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Redstart Arts on display

You may have read the blog that one of our community partners, Redstart Arts, wrote during a recent residency at the museum. well you can now see the sculptures displayed in the Forest Hill Sainsbury’s window. It is only up until the start of July – so go and have a look while you can!

Cash Aspeek, the artist who leads the group, tells us more about the exhibition:

'It was very important for us to be able to showcase our Horniman works at a place that would allow a really wide audience and also become part of the Forest Hill art scene. The window at Sainsbury’s in Forest Hill seemed appropriate – it overlooks the main road in Forest Hill and countless people walk past each day.

We spent a lot of time improving the space, to ensure that the work was displayed professionally. The ‘Redstart Arts’ sign is handwritten on the back wall by one of volunteers, Jez.

While we were installing the display, there was a constant stream of people in the shop and on the street, who were actively interested in the work. It was really exciting and satisfying to know that the exhibition was engaging the local people and that the Redstarts’ work would be seen by so many. Sainsbury’s have kindly agreed that we can use the display for 6 weeks and importantly the display will be up during Learning Disability Awareness Week.'

Carnival in Rio

An exhibition of musical instruments played in carnival processions in Rio de Janeiro has opened in the Horniman’s Music Gallery. Our Keeper of Musical Instruments, Margaret Birley, introduces us to the new display.

'The Carnival in Rio exhibition contains examples of instruments played by Monobloco, a band with a huge following, whose annual street parade is one of the highlights of the carnival season. It is part of a larger array of instruments used in seasonal festivals around the world.

When new musical instruments are collected for the Horniman, we always aim to film and photograph them in performance. These images capture not only performance technique but also cultural contexts for performance, and something of their repertoire. The project to collect instruments in Rio last year provided a wealth of opportunities for me to film examples played not only by members of Monobloco, but also by other blocos de rua or street bands from various districts of the city during carnival. Extracts from the films form part of the exhibition in the Music Gallery.

While the streets are the backdrop for the blocos’ processions during carnival, Rio’s Sambadrome, a 700 metre long stadium, hosts the competitive parades of the larger samba schools. Here, each parade has a specific theme, reflected in the large floats and costumed characters of the numerous participants.

The exhibition in the Music Gallery also includes a colourful costume made for the samba school, Imperatriz Leopoldinense for Harlequin, a character from Italian commedia dell’arte.'

Charms, amulets and resilience

Our museum youth theatre groups are inspired by the Horniman amulet collection to create Discovery Boxes of magic and protection. 

Every Monday, we work in partnership with GLYPT to hold two museum youth theatre groups – one for eight-11 year olds and one for 11-14 year olds. This is part of GLYPT’s ‘Whatever’ programme.

Each term, the 2 groups work to a particular museum theme. As the Horniman holds lots of amulets and charms in its collection, in Spring Term we used these and the idea of ‘magic and protection’ for inspiration. This theme was also an interesting way to explore ideas of wellbeing resilience with participants.

Before the drama session starts, there is always Safe Space – this is time to do some artwork, relax after school, chat with others and have a snack. During Safe Space the 11-14 year olds have been making a ‘Discovery Box’ of magic and protection.

Here is the group’s description of the box:
This box has been created by the Whatever Makes You Happy Group in Spring 2016 that meet every Monday and use the objects in the Museum to inspire their drama sessions. In our Discovery Box you’ll find objects that represent magic and protection. It includes:
• Potions of protection.
• Handmade amulets.
• Candle light holders to light the way home.
• Mandalas.
• An individually-designed charm bracelet with a horse shoe for luck, a wand for magic, a symbol for a best friend and a heart for love.

Here are the ingredients to Summer’s Sunshine Magic Potion and powers they could give you:
• One cup of magical gems.
• Three cups of feathers – protection that guides the way.
• Two sparkly bells of happiness and forgiveness.
• Three drops of sweets that tells you the path to go on.
• One magic shell of sound that protects you from danger.
• Finally two blue and yellow see through papers that turn you invisible whenever you want.

The Horniman nominated for Sainsbury’s Local Charity of the Year

The Horniman Museum and Gardens has been nominated for Charity of the Year in our local Forest Hill branch.

You can now vote for us in store with a token or vote online by visiting Sainsbury’s Local Charity, searching for your local Forest Hill store by postcode and then casting your vote.

Raising funds is key to keeping the Museum and Gardens open and accessible, and our charitable status has helped us to spread knowledge about different people, cultures, creatures and habitats to many people over the years.

The winning charity will receive a year’s worth of fundraising and awareness raising so get your votes in before 26 June!  

Would you like to donate to the Horniman Museum and Gardens? You can give a one off donation or become a member of the Horniman, which comes with a whole host of benefits.

Celebrating Volunteer’s Week 2016 at the Horniman

This year, Volunteers’ Week was actually 12 days long, so we had extra time to celebrate all the amazing things our volunteers do!

