Blog Archives

Recent work of the Conservation Team

Martin hard at work cleaning a medieval pendant

The Conservation team has been getting out and about a bit recently. Both Jill and Martin have been out assessing potential items for the collections – as far afield as London and Surrey – some have been accepted, others not.  Meanwhile I swanned off to Scotland for fun. However, I’ve also been working with Learning Team, resulting in a couple of talks to 8-year-old school children. It’s been interesting trying to explain what we do at a level they can understand – they did say their heads were a bit full….. Martin provided material for activity sheets, so that’s 3 groups hopefully thinking a bit more about how to look after things.

The Building Management System programmers have been in to discuss how we can get the best performance for the environmental controls now we’ve seen how it behaves in reality. I’ve learned an awful lot over the last couple of years, and in many ways will be sorry to hand the job of liaising with the Council Engineer over to our new technician when he starts, but there are other things I need to be doing.
Both Martin and I have been condition reporting items for the Robert Longden exhibition. The photographs (my job) are really evocative, and drew me in to look at them properly as images – usually it’s a quick glance in ‘over-view’, then switch to detailed inspection mode. These days when going round other exhibitions, I find I’m missing out on enjoying the objects because I can’t stop myself inspecting mounts, condition, etc!

Very detailed and delicate work!

Martin has been cleaning a medieval horse-harness pendant in preparation for one of the series of Collections Conversations in What’s in Store where he’ll be talking about conserving objects. Here he’s scraping off overlying corrosion plus the earth incorporated into the corrosion to get back to the original surface layer, using a microscope to see the fine detail. The x-ray image which Martin is using as a guide shows a lion feature; traces of gilding and enamelling have also survived the long burial. Using his private interest, Martin has also been choosing coins from our collections and recessing them into plastazote (inert foam) to fill more drawers in What’s in Store – these drawers are gradually being completed as we get material.


What’s it like to be a Keeper?

Hello, my name is Ali Wells and I am one of three Keepers of Collections at the Herbert. Together with the Senior Curator we curate the four collections held at the museum: archaeology, natural history, social & industrial history and visual arts.

Objects are at the core of all museums, and for me May meant working with many different types of objects.

I started the month by helping Dom with the take down of Fashion V Sport. Taking things down are always a lot easier than putting them up and the costumes mostly came off their mannequins with ease. The most difficult piece was a Prada outfit made from some kind of plasticated paper. We had to handle it so carefully as there was already wear around the zip and it had only been done up five or six times!

Part of the joy of having collections is being able to lend them out to other museums. For its summer exhibition on Rock ‘n’ Roll photographs, The Pump Rooms in Leamington wanted to display some objects from the 1950s and 60s. After looking through the collection, we will be lending them some Beatles and Rolling Stone magazine and this record player. Read the rest of this entry

Matters physical, thoughtful and sensory: part 2

Construction on In the Big Treetop begins!

View of the construction of In the Big Treetop

In the Big Treetop has just come a step closer with the delivery of 33 sheets of MDF.  Now our technician Steve has the huge task of converting the 1:25 scale model into a reality that can stand everything that hundreds of children can throw at it.

We’ve also made some progress on the theoretical questions.   I am currently exploring the tension between how the installation respects the visitor by offering a carefully designed aesthetic, and how it can honour the participants in the space by letting them shape it. 

One of the special things about the Herbert is the combination of Gallery, Museum, Archives and Media.  Having been up at 5am on the May bank holiday recording the dawn chorus, Daz, our sound engineer, had the brilliant idea of using the great quadraphonic sound system in the studio . . .   So at 3.30am on Sunday I will be trudging through a nature reserve with 4 mic stands, cables, two recorders . . .   Those birds better sing!

Wednesday’s update:  On Sunday, the birds sang, the bunnies lolloped, herons rose from the mist and terns flashed bright orange as they caught the dawn sun . . .

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Matters physical, thoughtful and sensory: part 1

In the Big TreeTop is our summer exhibition for younger children and their families.   We’ve been running exhibitions like this for seven years, and it is something of a speciality, with great experience amongst staff, great expectations from our visitors and the reputation to live up to of “Family Friendly Museum of the Year“.

