Introduction to the Museum Makers
Formed in November 2022, Museum Makers is a weekly group for adults with additional needs.
Between December 2022 and May 2023, the Museum Makers created an exhibition using the North Lincolnshire Museum collections. The exhibition was on show at the Museum from May to November 2023. This article is an on-line version of that exhibition.
Each month, we focused on a different collection. A member of the Collections Team brought some objects for us to handle, sparking conversation, questions and ideas.
To prepare for this exhibition, we invited artists and other guests to help us create our own interpretations of the objects. These are all unique to the Maker and show personality and a sense of identity. The Museum Makers have been learning how to create an exhibition, choosing everything from the logo to the placement of the cases. We continue to meet every week, learning about the collections and the procedures involved in processes such as object acquisition. As Museum Makers, we intend to continue our work across North Lincolnshire Museums, making it more accessible and inclusive.
Spotlight on Social History
From 1924 Lysaght’s steelworks held a yearly Children’s Gala at their Normanby Park site. It continued until 1981, when the site closed. The children who attended received a mug to remember the event.
In 1931 Appleby-Frodingham steelworks held their first Children’s Gala. It took place annually in the summer at the grounds of Brumby Hall in Scunthorpe. In 1940 and 1941 the gala did not take place due to disruptions from the war. The galas were funded by the steel workers themselves, ensuring they remained free for the children. Games, stunt displays and rides were regular fixtures. The last gala celebration was held in 2011.
During Social History Month, Collections Assistant Eveline brought some gala mugs for us to handle. We looked at photographs from the galas, and group members that used to attend spoke of their memories. We also looked at the object accession number on the base of the mugs, and talked about the documentation procedure and why each object has a unique number. We decided these procedures are something we would like to continue to explore further in the sessions.
Museum Makers Take on Social History
During Social History Month, Jen from Quite Contrary Pottery guided us in creating our own gala mugs over several sessions.
We designed our mugs on paper first, creating our own personal design on one side and adding relevant text on the other. Next, we rolled out the clay and cut it to the right size and shape. Using tools, we copied our design by hand onto the clay. We rolled the body of the mug into shape, then added a base and handle. Jen took these away and fired them in a kiln, ready for glazing. To glaze our mugs, we used special paints to add colour. Then Jen took them to be fired in the kiln again.
Firing the mugs in the kiln for the final time made the colours bright and the surface shiny.
Spotlight on Geology
During Geology Month, Collections Assistant Catherine brought some fossils for us to handle. These were mostly marine based. We talked about how North Lincolnshire was under water during the Jurassic era.
Catherine says, “I chose these specimens from the Geology collection because they are all very distinctive. I wanted to show the group what a range of sizes and shapes these creatures had. I also tried to include some that they might be able to find for themselves. Gryphaea, for example, are commonly found in North Lincolnshire. My personal favourite is the trilobite. I’ve had a soft spot for these amazing creatures ever since studying them at college. They might not seem that exciting at first glance, but trilobites existed for around 300 million years and there are over 20,000 known species. This makes them one of the most successful and diverse life forms to have ever existed.”
Catherine also gave us a tour of the Jurassic Sea gallery and pointed out her favourite pieces there. We recognised some of the species from our handling sessions. The collection inspired us to bring in our own collections from home to show the group, and some of us even went on our own geology hunts.
Museum Makers Take on Geology
During Geology Month, artist Kat Spence delivered a workshop that helped us to express more about ourselves, using geology as inspiration.
Stratigraphy is the branch of geology which studies rock layers (strata) and layering (stratification). Kat gave us a presentation to explain about stratigraphy. Then asked us to choose colours of tissue paper to represent our personal ‘layers’.
The top layers are what people can see when they meet us. This might be the colour of our eyes or hair, or the t-shirt we are wearing. The middle layers are what people can learn about us when they interact with us, such as where we are from because of our accent. The bottom layers are the things that people would never know unless we told them, like a disability or a fear or a hope.
We layered the tissue on to the canvas to create our personal stratigraphy.
Spotlight on Archaeology
During Archaeology Month, Collections Assistant Catherine brought objects to show us that included treasure. We learned about the process of an archaeological dig, and what happens when treasure is found.
Catherine says, “I wanted to include objects from a wide range of time periods and show a variety of objects, from weapons to tools to jewellery. My favourite is the plough pebble. I like that these pebbles are so distinctive and show such clear evidence of how they were used. In many cases, the presence of these pebbles can be the only indication that Medieval farming once took place in an area. I also really like the Anglo-Saxon pendant. I’m as excited by shiny gold things as the next person, and I don’t think that anyone has ever beaten the elite Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths for the sheer quality of their work.”
Catherine led a tour of the Archaeology Gallery, to point out objects that have been gilded with gold. Then we used gold leaf to have a go at gilding some letters.
Museum Makers Take on Archaeology
During Archaeology Month, we took part in a workshop led by Wild Woodcraft. They showed us the ancient method of flint knapping, and we all had a go at making our own hand axes.
Flint knapping is a method of shaping tools, which early humans were using thousands of years ago. Using a hammerstone, we hit the flint to break away layers, making a pointed tool with sharp edges. During the Prehistoric, these sorts of tools were used to butcher animals for meat and remove the skin for clothing. They could also have been used for chopping wood and digging.
It was a long process and hard work, but everyone stuck with it to the end. When our hand axes were finished, Wild Woodcraft showed us how to run the hammerstone along the edges to make them less sharp so we could hold them safely.
While we were working, we talked about what hard work it must have been for the early humans to make all their tools in this way. We discussed how no task could be undertaken without first creating a tool to do it.
Spotlight on Biology
During Biology Month, Collections Assistant Catherine brought some taxidermy to view and touch if we wanted to. As there were some birds in this handling collection, we found their calls to listen to on a website. We shared facts and learned some new ones.
