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A source of arty inspiration

Our Engage Volunteer, Sam, tells us about how our collections have inspired her artwork. 

Even before becoming an Engage Volunteer I was inspired by the fantastic collections at the Horniman. 

The artefacts in what was the African Worlds Gallery have provided an especially rich source of material for my sketches and sculpture I’ve produced over the years.

Since becoming an Engage volunteer I can get up really close and personal with the actual objects themselves and I love to share my enthusiasm with the public too!

  • Project Morrinho at the Horniman , A colourful sketch of the Horniman Clocktower
    A colourful sketch of the Horniman Clocktower

My work mainly focuses on memory. Do objects have a memory? Do they provoke a memory of your own? Or do they serve as a collective memory for a group of people?

I often combine my own memories of travelling and the experiences I’ve had into my work and the materials I use.

  • Portal, Portal
    Portal

I have always had a fascination with masks. I have collected and sketched them on my travels around Mexico and Africa. Beautiful, ugly, mysterious and powerful, they hook my imagination and keep drawing me back.

  • Sky Earth Kanaga Mask, Sky Earth Kanaga Mask
    Sky Earth Kanaga Mask

In River Memory Mask the wood itself forms the contours of the map of a face, with the river flowing through it linking the future to the past. The mirrored eye and stones with holes also ward off evil as seen in masks and amulets at the Horniman, like this African Nkisi, this Kurdish charm or this English protective charm. I’m spoilt for choice of inspiration!

  • River Memory Mask  , River Memory Mask
    River Memory Mask

The Anthropology blogs are a great way to find out about how the Anthropology Collections are being re-displayed. I can’t wait until the work is finished and the new World Gallery opens next year!

Have any of the objects at the Horniman sparked memories for you? 

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #horniman. 

A shrine to pencils

Today is National Pencil Day.

This wonderful day is observed each year on 30 March because, apparently, Hymen Lipman registered the first patent for attaching a rubber – or eraser to our American friends – to the end of a pencil on this day in 1858.

The holiday is a US tradition, but we thought we would use it this year as an excuse to tell you about the pencils we found while decanting our Galleries.

Last year, our African Worlds Gallery closed as we started the exciting process of turning the space into our new World Gallery. To do this, we needed to decant the Gallery and move all the objects back into storage.

  • A shrine to pencils, A shrine during the decant of the African Worlds Gallery.
    A shrine during the decant of the African Worlds Gallery.

As we took down our shrines, we realised that there were a few more objects inside them than had been there originally.

It seems that visitors had been popping pencils and other items through the small holes at the bottom of the cases.

  • A shrine to pencils, A small, pencil-sized hole in the case.
    A small, pencil-sized hole in the case.

While we decanted the cases, our team took an inventory of the number of extra items that had been ‘added’ to the shrine. We present this here.

Haitian Vodou shrine:

1 pencil

Brazilian Candomble shrine:

14 pencils

1 hairclip

1 crayon wrapper

And the winner by a mile…

Benin Mammi Wata shrine:

58 pencils

1 biro

1 twig

1 plastic lolly stick

As you can see, that is a total number of 73 pencils added to our shrines. 

Our team enjoyed these 'offerings' and made sure they were recycled and put to good use. 

  • A shrine to pencils, So many pencils.
    So many pencils.

A trip to a Nigerian street market

Anthropology curator, Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, tells us about her research trip to Eko Market in Lagos, Nigeria.

‘In November 2016 I travelled to Lagos, Nigeria, to work with a talented photographer, Jide Odukoya.

Part of the Horniman’s new World Gallery will focus on Lagos – Nigeria’s largest city. We wanted to capture the vibrancy and energy of the markets on Lagos Island through photography and film.

  • A Nigerian street market, Jide Odukoya in Eko Market − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Jide Odukoya in Eko Market

Lagos is without a doubt the most incredible city I have ever been to. It’s noisy, sticky, busy and frantic, but also exciting and beautiful. There is never a dull moment.

Clambering off the back of a motorbike on my first day, I looked up to see four enormous white concrete horses galloping over the podiums lining the entrance to Tafawa Belawa Square. The monument is named after the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria who took over from British rule in 1960.

  • A Nigerian street market, Tafawa Belawa Square − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Tafawa Belawa Square

The square is also a major transport junction. From here you can pick-up another bike that takes you into the financial heart of the city.

