Thursday, 2 July 2015

Phillip Pullman draws a crowd at Bookfeast

Philip Pullman was one of 23 authors to talk at the Bookfeast Festival, jointly hosted for the fifth year by the Pitt Rivers, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and The Ashmolean.  Over 1,968 children from 27 Oxfordshire primary schools participated in these author events, focussing on the festival theme of 'Once Upon a Place - Places, Spaces and Setting in Children's Stories'.

Philip Pullman signing books at Bookfeast © Pitt Rivers Museum

Top tips were given by Pullman to an audience of 300 pupils as to how to create a compelling setting. He explained how you have to help the reader see something in their mind's eye and how you can use details to make things stand out. When an illustrator came and made sketches in the Pitt Rivers Museum for his Dark Materials trilogy details picked up on were the roof brackets and joists. He encouraged pupils to understand how authors have to suggest things with words - if you read something how do you know where you are? - is it indoors? - what light is there? - is it a small or big room?

 Pullman talks about Pitt Rivers as an inspirational setting © Pitt Rivers Museum

Pupils were then given the opportunity to develop their own sensational settings in creative writing trails around the Museums, led by OUMC Education Officers. Key Stage 2 pupils explored a range of genres as they transformed the Museums into settings for a fantasy, action adventure, and spooky story. These ideas could be developed into a story setting for an opening paragraph and entered into the Bookfeast competition. Key Stage 1 pupils created picture book pages of adventures in a range of settings from underwater to the jungle.

A fantastic line-up of authors explained how they got inspiration for both their settings and characters.  Matt Brown, author of Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe, explained how village names on road signs and maps give him inspiration for character names. Elen Caldecott, creator of The Marsh Road Mysteries: Diamonds and Daggers, explained how a specific London street well known to her inspired her setting and story.

Gary Northfield introduces Julius Zebra © Pitt Rivers Museum

Illustrators also gave tips on how to create evocative settings and characters.  Gary Northfield got pupils recreating Julius Zebra from the world of the Roman Colosseum.  Meanwhile Carnegie Winner Tanya Landman enchanted younger pupils with her Jetsam and Flotsam dolls.

Jetsam and Flotsam come to the Pitt Rivers! © Pitt Rivers Museum

Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a fantastic festival  - it was a great partnership project between the charity Bookfeast, authors and Museum staff as to how central places, spaces and settings are to successful creative writing.  Now watch out for the winning entries of the Bookfeast competition!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Craft Café: Crafts for Adults

Hi, I'm Aisling, a trainee education officer taking part in the HLF Skills for the Future programme across the Oxford University Museums and Collections.  On my final placement, which is here at the Pitt Rivers Museum, I have had the opportunity to devise and run an independent project of my choosing.

The project I chose to run was a series of 4 craft sessions for adults on Sundays at the museum called Craft Café. The idea for this developed when I noticed a lack of informal arts and craft sessions aimed at adults in Oxford. There are plenty of classes which teach a specific skill, for example painting, often as part of a course people have to sign up for. However I wanted to provide a more casual experience, a chance for visitors to relax and meet new people, and a place people could experiment and explore without the pressure of feeling like they have to be particularly skilled or experienced at art. 

The first craft I chose to run was printing, which we did by using a pencil to etch patterns into foam, then printing using lino rollers and printing ink.  This craft is great because using this simple printing method even people who do not feel very confident in their artistic skills can produce a really professional looking piece, as you can see in the pictures below. For the final session we recycled paper to make beads, which we then made into jewellery. The technique involves wrapping strips of paper around a wooden skewer, gluing them in place and then varnishing with a layer of sealer. Although simple to do this technique is very effective and everyone left with a great looking piece of jewellery.
Printing Fun at Craft Café © Pitt Rivers Museum

Printing at Craft Café © Pitt Rivers Museum

Printwork at Craft Café © Pitt Rivers Museum

In the next session we customised canvas bags using fabric paint and pens, beads and ribbon. It was brilliant to see the care and thought being put into the craft.  Corie, pictured below, made a bag for her part Galician, part Cypriot mother-in-law.  It featured Galician and Cypriot symbols along with depictions of the London and New York City skylines where she has lived.  Wow!

Customising Canvas Bags © Pitt Rivers Museum

In the third session we painted Easter eggs inspired by the beautiful traditional painted eggs on display in the museum. Visitors also got to try their hand at blowing out the inside of fresh eggs to just leave the hollow shell, like some of the eggs pictured here.

