Friday, 17 June 2016

Bookfeast Festival 2016

For the sixth year running the Bookfeast Schools Festival was hosted by the Pitt Rivers Museum, alongside The Story Museum, the Weston Library, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the North Wall.  Over 1,800 pupils from 22 Oxfordshire primary schools had the opportunity to meet authors, illustrators or poets.

Adam holds a small pink handbag whilst Charlotte wears a pirate hat and holds a large puppet of George
Adam and Charlotte Guillain look inside George's bag © Pitt Rivers Museum
At the Pitt Rivers husband and wife team Adam and Charlotte Guillain entertained Key Stage 1 pupils with George's latest Amazing Adventure.  Colourful puppets, glorious props and funky guitar music were all used to tell George's story Pizza for Pirates.  Pupils then got to try out their own air guitar playing as they rapped through George's rhyming romp Treats for a T. Rex.

Meanwhile Cas Lester captivated Year 3 pupils with her tales of Nixie the bad, bad fairy and all her inventions.  She challenged the children to vote for the silliest inventions featuring knitted beards, glue stick butter for toast and shoe umbrellas.  Pupils also got to quiz the author about key issues such as what happens if you are stuck for ideas or if you keep on putting off writing...

The author Cas Lester stands next to a whiteboard which features pictures of silly inventions
Cas Lester and ridiculous inventions © Pitt Rivers Museum
Audiences were also wowed by Atinuke, a traditional oral Nigerian storyteller.  Children asked why she told her stories barefoot.  She explained that it makes her feel more comfortable. These opportunities to ask author direct questions are invaluable for children as they give insight into the creative process.   Sarah Courtauld, author of the Buckle and Squash books, facilitated a whole group creative writing session which demonstrated the choices authors make when crafting a story.

The author Sarah Courtauld sits down and signs books
Sarah Courtauld signing books © Pitt Rivers Museum
After the author event children could do creative trails in The Pitt Rivers.  They explored the key features of quests and were then challenged to become great explorers on their own quest around the Museum.  The children proved themselves to be great plot creators on their expeditions showing that, as ever, this Museum is a creative space to be!

Becca McVean
Primary School Education Officer

Friday, 27 May 2016

Amazing Amulet Project with Langtree School

As the new VERVE Outreach and Activities Officer in the Education Team at the Pitt Rivers Museum I was delighted to welcome 70 Year 9 students from Langtree School to the Museum this week. They were visiting as part of the 'Amazing Amulets' project, a partnership between the Pitt Rivers Museum and Langtree School.

For this project all 140 Year 9 Design and Technology students visit the museum for inspiration, then work with jewellery designer-maker Kate Coker in school to each make their own copper amulet using the repoussé technique. The project will culminate in an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum on display from 6 June to 11 September 2016.

School pupil leaning on glass case in Museum and sketching
Langtree student sketching in the Pitt Rivers Museum © Pitt Rivers Museum

Sketchpad page covered in about 20 sketches of amulets
Langtree student museum amulet sketches © Pitt Rivers Museum

The students visited the Museum to gather ideas from their designs from artefacts on display.  They looked at the Amulets and Charms display downstairs in the Museum, including these examples:

Circular glass eye - blue round the outside edge with black dot for pupil in centre
Glass Amulet Eye 1885.3.4 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Two dried sea horses
Sea horses from Melanesia 1923.87.340.1
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Intricate metal amulet shaped int he form of a hand
 Tunisian Hand of Fatima 1917.9.74 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Several Silver amulets shaped as crescent moons and with a sprig of rue
 Italian cimaruta 1937.9.19 © Pitt Rivers Museum
They also looked at examples of repoussé metalwork on display.  Repoussé is the technique of ornamenting and shaping soft metal by hammering the reverse side.  Examples they saw on display include these beautiful artefacts:

Circular brass tray  with mermaid design
Nigerian brass tray  1942.13.1089 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Brass treasure box from Ghana 1935.56.12
 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Brass ‘treasure box’ from Ghana decorated with animals, people and geometric patterns
Priest's headdress from Ethiopia 1995.5.2
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Back in school the students will spend six weeks creating their copper pieces at school under Kate Coker's expert tuition.  They will learn to use a new material - copper - and a range of new tools for creating their design.  The first group of 70 students have already completed their amulets and we are looking forward to putting these on display in the Lower Gallery from 7 June 2016.

Sonja Allen, Head of Design technology at Langtree School, said: The Amazing Amulet project was a fantastic opportunity for our school and students to work alongside professionals from the Pitt Rivers Museum and Jewellery Designer Kate Coker.  This project gave students the opportunity: to conduct first hand research by visiting the museum to obtain knowledge/look at existing amulets, take photographs and produce sketches which were all used to inspire their own amulet designs, learn and use new metal practical work skills and techniques, create their own quality amulet and have their work on display.  All students found inspiration from different aspects of the museum but all created a quality amulet using the repoussé  and chasing techniques taught and are all very proud of their outcomes.

Beth McDougall
VERVE Outreach and Activities Officer

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Japanese Children's Day

At the Museum we ran a day to celebrate Japanese Children's Day (Kokomo No hi) which falls on 5th May. Families were invited to come along and celebrate this annual Japanese tradition to celebrate children's health and happiness. It used to be called Boy's Day but this was changed in 1948 to incorporate girls too.