Today our designers Janet Vaughan and Nicola Richardson delivered a model of the installation, which looks really special.

The project is a strange combination of playfulness and utter seriousness – analysing last year’s installation in detail and trying to make every aspect a little better.   We’ve kept the scale of last year’s “Under the Big Tree” but spread the structures throughout the space. We are putting lots more into the safe area for babies and the central structure has far more playful flexibility.

The design has a clever combination of enclosed and open areas.  Some of the open spaces can become focal points for static play as well as routes for hurtling games, and there are plenty of options so if one place becomes a beautifully decorated den, it won’t interfere with other games.

 Our big influence is the “Reggio Emilia” approach to creative play which is pioneered in Italian pre-schools.  Of course we need to take account of the many differences between a gallery and a nursery, for instance we don’t have a small number of familiar children. Instead we welcome hundreds, some coming day after day, others perhaps visiting the Herbert for the first time.   Although this must have all the safety considerations of a children’s centre, we also need to meet the expectations of visitors to an award-winning art gallery of an elegant and designed space.

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Wild Winners on a Monday Morning

Normally, I am not a great fan of Mondays but this week was a special exception – apart from having to get up early.  I can’t moan really because it was such an extraordinary day and a real privilege; we went to the West Midlands Safari park to celebrate the winners of the Adult Learners’ Week Award organised by NIACE (The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education). 

Kim and Anne-Marie accept their award

Kim and Anne-Marie at the Adult Learners' Week Awards ceremony

 I nominated a lady called Kim Taylor who I had met on a project with Norton House – a day centre for homeless and vulnerably housed people.  Kim and others made a film and worked on the ‘Braving the Elements’ display for Elements, our natural history gallery. In addition to making the film, they chose objects and wrote labels and text panels.  Kim impressed me with her perseverance and commitment to the project.  She came and got involved consistently despite the fact that she had a lot of personal stuff going on.  As a result of her work on the project, Kim was also honoured with a regional individual learner’s award because, although she has made mistakes, she has used learning to turn her life around and is taking small steps to make a difference to her life, often very courageously with lots of other competing demands on her.    Read the rest of this entry

From Egyptian Mummies to Tracey Emin

Working on the Herbert learning team means getting involved with a huge variety of projects, from running school sessions, to helping out our Families Learning Officer with activities and events, dressing up in costume for sessions like Molly the Maid or Keep Calm and Carry on, or working on the learning programmes for temporary exhibitions, there is always something fun and exciting to be involved with.

Lately on the learning team we have been travelling up and down the country doing research for the Secret Egypt exhibition that is coming up in 2011. This is going to be huge for the Herbert as an exhibition, but also for learning. We’ve already had teachers asking questions about it, so we’re expecting a big uptake with visits for the learning programme. Over the last couple of months we have been to Leicester, Sheffield, and Manchester to talk with other museums about what works and what doesn’t for Ancient Egyptian school sessions, and over the next few weeks we’ll be travelling to Birmingham, Bolton, London and Oxford to meet with some others. This is great for us as we’re getting a real insight into what is available from other museums and we’re meeting a lot of fellow museum educators. Over the next few months the learning team will be putting the Secret Egypt school’s programme together so keep looking out for updates of how that’s going! Read the rest of this entry

A View from the Front

Black Jack Gilpin

Black Jack Gilpin

Why did I do it?

Why did I agree to put myself through extra work and the stress of setting up an Armoury in the Undercroft for A Night at the Museum?

Well, one reason is for the last 31 years I have been involved in re-enactment work and have amassed a collection of costume and weapons. The first problem was making six free-standing frames for the armour to be displayed on. I was unable to get help from our Shaky (our resident Technician and all-around clever guy who builds stuff), since he was under pressure with other jobs, so I had to make it myself. The next problem was to find time to get them painted black.

Then I had a stroke of luck: two women happened to be painting some boxes the same colour as I was about to use. They offered to help, I offered to buy chocolates, and the deal was sealed.

