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Strictly Come Horniman

Dance is a key theme of our collections, including ballet shoes, dance masks and costumes: we do love a good dance at the Horniman.

A figure representing the god Shiva, Lord of Dance

A print titled 'The war dance by the Ojibbeway Indians'

An archive photo from Project Tobong showing a Javanese dancer

Static objects can only show so much, so we like to host live dance in our galleries and gardens, providing a unique venue and performance for our visitors and the artists we work with.

An African dance performance in our gardens

For over 5 years, we have worked with Trinity Laban, a music and dance conservatoire based in Greenwich, commissioning new performances and hosting hundreds of performers.

Georgina Pope, Head of Learning, tells us about the dance collaboration between the Horniman and Trinity Laban at our Curious Tea Party last year.

One of our most recent dance commissions was with the fabulous Mandinga Arts as part of our African Summer. African Summer had a strong dance element, launching with African Dance. The event included performances by Trinity Laban, ADAD, Tazaviza and Ballet Nimba, all giving unique performances set against our gardens, bandstand and galleries.

Mandinga Arts leading our Africarnival with a brightly coloured dance

It is relatively rare for a museum to host dance performances, but we do like to do things differently. There are many artistic and logistical considerations to make but we love the chance to host cross-arts events with a broad participatory mindset.

With such a strong dance legacy and presence it's no surprise Strictly Come Dancing recently filmed a group performance in our gardens and we opened the show on 11th October.

If you would like to see some Horniman Dance, why not waltz down to our Secret Late on Thursday 12th November which features prohibition themed swing dance and circus performances.

Some of our Twitter fans' comments on our dance events this summer:



Javanese collections at the Horniman

The Collection

Objects from Java were among Frederick Horniman’s earliest collections. By 1901 there were model boats, horn hookahs, wooden cattle bells, a bronze sheep bell, an opium pipe and several knives from Java. 

In 1923 the Museum purchased a group of Javanese objects from a Mr. E.T. Campbell. These included a set of carved wooden chessmen, 22 shadow puppets, four rod puppets and four very striking masks. 

In that year, Fredrick’s son Emslie travelled through Bali, Java and Sumatra. From Java he brought back some photographs, and his letters to the curator were very evocative of his journey in an open top touring car. 

In 1949 a collection of more than 75 shadow puppets was purchased from William Oldman, a dealer. In 1958 six more Javanese masks were acquired, this time purchased from Sotheby’s.

A small collection of masks, drawings and paintings collected in Bali by Beryl de Zoete in the 1930s was passed to the Museum after her death in 1962. More important than the objects was the enormous collection of photographs and film now held in the Museum’s library archive, which included some from Java.

It was not until 2001 that the Indonesian collections really began to develop again. This began with the acquisition of five rod puppets, made by puppeteer Pak Asep Sunandar Sunarya of Bandung and purchased specifically for display in an exhibition of puppetry.

A variety of other material has come in over the years from various sources, including examples of batik from Dr Minter-Goedbloed, Ann Douthwaite and the late Christopher Scarlett, formerly Chairman of the Anglo-Indonesian Society.

The Museum has recently been expanding its collection of batik from Java in preparation for a forthcoming display. In 2013 I made a study visit to Java, supported by a Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant, and filmed the process for the Museum.

Project Tobong

Project Tobong is a new exhibition featuring Ketoprak Tobong Kelana Bakti Budaya, one of the few remaining ‘Ketoprak’ theatre troupes in Indonesia.

This community of travelling players performs traditional musical dramas through spoken soliloquy, dialogue and singing, using a ‘tobong’ - a portable bamboo structure.

Interest in traditional storytelling is lessenging, and audiences for Ketoprak are dwindling.

Project Tobong explores the players’ predicament by presenting a series of living pictures which use the language of Ketoprak (the costumes and postures of performance) to reference its own threatened status. 

An evening of coral

This week we hosted our exclusive Members’ Coral Reefs: Talk and Tour. A special event in partnership with the Natural History Museum which explored our recent collaboration on their exhibition, Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea.

