The Kakapo, a nocturnal and flightless parrot from New Zealand, has recently been voted the world’s favourite species on ARKive! This means a few people will be happy that we’ve just added one specimen to our Object in Focus loans scheme, making this species more accessible to other museums.
The Kakapo is the world’s heaviest parrot, a good climber, long lived and very rare. They’re also important from an anthropological point of view, as its skins and feathers have been used by Maori to make dress-capes and cloaks.
Kakapos are very popular with us at the Horniman, and we have a number in our collections. During the current Bioblitz review, one of our Kakapo skins was identified as a star specimen, showing its importance within our collection.
We now have a Kakapo available for loan as part of our Arts Council funded Objects in Focus project, which aims to increase access to our stored collections and strengthen partnerships with other museums.
Roger is an eminent marine biologist who spends a lot of his time aboard research vessels collecting samples from the seas and oceans around the world. He is used to working through invertebrate material from global marine explorations, identifying and researching a range of organisms, from starfish and sea spiders to jellyfish and corals.
In addition, Roger is a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum in London as well as a Marine Biology Consultant. His work involves conducting field surveys, environmental impact assessments and conservation surveys.
Bioblitz is the name of our Natural History Collections review, which aims to work with with museum colleagues, specialists and other members of our community to complete a major review of our Natural History Collections
While many of you have been following his progress with our liveblog and on Twitter, Acapmedia have been filming the whole event. They've produced this fantastic timelapse film documenting the Walrus leaving the Natural History Gallery for the first time since 1901.
The Walrus will be away until September, but until then you can visit the Natural History Gallery and leave a message for him on the Walrus Wall.
We're very happy, relieved and glad to report that our wonderful walrus has been moved successfully. He's currently being packed up in a crate in advance of his trip to Margate. Here's a short video of him in the air - we'll have a longer video about the whole procedure later in the week.
9.15am, 14 May 2013
The Walrus has spent the night on his new platform at the front of the gallery. Today he will be carefully packed by the Conservation team and safely crated up ready for his journey to Margate.
The first task for today is for our conservation department to check the Walrus's condition, and make sure he's ship-shape for his trip to Margate.
Our famously over-stuffed walrus, weighing in at just under one ton, has been in our Natural History Gallery since 1901. Since then, he hasn’t moved more than 25 feet, so getting him out and on his way to the coast is a huge task for museum staff to organise.
Our conservation department has been working with specialist art handlers to ensure the move goes as smoothly as possible. Preparations are under way: the Walrus has already received his annual clean, and the larger pieces of his iceberg are being moved away.
The biggest challenge is the need to lift the Walrus out of the gallery over the other cases. The Natural History Gallery will be closed to the public next week while this is happening, but we've put together some simple sketches to help you picture what will happen.
The Walrus will be lifted on Monday 13 and will leave the Museum on Wednesday 15 May. The Natural History Gallery will be closed throughout, so this week is your last chance to wave goodbye and wish him well on his holiday. He'll return to the Museum in September.
Be sure to follow the Walrus' journey on Twitter, and keep an eye on our blog, as we'll be live-blogging throughout. You can even catch up with the Walrus' own comments @HornimanWalrus.
On Tuesday 23 April we were delighted to host a lecture by Helen Saberi, author of numerous books and articles on the history of food and drink.
Following on from research she undertook for her most recent publication Tea: A global history, Helen took us through the story of tea trade along the Silk Road. She illustrated her history with some remarkable examples of tea preparation from across Asia, including a Tibetan recipe whereby black tea is mixed with yak butter and the dregs of the cup mopped up with roasted barley flour.
Another example was qymaq chai, an Afghan wedding tea which mixes green tea with baking soda to turn it pink before milk, sugar and cardamom are added. Finally, the cup is topped off with a ‘float’ of clotted cream.
