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Thank you to our volunteers!

We are lucky at Birmingham Museums to have hundreds of volunteers support us each year. By the end of 2014 we will have had the help of over 600 volunteers! As the Volunteer Development Officer I feel incredibly lucky to work with such talented people and as an organisation we are so grateful for the generosity of our volunteer team!

Some of our University of Birmingham Meet the Expert volunteers

Some of our University of Birmingham Meet the Expert volunteers

Some volunteers join us for a day, like our fantastic Experts who run our Meet the Expert Days at Thinktank, inspiring the scientists of the future. Others are with us each week running guided tours, documenting our collections, working on conservation projects and much much more. You can read about many of our volunteers’ personal experiences through this blog.

So it was a real pleasure for us to host over 100 of our volunteers on 10th December at our annual Thank You party.

Eileen, David, Deborah, Yvonne and Margaret

Eileen, David, Deborah, Yvonne and Margaret

This year the event took place in our newly refurbished Edwardian Tea rooms at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. For us, this event is a chance for us to thank our team for all that they have done over the course of the year, but also a lovely opportunity to bring together volunteers from across all nine of our museums.

Some of the Castle Keepers from Weoley Castle

Some of the Castle Keepers from Weoley Castle

We had some lovely speeches of thanks from Ellen McAdam, Director of Birmingham Museums and  Simon Cane, Deputy Director, and a fantastic team of 15 members of staff volunteered to make sure our team were well looked after!

This year we had a photo booth (with plenty of fancy dress options) and asked our team to tell us why they volunteer. The results were heart warming and are a true demonstration of the passion and enthusiasm in our volunteer team!

Mince pies always help in the fight to preserve our heritage

Mince pies always help in the fight to preserve our heritage

Our goal for this event was to make sure every single one of our volunteers was thanked and understood how much they are valued within the organisation. So this blog post is for the members of the team who were unable to make the party.

Valentina, Angela and Carol from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Valentina, Angela and Carol from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

You are part of the life and soul of Birmingham Museums and we are so grateful for your time. We hope that you enjoy volunteering with us as much as we enjoy having you.

We also created a Thank You Board with messages from staff across the organisation who could not join us on the night. There are so many people at Birmingham Museums who wanted to thank the volunteer team who have made so much possible for us over the course of 2014.

Thank you board

Thank you board

So, to all our wonderful volunteers – thank you for everything you do for us and we look forward to 2015 with you all.

Alex Nicholson-Evans,
Volunteer Development Officer

Science & Industry Documentation Project

In July 2014, two volunteers were recruited for an exciting summer project at Birmingham Museums Trust. The aim of the project was two-fold: to reorganise the hard-copy documentation system of Birmingham’s Science & Industry loans collection, and to begin the process of improving the digital documentation of the science & industry permanent collection (via the museum’s digital collections database).

Helen Scadeng and Matt Sharman, both with backgrounds in research, volunteered their time to carry out the project. After only two short summer months, Helen and Matt not only fulfilled the aims of the project but they exceeded the project milestones with speedy gusto and enthusiasm!

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Based at Thinktank Science Museum and each working one day a week, Matt and Helen completed the reorganisation of the hard-copy documentation system ahead of schedule. Despite working on separate days, together they were able to successfully refile the hardcopy entries of over 100 loan objects – a huge achievement when working as a ‘remote’ team!

Ahead of schedule, they were then able to start improving the digital records of the permanent science & industry collection. Collating information and images of 70 objects, this is the single largest project to improve the digital records of the science & industry collections in over a decade. But Helen and Matt didn’t stop there, they delved into further research of the objects, and found out some weird and wonderful facts in the process! For example, Helen uncovered a ‘six-degrees-of-separation’ between a bust of the renowned inventor William Murdock and the famous landscape artist David Cox. The Murdock bust was gifted to the museum by prominent Birmingham businessman George Everitt (the Director of a Smethwick engineering firm). George Everitt’s cousin was the artist Allen Edward Everitt, who was schooled by David Cox!