Ken kicking the event off to a full house in Gallery Square

With half the Members from the NHM and half from the Horniman, Gallery Square buzzed with excitement about our mutual coral interest.

Our Members enjoying a private view of our popular aquarium

The evening gave Members a fascinating insight into coral reefs and the threats that face our marine life with interesting talks by NHM’s coral reefs expert, Ken Johnson, and Horniman Aquarium Curator Jamie Craggs.  

Ken gave a fascinating introduction to corals, which are in fact an animal, made up of thousands of tiny polyps. It was shocking to see the serious effect of coral bleaching and how that has completely changed the history of coral reefs.

Members also enjoyed one to one chats with curator Jamie and Ken from the Natural History Museum

Jamie complimented this talk well by reflecting on the exhibition collaboration, the amazing installation of the tank at the Natural History Museum and introduced Project Coral; an innovative coral sexual reproductive research project.

A behind the scenes look at our Mangrove display

After the talks, the Members had an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Aquarium, an opportunity to look closer at the ground-breaking work of Horniman Project Coral.

You can find out more about Horniman Project Coral here 



Conserving a Cree Shirt

Although our new gallery displaying our anthropology collections is still some years away, we have already started work preparing and conserving objects to be shown in the gallery, as Charlotte from our Conservation Department explains.

One of the objects which we hope to display in the new gallery is this shirt, from the Cree people of North America. The shirt is more than 200 years old. However, it needs significant conservation before it can go on display.

The shirt is possibly made of brain tanned deer hide.

The intricate rosettes and bands are made of dyed porcupine quills. The lack of bead work and the naturally-dyed quillwork indicates that it’s possibly from the late 1700s / early 1800s and quite an old example of a shirt.

The quillwork on the shoulders was probably dyed with "modern dyes" which suggest these bands were added at a later date.

Quite a lot of quillwork is lifting off the hide, so we need to secure that. Also, the hide is really stiff and crunchy!

We're going to try and introduce some flexibility by carefully applying moisture to the hide, which we'll then manipulate until it's dry.

Hopefully this technique should help the hide regain some suppleness!

There are also tears that need structural repairs so it can go on display in our new Anthropology gallery.

It's quite a complex project and we'll keep you all up to date as we treat it.

Food Glorious Food: From Garden to Kitchen

If you read our previous Food Glorious Food blog you'll see how much we grow in our gardens and the variety of produce Damien has been harvesting. Berries, potatoes, marrows and herbs, we get a lot from our Food Garden.

Some of our homemade cakes using our own fruit

With so much tasty food being grown in our gardens, we wouldn't want it to go to waste so our chefs in the cafe cook up some fantastic food that you can enjoy.

The Horniman cafe

Jason has made a warming moussaka made with aubergine grown in our food garden. We have a beautiful Black Beauty variety growing here at the Horniman that tastes as good as it looks.

This savoury course (below) is a sausage and caramelised red onion filling inside a crispy pastry lattice, seasoned with Horniman-grown herbs(easily one of my favourites). On the side is tomato salad with a range of varieties we grow here, including red, green and yellow varieties.

Is it lunchtime yet?

And it wouldn't be the Horniman without a good gateaux. When I popped into the cafe Val was finishing this beautiful fig and marrow cake that looks delicious.

Fig and marrow cake

I've tried making cakes using courgette before and it ended up (to quote Mary Berry, the Doyenne of Dainties) with a soggy bottom. Val's cake was perfectly formed, but she wouldn't let me in on her secret recipe, yet.

The menu in our cafe is constantly changing, so be sure to pop in and see what takes your fancy.

A Hungarian stew with home-grown cabbage.

If you're a fan of tea and cake, and all things foodie join us on Saturday 26th September for our event Food Glorious Food, part of Urban Food Fortnight. This event marks the 2nd anniversary of our Farmers' Market and the launch of Tea Trail London, a vibrant new webapp mapping tea's history and tea customs across London.

Food Glorious Food: Grown in our Gardens

For those unfamiliar with the Food Garden we use this gently sloping, south-facing area  to grow a range of food plants from peas and pomegranates to potatoes and pearl millet.