By slipping in and out of the Undercroft at odd times I managed to get most of the set up sorted, but it took one last push on the Friday afternoon to get it finished.

On Saturday evening I was all ready for A Night at the Museum. I arrived at the Herbert, changed into my character, Black Jack Gilpin, entered the Undercroft at six of the clock and prepared for a long cold night. I had a constant stream of visitors as I regaled them with tales of ghosts and daring do. Lots of children arrived in their pyjamas but the one thing that sticks in my memory was my “story” of Sir Valentine…how his ghost was reported to walk down the Undercroft stairs, across the floor and up the other stairs leaving a cold draft of air as he passed by….

It had to happen – one of the visitors told me that she was a “ghost hunter” and had spent a night in the Undercroft. She sat upon the stairs in question and there was severe drop in temperature.

Could it be that “Sir Valentine” really walks the steps?


Eric Hodgkins, Site Management and Gallery Assistant

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From Here to There…

As an exhibition officer my busiest times come when we are changing exhibitions. During a two or three week period we spend our whole day in one of the temporary galleries installing a new show. At the moment we’re taking down Fashion V Sport and installing From Here to There. This part of the job can be the most rewarding but also the most stressful. It is also extremely varied – over the last two weeks I’ve conditioned checked over 50 pairs of trainers, undressed numerous mannequins and packed a Paul Smith snowboard.

We begin installing From Here to There next week which really exciting as it’s the first time we’ve had an Arts Council collection exhibition in our new temporary galleries. The exhibition contains some of the best British based contemporary artists and explores themes of journeys, transitions and transformations. For example, Simon Patterson reinvents the London Underground map, renaming the tube stops so they become stars in a constellation. Richard Long and Hamish Fulton record their experiences of walks lasting hours, days and weeks through sculpture, photography and text.  Anya Gallaccio uses materials which are allowed to change over time – dozens of fresh cut gerbera flowers trapped behind glass will ooze and decay during the course of the exhibition.  Zarina Bhimji and Mona Hatoum explore issues about being exiled from their home countries as a result of political conflict.  Gilbert & George consume glass after glass of Gordon’s gin and get very, very drunk.

The exhibition has been curated by our senior exhibitions and events officer, Rosie Addenbrooke, so I’m eager to see how the artworks hang together in the gallery and decide which my favourite is. Anyway, I’ve got to go finish packing some crates so we can get From Here to There finished in time!

Dominic Bubb, Exhibitions and Events Officer

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Diamond Mining at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

It is a wonderful feeling when you get to the end of a project and you can look back over all the things that have been achieved. 

Earlier on I was watching the almost final version of a film about Deaf sport in Coventry.  I have been working on the film for months and it is great to finally see it coming together.  It is the result of interviews which we conducted with members of the local Deaf club in Coventry about their memories of sport. They had some great stories to tell including the Deaf Club’s hat-trick of victories against the Deaf German team.  

I spent many happy hours sifting through the interviews to find the best bits. We were fortunate to get some money from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council and the People’s Record to collect reminiscences, photographs and documents from local community groups about sport in response to the Olympics.  We now have nearly 180 records relating to sport in the local Deaf community’s history including an interview with a Gold medal wining Deaflympian and a picture of Bobby Ball!

After a few headache inducing hiccups such as losing one of our community partners, interviewees not turning up due to a lost fax and the endless juggling of subtitles and voice over to get it all to fit into the film, the film should be finished next week – touch wood – and as soon as it is I will be delighted to share it with you.

You can watch the video on this blog and on our YouTube Channel.

Anne-Marie Sandos, Social Inclusion Officer

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Our beautiful Covered Court

The Herbert blog features writers from each corner of the Herbert’s staff team, from the learning team to the outreach team, and here they have a chance to show you the huge variety of projects they work on and the wide range of work they are involved in, from awards ceremonies to helping our visitors trace their family history.

We would love to hear your feedback, comments and questions and one of our friendly team of staff bloggers will aim to respond as quickly as possible.

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