Painted Eggs PRM 1965.3.208 © Pitt Rivers Museum
For the final session we recycled paper to make beads, which we then made into jewellery. The technique involves wrapping strips of paper around a wooden skewer, gluing them in place and then varnishing with a layer of sealer. Although simple to do this technique is very effective and everyone left with a great looking piece of jewellery.
Making Paper Beads © Pitt Rivers Museum

Modelling Paper Bead Bracelets © Pitt Rivers Museum

Paper Bead Necklace © Pitt Rivers Museum

Recycled Paper Bead Jewellery © Pitt Rivers Museum

I loved running Craft Café and from our feedback it seems our guests enjoyed it too!

“Lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Thank you!”
“Loved the session! Very relaxed and great value with all the materials included. Really accessible. Would definitely come again."
“Fab. Relaxed. Enjoyable. Fun!”

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Kick Arts: Partnership project to re-engage school refusers

Charlie Henry, lead artist on the Kick Arts project explains how she has been working with the Pitt Rivers to re-engage school refusers:

"OYAP Trust have been working in partnership with the Pitt Rivers Museum to deliver our project, Kick Arts, which aims to re-engage school refusers with education through weekly experiential arts workshops tailored to their interests.

Kick Arts Workshop © OYAP

We aim to cultivate curiosity, openness, resilience whilst nurturing independent learners who have a 'why not' attitude to trying new things. During our project the young people experience creative challenges, surpass their expectations and surprise themselves by making interesting and emotional work.

Over these 12 weeks we have taken a heroic trajectory into the arts! The museum’
annexe has been transformed into a hive of creative energy with activities like – screen printing, photographic challenges, multi-dimensional map making, painting, drawing, melting crayons, writing poems, creating performative art experiments, thinking, singing, problem solving, rapping, laughing, playing and talking about culture and art.

Painting outside the Museum © OYAP
Through the arts the young people have been taken gently out of their habits and comfort zones and have encountered new possibilities. During our time together we've appreciated what makes us all who we are.

Every step of the way Andy and the Education Department have supported us and mirrored our 'yes let’s' attitude, rolling up their sleeves and getting involved whenever they could. Not to mention the mountains of our stuff which they have tirelessly moved around the museum.

Finding Inspiration in the Pitt Rivers © OYAP
But most importantly the residency at Pitt Rivers has provided us with a safe space to explore and discover more about the world around us, which in turn has enabled the young people to connect on a deeper level to their own internal worlds. It has been a nourishing and transformative experience for all involved. Thank you all for looking after us so well and for continually having a 'why not?' attitude to all our strange requests.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Wow!How? - a fun family science fair

For the last eleven years the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have organised Wow!How? This is a fun family science fair attracting between 3000 to 4000 visitors where all the activities are created and run by volunteers.

Here is a volunteer, Phillip Anderson, to tell us about what he got up to this year.

"This year I led the "good Vibrations" stall at the annual Wow!How? event.  Although I have helped out quite a bit with science demonstrations in the past, this was my first year participating in Wow!How? and since my background is in vibrations and acoustics this particular topic was a natural fit.
Phillip (left) leading the Good Vibrations Stall © Pitt Rivers Museum
My goal was to have some interactive activities for visualizing and learning about vibrations and waves, particularly sound waves, that were not too complicated and also appropriate for a wide age range. This turned out to be an ambitious goal, and on the day of the event we had five different activities operating throughout the day. A few were quite simple and hands-on, such as making straw oboes, or exploring waves with slinkies. The others were a bit more technical.

The most popular activity was a sound visualization station where visitors could speak, sing, snap, or scream into a microphone and see the differences in waveforms displayed live on a screen. We had two versions, one of which used a telephone handset connected to an old analog oscilloscope, the other with a microphone and projector for a true karaoke feel. In addition to using their voices, visitors could visualize the sound from a variety of musical instruments from the Pitt Rivers and the Bate Collection that were on hand.

Using the telephone handset at the sound visualisation station © Pitt Rivers Museum
Joy Todd using the sound visualisation station © Pitt Rivers Museum
My favorite activity was using a variable-speed strobe light to create the illusion of slow motion with vibrating objects such as a tuning fork. This video shows the effect with a vibrating string very well. The effect is visually stunning and is a great way to demonstrate motion that is normally too fast for the human eye.

I had a lot of fun putting together the 'Good Vibrations' stall this year, but a lot of credit is due to all the folks who helped me pull these activities together. The Oxford University Impact Engineering Lab, First Light Fusion, Ltd., the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Bate Collection generously loaned most of the necessary equipment. And of course, this would not have been so successful without a team of excellent, highly motivated volunteers!"