Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A miscellany of things on an Assistant Curators desk!


From left to right; two Mexican ceramic heads; 1977.15.1& .2; mummified ibis 1894.40.11894.40.1; figure of Buddha, Myanmar 1894.27.167; tattooing apparatus, Myanmar 1884.27.41; mummified ibis in pottery vessel 1901.30.1 & .2; zither in the shape of a crocodile, Myanmar; 1938.34.58 © Pitt Rivers Museum

As a member of the collections department I often have a number of interesting objects for cataloguing and photography on my desk. The objects out on this particular day were so for a number of reasons. The Mexican pottery heads were for a photographic request. Scholars often require studio images of objects for publication and research. I retrieve the object from storage/display and get the object to our professional photographer. The mummified ibises were out for a request to be sampled. Sampling requests for scientific research have to be considered very carefully in consultation with the conservation department. The zither, statue and tattooing implement from Myanmar will go on loan for exhibition to The Linden Museum Stuttgart, Germany for the exhibition 'Myanmar - The Golden Land'. Before objects can be loaned we have to assess if they are suitable for travel before the loan is approved they then have to be catalogued and condition checked. These are just some of the elements of work, highlighted by the objects on my desk on one particular day that goes on in the collections department of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Faye Belsey 
Assistant Curator

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Collections A Hive Of Activity

Jeremy busy at his desk © Pitt Rivers Museum
I thought you might enjoy seeing what everyone in the Collections Department is doing this morning.  All is a hive of activity:

Jeremy, Curator and Joint Head of Collections, is busy answering enquiries.

Marina is doing some research on objects in the collection made by the Ainu people from Japan.

In the Photo Collection are images of an Ainu village set up at the 1910 Japan-British exhibition in London. These images were also produced commercially as postcards. Marina has been able to match objects in these pictures to objects now in the Museum collection.

Marina studying the photos and postcards to identify the objects from the collections © Pitt Rivers Museum
Maddie and Faye are busy showing part of the textile collection to a group of tapestry weavers.

Left: Maddie getting the textiles out ready, right: Maddie & Faye during the tapestry weavers visit © Pitt Rivers Museum
Meanwhile, Sian has been to the off-site store to bring back some objects ready for a new metalwork display; while I am working on updating the introductory guide for the West African masks.

Left: Sian bringing objects back to the Museum, right: me, working at my desk © Pitt Rivers Museum

All in all another busy day...

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Chamberlain Japanese Collection and Ginkaku-ji

When I went to Japan in early November and stayed in Kyoto for a few days, I visited a few temples including Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion). It is designated as a national treasure of Japan, and is very popular among both Japanese and foreign tourists.

Ginkaku-ji with 'Kogetsudai' (Moon viewing platform) in the centre © Fusa McLynn
One of the reasons why I wanted to visit Ginkaku-ji was, in fact, the Chamberlain collection. The collection includes numerous maps and plans of holy places as well as amulets from Japan. One of the maps shows Ginkaku-ji with its garden including 'Kogetsudai' (Moon viewing platform) clearly marked. My English friend once called it a Christmas pudding. You can see why if you look at the photo above.

Map of Ginkaku-ji in the Pitt Rivers Museum Chamberlain collection PRM 1908.82.465 © Pitt Rivers Museum
At the top margin of the map, there is a poem with the name of the poet. The name reads as 'Jishoin dono Yoshimasa ko'. This is the 8th Muromachi shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436 - 1490), who was the founder of Ginkaku-ji.

The place did not originally start as a temple but was actually designed as an elegant villa for Yoshimasa. He was a very cultured man but tragically weak. He failed to take strong political leadership and so became responsible for the outbreak of a civil war, which lasted 10 years and ruined Kyoto completely. Having had enough with politics, he retired, abandoned his official residence, and made his son the next shogun, allowing his wife Hino Tomiko to become extremely powerful. (She is one of very few women who came to power in Japanese history). Then he started to build this villa in 1482. Rather sadly he never saw its completion. Although he was a disastrous ruler, he played an important role to develop Japanese traditional arts such as flower arrangement and tea ceremony. He was also talented in garden designing. After his death, the place became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect. Thus it is now called Ginkaku-ji (ji means temple in Japanese). But it is a sort of nickname and the formal name is 'Jisho-ji', which takes after Yoshimasa's posthumous name.

When I opened the information leaflet given at the temple, the first thing I saw was a familiar map of the place! It is not totally identical to the one at the Pitt Rivers but it is very similar.