Steel and glass high-rise office blocks owned by global banks tower over a vast network of street markets.

You soon realise that what may first appear as a chaotic throng of shoppers, buses, and market stalls is meticulously organised. Whether you need shoes, a new tablet, a watch, a blender, nappies, pineapples or a new pair of pants, there will be an area designated for it.

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes. − © Jide Odukoya
    Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes.

My favourite street was jam-packed with toy stalls and school stationery; squeaky children’s shoes, little neon plastic cars, and row-upon-row of Frozen backpacks.

We will try to recreate a stall from this street in the new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Toy Street − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Toy Street

As I followed it up a hill, the street turned into a Lagosian winter wonderland – piles of bright tinsel and great bundles of colourful flashing lights, Christmas trees with fibre-optic pine-needles and mechanical Santas that sang Jingle Bells.

Jide chose to photograph and film Eko market – the place to buy handbags, sunglasses and clothes. His images capture the Lagos hustle.

  • A Nigerian street market, A trader selling denim dungarees− © Jide Odukoya
    A trader selling denim dungarees

Whether you want replica Prada sunglasses, leather belts, denim dungarees, or a crisp white shirt, you can find it here.

His photographs show a meticulously dressed shopper cast a discerning eye over bright patterned dresses and two women sharing a joke after a deal has been struck.

They are vivid and playful – both terms which we hope will be reflected in our exciting new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Two women share a joke− © Jide Odukoya
    Two women share a joke

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses− © Jide Odukoya
    Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses

This trip was generously funded by an ICOM WIRP travel grant.’

Find out more about the development of the World Gallery

How to empty a Gallery

Our Collections and Documentation team take us behind the scenes during the decant of our Galleries. 

Hello, my name is Sarah and I’m one of the two Collections Management and Documentation Trainees at the Horniman. Thomas, the other trainee, and I started working at the Horniman in July 2016.

Usually, we are based at the Horniman’s Study Collections Centre where many of the fascinating objects in the Museum’s collection are kept. We work in the Collections Management and Documentation departments to care for these objects and make them accessible for current and future generations of Museum visitors.

Thomas and I have spent some of the last six months working directly on one of the Museum’s major projects, the Anthropology Redisplay. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) the project re-evaluates the incredible objects in the extensive Anthropology collection in preparation for a new permanent exhibition opening in 2018.

  • How to empty a gallery, The Centenary Gallery during the decant process
    The Centenary Gallery during the decant process

In readiness for the new exhibition two of the Museum’s previous exhibition spaces - African Worlds and the Centenary Gallery - have closed and will be refurbished over the course of the next year. Along with other colleagues from the Collections Management team, Thomas and I spent eight weeks decanting the numerous objects in these galleries, packing them up to travel back to the Study Collections Centre.  

As trainees, decanting these gallery spaces and moving over one thousand objects has been an amazing experience as well as a very good opportunity to test our skills. 

With many different types of objects across two galleries, we were able to try out various methods for packing. We often spend lots of time trialling and experimenting with packaging to ensure it provides adequate protection to each object, therefore preventing any potential damage that could occur while in transit.

Certain methods of packing are more suitable for some objects than others, many objects we worked with during the decant required bespoke packaging to be specially made for them.

One of the most challenging objects Thomas and I worked on was a Naga headdress from north-east India. The headdress was delicate and had a number of large feathers which could be detached.

  • How to empty a gallery, Sarah and Thomas look at the Naga headdress
    Sarah and Thomas look at the Naga headdress

Advised by project conservator Natalie we removed the feathers and packed them separately from the rest of the headdress.

  • How to empty a gallery, Thomas separates the feathers of the Naga headdress ready for packing
    Thomas separates the feathers of the Naga headdress ready for packing

Some other really exciting objects we worked on during the decant where the Museum’s Mummies. Moving them was a real challenge and quite different from the Naga headdress we had previously worked on. Being so large and yet extremely fragile meant that many hands were needed in order to transfer the Mummies from the display case and into a packing crate. It took a team of seven to move each one safely.

We finished the decant in November so Thomas and I are now based back at the Study Collection Centre working to find space for many of the objects that will be staying in storage.