We organised lots of exciting events for our volunteers: a tour of the Gardens with our Head of Horticulture, Wes; time in the Animal Walk with our Animal Walk team, Lara and Jo; a tour of our Study Collections Centre with Natasha; discussions about some interesting objects in our stores with Curator, Tom and not forgetting our Celebration Drinks Reception.

Our volunteers also wrote a wonderful range of blog posts – something that’s been so successful that we’d like to make it a permanent monthly fixture. They offer a brilliant insight into how both volunteers and our visitors engage with the museum and are excellent at showing the world what our volunteering team is all about.

Over the last year financial year, 272 volunteers have been involved with the Horniman Museum and Gardens – that’s 15,166 hours of interaction with our visitors and support for our work! Quite rightly, we are incredibly proud of these numbers and of our volunteer team more generally.

Our Head of Learning, Georgina Pope, said: 'As a Learning team, we are constantly thinking about the best ways to create happy and inspiring experiences for our visitors and project participants. Your support as volunteers is invaluable in enabling this - as facilitators on gallery, as programmers, supporting family or community engagement, on evaluation projects, as people who can influence our thinking, and in a myriad other ways. We are both proud and grateful that you are involved in the life of the museum, which simply wouldn’t be the same place without you.'

Our Volunteers make the Horniman the extraordinary, magical and inspiring place that we all know and love – thank you to all of our volunteers for their support, hard work and dedication. Here’s to another fantastic year together!

Travellers' Tails volunteer talks

We recently hosted George Stubbs’ painting of the Kongouro from New Holland, on loan from the National Maritime Museum, part of the Travellers Tails project. This painting is the first representation of a kangaroo in Western Art and whether you think it looks more like a wallaby or an oversized mouse, you can’t help but fall in love with it!

We challenged our volunteers to develop their own short talks about the display to share with our visitors. This was a huge experiment for us, but handing over the curatorial power to our volunteers has proved to be hugely exciting and popular.

What did our volunteers get out of being involved?

John: I focussed my research at the National Archives in Kew, where I found primary sources for my History Master’s degree. I was delighted to find the original sealed letter, given to Captain Cook by the British Admiralty, to claim any discovered territories in the name of King George III. This voyage began Britain’s colonisation of Australia.

Shao Peng: As an art history student, the Horniman Museum has provided me a unique opportunity to act as a mediator between the academic field and the general public. The joy of undertaking this role is to be able to share my interest in the relationship between art and science in the 18th century, knowing that my audiences would walk away having learned something that may change the way they see the world around them!

Connor-Benjamin: Before my Travellers’ Tales talk I knew George Stubbs painted horses. However, Europeans in the 1700s had a romantic fascination with exploration and Captain Cook’s voyage brought to the West an animal that captured public imagination.

Seeta: I believed the kangaroo as portrayed by Stubbs appeared diminutive, lacking the artist’s distinctive flair for power and musculature. While this was understandable, having been painted from inflated skins, I viewed the kangaroo’s disempowerment as a metaphor for colonial subjugation. The painting’s background with English oak on the left and Australian grass gumtree on the right, showed the exotic as tame and assimilated, foreshadowing the subsequent colonisation of Australia.

This is the first time we have involved volunteers in this way and it opens up many exciting possibilities for us:

Georgina, Head of Learning and Volunteering, says 'The talks allowed us to offer a new way for our visitors to understand our collection and a new opportunity for volunteers to be involved. I loved hearing the volunteer’s insights into the display which definitely brought it to life!'

Jo, Keeper of Natural History, says ‘Being a curator can sometimes be a frustrating experience. When you are working on a display, even a relatively small one like Cook and the Kangaroo, you have to carry out a great deal of research behind the scenes. Unfortunately, much of this is never seen or heard by our visitors - a real shame as there’s always so much to say about a subject! The talks by our volunteers, nearly all of whom became curators for the day and carried out lots of original research themselves, provided an excellent opportunity to address this issue, but perhaps more importantly provided scope for others to express their personal thoughts, insights and perspectives not only on one of our most interesting paintings of the enlightenment era but also the scientific, social and cultural context under which it was received at the time and what this might mean today, to a wide range of visitors. Something I would never have a hope of communicating on a text panel in 250 words! Thanks to all the volunteers for all of their enthusiasm, dedication and marvellous talks!’

It may be the end of this project and our kangaroo has hopped back to the National Maritime Museum, but we have all learnt a huge amount and watch this space to see what happens in the future.

Behind the scenes and brilliant bees

Behind the scenes and brilliant bees! One of our Engage volunteers, Shelagh, tells us her top five favourite things about being a Horniman volunteer. 

'I've been an Engage volunteer since April 2012, and besides working in the Nature Base and on the Object Handling Trolley, I have helped out at the Mud Kitchen with the Stroke Group, the craft workshops, and making bug hotels and bird treats with children.

