked some local artists to create responses to the piece, and I feel their approach is testament to the quality of the local arts community, that we have artists prepared to accept the challenge of this commission.  I feel pride in the way Coventry marks Holocaust Memorial Day each year, and it sometimes shocks me that I am part of that process.

Although, on the face of it, completely different, we take our summer exhibition for early years just as seriously as commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

Over the past 8 years, we have been able to explore how a gallery can offer creative play opportunities, and to consciously experiment and push boundaries.  We’ll keep most details secret for now, but we are building on developments in 2010’s In the Big Treetop especially in the use of off-ground structures and light.  We’ve invested in more multicoloured lamps, and while the Studio was quiet over New Year, we built a test bed “Iglow” to try out lighting effects – the sense of movement feels wonderful in this clip:

Another area we are exploring is how we can make the growing field of pervasive gaming appropriate to the family and early years audiences we receive throughout the summer.  Lots of reading, then lots of trialling and, lets face it, lots of playing, to do on this one.

The office windows behind the Herbert open onto a strange landscape, particularly with the recent weather.  When I raise my eyes from my screen, I am greeted by a steel sky, grey-clad university buildings and high grey lamp posts on the ring-road.   At the front of the building we have the richer palette and sharper details of the Cathedrals, yet this wash of subtle greys offers an urban alternative to the coastal landscapes evocative of 20th century heroes such as Britten and Jarman..  



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The Last Post

‘Last and final’ tends to put pressure on things to be polished and coherent.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can promise that – this is, however, my last blog post.  A small yet significant moment in my last bit week working for the Herbert – as after two and a half years I will be moving on to pastures new.

What a two and a half years it has been! From my first day when I arrived flustered and half and hour late because the train was delayed.  Thankfully this was not held against me and I have been able to work on some fascinating and challenging projects.

One of my very first projects was to work on a project to create a Chinese community film for the British Museum. This was great fun and posed some unique puzzles.  It was great to meet the young people – I had a group of 7 to 17 year olds to work with.  We taught them about oral history and how to do interviews then they interviewed the elders on camera.  Finally, they did some paper cut animation about the stories they had heard. The quirky humour really brightened things up. All this material was edited down to make a film which was shown as part China – Journey to the East, a British Museum touring exhibition.  It was a really special moment to see the film being shown next to priceless objects from ancient China and to see the looks on the young people’s faces when they saw the finished film.

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Today’s post is from Natalie Heidaripour, Project Officer (Peace and Reconciliation Gallery).

Willie Doherty. Segura, 2010.

Willie Doherty. Segura, 2010. Photograph by Ilya Rabinovich.

This was my first experience of Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, which this year was held in the Spanish cities of Murcia and Cartagena. The artworks were amazing. They were displayed across the cities in venues including a recently closed prison, an old post office and former artillery barracks. You can view photos from Manifesta 8 on Flickr.

There were many weird and wonderful works but the ones that have stuck with me are: Neil Beloude’s film Kempinski which includes the line ‘I am the only man who lives with hundreds of oxen…my wife the cow has given birth to two cows and the baptism is for tomorrow. The orchestra will come… the party will be beautiful,” Willie Doherty’s mesmerising and beautiful film Segura which was shot over 24 hours in Murcia and Celine Condorelli’s moving work, There is Nothing Left, exploring memory and loss and the movement of communities. Although sometimes bewildering (to me) it was a really interesting experience. I went with a group of colleagues from the West Midlands including staff from Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Ikon, The New Art Gallery, Walsall and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, who were much more familiar with the artists, works and art biennials in general. It was really useful to discuss both the works and the success or otherwise of Manifesta but also ways we can work together.

Finally, check out Simon Fujiwara’s Phallusies which I think we should definitely consider for the Egypt exhibition!

Simon Fujiwara. Phallusies, 2010. Photograph by Ilya Rabinovich.

Manifesta runs from 09/10/10 – 09/01/11


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Object of the Month – Janaury 2011

Medieval owl misericord

This carved oak misericord came from the Whitefriars monastery which was founded by the Carmelite friars in 1342. The dormitory and one side of the cloister still survive and can be seen on the corner of Gulson Road and London Road. (map)

Misericords provided a ledge for the friars to lean on, so they could remain standing during long services. The ledge could also be folded down to form a seat. The carved design was then on the underside.

The wise old owl is an endearing and familiar figure from our childhood stories. However, in the medieval period the owl was viewed as a portent of doom or a bad omen, so it is an unusual subject for a misericord in a monastery.

When he used this particular misericord, the friar was reminded that by sitting on the owl he was preventing the bad omen from happening. Its message was that only the church had the power to crush evil.

You can find the owl misericord in the City of Spires section in the Herbert’s History Gallery.

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