Every day is different and poses new challenges for us to solve. We’ll be continuing to write about our experience as trainees at the Horniman over the next year and a half so keep an eye out for updates on our progress.

Find out more about the Anthropology Redisplay and World Gallery

Mysterious matters at the Magic Late

On 13 October 2016, we opened our doors after hours for an evening of magic, sorcery and folklore. 

We had our whole English charm collection on display in the Hands On Base where visitors could see them up close and talk to Tom, our Anthropology Curator about them. 

We were also taking photos of the modern charms our visitors brought with them. We plan on using these charms for a specially-curated display in our new World Gallery

Also in the Hands On Base, we had a fantastic talk about Magic Wands from Philip Carr Gomm, Chosen Chief of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. We learnt about A.W. Rowlett, the old English wizard or ‘cunning man’ who collected many of our charms. We also experienced a specially commissioned work by artist Martha McGuinn and sound installation by artist and researcher Rachel Emily Taylor

In Gallery Square, we had a moving performance of 'She Who Walks' by Denise Rowe which paid honor to the women connected to the land who were persecuted during the witch hunts of the Middle Ages. 

We enjoyed watching the short film 'The Kingdom of Paul Nash' with live music to accompany it in our Conservatory, which was organised by the Cabinet of Living Cinema.

Our Museum was overrun by a wandering pigeon who led people to the Natural History Gallery where there was a specially-comissioned opera installation by Gestalt Arts called 'Feet', written from the point of view of a rock dove who's feet are one of the charms in our collection. 

The Natural History Gallery also saw our Deputy Natural History Keeper Emma-Louise Nicholls take visitors on a tour of the Gallery, pointing out links our specimens have with all things mysterious and magical.

Outside in the Gardens, Annie Horniman (aka Oliva Armstrong) was leading candlelit tours to the Bandstand where she told the tale of her life, the history of the Horniman and the occult. 

See some of the pictures our visitors' shared from the night

Moving the Merman

You may have noticed that our famous Merman now has a new home. You can find him in his own case at the back of our Natural History Gallery.

The Merman used to be displayed in our Centenary Gallery. The Centenary Gallery closed last month as we began our exciting anthropology redisplay project. We have been decanting all the objects on display in the Centenary Gallery and taking them to our stores, where they will be processed by our Collections Team.

You can see a video of some of the team decanting some of the objects from our Centenary Gallery here.

Our Senior Workshop Technician, Alistair MacKillop, tells us how they created a new case for the Merman.

‘The Workshop were asked by the Learning Team to place objects from the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries in cases around the Museum so that schools could still follow trails and find these objects.

We thought the old vivarium case, at the back of the Natural History Gallery, would be a good place to house the Egyptian artefacts, as it had lighting already installed.

  • Moving the Merman, Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.
    Artefacts from Ancient Egypt, including this mummified crocodile, can be found in their temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery near the Merman.

  • Moving the Merman, This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.
    This mummy mask is also on display in the Ancient Egyptian case.

The problem was, it was still full of tanks and pipes where our lizards and snakes use to live. So we set to work clearing the case and building an insert case in the same style as the cases we had already designed for the Natural History entrance redisplay.

  • Moving the Merman, The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.
    The redisplay at the entrance to the Natural History Gallery was the inspiration for the new case display for the Merman.

It was such a success that when we were asked to think about the relocation of the Merman, it seemed a great opportunity to use the other end of that case. We wanted to make sure the Merman looked special, and by creating an aperture into a small case in a matching style to the Egyptian end, I think we achieved our goal.

The Merman had been out with our ‘Object in Focus’ outreach scheme not so long ago, so it seemed like a good idea to use the mount created by my former colleague Rebecca Ash. The mount consists of brass bar that has been brazed together with silver solder, the mountmaker works directly with a conservator to determine the best shape to give support to the object. The Merman has a very unusual balance point and is also very fragile. Of course, the mountmaker’s art is to then design a way for the mount not to be seen or be too obvious to the viewer.

This mount was filed and sand-blasted to remove any sharp edges. Then sprayed grey, we apply a sticky backed conservation felt that we call ‘Fluffy’, to any surface of the mount that touches the object, this prevents any rubbing and gives a comfy fit to the object.

I attached the mount to a painted plinth which can be moved on top of the case plinth, so we could find the best spot for the lighting and the balance of the finished look of the case.’