On the day parents hang a carp kite outside their home for each of their children in order to honour them.  The kites are based on Koi carp fish, which are known to swim upstream to fertilise eggs; so they represent determination and strength.  Parents fly these kites outside their home in the hope that their children will grow up to have these traits.  At the event families could make their own carp kite to take home, and you can try making your own at home, just follow this link

They also display little models of samurai warriors, which are given to a baby boy at birth and then displayed in the home each year to remind the boy of bravery, nobility and moral qualities of the great warriors.  Boys often wear samurai helmets on Children's Day as it symbolises strength and courage.  We have a few examples of these samurai models in the Museum.

Top half of armour including helmet.
Model suit of samurai armour 1884.31.30
 ©Pitt Rivers Museum
Top half of samurai armour including helmet.
Model suit of samurai armour 1884.31.32
©Pitt Rivers Museum
Also on the day we had some Japanese storytelling by one of our fantastic volunteers Chris. He told three traditional Japanese stories to families. One story was about an old couple who found a baby boy in a peach and looked after him. When the boy grows up he wants to repay them so offers to fight a giant ogre alongside a dog, monkey and a pheasant!

Chris telling traditional Japanese tales in the Museum ©Pitt Rivers Museum

Carly Smith-Huggins
Families Education Officer

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Organising the Education Handling Collection

My name is Rachael and I work in the Education Department of the Pitt Rivers Museum creating a database of objects in the education handling collection. This lively department is a new experience for me as my background is in collections care, which by necessity tends to have a quieter and more reserved atmosphere. Unlike a traditional museum collection that is assembled for research, display and learning, a handling collection is created so that visitors can physically handle objects and interact with them in a more direct and personal way.

Rachael works at her desk wearing a Porcupine Fish Helmet
Rachael modelling a replica Porcupine Fish Helmet
based on an original in the collection from Kiribati
in Oceania (1884.32.31© Pitt Rivers Museum

Currently we have approximately 800 handling objects from all over the world. My work involves photographing each object then labelling or marking it with a reversible method called 'paraloid marking'. This means writing a unique number for each object on a layer of removable plastic. I then research each object and create a database record with an image and information about the object. I have catalogued 600 so far. 

Because it is a database of handling objects it needs to hold specific types of information that are useful for teaching and learning: what the object is, where it comes from, what materials it is made from, what it is used for and who might use it.  I also note anything interesting or unusual about the object that people might find interesting.  It needs to have information that the Education Department, and Museum guides and volunteers can use as a springboard for teaching and for conversations with our visitors and school groups. 

My favourite objects so far are a frog mask from Java and a replica Bronze Age axe: 

Purple frog mask on stand
Javanese Frog Mask © Pitt Rivers Museum
Replica Bronze Axehead - Axehead is tied onto wooden handle with rawhide
Replica Bronze Age axe © Pitt Rivers Museum

I am here for another two months and in that time I will finish cataloguing the objects.  I will also be sourcing some more handling objects to complement the existing collection. 

Rachael Utting, Documentation Assistant: Education Handling Collection, Pitt Rivers Museum
May 2016

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Work Experience Placement at the Museum

Every year the Education team facilitates a certain number of work experience placements to enable young people to find out about work in a museum. Here a local student , Jasmine (15), reports on what she got up to during a week at Pitt Rivers...

"This last week I've been immersed in a different world. I am a GCSE history student, and arranged with the Pitt Rivers Museum to do work experience with them for a week.

"I particularly enjoyed photographing the Education Department's handling collection of textiles and masks. We were creating a database, so that researchers could search for and find objects. There were some fascinating and quirky masks, like these two from Indonesia (below):

Frog mask © Pitt Rivers Museum

Bird Mask © Pitt Rivers Museum

If the experience at the Pitt Rivers taught me anything, it's the power of objects. Looking at an object can tell you tons about the people who made it.

African Mask © Pitt Rivers Museum

African mask © Pitt Rivers Museum


"These two African masks (above) tell us about standards of beauty in parts of Africa. Just as we tattoo ourselves, these people cut into their skin and place inks into the cuts, leaving colourful scars behind. See in the scars on the forehead of the mask above. These were considered beautiful, and were a way of showing you were from a particular tribe. Elongated foreheads were a sign of class and beauty in Africa. As babies, our skull bones haven't fused together; so people can safely change the shape of the head.

"Preserving these fabrics can be very important too. The Pitt Rivers is sometimes used to help bring back arts that have died out. If particular weaving techniques have been forgotten, photos of these scarves could be very helpful.

Woven textile © Pitt Rivers Museum

Photographing the Education handling collection 
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Preparing objects to photograph 
© Pitt Rivers Museum

"But a great thing about the Pitt Rivers is how varied it can be. While my friend doing work experience in a bakery did the same thing every day, I had different jobs, almost every day. From opening the museum, to helping with crafts for primary school workshops, to writing this very blog post, my time at the Pitt Rivers Museum has been unforgettable."

Jasmine, work experience student, March 2016