The cover and map page of the information leaflet © Fusa McLynn
Thinking about the troubled and miserable shogun who left such a beautiful legacy, and B.H. Chamberlain who was so well versed in Japanese art and literature, I enjoyed walking in the garden under the warm autumn sun.

The garden at Ginkaku-ji © Fusa McLynn
Fusa McLynn
Collections Volunteer

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

New Accessions


Cataloguing of new accession; 2013.57.1


Wooden vessel imitating a calabash. This was a very welcome donation to the Museums collections. The vessel is interesting as it is imitating a Hawaiian calabash. In fact, it is not a calabash at all but a locally turned wooden lidded bowl that was presented to the donor’s grandfather, a British immigrant rancher in Hawaii in 1890.  The Museum did not hold any examples of the 'wooden calabashes' that were produced in Hawaii from the 1840s, and while this is not necessarily a typical example, it is an interesting manifestation of cross-cultural production, both as an example of the production in turned wood of 'traditional' Hawaiian forms and in the way it has been modified by those who presented it, having been adapted into a presentation vessel with cow horn legs. In ‘Little Britain, Letters from the Hawaiian Kingdom (2002)’, which reproduces Ernest Burchardt's letters home to his mother Jane in Liverpool from 1884 - 1891, written by Joan Burchardt, Joan refers to the vessel as such "Before he left Hawaii Ernest was presented with a large calabash, silver mounted on three cow's horn feet, with boar's tusks for handles. This object was much hated by my mother, I regret to say; (mutterings of 'ugly, useless dust-trap')…” The vessel was donated to the Museum with a copy of the published book of letters home and the silver presentation plates now detached from the vessel itself. The main silver presentation plate reads as follows: “ALOA NUI to E A. A. G. Fr. Burchardt Molali Makaaniani Kahauanu of Kahua Ranch Kohala Hawaii For they are jolly good fellows, and so say all of the Kohala Boys July 1890. There is also another plate with a list of the presenters, as follows:- Wm John Brodie, Rev J M Silver, J Maguire, C S Kinnersley, R Wallce, C E Kempster, J O Desborough, H Bryant, G Byrant, F Northrup R H Atkins, J M Smithies, J R Mossman, J S Kay,  C L Wight, J H Mackenzie, A Gunning, A S Spencer, Robert Hall.”

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Couriered loan to Wellcome Trust Library Reading Room

The Wellcome Trust Library Reading Room have borrowed 111 amulets on loan from the Pitt Rivers Museum.  The Reading Room is due to open in 2015.  The Reading Room combines books and objects in an innovative space.

Loaned objects must be accompanied by a member of Pitt Rivers Museum staff. Their role is to safeguard the objects on their journey and oversee the installation. The amulets lent to the Wellcome Collection come from the collections of Adrien de Mortillet, Edward Lovett and Walter Leo Hildburgh. The amulets originate from all around the world.

The amulets packed for transport

Madeleine Ding and Faye Belsey travelled to London along with the carefully packed crate of objects. The condition of all objects was checked at the Reading Room. The amulets were arranged in their new display case. Some objects had supporting stands made by Technicians at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The Reading Room have produced a booklet to accompany the display.

Installing the amulets
The objects sit on a red felt cloth. The felt was oddy tested before being selected for the display ensuring that it will not cause any damage to the objects due to the release of chemical gases during the display period. Before the installation was completed the lid was secured and the environmental conditions were assessed. The light levels, relative humidity and temperature were checked to ensure the objects would be housed in safe and stable environment.

The finished layout

Faye Belsey and Madeleine Ding

Assistant Curators

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

New Displays: Forthcoming Maori Carving Case

Before conservation treatment showing
the old mount (left) and after treatment
(right), canoe ornament PRM 1902.80.2
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Members of staff from the Collections, Conservation, and Technical Services Departments are continuing to work together preparing a new display dedicated to the art of Maori wood carving

Work is progressing well. 

Conservation have finished checking over all of the carvings selected for display. This necessary and important work has involved stabilising any damage on the carvings, cleaning where required, and if necessary removing old mounts. 

Technicians are currently busy creating a mock-up of the display to finalise the design and make all the necessary display mounts.

The case mock-up in the design area © Pitt Rivers Museum

The designated display case has been emptied and is now ready for Technicians to panel out and paint. After painting the case will need to be left for about three weeks. This will allow any volatile organic compounds in the paint to off-gas so no harm is caused to the objects going on display.