Our Exhibitions Officer, Lindsey, gathered together information and research about the Merman and edited the text for our graphic panel, which was then designed and produced by our Graphic Designer, Stew.

We think the Merman looks great in his new temporary home at the end of the Natural History Gallery. Pop by for a visit and say hello.

Spend a charming evening at the Horniman

Bring your charms to Magic Late at the Horniman and have them photographed. They could become part of our anecdotal collection of modern charms. 

Charms are fascinating objects that appear in different cultures around the world all throughout history.

We will have the whole of our English charm collection on display at our upcoming Magic Late event on 13 October.

This includes everything from this witch’s bottle from Padstow in Cornwall, which was an antidote to supposed witchcraft…

  • Witch's bottle, Witch's bottle from the Horniman's English charm collection
    Witch's bottle from the Horniman's English charm collection

…to this mole’s foot, which was believed to cure cramp.

  • Mole's foot, A mole's foot from the Horniman's English charm collection
    A mole's foot from the Horniman's English charm collection

Our Anthropology Curator, Tom Crowley, will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about these fascinating objects.

We also want to explore charms that are still used today.

That’s where you come in!

Do you carry a charm around with you? You might not think of it as a charm – it could be a lucky pair of socks, a friendship bracelet, a ring that reminds you of a loved one, a special photograph, or a teddy bear.

  • Teddy bear charm, This teddy bear charm was brought in during a Lewisham Young Carers visit to the Museum.
    This teddy bear charm was brought in during a Lewisham Young Carers visit to the Museum.

If you have an object which has memories or special feelings attached to it, we would love to see it! Bring your ‘charms’ along to the museum. We will have a photographer on site, so you will be able to add a photo or description of your charm to the Horniman collection.

Find out more about Magic Late.

Making History: Horniman Youth Panel and Patrick Hough

The Horniman Youth Panel set out to explore how Egyptian culture and history is represented in Hollywood Movies.

We learned to think critically about the film props in these movies while having a chance to experiment with script writing, directing voice acting and basic filmmaking techniques with the video artist Patrick Hough.

The workshop began with a brief introduction to Patrick’s artistic practice, looking at early photography on Hollywood film sets in Morocco, to newer video works that use film props and green screen backdrops. We then briefly looked at a range of short clips from films depicting Egypt, ranging from the fantastical to the historically accurate and discussed the visual elements from the sets, costumes and props, lighting while comparing and contrasting the different ways Egypt has been shown on film.

Later on, we worked with real physical film props loaned from a London prop house that are used in Egyptian movies. We explored their different material qualities – comparing them to the amazing Ancient Egyptian objects in our Hands on Base. We also discussed the varying degrees of accuracy these objects have in portraying cultures.

Finally, we broke up into two groups to develop a short script together. We were given a chance to create our own short film scene that gave a voice to the film prop and placed it in a theatrical context.

Participants directed the voice acting, choose the camera angles, light the scene and create direction notes for the editor.

Here are the final results – we hope you like them!

Find out how you can get involved with our Youth Panel

Ask a Curator Day 2016

This year, on Wednesday 14 September, we are taking part in Ask a Curator Day. This is where Museum Curators from all around the world answer your questions on Twitter.

If you have a burning question you want to ask, then you can tweet at us using @HornimanMuseum using the hashtag #AskaCurator.  

We have curators on hand to answer questions about musical instruments, natural history and anthropology. 

The curators we have to answer your questions are:

You can tweet in your questions at any time. We will then gather them up and answer as many as we can on 14 September. 

The charming case of Alfred William Rowlett

Robin Strub, our Anthropology Volunteer, has been looking into the Horniman's collection of charms.

Have you ever wondered how the Horniman got its objects?

Who brought them here, and why? 

I’m here to help answer some of those questions! I volunteer in Anthropology’s collection of English charms and amulets, which has a lot of pieces from a man named Alfred William Rowlett. 

He came from the Cambridgeshire town of St Neots and, between 1904 and 1933, he sold the Horniman dozens of items that he had found as part of his town’s rural culture.

What do you think of when you look at the objects in the Horniman’s cases?  What do you imagine of the people who collected them?

Do you think of a Victorian, professorial man with a tweed jacket and pipe?

How about a Victorian dustman with a bin and broom? 

