Monday, 14 November 2011


We heard last week that we have received our extension - the full 27 days that we applied for. To celebrate Bridget and I spent this morning planning the last few days of the original project. We have so much to do and so little time! We have been caught up with planning our SHARE wider museum community workshops - the first of which we finished on 2nd November and the second of which is on 30th November. 2nd November went better than we hoped (perhaps we have too high expectations!) and my favourite bit was hearing about the unaccessible parts of everyone's collections and thinking about how they can be used and appreciated across their museums. It really showed me how hard we had worked to involve people from across the musum - and how far we had come from just thinking about the collections for display or exhibtions to using them throughout everything that goes on in the museum. It now seems natural to me to think about how the collections can be used in learning, retail, gardening and events - but for many other museums this is a new way of thinking and it takes some adjusting to get used to thinking about our collections as resources in that way. I think it is really a tale of thinking about the curatorial role as less of a gate keeper but more as an advocate. It is not only about protecting collections - but about enabling others to love your collections so that they can advocate for you and therefore raise the collections profile and ensure their protection and long term survival. A teacher rather than a jailer!

We have also been doing some planning for the future - looking at baskets which are going to be the new collections focus once the Monument Fellowship is over. So whilst this is not strictly Monument, and hasn't been done on Monument time, it is very exciting! It shows that the Monument work has opened our collective museum eyes to other parts of the collections and how we can appreciate and care for them better.

Bridget and I have also been talking about our "best bits" - the things we have most enjoyed during the project. We both feel that one of the most fantastic outcomes has been seeing other people just fascinated by the collections - realising that these resources are there to be used and enjoyed by all of us and watching people grow in confidence and coming up with their own ideas and plans on how to use these resources. We are so excited that we are going to be able to work together as a team to re-vitalise our seed merchants store and are hoping it is going to a fantastic space for our visitors to learn more about our objects and get involved with them and the gardens.

Friday, 21 October 2011

time for an extension

We have just sent off our appliction for an extension to the Monument project. I am really excited about this as it gives me the chance to work longer with Bridget! If awarded we will work to pass on our enthusiasm for the gardening collection to an even wider audience, improving the current seed merchant's shop display.

The original seed merchant display.

There are gardening objects scattered across our museum at the moment - some on the farm, some in the collections gallery but the majority in a recreated seed merchant's shop which is part of Village Row. This display began life as a recreation of Taylor's seed shop in King's Lynn and it was located in the main museum building. It was vibrant and enticing and most importantly visitors could remember visiting shops like this in their youth. Nowadays seed merchant's shops have been replaced by garden centres and supermarkets or online buying. The current seed merchant's shop needs updating and some interpretation to help bring it to life to modern families, connect it to the historic gardens that are growing just outside and help our visitors think about they might grow more to help them towards a more healthy lifestyle.

The extension will allow us to assess what is there, open up access to more of the collections and more importantly demomnstrate why they are of importance today. There are so many opportunities to use gardening collections to do more than just talk about gardening - they promote healthy eating, physical exercise, environmental diversity and responsibility for our own surroundings. There is so much more that these objects can tell us about. I really hope we get the extension so we can follow the fellowship through to its' logical conclusion. Everyone involved has worked so hard - it would be great to celebrate the end of the project with a garden fete in Cherry Tree Cottage garden whilst we admire the new display.

We have been working hard on our masterclass workshop events which are coming up in November. We are really excited about sharing our ideas with others from the museum sector and are really looking forward to two days of sharing what we have learnt (and also sharing from the participants who will bring a wide range of skills and experience to the days). Work is steaming ahead by our collections team as we track down errant parts of the Taylors collection and improve the records. We are even thinking of introducing a heritage gardening event at Gressenhall next year. Tune in later to see how it all proceeds!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

30 days and counting...

Wow we are getting close to 30 days - a whole month of working together! Things are really progressing fast at the moment. Our heritage garden apprentices are using the collections to plan their bulbs for next year (we are sourcing heritage bulbs featured in the seed catalogues from the right period in our collections!), we are planning to use these and our seed pockets in a new learning session for Foundation Stage children and our collections volunteers are really getting to grips with the Taylor's Collection - a collection of items from Taylor's seedmerchants and warehouse in King's Lynn. Until the 1990s the collection was on display in a re-created shop, but was then packed away. Now we are updating the documentation, photographing all the items and trying to get to grips with streamlining the collection (do we really need 100 flat packed manure boxes?) and looking at improving our display of this material which is currently looking rather sad.

Our wider museums knowledge and skill sharing events are coming up (in November we are running two training days via SHARE) so we are busy preparing for that too. We also had front of house leading garden object handling over the summer so we now need to assess how that went and look to how we can improve it in the future. Being over half way we are also starting to think about how we could extend the project and sustain this excitement over collections!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

time flies when you are having fun...

I knew it was a while since I had blogged but didn't realise it had been that long! In my defence we have had a short summer break after the second tools session - but Bridget and I have been busy behind the scenes also planning the second part of our collections sessions - where we will be working with different areas of the museum and looking at how we can integrate the gardening collections in these different areas. To whit Bridget has been meeting with the various groups and looking at different options - and they all seem really fun! Successful planning meetings with Learning, Skills for the Future, Front of House, Gardeners and Collections all under our belt. The work that will come out of this is really varied and will really show off the gardening collections to their full potential.

We are looking at developing a new foundation level learning session related to the gardens and the gardening collections - matching images from seed pockets to real plants grown in the garden, using scales to weigh out seeds and sorting big and small flower pots. All very basic stuff but great to be including real collections for these very young visitors.