I have been busy finding out about Maori wood carving and researching the objects. I am currently drafting the introductory text and individual object labels. I intend to circulate these to members of the Maori community, as well as subject specialists, to ensure the text in the display is accurate and informative. 

Heather, Head of Conservation
emptying the case ready for the
new display © Pitt Rivers Museum

Keep an eye on this blog site and I will let you know when the display is finished.
I am making sure any new information about the carvings is added to the appropriate records. Plus we are taking, and adding, up-to-date images of these carvings.

This will ensure, even if it is difficult to visit, you will still be able to see and read all about these carvings on the Museum website using the online object database.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator




Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Pest Management: A Bag Full Of Trouble!

Signs of moth © Pitt Rivers Museum
Although the three galleries in the Museum have many display cases filled with objects, there are another 57,500 objects not currently on display. These reserve collections are homed in storage in and around the galleries. It is the job of the Conservation Department to care for and monitor the collections both on display and in storage.

Over the past few years, museums across the UK have seen an alarming increase in the number of common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella) amongst their collections. This increase could be attributed to a rise in temperature, the decline of pesticides used within museums and an increase in visitor numbers. Much of the collection at the Pitt Rivers is made from natural fibres such as textiles, skins, hair, fur, feathers and foodstuff. Unfortunately these are the materials that the larvae of the clothes moth consume. If a moth infestation goes unnoticed it can devastate an object leaving it unrecognisable. It is therefore vital that the Conservation Team have an ongoing integrated pest management (IPM) program in place.

The IPM program at the Pitt Rivers involves weekly checks of a number of moth pheromone traps located throughout the Museum. The pheromone traps are designed to attract the male moth, which get stuck on the traps sticky surface. Capturing the male moth reduces the potential for reproduction and the number of moth caught indicate if there is an increase in moth activity within a case. As a Department we also train the other museum staff, including the Collections Department and Front of House Staff, to be vigilant and report any moth seen within the Museum. Even with these safeguards moth infestations can unfortunately still occur.

Removing debris © PRM
During October 2014 one of the Collection Team retrieved a number of textile bags from storage under a case in the Lower Gallery ready for a Visiting Researcher. The member of staff noticed a moth in the polythene wrapping of one bag. Conservation was notified and went to investigate. 32 textile and fur bags were fond to have moth within their polythene wrapping. As a precaution all 32 bags were removed and placed in a freezer at minus 31 degrees for one week. Freezing at such a low temperature kills the eggs, larvae and adult moth.

The saddlebag after conservation,
PRM 1947.1.13 © PRM
Once removed from the freezer the bags were checked over in Conservation. 8 of the bags were found to have an active infestation, whereas the remaining bags showed no sign of moth. Unfortunately 3 of the 8 bags had been adversely affected.

One of these was a section from a woollen saddlebag thought to be from Turkey. The polythene wrapping was not quite big enough for the saddlebag and where the wool was exposed along one edge the moth had gathered. Thankfully once the moth and larvae was removed there was relatively little damage.

Below you can see a woollen shoulder bag from Greece. This bag had a large number of moth within its folds and again along an exposed edge. There are patches of yellowed staining thought to be ethnographic food deposits from use. The stained areas had attracted the moth and were the places most affected by the infestation. The staining is part of the object's history and can tell the story of its use therefore we would never try to remove it. Once the moth debris was removed there was some loss of fibres.

From left to right: Section of the bag showing staining with moth damage before and after treatment, the complete bag after being treated in conservation; PRM 1965.11.4B © Pitt Rivers Museum

The next one was a bag from the Miju Mishmi peoples of the Lohit Valley, Tibet. At first this decorative cotton bag appeared to only have a small number of moth on its handle. However the inside of the bag had plant debris remaining from when the bag was in use. This debris had attracted a large number of moth. Thankfully although the moth appeared plentiful there was no physical damage to the textile.

Left and centre: the damage found inside the bag, right: the bag after conservation treatment:
cotton bag from Tibet PRM 1948.7.49 © Pitt Rivers Museum

All the bags that had been removed for freezing have now been placed in sealed polythene bags for storage. The affected storage drawers, along with a number of other 'high risk' cases containing natural fibres, have been highlighted and marked with a sparkly moth sticker. These stickers are designed to indicate to all staff to be extra vigilant and take the time to check through the contents for any sign of moth.

Kate Jackson
Conservator