  • AW Rowlett by CF Tebbutt, From St. Neots The History of a Huntingdonshire Town, 1978
    From St. Neots The History of a Huntingdonshire Town, 1978

This picture is of Rowlett, who worked as a Dustman for the local government.  Bert Goodwin, a historian and local of St Neots, remembers Rowlett, and wrote about him for the St Neots Local History Magazine’s 2011-12 winter edition, including this picture of Rowlett and his dustbin making his rounds. 

When looking up Rowlett in the 1881 Census I found he was in work as a labourer by the time he was 13. He went on to become a businessman, as well as a Dustman, with an antiques shop, and worked with the Horniman in a professional capacity.  He even had his own official stationery that he used to write letters and invoices to the Horniman!  Here is how his letterhead looked:

  • Rowlett's, letterhead
    letterhead

We don’t know how Rowlett started working with the Horniman but as a local, he had specialist knowledge and access to his community. This was undoubtedly part of the benefit of the Horniman doing business with him. In a letter dated 6 May 1907, Rowlett noted that ‘my business is to find out and get all the necessary information I can get’ on objects destined for the Museum. 

His research is still important for the Horniman, as the things we know about the objects he sourced came via his connections. The information would otherwise have been lost without his detailed descriptors. 

Here is what he wrote about a ‘Spinning Jenny’ (object number 7.199) as an example, with a transcription beneath.

  • Spinning Jenny, Object description
    Object description

Spinning Jenny.

used at Easton Socon, Beds for Raffling oranges sweets & home made cakes at Holiday times & festivals with an original charm against the children in getting to high a number so as to benefit the owner of Spinning Jenny

used by Mrs Newton at home and village feasts in & Round Bedfordshire Cambs & Hunts

1856 half penny a spin

This is how the Spinning Jenny works:

You can see a piece of orange flint tied to the device - that’s the charm.

We know what that flint was for thanks to Rowlett, as well as precise details about how the Spinning Jenny is used. (I thought the owner would’ve been caught out by cheating, but my Curator figured out that if you keep the stone against your palm and hold out the Spinning Jenny, nobody can see that you have it in your hand!)

Rowlett would also make handwritten labels for artefacts that were entering the collection, and many of his labels are still stored with the objects. This is an example for number 9.41 in our collection, a wood pigeon’s foot that was used to ward off cramp.

  • Wood Pigeon, foot label
    foot label

A lot of the charms that Rowlett brought us are things from the natural world that people associated with various curative powers.

It may seem strange today, but the idea was that wood pigeons never get foot cramps. If I carry a wood pigeon’s foot, maybe that will protect me too. If you have ever heard of someone carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot, it’s not too far a leap from practices today.

Rowlett’s community of St Neots still remembers him as someone to go to for these kinds of all-natural remedies for health problems.

Local historian Rosa Young transcribed several adverts from a 1900 issue of a local paper for the St Neots Local History Magazine’s, which included an old advert that Rowlett had put in the paper for his own special patent medicine. It cured everything (naturally) but Rowlett’s neighbours did come to him seeking his medical expertise.

Bert Goodwin, the local historian who photographed Rowlett, recounts that when he was a child he had a wart on his knee cured by Rowlett,

He cut a small twig from a bush which he called ‘Joseph’s Thorn’,  which he shaped into a spatula, and then made his mark on the wart X.  “There,” he said, “it will be gone by the next full moon.”  Strangely enough, I forgot about it, but when I next looked it had gone.

Because of Rowlett’s work at St Neots, the local historical society put up a Blue Plaque for him.

  • Rowlett's blue plaque, Thanks to Eatons Community Association
    Thanks to Eatons Community Association

Like the wood pigeon’s foot above, many of the objects that Rowlett brought to the Horniman were considered to have health benefits. The charms I’m studying were used by real people who believed in them, and used them to solve a variety of different problems. Ironically, Rowlett – with his Joseph’s Thorn for curing warts – thought that some of the charms’ owners were ‘eccentric’!

I don’t know about you, but I have lucky charms. Millions of people all over the world believe in the power of objects and in 2018, the Horniman will open a new gallery where you will be able to find charms from all around the world, including those collected by Rowlett!

If you’d like to see what Rowlett brought to the Horniman, and 2018 is too long to wait, you can find all of Rowlett’s objects online

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