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Object of the Month – May 2012

Egyptian necklace with beads and amulets

Egyptian necklace

This necklace isn’t as old as you might think. It was made in Egypt for a tourist 100 to 200 years ago. In the 1800s Egypt became an increasingly popular tourist destination and these visitors were keen to bring back souvenirs of their trip. This could be something made as a souvenir, or a fake made to look much older than it was.

However, in this case the beads themselves are much older than the necklace.

As the beads were restrung relatively recently we cannot be certain where in Egypt they were originally found. However, we do know what all the larger beads – or amulets – stood for. These figures provided magical protection for the wearer, in this life or the afterlife.

The amulets include two eye of Horus (wadjet), Isis (recognisable by the throne on her head), four Tawerets (pregnant hippopotamus), two Anubis figures (with jackal head), two Bes figures (who protected children) and four striding men.

This fascinating necklace belonged to a professor of Egyptology at Oxford who worked in Egypt with Flinders Petrie, a famous archaeologist.

The Herbert has about 30 objects from ancient Egypt, all donated by individuals. You can see some of them on display in the History Gallery and a drawer of small objects in What’s in Store.


Object of the Month – January 2012

Piece of Acropora Palmata Coral

Acropora palmata coral

While cataloguing the coral collection in the Herbert museum, I came across this species of Acropora coral.

Acropora are a genera of coral that contains at least 149 separate species. Acropora palmata has been the subject of recent conservation efforts as its numbers have suffered dramatically in the last 30 years. Acropora palmata is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is the tier before ‘extinct in the wild’.

Acropora palmata is found in the Caribbean Sea, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas. These corals primarily live in shallow waters with temperatures between 26 °C and 30 °C.

Corals rely on zooxanthellae, which are photosynthetic protozoa that embed themselves in coral tissue. The zooxanthellae receive protection from predators and in return supply the coral with approximately 90% of its energy from their photosynthetic byproducts.  These protozoa are extremely sensitive to variations in water temperature and will leave the coral tissue if long periods of temperature change occur. The result is ‘bleached’ coral as the colourful zooxanthellae leave. Global warming, the rise in sea levels and temperatures have massively affected the symbiotic relationship between corals and these protozoa.

Corals are also suffering world-wide because they are extremely susceptible to pollution, acidification of the sea and changes in ocean salinity. Human activities such as tourism and fishing also pose a threat to coral.

All these factors have affected corals on the global level, but the spread of an aggressive disease called ‘White band disease’ has hit the Acropora palmata species hard. It is estimated that 80-98% of the wild population has been wiped out in the last 30 years.

It is entirely possible that Acropora palmata could soon only be alive in cultivated aquariums.

Sam Caulfield-Kerney

University of Leicester work placement student

Acropora palmata in the wild

 Acropora palmata in the wild.

Photo by Nick Hobgood. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Object of the Month – November 2011

Radio, about 1940

Radio, about 1940

Arthur Noakes’ radio

This radio was used by Arthur Noakes, who was a secret listener during the Second World War. Secret listeners were amateur radio enthusiasts who were recruited by the government to listen to enemy radio messages. They passed the messages on to Bletchley Park where they were decoded. Bletchley Park’s success in intercepting and decoding German messages played a key part in winning the war.

Arthur was one of a handful of secret listeners in Coventry. He was already a keen amateur radio enthusiast and a member of the Coventry Amateur Radio Society when war broke out. At first the government took away all amateur radio sets, but soon realised that they could be very useful for the war effort. An official visited Arthur at home and recruited him to work for the government. He had to sign the Official Secrets Act and was then given a radio and asked to listen to certain frequencies.


At first Arthur struggled to pick up anything and was given this radio instead. It is a National Radio HRO set, made in the USA. The British government bought thousands of these high quality receivers during the war. With this new radio Arthur was able to listen to successfully listen to enemy messages. He believed the stations he listened to were in Belgium and Holland.

Arthur continued to listen to enemy communications throughout the war and often got feedback about how important the work was. He kept his work secret even from his family and it was not until many years later that his sons found out how he had spent the war. In the last few weeks two other people have come forward to tell us that their fathers were also secret listeners.

Arthur’s certificate of war service

We would like to thank the Noakes family and Coventry Amateur Radio Society for donating this radio and for recording Arthur Noakes’ story.

Huw Jones, Keeper of Collections

New Acquisitions

This original montage by Peter Kennard features Margaret Thatcher and was first published as a New Statesman cover in 1985. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Acquired with the assistance of the Art Fund.

In March we received the latest artworks acquired for the Peace and Reconciliation collection which is funded through the HLF Collecting Cultures programme. This included a collection of works by Peter Kennard and collaborative works by Peter and Cat Picton-Phillipps.

Peter’s work is a powerful response to social and political events around him. It is often based around his wish to express anger and outrage but also inspire positive action and protest. In the 1970s Peter moved away from painting to photomontage which he felt to be a more powerful response to the Vietnam War. His recent works with Cat Picton-Phillips were created in response to the Iraq War and include digital collage.