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In September, we were incredibly pleased to hear that Matt had been offered a full-time position in a local authority Archives Service, but were very sad to see him go! At the same time, despite the completion of the summer documentation project, Helen decided to single-handedly extend the life of the project and to expand its scope to a greater level of research on specific collection areas – and this was all despite the fact that Helen was also just about to complete and submit her postgraduate thesis!!

A HUGE thank you to both Matt and Helen for their enthusiasm, their skills and their sheer hard work over the summer. And since September, a MASSIVE thank you to Helen for continuing to research the collection and for uncovering some fascinating histories. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with Helen on some exciting curatorial projects planned for the coming months!

Nazia Ali,
Science & Industry Curator

Adventures in Time and Space

moon

Matthew Boulton was a founding member of the Lunar Society. The group were made up of 14 members who would meet once a month during a full moon. These meetings would often take place at Boulton’s home, Soho House, in the dining room, now known as The Lunar Room. The group was comprised of some of the greatest minds of the period and contributed to scientific understanding.

Original table that the Lunar Society sat at.

The Lunar Room at Soho House with the original table that the Lunar Society sat at.

The other founding member was Doctor Erasmus Darwin. Physician, botanist, zoologist and grandfather of Charles Darwin. An enormous man in both personality and stature, Darwin had an enormous appetite for ‘natural philosophy’ and scientific discovery. In his most famous work ‘Zoonomia’ Darwin anticipated natural selection. He is also credited with inventing a steering device for his carriage that would be adopted for cars more than 130 years later.

Erasmus Darwin's portrait

Erasmus Darwin’s portrait displayed in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Darwin's study at Erasmus Darwin Museum, Lichfield

Darwin’s study at Erasmus Darwin Museum, Lichfield

Like Darwin, Boulton was also fascinated by the beauty that occurred in the natural world and kept a fossilry at Soho House. This room has specially commissioned cabinets which hold forty specimens drawers for Boulton’s vast collection of fossils and minerals.

Drawer with shells

Drawer with shells in the fossilry at Soho House

Variety of minerals

Variety of minerals from Soho House

Other members of the Lunar society included Josiah Wedgewood, best known for his beautiful pottery and skill as a chemist; Joseph Priestley who discovered several ‘airs’ including oxygen and invented soda water; James Watt, Boulton’s business partner at Soho and engineer who improved the efficiency of the steam engine.

Statue of James Watt

Statue of James Watt in Chamberlain square, Birmingham

Statues of Joseph Priestley

Statue of Joseph Priestley in Chamberlain square, Birmingham

The collection at Soho House reflects the interests and contributions Boulton and the Lunar Society made to 18th century Britain.

Some of the Wedgewood collection at Soho House

Some of the Wedgewood collection at Soho House

The collection at Soho also includes several time pieces. The pendulum clock was invented in 1656, only a century before Soho House was built. The longcase clock (also known as the grandfather clock) was first created to house the pendulum and works by the English clockmaker William Clement in 1670 or 1671.

Grandfather clock at Soho House

Grandfather clock at Soho House

The most famous clock in the collection is the Ormolu Clock. A popular style in France, ormolu is the process of grinding gold, mixing it with mercury and gilding it to bronze and other metals at high temperature. There are two ormolu time pieces at Soho, the most famous being the Sidereal Clock in the Drawing Room. Sidereal time uses the position of a star to measure the days, hours and minutes. The star will be found in nearly the same location on another night at the same sidereal time. However, unlike solar time which relies upon the sun, sidereal is much more exact. A sidereal day is about 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.0916 seconds. It does not account for longer days depending on the earths position, nor leap years. The exactness of sidereal time is most probably is reason it never gained in popularity.

