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Previously unseen treasures go on display

Ten previously hidden objects, weird, wonderful and beautiful by turn are to go on display in First Time Out, from 6 June until 31 July 2013.

This unique collaboration sees ten museums and galleries each exhibit an artefact from their archives which has never been seen before. But in a twist, ten stories become twenty as artefacts are switched between partnered venues mid-way through the project (on 4 July) with fresh interpretations provided by the new hosts.

We here at the Horniman Museum and Gardens are twinned with the Royal Shakespeare Company, displaying a Dzunuḵ̓wa or "Wild Woman of the Woods" mask from Northwest Canada from our collections and a Fools Bauble, from the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2007 production of King Lear.

This display was developed in collaboration with U'mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay, British Columbia.

Ceremonial mask

  • On display here from 6 June to 4 July 2013
  • On display at Royal Shakespeare Company from 5 July to 31 July 2013.

Horniman Museum and Gardens caption

This powerful mask tells many stories. It was created by the Kwakwaka’wakw people who live on the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada to tell the story of the Dzunuḵ̓wa or Wild Woman of the Woods. She is a hairy, smelly and terrifying giant who kidnaps naughty children and is also the bringer of wealth and fortune. This mask was danced around the fire in a ceremonial Big House during a potlatch ceremony to tell the story of the ancestors and privileges of the host family and owner.

This mask also tells an epic story of the resistance and resilience of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. Since a time beyond memory, the Kwakwaka’wakw have been hosting potlatch ceremonies to mark the most important events in their lives: the naming of children, marriage, transferring rights and privileges and mourning the dead. Despite a repressive outright ban by the Canadian government from 1885 to 1951, potlatches continue to play a central and unifying role in community life today.

Royal Shakespeare Company caption

‘Hu! Hu!’ she cries through pursed lips.

Dzunuḵ̓wa, the Giant of the Woods, strode through the forest crying out and terrifying the disobedient children playing amongst the trees. With a huge basket on her back, primed and ready for the naughty children, she hunted them down to take them away to be eaten for her dinner. But the children knew Dzunuḵ̓wa was very vain and clumsy, so they outwitted her attempts to kidnap them. They played games and made the giant dance in circles so she would get tired and fall asleep, so the children escaped, taking her supernatural powers with them.

This is just one of the many different stories of Dzunuḵ̓wa from the Kwakwaka’wakw people that have been re-told in important and theatrical ceremonies. It is this re-telling of stories and interpretation of characters that has such a strong link with Shakespeare and theatre; the Dzunuḵ̓wa mask transforms the individual into the giant, as a costume transforms an actor.

The Fool’s Bauble, prop for RSC Production of King Lear, 2007

  • On display here from 6 July to 31 July 2013
  • On display at Royal Shakespeare Company from 6 June to 4 July 2013.

Horniman Museum and Gardens caption

The Fool is a powerful character in many theatre traditions. Fools are subversive and they can break all the rules and turn the world upside down. Laughter is the greatest antidote to power.

Through ridicule and mockery the Fool can reveal truths that no one else dares to speak, and expose the unquestioned authority of powerful people as absurd. The Fool is an inverted reflection of the King – and the Bauble or Wand he carries is his sceptre or ceremonial mace.

This Fools Wand or Bauble was made for a Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear in 2007 directed by Trevor Nunn. The face and costume on the wand is traditionally modelled on that of the Fool who carries it; in this case those of the actor Sylvester McCoy.

It was designed by Christopher Oram and made by the RSC Costume Department in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Royal Shakespeare Company caption

This bauble or ‘marotte’ was created for the Fool in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear in 2007.

Designed by Christopher Oram, the prop was made to look like Sylvester McCoy who played the Fool in the production.

The bauble is made of wood and textile and has a mechanical mouth. It was made by the RSC Props department in Stratford-upon-Avon who produced all the small and soft props, including hand written letters passed between characters and an intricate shoulder bag to hold the bauble and other inseparable items belonging to the Fool, such as the spoons he played in their miniature violin case.

In this production, King Lear, played by Sir Ian McKellen, carried the bauble after the Fool was hanged. This strong visual link between the two characters reminded the audience of the Fool's constant judgement that it is King Lear who is a fool.

Real court jesters would carry similar objects to mimic a King's sceptre, so when King Lear carried the mock sceptre in the play it represented his foolishness and fall from grace.

This production was first performed in May 2007 in Stratford-upon-Avon at The Courtyard Theatre.

First Time Out elsewhere

The other collaborations and objects on display are:

  • Natural History Museum: Rough-toothed dolphin skull with ink scrimshaw decoration by unknown sailor (mid 19th century)
  • Peterborough Museum: Model bone guillotine made by POWs at Norman Cross prison camp (early 19th century)
  • Science Museum: Set of ten ivory mathematical puzzles in black lacquer box, made in China (19th century)
  • Discovery Museum, Newcastle: First light bulb and light switch designs by Joseph Swan and John H. Holmes (1881 and late 1880s)
  • Wellcome Collection: Carved cigar holder representing the coronation of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1864
  • Waddesdon Manor: Oval dish from “New Dulong” pattern service used by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (late 18th century)

This display was developed in collaboration with