Apart from a few permanent residents, the garden’s quarter-acre is filled each year with plants raised from seed. Planning for this begins now, when we take stock of the growing season, and this carries on through the winter as we draw up next year’s layouts, calculate plant numbers and finalise seed orders.

Examples of layout and seed order

So what have been the successes this year, and where does it all go?

Our cane fruit has produced by the kilo, keeping Valerie in the Horniman cafe busy making delicious berry mousse. We grow an early blackberry (‘Kotata’) which ripens in mid-July, followed by raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries and Japanese wineberries through August and into September. I’ll be out picking the last of them once I’ve written this.

Our Loganberries; basket of mixed berries from earlier in the summer

Everything in our ‘Leafy and Fruiting Vegetables’ section has done well too. We’ve had lettuce, chard, some lovely red cabbages, tomatoes and aubergines, courgettes and cucumbers and some truly massive marrows. Later on there’ll be kale and Brussels sprouts too. Yum, I say. You heard me right.

Me with volunteers Keith and Irene; aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ in the garden; view of the Leafy/Fruiting section

Hungry plants like tomatoes and marrows get a boost with a liquid feed made from the comfrey plants in our Medicinal Border.

I let the leaves break down in a bag and collect the rich black liquid that drains out; it’s high in potassium which helps plants develop and ripen their fruits. The liquid needs diluting before use and stinks outrageously but it’s sustainable and doesn’t cost a penny.

Comfrey in the medicinal border; comfrey feed in bucket

Over in the Bulbs, Roots and Tubers section there’s lots still to come. As the nights lengthen there’ll be potatoes and sweet potatoes in September, swedes and carrots in October, and celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips from November onwards.

I’ve already harvested beetroot, turnips, onions, shallots and new potatoes over the summer. Chef Jason put our beets to good use in the cafe, making borscht, and a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad.

View of bulbs, roots and tubers section; onions drying for storage; first turnips of the year back in June

Every week during the summer I look at what’s been harvested and send the Horniman Cafe a list. Once they’ve confirmed what they want to use it gets bagged, crated and delivered early in the morning.

3 different crated deliveries ready to go 

When you visit the Food Garden please keep in mind two simple rules:

  • Keep to the paths
  • Don’t pick anything

That’s it. Other than that it’s yours to explore and hopefully be insired by.

Feel free to come and say hello if you see me working down there. Questions are always welcome, including ‘what’s the best way to cook a marrow?’ Maybe it’s the gallery full of taxidermy I walk through every morning before I get out to the garden, but my answer is ‘stuffed.’




Horniman and Charles Townsend

As part of Open House London this year we are looking at some fellow institutions: The Bishop's Gate Institute and The Whitechapel Gallery as we all share a common 'ancestor', the famous architect Charles Townsend.

The original Horniman Museum Buildings designed by Charles Townsend 

Townsend was active throughout the 19th and early 20th century with a unique style combining Art Nouveau and the Gothic revival styles which were very popular at the time. Although Townsend was more familar with smaller scale builds, he completed three larger comissions: The Bishopsgate Institute (1892-94), The Whitechapel Gallery (1895-99) and finally our very own Horniman Museum completed in 1911.

The Bishopsgate Institute also by Townsend, credit: www.londonarchitectureguide.com

The Horniman Museum building was especially striking for its time, The Studio magazine in 1902 commented that it featured: "a new series of frank and fearless thought expressed and co-ordinated in stone".

Although it was a cutting edge design, Townsend still featured some traiditonal motifs, such as a classical(ish) mural by Robert Bell and the Tree of Life, a popular feature of Townsend's work

The Tree of Life motif 

The Tree of Life and similar swirling floral motifs were very popular at the time with artists such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The tree may link to Christian stories, such as the Garden of Eden or the garden of Gethsemane, but being an archaeologist I'm more a fan of the tree linking to 'Yggdrasil' a tree from Viking mythology.

This tree represents the cycle of life and death, as it provides the fruit the Norse gods eat to remain immortal, but its destruction marks the end of the world. This symbol is very old and can, debatably, be dated back to even before Nordic culture.

