Representations of Ceremony

This guest blog has been written by Research and Cultural Collections volunteer, Katherine Sykes, who works on documentation and digital access.

When I was asked to write about a single object from the Danford Collection of West African Art and Artefacts, it soon became apparent that it was not going to be an easy task to choose one. The Danford Collection contains a wide and varied assortment of fascinating objects from the many cultures of West Africa throughout a variety of time-periods, and it is only after hours spent trawling through the Collection’s records that I finally settled upon this Akan gold-weight.

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Goldweight, brass, Research and Cultural Collections

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Curious Curators Workshop

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By Rebecca King

Four months ago I wrote a post wondering how to hold the attention of a group of children during a two hour workshop, last week I found out! Although our workshop was shortened to an hour the task remained the same; engaging a group of young people with a topic alien to them. Thankfully, we are happy to report it was a success and after six months of planning and preparation Focus on Curating culminated in an educational workshop with ten bright students from The Friary School taking part. 

Our workshop formed part of the wider Discovery Day Initiative hosted by the University of Birmingham, in which Year 10 students take part in a taster day in order to gain an insight into higher education. It provided the perfect atmosphere in which to showcase student volunteering opportunities and student engagement with the vast array of collections on campus. The main aim of our workshop however, was to get the pupils thinking creatively about objects in small groups.

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After introducing basic ‘object handling’, staff held their breath as the objects were successfully passed around the group and the pupils were able to appreciate the smaller details of the objects. The hands-on approach worked well and the pupils were suitably in awe of the objects that they carefully handled, whilst coming up with endless questions; most of which they managed to answer themselves after discussing them as a group.

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In  a ‘Call my Bluff’ style game, the pupils discussed the objects coming up with some very convincing lies about their use which they then presented to their opposing team. It was great to hear their varying thoughts on the original purpose of the objects; two manillas were presented as christening bracelets and Anglo-Saxon sword hilts, whilst a calabash used for protecting henna designs on women’s hands was persuasively reassigned the purpose of a quiver for poison darts and a vessel for gathered berries. Both teams convinced their rivals of the wrong purpose and so a prize was awarded for the best lie!

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The basic format of the workshop was one which I would be happy to use again and could easily be adapted for different age groups with more or less assistance from staff. The Calabash came out as the favourite object because it ‘was the weirdest’ and ‘unique’ according to the post-it note feedback we collected. It was great to finally use the resources we produced and the games we adapted in practice. I can safely say that presenting and leading the session was as much fun as taking part seemed to be and I’m sure that all of the staff who helped out with object handling and discussions would agree! Overall I was most relieved that the pupils enjoyed the workshop and were confident to discuss their ideas about the objects creatively; hopefully this will help them with analysis and interpretation in many fields both at school and in the future.

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Cabinets of Curiosity

By Rachael Yardley

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Selection of objects from the University Heritage Collection, Research and Cultural Collections 

We have already mentioned the vast and varied collections that fill the rooms here at Research and Cultural Collections. When the second leg of our photography training arrived I decided to have a rummage through a drawer or two (a very careful rummage with gloved hands of course) to find some objects to make an interesting photograph. Inside the very first drawer I opened I spotted amongst the various objects a rather large tooth, a tin ox and carriage, and a beautiful little tin with actual spices inside. 

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Digitisation: Conserving Materiality

This guest blog has been written by the University of Melbourne’s Museums & Collections Award recipient of 2014, Emily Keppel, who joined the Focus on Curating volunteers during their photography training.

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Mask, metal, Research and Cultural Collections 

The Museums & Collections Award is a Universitas 21 partnership between the University of Birmingham and the University of Melbourne. As a recipient of this Award, I worked on a range of different collection management projects during a one month residency at the University of Birmingham in January-February 2014. I am currently completing a Masters of Cultural Material Conservation at the University of Melbourne, and my experience in Birmingham enabled me to develop new and existing skills in research, exhibition planning, cataloguing and preventive conservation.