The Skills for the Future gardeners and our gardening volunteers are really getting their teeth into our seed catalogues and are planning next year's planting using approriate plants identified from the catalogues of the correct periods for our different gardens.

This morning we had a great session with our collections volunteers and have decided to concentrate their efforts this winter on the "Taylor's Collection"; a set of material from a seedmerchants shop and warehouse in King's Lynn. The collection needs some work on the documentation. We also aim to photograph it in its entirety and add all these photographs to our catalogue so they can be seen on the internet. This is all in preparation for the potential re-display of our current seed merchants shop and the production of a temporary exhibition highlighting the gardening collections. It is great to see volunteers become more involved in the project and I am really looking forward to working with them on this over the next few months. I think it will be really beneficial for them to see a project through from inception through to completion and for the team to see some of the more public sides of collecting work, as we plan to work together on the exhibition too.

I am shortly off on holiday myself - so another short break will follow - but I'll be back at the end of September to record the next stages of the Fellowship!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

tools galore

After a few very busy days we held our second collections session today and it went very well. We had a very similar format to the last session - some led introduction and then plenty of time for participants to explore the collections for themselves. Again it was a real success. It was lovely to see people finding the fascination of the objects for themselves. Highlights have to be hearing tales of childhood cutting the edges of bowling greens (objects as catalysts for reminiscence!) and sharing the story of the carved garden post!

We also tried out some of our mstery gardening objects - we asked people to use their skills of observation to work out what the objects are. We wanted to trial them before we launch them on the unsuspecting public during our summer holiday object handling sessions. We also want to provide clues in the form of paper ephemera objects that feature the plants the tools were designed for. But I am not going to say any more in case I give the game away! You will have to come along and try it.

We also tried to film some of the session - just to see what the results would be like and whether we could quickly and easily to produce object interviews for inclusion on our MODEs database and possibly also to do object training for the large number of front of house staff who lead our object handling sessions. We are hoping to see the results and then work out a plan for future filming. If it means we sacrifice time with objects then we will not be filming - I do not believe in technology for its own sake and would rather spend longer learning about the objects rather than learning how to use a new technology.

We will now begin planning our more specialised sessions for different parts of the museum. I am looking forward to doing some specific work on how we can integrate these objects into the museum's everyday life and using some of the ideas that these first two introductory sessions have come up with.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

tools are more tricky

We have been trying to plan our second collections session and it is depressing! Where is everything? Like many museums we have a computerised database that is meant to make it easy to locate objects in store - the only trouble is that too many of our locations are "Gressenhall" or "Unknown". I knew that the objects would be more difficult - but hadn't realised how disheartening it would be. I suppose the silver lining is that this process illustrates how important our Store Audit really is. We have a fantastic team of volunteers working through boxes, photographing objects, carrying out necessary conservation work and then creating contents lists and updating the database. Occasionally tedious, but essential work. Just how essential I am beginning to find out.

The other depressing thing is a lack of storage and working space. Despite being on a 60 acre site we never have enough room. We are always trying to balance the competing demands of modern farm machinery, collections, learning equipment and display space. Sometimes it feels like collections storage comes last in the list. For example we have "Gressenhall" locations for three wheelbarrows that we would like to use in our next monument session - but actually lcoating them has proved impossible. The most likely location is practically inaccessible because it is extremely crowded. So whilst the barrows may be safe in the barn we are not able to get into it to find them or much less get them out for people to look at in the time or with the equipment we have available.

Ho hum - there are lots of fantastic things about this project - it isn't all bad! I am loving working on researching the collections but perhaps even more passing that information on to my colleagues and thinking how we could use it across the museum. I was working today on our informal project newsletter - Collections Corner. The idea is that this will continue to be circulated after the end of the Fellowship so that we can all continue to learn more about the collections that are the unique selling point of the organisation. It covers a particular theme in the collection, tells some of the stories recorded in the collections and then suggests some ways in which these objects and stories could be used across the museum. Working on this just reminds me why I am a curator - an enthusiasm for objects and the things they tell us about life - and a love of passing on this enthusiasm. I just hope that our first edition of Collections Corner - due out before mid July - receives a positive reception!

Monday, 20 June 2011

monument in multimedia

as promised just a quick post to put up a few bits and pieces - first of all the thought shower Bridget and I completed - thinking about all the different ways we could use the gardening collections:

A very busy piece of paper. Bridget and I got a little carried away - but there really is so much that these collections can be used for. Although the Monument project is being carried out in a limited time period I really think that one of the best results we can get from the process is to think about collections differently - to think of them as a catalyst for everything that goes on in the museum - whether that is galleries, learning sessions or holiday activities right down to what we stock in our shop.

Following on from our review session last week I happened to be passing one of our museum comments books and caught a glimpse of a visitor's note that made my day:

I think we tend to underestimate our visitor (dare I say a Norfolk trait?) - we tend to assume that they will not be able to appreciate the collections and that they come for the safe attractive landscapes, farm animals and adventure playground. Collections often get downgraded to "mind-boggling paraphenalia" when in fact they are so much more. We need to not only advertise our collections better, but we need to value and respect our audience and not always assume that they won't be interested.

Thirdly we can hear some of the Monument project in progress - many thanks to Gabbie who recorded this  for Wayland Radio just after our first session:

A lovely example of how the project is already reaching out to local communities and encouraging more involvement in the museum and its' collections. Also how the project can be recorded and knowledge saved for the future in a variety of formats.

Finally I have plans for a Monument section on our website - containing a link to the blog, pdfs and hopefully ultimately podcasts and video clips. I'll report back and let you know how I get on.