Although we don't have any trees that old, we have some beautiful oak trees which are hundreds of years old, as well as the trees on our building. 

Our focus on Townsend's masterpieces is part of Open House London's event this Sunday 20th September, please feel to come along explore our buildings, gardens and collections. Why not see if you can find these two impressive trees in the gardens? 

A Tale of Tea Packaging

Tea Trail London is the newest page in the Horniman's tea story. Tea has been an integral part of our collections and museum, dating right back to the 19th century when Frederick Horniman's tea trade was at its height.

Frederick Horniman left his mark on the tea trade by using mechanical devices to speed the process of filling pre-sealed packages, rather than selling tea loose.

This greatly reduced the cost of production and maintained a higher quality of tea. Unsurprisingly, some of Horniman’s competitors were a little disgruntled, but by 1891 Horniman's was the largest tea trading business in the world.

The Horniman tea packaging is still very iconic, featuring the coiling dragon like in the example above. One of the great things about working on Tea Trail London was the chance to explore other collections, and we found Horniman tea in other institutions.

This tea advert is from the Museum of Brands and is a packet we hadn’t seen before, here at the Horniman. Interestingly, red seems to be the colour of choice for tea packaging, like this Typhoo example, also from the Museum of Brands and this Horniman packet in our collection:

Tea Trail London is viewable online, you can check out some of our tea collections as well as archives, objects and stories from other collections, from afternoon tea to tea packets, it’s all there!

Be sure to tweet, instagram or facebook us using #TeaTrailLondon and let us know your thoughts, or if you have any tea stories to share.


Spilling the Tea

The Horniman's Digital Team have been working with partners across Europe to develop an exciting new web-app Tea Trail London.

If you follow us on social media, you may have seen our announcement of Tea Trail London, a new web-app that explores tea drinking and history in London through 3 different trails.

On the web-app - which can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile phone - you can follow each trail, illustrated with objects from our the collections here at the Horniman and discover famous and secret London sites for a fun, tea-themed day out.


Three Themed Trails

The trails are thematically arranged and feature a mix of museums, shops, heritage sites and the best places to have afternoon tea.

Our three trails are: Tea Through Time, World Tea Tastes and Taking Afternoon Tea .

Tea Trail London is our contribution to Europeana Food and Drink, which aims to co-develop digital cultural resources with an eye to creative and business development across Europe through the theme of food and drink. Based on Frederick Horniman's tea legacy we decided to pick tea as our theme.

Working with Semantika, a Slovenian company who are one of the leading Museum Applications providers in Central Europe, we decided to create a web-app that would be versatile for a wide range of users such as families, Londoners, national and international tourists.

The history and world of tea is vast! So we began by identifying three potential themes, had a hot cuppa then went out into London to find the less well-known tea story.

Tea in London

We partnered with some of our favourite London-based museums: The Geffrye, Museum of Brands, The Museum of London and National Portrait Gallery finding exciting archive images of tea drinking, portraits of famous tea folk and beautiful tea sets.

Heritage sites such as The Cutty Sark and 6 Belgrave Square tell the fantastic story of tea's arrival in London and the invention of afternoon tea.

With so many great tea-stories emerging we approached some of London's most famous afternoon venues including Brown’s Hoteland The Berkeley who serve world famous teas. Brown's HOtel is London's oldest hotel and their afternoon tea was graced by Agatha Christie and allegedly Queen Victoria, whereas The Berkeley’s fashion inspired tea is a modern re-imagining of traditional tea.

And we thought it was only fair if we gave you a few tea shops so you could enjoy tea at home. Yumchaa, Fortnum and Mason and Kusmi Teas (as well as others) all offer a broad range of teas from around the world.

We visited a lot of sites, venues, archives and collections to develop these trails to have unique and original content. Be sure to take a look!


Farewell to African Summer

Our African Summer season of events came to an end this weekend with Africarnival.

Over the summer, we've had 4 jazz picnics, around 50 groups from all around Africa performing, nearly 700 people attending Africa Late, and 73 people talking part in Africarnival's parade.

Here are a selection of tweets and photos from our visitors showing how much they enjoyed our events.

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