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Georg Sauter and Lilian Galsworthy – A Tragic Love Story

By Rachael Yardley 

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Georg Sauter

Portrait of Lilian Sauter, tempera, Research and Cultural Collections 

Portrait of Lilian Sauter by Georg Sauter is an incredibly beautiful painting, a portrayal of a beloved wife by an original and talented artist. It caught my eye almost immediately in the Art Room at Research and Cultural Collections. For this reason this portrait is the first object that I have chosen to photograph and research. I soon came to learn that Georg and Lilian’s story is incredibly romantic, with a rather gloomy end. Georg Sauter (1866 – 1937) was a German artist that immigrated to London at the end of the nineteenth century. Lilian Galsworthy was the sister of Nobel Prize winning novelist John Galsworthy, author of The Forsyte Saga. This particular depiction of Lilian, though unfinished, seems to reflect the artists’ love for his wife and is perhaps even a window into the couple’s darker future. 

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Georg Sauter’s Bridal Morning

By Rachael Yardley 

On my very first visit to the delightful Art Room at Research and Cultural Collections a rather enchanting portrait immediately caught my eye. This was Georg Sauter’s Portrait of Lilian Sauter. When beginning research into the delicate portrayal of Sauter’s wife Lilian, I hardly expected to be met with controversy – but one of Sauter’s paintings, The Bridal Morning, caused just that. 

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Chancellor’s Court by Dr. Roy S. Lehrle (1930-2007)

By Rebecca King

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Dr Roy S. Lehrle

Chancellor’s Court, mixed media, Research and Cultural Collections 

The artwork on which this entry focuses depicts the iconic ‘Old Joe’ clock tower and Chancellor’s Court painted by former Chemistry student and member of academic staff Dr. Roy Lehrle.

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OBJECT IN FOCUS: ASANTE GOLDWEIGHT

Asante
Goldweight, Cast brass, Research and Cultural Collections


This beautiful object was the inspiration for the Focus on Curating project, and acted as an instrumental example in RCC’s funding bid to the Marches Network. 
You can find out more about this goldweight at RCC’s Redmarley blog. 

OBJECT IN FOCUS: ASANTE GOLDWEIGHT

Asante

GoldweightCast brass, Research and Cultural Collections

This beautiful object was the inspiration for the Focus on Curating project, and acted as an instrumental example in RCC’s funding bid to the Marches Network

You can find out more about this goldweight at RCC’s Redmarley blog

Education Workshop Training

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By Rebecca King

How do you hold the attention of a group of young people for two hours? - Good question!

The culmination of our project is to be an educational workshop delivered to a small group of young people. Although this is an exciting undertaking and gives us a lot of scope for creativity it is also quite a challenging prospect! Having worked as a mentor in the past I am looking forward to engaging with a group of young people again and conveying my passion for museums and collections. However, after meeting with the Learning and Access Officers from the Barber Institute we are now acutely aware of the issues that we will face in delivering a workshop that is informative and enlightening, but most importantly fun!

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Photography Training Day

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By Rachael Yardley

One of the most important aspects of this project is digitising a few chosen objects from the Research and Cultural Collections (RCC). Our collective knowledge of photography is (or should I say was) rather under developed, ranging from my incredibly basic knowledge of taking a few snaps with an iPhone, to Beth’s experience of using a basic DLSR whilst travelling. Digitisation of collections is becoming increasingly important; often people view an object online before they see it in person. It is imperative therefore to present the objects in the best possible ‘light’ (whether that be ambient or flash light).

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Welcome to Focus on Curating

Exploring the objects at Research and Cultural Collections has been fascinating. Though there are just three of us the scope of objects and themes that we could focus on is vast. So far, having explored the collections it seems we all have very diverse interests; from African artefacts, to visual art and the history of the University. However, this should work to the advantage of the project and allow a range of objects to be spotlighted demonstrating the depth and breadth of the collections held here.

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