Catherine says, “When choosing objects from the Biology Collection I tried to think about some of the creatures that the Museum Makers might see fairly regularly or be more familiar with. I also wanted to show them some, such as the adder and the nightjar, that they were less likely to have come across. The weasel is one of my favourite taxidermy specimens because it’s a lovely example of what could perhaps be termed less successful taxidermy. Between the pose, the slight lean and the rather odd expression, I always think it looks like a weasel that’s either had a couple of pints too many or has just run into a door.”
Museum Makers Take on Biology – Animal Tracks and Poo
During Biology Month, ecologist Catherine Burton visited us from Wildlife Friendly Otley. She led us in a workshop where we learned about different wild animals that we find in the United Kingdom. Catherine brought replica animal tracks to show us… as well as replica animal poo! Looking at these, we tried to guess to which animal they belonged. We talked about which of these animals we’ve seen before, and shared facts about them. We talked about how important it is for scientists to study the poo of animals, to find out more about them including their behaviour and what they eat. The presence of animal tracks and poo means that the animal is active in the immediate area.
Collections Assistant Catherine brought along some taxidermy from the Biology Collection, showing some of the animals we were talking about. Then we used clay to make our own animal prints, and even our own animal poo. We used sultanas to represent berries, sugar to represent grit, glitter to represent fish scales, and feathers. These all give a clue as to what our animal has been eating.
Museum Makers Take on Biology – Animal Watercolours
As part of Biology Month artist Wendy Bruce led some workshops, guiding us in painting a pheasant using watercolours.
Each Museum Maker had a pencil outline of a pheasant on watercolour paper, a set of watercolour paints and some instructions. Wendy led us step-by-step, demonstrating how to complete each stage of the painting. Some of us used gold leaf to add extra detail.
Painting the pheasant helped us to look at it in more detail, noticing the colours and markings of the feathers. Everyone’s pheasant is completely unique to the painter.
Museum Makers on Tour – Leeds City Museum and Leeds Art Gallery
On 15 March 2023, the Museum Makers went on Tour. We hired a coach and went to visit Leeds City Museum and Leeds Art Gallery.
At Leeds City Museum, we met Rachael Dilley, Curator of Exhibitions. She gave us a tour around the Overlooked exhibition. It was conceived, researched and written by a group of volunteers aged 14-24. They worked collaboratively with community groups whose stories have been largely disregarded. Inclusivity, diversity and accessibility are at the exhibition’s core. Rachael spoke to us about how to build an exhibition and gave us some great resources.
After a look around the Archaeology Gallery, we headed to Leeds Art Gallery to meet Amanda Phillips from the Education Office. She gave us an introduction to the Art Gallery, helping us to settle into a mindset that would help us enjoy the artworks on display. She also pointed out interesting features of the building and spoke about how the Victorians would have used the space.
In the sessions, we looked at different styles of typography through history. Typography is the style or appearance of text. We viewed some documents from the collection that contained beautiful lettering and had a go at colouring our own illuminated letters. We carried on this typography theme with local graffiti artist Tom Butcher, who led a workshop where we created our own Museum Makers tag.
Tom showed us how to use the spray cans to create different effects with the paint. We filled in the Museum Makers lettering and had space to get creative with our own designs on the boards.
“There’s a lot of different things you can do with spray paint. You can do your own walls with it, you can do pictures and graffiti, and you can do it outside, but you need to ask the council if you can spray paint there. You can do whatever design comes into your head.”Michael, Museum Maker.
Make it Personal
Some of the sessions inspired us to bring in our own collections to share with the rest of the Museum Makers. From fossils, rocks and semi-precious stones to football match tickets, these objects sparked conversation about history, as well as art. Particularly with the geology specimens, many of the Museum Makers appreciated the pieces in an abstract way, likening them to other objects.
Interpreting the collections in a personal way and having the opportunity to see objects from personal collections, has given us some ideas for future sessions.
Making an Exhibition
During the sessions, we learnt how to develop an exhibition. Madeleine Gray, Collections Assistant, guided us in building the skills and knowledge to create displays.
We used a handheld environmental monitoring meter to measure the light, temperature and relative humidity levels. We learned that ‘lux’ is the light coming from artificial lights, ‘UV’ is the light coming from outside, and ‘relative humidity’ is the moisture in the air. We discussed what the ideal levels are, and the effect this can have on the collections. We talked about how lower light levels can stop colours from fading over a longer period, and that constant temperature and relative humidity levels help preserve objects for longer.
Madeleine worked with us and the Designer to develop a logo and graphic panel design for the exhibition. We also used a plan of the gallery to decide where our cases and other materials should go.
We learned about integrated pest management, and how important it is to check for pests on a regular basis. We looked at which pests target which collection, and how important it is to have a cleaning programme to keep pest levels down.
Making a Collection
When looking at the gala mugs during Social History Month, we talked about the accession numbers that are marked on the bottom of each mug. Collections Assistant Madeleine Gray explained that each object in the collection has a unique number, which helps us to identify all the information associated with it, which is stored on a database. This information includes the history of the object, which we call the provenance. We also record elements such as the object’s measurements, its condition, and who donated it and when.
The sessions involving the gala mugs inspired Learning Development Assistant Jen Holtridge to donate a gala teapot. We have been using this object to learn about the donation procedure. We talked about the Collecting Policy, and how this helps us to decide which objects to accept and which to decline. We completed an object entry form, and looked at how the object is assigned a unique number in the accession register. We will continue to work through the procedure, marking the item with a number, taking photographs, and recording all the information on the database.
We will develop our documentation knowledge in future sessions using the North Lincolnshire Museums collections, practicing the procedure with the objects we have made for this exhibition.