Gold ormolu sidereal clock

Gold ormolu sidereal clock at Soho House

As well as treasures from the land, Boulton looked to the skies for answers to the world around him. Astronomy and meteorology were two of his passions. The earliest recorded working telescopes were the refracting telescopes developed by Lippershey, Janssen and Metius in 1608 in the Netherlands and soon after improved by Galileo.

Originally Boulton intended to have an observatory built in the grounds of Soho House, but for what ever reason this was never fully realised. He did however have a telescope positioned on the roof of the house. He was so obsessed with keeping weather records that when away on business his daughter Anne would observe changes for him. In his twilight years he still insisted on viewing the stars from the roof, even on bitterly cold nights.

Boulton's study

Boulton’s study at Soho House, with lunar globe on desk. Boulton kept meticulous lists of his scientific equipment

The land around Soho House was slowly sold acre at a time by Bouton’s grandson. A inner city built up area today, the views enjoyed by Boulton in the 18th century would have been very rural. You can experience a taste of this on the  Heritage Open Weekend (13th and 14th of September) when we will be offering free rooftop tours.

View from the roof of Soho House

View from the roof of Soho House

Another view from the roof of Soho House

Another view from the roof of Soho House

We will also be celebrating the achievements and inventions of the Lunar Society on 6th September with a free family event ‘Crazy Science‘.

crazy science

A frame advertising the free ‘Crazy Science’ event at Soho House on Saturday 6th Sept

For more information on all upcoming events at Soho House visit: www.bmag.org.uk/events

Louise Deakin,
Visitor Services Assistant,
Soho House

Donald Rodney – Land of Milk and Honey II

Donald Rodney (1961-1998) has been described as “fascinated by the way things live and rot”, which is reflected in the use of milk and copper coins in his sculpture ‘Land of Milk and Honey II’, currently on display in Birmingham Museums, Waterhall Gallery.

Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

Born in Birmingham in 1961, Rodney was one of 12 children born into a Jamaican family. His family lived on Marshall Street in Smethwick, which became the centre of controversy when white residents gained council support to bar black families from moving into the street. Rodney spent most of his childhood in and out of hospital with sickle cell anaemia. Whilst hospitalised he would spend his time producing countless sketchbooks, which became his own tool for voicing his pain and to record his views on black identity and racism in the UK.

Rodney completed a pre-degree course at Bourneville School of Art and then studied art in Nottingham where he met fellow student Keith Piper. In the early 1980s Piper and Rodney formed part of an artist led group called the Blk Art Group. The artists in this group made thought-provoking work which responded to the crises of race relations in the UK and Overseas.

‘Land of Milk and Honey II’ was created as part of Donald Rodney’s final exhibition ‘9 Night in Eldorado’ held at the South London Gallery in 1997. The exhibition was a eulogy to the memory of his father who had died three years earlier. The sculpture consists of a vertical glass vitrine, filled with milk and copper coins. These materials have reacted with each other and shifted over time to create a striking range of colour, texture and pattern – a continual process which will alter its appearance. At the moment its possible to see how the coins have shifted downwards leaving varying shades of vibrant green.

Detail photograph of Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

Detail photograph of Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

The artwork is a metaphorical piece relating to the move of Caribbean people to the UK in the mid 20th century, including the artist’s father. The title of Rodney’s sculpture evokes the mythical ‘land of milk and honey’ that his father believed he would find when he travelled to Britain in the 1950s. The subsequent souring of hopes is shown through the inclusion of milk and copper coins. The use of these materials represents the artists own exploration of fragility in relation to his illness of Sickle Cell Anaemia and for what he saw as the diseased nature of modern British society and the treatment of the black community. Themes of fragility, sickness and decay recur in Rodney’s work and other artworks by him include X-Rays of his cells to tiny sculptures made from skin.

Detail photograph of Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

Detail photograph of Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

Land of Milk and Honey II has been acquired through the Contemporary Art Society. It is on display as part of STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered at Birmingham Museums’ Waterhall gallery, situated on Edmund Street. The display is on until December 31st 2014.

Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

Land of Milk and Honey II by Donald Rodney.

 

Spitfire Club

Did you know that Birmingham produced over 50% of all Spitfires in the War? Between 1940 and 1945, the Castle Bromwich factory was rolling out an average of 40 new planes a week! We need your help to build a lasting memorial to these magnificent machines and the men and women who built them.

spitfireBirmingham Museums is delighted to have received support from both the Heritage Lottery Fund and the DCMS Wolfson Galleries and Improvement Fund to radically reinterpret the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft on display at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum. To do this, a 50m₂ gallery will be constructed on the Mezzanine floor, where visitors will be at eye level with the aircraft.

The gallery will enable visitors to find out about the history and evolution of the Spitfire through four themed sections: Design, Manufacture, Use and Legacy. Not only will the gallery look at the technical achievements of the planes, but also look at the human stories of the people who made them at the Castle Bromwich factory.  The science of flight will also be explained through the interpretation.

We are thrilled the gallery is over 80% funded; however, we do need some help to fulfill that extra 20%! That is why we are inviting you the join our exclusive ‘Spitfire Club’.

Join the Spitfire Club

For a one-off £75 donation, you will receive a certificate of membership, three updates from Lis Chard-Cooper, the Science and Industry Curator, on the progress of the project and an exclusive invitation for you and a guest to see the completed gallery before it opens to the public! You will also be acknowledged online as being an ‘oppo’ (that’s RAF slang for friend!) of the gallery.

If you are interested, please send a cheque made out to ‘Birmingham Museums Trust’ to:
The Spitfire Club, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3DH.

Alternatively, you can call Maria Fofanova, Development Officer, on 0121 348 8293.

Donate

If you don’t want to join the Spitfire Club but would like to make a donation you can do this online: https://www.justgiving.com/BirminghamMuseums-Spitfire/

Many thanks for your support!

Birmingham History Cake Challenge for Museum Cake Day

Culture Themes’ museum cake day #MusCake is back again on June 25th. So it’s time to celebrate with a new cake challenge! This year we are challenging you to bake a Birmingham History inspired cake (or biscuits) and to post a picture of your creation on our Facebook page or tweet us. The best entry will receive a prize and feature on the Facebook page.

If you would like to enter the competition you have until 4pm on June 24th. Only one entry per person! The competition will be judged by curators at Birmingham Museums. We will announce the winner via twitter and Facebook on June 25th. We will also tweet all your cake competition entry images using the #MusCake hashtag on the same day. See the competition rules.

If you are looking for inspiration here are a few objects from our Birmingham history collection:

Flag from 1960s Bull Ring Shopping Centre

Flag from 1960s Bull Ring Shopping Centre

HP Sauce Sign

HP Sauce Sign

Or perhaps you fancy something a bit more challenging? Such as these beautiful Birmingham made buttons:

Some beautiful Birmingham buttons

Some beautiful Birmingham buttons

Or if you are feel really adventurous, how about a Birmingham building inspired cake?

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery exterior

Ambitious enough to make a Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery cake?

You can find more Birmingham history collections inspiration on our Pinterest board.

Good luck everyone – we can’t wait to see your Birmingham inspired cakes and biscuits!

Linda Spurdle and Ria Frate,
Digital Team

#MusCake day is a Culture Themes initiative, one of the monthly events they have on twitter to promote the work of museums. Culture Themes is a multi-national group of museum professionals who love museums. Find out more about Culture Themes at their website http://www.culturethemes.com and follow them on twitter @culturethemes.

Volunteer of the Year winner

To celebrate National Volunteers Week we asked our staff to nominate volunteers who they felt had gone above and beyond in their roles. The difficulty for everyone was selecting just one person to nominate as we have so many wonderful people giving their time as volunteers!

So here to announce the winner is Deputy Director Simon Cane….