After the talk we held a tea tasting and, as it was a beautiful evening, we opted to set it outside on the terrace of our new Gardens Pavilion. Since it seemed strange to drink artisanal teas from impersonal cups we invited guests to bring their own. There was a great selection, with examples ranging from a Czech produced chai cup purchased in Uzbekistan, to a hand-painted mug commemorating sheep and Scotland!
The next Bioblitz is almost upon us. Next week, Kathie May and Jon Ablett are reviewing our mollusc collections.
Kathie is the Senior Curator (Mollusca) at the Natural History Museum and is responsible for the curation, conservation and interpretation of the Mollusca, Bryozoa and Comparative Anatomy collections (around 9.5 million specimens!). Kathie has particular expertise in the identification and interpretation of historical mollusc material and good knowledge of handwriting/curation methods of early collectors.
Jon is the Curator of non-marine Mollusca & Cephalopoda at the Natural History Museum and is responsible for their curation and upkeep, as well as answering questions, providing loans and identifying and accessioning new material. As curator in charge of cephalopods it was his responsibility to design and manage the preservation, storage and display of museum's the giant squid (Architeuthis dux), acquired in 2004.
He was to be displayed for his fine Tā Moko (tattoo). They had planned to exhibit him lying down, this we explained was highly inappropriate, akin to having him laying in state; he was used to standing, an ancestral figure, once supporting the central post for the Whare Tipuna (Ancestral house). Māori meeting houses are the embodiment of the ancestor, they are spaces for tribal gatherings, important meetings, funerals, celebrations, the poutokomanawa bears the weight for the tāhuhu (backbone). He is the heart, as each physical component of the house relates to a part of the human body.
Having worked with taonga (cultural treasures) for many years in museums, I was still stunned by this striking figure. He also brought out feelings I thought I had grappled with by working with museums, but he brought them all to the surface again. Therewas a real sense of violence and loss with him, you could see the saw marks, he seemed so isolated, naked, all we knew is who had bought him and where he resided now.
He would have once stood, the centre of his universe, fully adorned, most likely feathers and human hair in a top knot, which had been lopped off, along with his penis, maybe a piupiu (a type of kilt) or a korowai cloak to keep him warm, showing his status, and when I saw he had holes in ears I knew would have had something dangling from them. This is the moment I knew I wanted to help readdress him, re adorn him, show him someone cared, not so much an intervention but an acti.VA.tion…creating a space where we could came together activating the Va.
Va: Samoan term for space. It adheres time to space, this space not a linear space, or indeed an empty one, the Va is activated by people, binding people and things together
For me the real ‘art’ of my work is in the activation of the Va relationship with me and the collections, reinvigorating and revibing the taonga or measina through my body, they can live through me, the past and present sharing the same time and space, allowing the works to go, or be ingested outside the confines of the museum space or enclosure.
The Collections People Stories project has recently been working with local artist Rosanna Raymond. Rosanna is a well known performance artist of Samoan decent who has collaborated with a wide range of museums both here in the UK and internationally.
The Poutokomanawa is a prominent ancestor figure, once placed at the heart of the Maori meeting house. Objects like these are much more than historical relics; they both represent and embody the ancestors and continue to have an active presence for many Maori communities today.
Since late 2011, the Horniman had been in conversation with Rosanna about her desire to undertake a closing ceremony for Poutokomanawa to safely send him back into storage at UCL. On the day, she recited a specially commissioned poem as he was being lifted from display into his packing box. When Poutokomanawa journeyed back to UCL a week later, he was greeted by Rosanna and her friend and colleague Jo Walsh and a group of UCL anthropology students and staff.
Much of Rosanna's art work over the years has focused on re-activating taonga (Maori ancestral objects) in museums, giving them a new life and a new context, either through performance or re-adornment.
Rosanna's application and exploration of the Samoan concept of 'Va', the space between things and people, is particularly significant for museum practice. Museums, of course, are more than the objects they house; their ultimate rasion d'etre is to set in motion new activations between people and things, some planned, and even more unexpected.
We'll also be posting Rosanna's account of this activation process and the poem, A Poutokomanawa Bypass, shortly.