Peter manipulates familiar symbols and images to force the viewer to ‘see’ the horror and impact of national and international events. This is often combined with humour and sadness. His images have been used on banners and T-shirts and in newspapers and magazines, as part of CND and Labour Party campaigns as well as shown in gallery spaces. He has been exhibiting since the 1970s and his work is held in The Arts Council Collection, Imperial War Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We are exploring working with Peter and Cat as part of an exhibition of the Peace and Reconciliation collection in 2012. This might include a solo display of their work within the exhibition and recreating their studio at the Herbert to explore their methods and practice.

Other new acquisitions have included poster works by Michael Peel, also created as a form of protest for display on the streets, and works from the Roaring Girls series by Al Johnson. These sculptures of guns are based on real weapons, but stitched from scarlet textiles and explore the involvement of women in warfare.

Jamal Penjweny, Iraq is Flying, No.7. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We have also been able to acquire three photographic works from the Iraq is Flying series by Jamal Penjweny, which featured in the Contemporary Art Iraq exhibition at Cornerhouse, Manchester in 2010. The works were made during the artists travels throughout Iraq. Photographing a diverse range of people in very different locations, he asked them all to jump for the camera. There are obvious signs of conflict in the images but they also convey a feeling of joy and hope.


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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Paul Thompson, Keeper of Collections (By day anyway….)

Lisa and Paul (in ARP uniform) taking cover in the Herbert's Anderson Shelter

Today’s guest blog is from Paul Thompson, Keeper of Collections.

The telephone rang and I gingerly picked it up expecting trouble – however, it was an enquiry from the front desk. Someone had brought in an object for identification and, as I had a hot cup of tea in front of me cooling, I thought I would go and see what it was! It turned out to be a 14th century medieval tile with a pattern, so I gave as much information as I could and then returned to my desk. I sat there with my tea and thought back over the last few weeks of my curatorial life here at the Herbert.

Secret Egypt has taken up a good deal of my attention. I’ve been searching for suitable images and thinking about how they will be displayed in the final exhibition next year.

I gave a paper on recent archaeological work undertaken in Coventry at the Society of Museum Archaeologists conference which the Herbert hosted in mid-November. I wrote a new talk about Iron Age and Roman remains never before encountered within the city as well as the expected medieval remains. It was well received by all. On the final conference day, I took a group around the city to show them our three cathedrals, St. Mary’s Guildhall, Golden Cross, Stone House and Whitefriars. These events are always networking opportunities and a chance to catch up on current archaeological academic gossip. Read the rest of this entry

Secret Egypt: Part 2

Martin Grahn measures up the objects (c) Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

We first started working on Secret Egypt autumn 2009 and this is when we made our first visits to lending museums. The majority of our objects are coming from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. As a curator I love working with objects, so I have found it hard choosing all these amazing objects and then not seeing them for nearly a year!

For most of this time we have been working with photographs of the objects, which can be misleading. Recently conservator Martin Grahn and I visited Birmingham’s stores to measure up the objects for mounts. It’s funny how time alters objects in the mind. The animal mummy coffin I’m measuring in the picture is smaller than I remembered, but the gold leaf decoration more delicate. I genuinely can’t wait until the exhibition is open and everyone can share the experience of seeing these objects close up (and I can stop boring friends and family by talking about Secret Egypt and show off all our hard work). 

I'm sure this was bigger..... (c) Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

Ali Wells, Keeper of Collections

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Summer has arrived at the Herbert!

Wax and ink painting made during a family activity session

The school holidays are well under way now, which should mean a quieter time for the learning team as we mostly work with schools, but for our family learning officer, Mel, it means all systems go! She has been busy getting everything in place for the ‘Face up to Summer’ activities that are taking place in the museum throughout the holidays, which so far have been going really well and producing some lovely examples of art work by the children (check the pictures out to see some of the results).

I’ve particularly been enjoying the school holiday activities because I’ve been spotting lots of children from schools I visited just before the schools broke up. I went around schools in Coventry delivering assemblies called ‘All about Apes’ to promote the summer temporary exhibition ‘Face to Face’. During the assemblies I kept telling all the pupils that if they spotted me during the summer at the museum they had to come up to me and remind me of what I’d been teaching them that day…… I’ve lost count of how many children have been finding me and telling me the facts about apes that they remember, so I’m very impressed with them all!

Annamation storytelling in the Face to Face exhibition

Last week we had a professional story-teller in from Annamation, who were creating stories in the Face to Face exhibition space with families. It was really fun to watch and very entertaining so we’re looking forward to them returning again next week.

Felt Fridays and object handling in the afternoons has been working really well too. This is something new for this summer; usually we have the drop-in art activities all week, but to offer something a bit more collections centred and focused Mel came up with these ideas. I popped into one of the object handling sessions and the families were asking lots of questions about the objects and the children were spending a lot of time exploring the objects and doing observational drawings of them. The atmosphere was relaxed and calm, which I think was what Mel needed after the running around involved for the drop-in activities all week.

By the time I post my next blog I’ll be well into going around schools for a WW2 assembly, so catch up with me again in a few weeks to read about some of the Coventry citizens who contributed to the war effort, including the story of Noreen Dalglish, an Ambulance driver from Coventry who happens to be the Grandmother of one of the learning officers here at the Herbert. Until then…have a happy summer time!

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