Wednesday, 21 January 2015

New Acquisitions: Native American Interests

Turner collection on my desk ready for cataloguing © Pitt Rivers Museum
I recently had the pleasure of accessioning a delightful collection of Native American material kindly donated to the Museum by Jessica Turner. The collection was amassed by her father Geoffrey Eric Slade Turner, a keen Native American enthusiast. Geoffrey Turner was very familiar with the Museum having worked in an administrative position in the secretary's office at the Pitt Rivers neighbour, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for over 50 years. His passion for the Americas and service to the Pitt Rivers Museum was recognised with the title ‘Honorary Assistant Curator (later Consultant) in North American Indian ethnology. 

child's slippers; 2014.43.17 .1 & .2  © Pitt Rivers Museum
Moose hair workbox; 2014.43.10 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Despite his interest in the culture and fauna and floral of North America remarkably in his lifetime he never made the journey across the pond. Despite this, his knowledge and interests ensured that he had a healthy correspondence with North American experts. The recent donation also included an extensive collection of photographs, postcards and letters, which having had a brief perusal indicate Turner established a warm friendship with his American counterparts. The photographs included scenes of ‘cowboy’s and Indians’ and postcards featuring notable figures from the Mexican Revolution of 1910, further showing his interest in Native American history. 

There are 37 artifacts in Jessica Turner’s donation which include a model totem pole, moose hair embroidered pieces, moccasins and skin pouches to name a few. Among the objects were letters and itemized listings of most of the objects detailing where they came from, approximate dates and other provenance information. The collection includes beautiful examples of moose hair embroidery including this satin and bark workbox and card case. My favorite item from the collection are these child’s slippers made from Caribou skin with white fur cuffs.

Embroidery techniques and a selection of moccasin vamps © Pitt Rivers Museum

Catalogued and traded up ready for photography © Pitt Rivers Museum
The collection is an interesting array highlighting Turner’s personal interests, eye for the aesthetically pleasing and scholarly interests such as the index cards with white cotton woven braid illustrating hair embroidery techniques. These techniques feature in the publication written by Turner as a Pitt Rivers Museum Occasional Paper titled ‘Hair Embroidery in Siberia and North America’, 1955. Again, emphasizing his scholarly interests are a collection of Moccasin vamps showing straight edges, scalloped edges and seal-fur.

Page 31 of Turner, 'Hair Embroidery' © Pitt Rivers Museum
Catalogued and traded up ready for photography
The collection has now been catalogued, photographed and put in storage. Given that most of the collection was organic it was frozen for a period before accessioning. The collection includes some early pieces and was mostly in good condition. I spent time making a soft mount for two beadwork necklaces, which would otherwise get tangled in storage.

Beaded necklace on soft mount for storage; 2014.43.24 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

New Displays: Maori Wood Carving

New to display this
canoe baler
© Pitt Rivers Museum
I have been busy working on a new Museum display highlighting the art of Maori wood carving. I am pleased to let you know this display is now complete thanks to the effective teamwork of staff from the Collections, Conservation, and Technical Services Departments.

Most of the carvings, which are  are a selection of architectural carvings, canoe parts, paddles and treasure boxes, are from the reserve collections (26 of the 36 objects in the case).  So, if you can visit, this really is an opportunity to see objects new to display.

In Maori mythology the knowledge of wood carving was obtained from Tangaroa the god of the sea. Carving is a prestigious activity and the carvings regarded as prized possessions or taonga. If you do visit I encourage you to spend time looking at these cultural treasures.
New to display this
model sternpost
© Pitt Rivers Museum

This new display can be found on the ground floor of the Museum in the Court Gallery in case C.13.A.

If you are not able to visit in person you can still see the Maori carvings on the website using the online object database. To search for all the Maori wood carvings in the Museum just select 'Maori' for cultural group, 'carved' for process, and 'wood plant' for material.

Enjoy exploring this amazing collection!

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator
New to display this paddle © Pitt Rivers Museum

Friday, 9 January 2015

Bellarmine Jars

In the Pitt Rivers Museum we have seven Bellarmine bottles.  The bottles are also known as Bartmann jugs or ‘greybeards’. 

The vessels were originally used to transport wine from Northern Germany to England in the 16th and 17th century.  The name Bartmann means ‘man with a beard’ in German.  This type of vessel was made at a pottery in Frechen near Cologne.

The vessels are stoneware and salt glazed.  The bearded face is a mould added to the neck of the vessel.  Later 17th century vessels also had moulded medallions on the body of jug.

The jugs in the Pitt Rivers Museum were recently studied by a researcher interested in witch bottles and concealed objects.  Two of the Pitt Rivers Museum bottles have contents and could have been used as witch bottles.    

The bottles contain nails, pins and hair.  One bottle contains a cloth heart. 

Top right: PRM accession number 1893.81.4
Left: PRM accession number 1910.18.1 with it's contents pictured below.

Jugs from the PRM collections for inspection in the visiting researchers room 

Witch bottles are said to offer protection and counteract spells cast by witches. The Museum of Soho has a bellarmine bottle that was found concealed in a wall. 

Madeleine Ding
Assistant Curator

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