Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Family tour guide training: Summer holiday tours

This month we have been busy training up a group of Museum volunteers to become Family Tour Guides at the Museum. Five volunteers will be running a set of tours, designed especially for families, on Fridays during the summer holidays. This is a pilot project and we are hoping these summer tours are popular so that they continue as a regular weekend offer for families visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum.

To prepare the volunteers to guide families through the Museum and tell them more about the fascinating stories behind the objects, myself and Caroline Moreau from the Volunteers Service ran an interesting, and hopefully not too challenging, training session! During the session the volunteers took part in various activities including charades and asking lots of questions about Museum objects. During charades volunteers were asked to act out a museum object, trying to get the others to guess which Pitt Rivers Museum object they were. This included what the object was, what it was made from, and where in the world it was from.

Volunteers playing Museum Object Charades © Pitt Rivers Museum
Volunteers were also given mystery objects and were asked to write down as many questions that they could possibly ask about the object. It helped that they had no idea what the object was so would ask the most basic questions that perhaps visitors who may never have seen it might ask. This helps the volunteers to understand viewing an object from a visitors point of view. 

Volunteers asking lots of questions about a mystery object © Pitt Rivers Museum
Volunteers were also asked to lead each other around the Museum whilst one of them either partially closed their eyes or looked at the floor. The point if this exercise was to encourage the volunteers to think about how they might guide families around the Museum using just their words. This included guiding people around the physical space and also considering how to describe an object to a large group of people where some people might not be able to see the object on display.

Leading the way: One volunteer leads the other around the Museum
 © Pitt Rivers Museum
During the tours, volunteers will lead families around the Museum to look at five objects from around the world. Families will get the opportunity to see some of our lesser known objects and be able to ask the volunteers lots of questions about them. At the moment, they are working hard, reading up about all the objects and getting ready for the tours which start on Friday 29th July. Come along this summer to meet our great Family Tour Guides.

Carly Smith-Huggins
Families Education Officer 

Explaining a bit more about the five tour objects to the volunteers © Pitt Rivers Museum

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Take One.. Tahitian Mourner's Costume

Take One.. Mourner's Costume is a new primary school project which has been launched at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  It is part of the National Gallery's Take One... brand which encourages schools to take one picture or object, and use it as a springboard for pupils' critical and creative thinking.  Pupils are challenged to take a close look at the spectacular Mourner's Costume collected on Captain Cook's Second Voyage of the Pacific (1772-75).

Costume made up of a headdress, mask, apron and barkcloth cape
Mourner's Costume 1886.1.1637.2.1© Pitt Rivers Museum
During the 75 minute taught session pupils explore the different components of the Costume, examine the materials used and find out the fascinating story of how it was collected.  They are given the opportunity to look at other artefacts collected on Cook's Pacific Voyages, focusing on the patterns, and use their research to design their own celebratory costume.

Children stand in the Pitt Rivers Museum and hold up their costume design
Pupils present their costume design © Pitt Rivers Museum

After the initial stimulus, schools can develop their own response to the object with explorers, costumes and ceremonies, and materials being key lines of enquiry.  Teaching Notes available here. Take One... encourages a whole school celebratory event as demonstrated by West Oxford Community Primary School who used an art exhibition open to parents and the local community this week to showcase their response to the project.  This was the culmination of every year group visiting the Museum in June to experience a Take One... session.

Replica Mourner's Costume stands in the middle of a school hall
Replica Mourner Costume © Pitt Rivers Museum

When I walked into the school hall at West Oxford Community Primary School I came face to face with a life-size replica of the Mourner Costume.  I loved the way shiny paper had been used to resemble the pearl oyster apron, buttons imitated discs of coconut shell and crepe paper stood in for the barkcloth cape. This had been the masterpiece of Year 1, co-ordinated by Senior Teacher Liz Newman.  I was also very excited to see the cloak designed by the Reception Class, ingeniously made from dyed wet-wipes.  I was warned not to smell too closely as they had used potent dyes ranging from coffee, turmeric, tea and beetroot.  They had wanted to use natural dyes in the same way that the Tahitians had done when creating their barkcloth.

Cloak made from brown, yellow and pink wet wipes
Cloak made by Reception class © Pitt Rivers Museum

I really enjoyed finding out the different directions classes had taken the project in.  Some groups had immersed themselves in the life of Captain Cook, plotted his journeys of the Pacific, designed his boats and written detailed diary entries. 

Map of world showing Captain Cook's Voyages of the Pacific - replica boats below map
Captain Cook's Pacific Voyages © Pitt Rivers Museum

Some classes had developed their work on patterns and experimented with different methods of printmaking.

Year 1 brightly coloured print patterns on pieces of paper
Print patterns inspired by barkcloth © Pitt Rivers Museum

Brightly coloured printed patterns on pieces of paper pinned on the walls of a school hall
Print patterns inspired by barkcloth © Pitt Rivers Museum

There are definitely some talented costume designers at West Oxford Community Primary School, as seen in the picture below captioned 'Party Time'.  I particularly liked the design where confetti could be released from the knee-caps of a costume.

Brightly coloured and collaged cosume design reading 'Party Time' at the top of the piece of paper
Celebratory Costume Design © Pitt Rivers Museum

If you would like to find out more about the project, book Take One sessions or organise teacher INSET then please contact me at education@prm.ox.ac.uk.

Becca McVean
Primary School Education Officer
Pitt Rivers Museum

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