I missed being a volunteer for nearly a year from Autumn 2013 due to cancer treatment and coming back has been an important part of my recovery.

The top five things I’ve learned from volunteering with Engage are:

1. Wonderful BEES!
The live bees are a unique catalyst for conversation and learning with visitors and amongst the volunteers. You can see the queen laying eggs, pollen-laden workers coming in and unloading their 'pancakes' of pollen and stacking them into cells, 'waggle-dancing', workers taking a disc of wax from between their own segments and moulding it on to the comb. When people are gazing in on this miniature world and all its goings-on, they (and we) are in a really opened-up and curious state, and the conversations can go in so many directions: the life of bees and our relationship to them, food, hierarchies, the environment etc. I often wonder what other catalysts for this kind of opened-up conversation we could create.

2. The Horniman is a fantastic community resource.
This needs a whole blog to itself! Not only are the museum and gardens a brilliant green space in SE London, but the Horniman proactively reaches out to the local community in learning and entertainment and attracts a wide diversity of visitors. Over the years my family and I have been frequent visitors to the Horniman for drumming and dance classes, 'Late' events, live music, watercolour and writing workshops and just to hang out in the cafe.

3. The Horniman is good to its volunteers.
When I was looking for voluntary work in spring 2012, I tried several organisations and the Horniman stood out a mile for being organised, friendly, communicative and offering good training before and after starting the work. As volunteers, we are also encouraged to contribute our ideas to enhance visitors' experiences of new exhibitions. The backstage and social events also help to create camaraderie amongst the volunteers.

4. Behind the scenes at the museum.
I was amazed to learn that only a tiny amount of the museum's objects are on display at any one time, and was fascinated by the visit to the collection at the Central Store early on in my time as a volunteer. The Engage Backstage events are a great way to learn more about the collections, their care and origins. Visitors often ask us questions about where the objects come from - in many cases, no one knows where, when or who collected the object. We have also had the chance to see new exhibitions being installed e.g. Plantastic.

5. Back to the bees.
Following my own curiosity about the bees has led me to find out more about them - who knew that they not only communicate information about food sources to each other through the 'waggle dance' but also by vibrating the combs, or that the temperature the larvae are reared at can influence what sex they turn out to be, or that the colony is not organised as a hierarchy with queen or "top bee" in charge? Biologists now believe that the colony can be seen as a "super-organism" i.e. the whole colony is equivalent to a single animal.'

Find out more about becoming an Engage Volunteer.

What does volunteering mean to Michael?

Our volunteers are a creative bunch!

One of our Engage Volunteers Michael has written this poem on what being a Horniman Volunteer means to him for Volunteers Week:


What does being a Horniman volunteer mean?

Being asked ten times a day (at least) “Where is the queen?”


Our beloved bees aren’t the only ones that questions are asked about.

“What’s in here?” “Harvest Mice,” we say, “But they haven’t yet come out.”


There’s our faithful stuffed fox, the Nature Base star, whom children love to hug,

And the microscope to see up close a beetle, wasp or bug.


For exercise, there’s paper to be picked up off the floor,

And it’s always time to sharpen those darned pencils just once more.


Quiet times, busy times, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall,

Ask any volunteer, they’ll tell you - Half-term’s the worst of all.


There’s school groups, art groups, visitors young and old.

From the latter, many Horniman memories of yesteryear I’ve been told.


Friendly staff and visitors, a pleasant working atmosphere,

Are partly the reason I continue on, gladly, year by year.


That, and the friendship of the other volunteers, all trying hard to please,

And the reward of helping children learn-about nature and the wonderful bees!


Michael Viner, 2016


A volunteer's favourite object

Katie’s favourite handling object is the hedgehog.

“The hedgehog is my favourite item because I have never seen one in the wild!" Katie says.

"With numbers declining in recent years due to the use of pesticides which reduce the amount of insects for hedgehogs to eat, and housing development in urban areas, it is unlikely that I will get to see one - though I'll keep my eyes peeled, of course!”

Peter doesn’t seem so sure though! 

What's your favourite object? Tell us or show us on social: @HornimanMuseum / IG: HornimanMuseumGardens.

The Artquest research residency

Artquest in partnership with the Horniman are offering a research residency for one London based artist.

The award includes:

  • £3000 to engage with the work and collections of the museum
  • £850 towards a public facing event showcasing the thinking and research undertaken during the residency
  • Privileged access to museum objects and curators

We are particularly interested in developing relationships with artists who want to engage with people as well as collections. Applicants should consider in particular how their work might engage visitors with the museum’s displayed collection and encourage participation with these displays. Please note the African Worlds gallery and the Centenary gallery will both close in September 2016 for redevelopment until 2018 however this does not mean artists cannot engage with the anthropology collection.

Please note, that this is not a studio residency and applicants are expected to have their own studio / workspace to complete any work.

Find out if you are eligible for the residency and apply on Artquest.

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