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World Poetry Day: The Wilsons and Wuhan

World Poetry Day is celebrated every year on 21 March to recognise the importance of poetry to human culture across the world.

At the Horniman we have been searching our collections for objects that will help us join the worldwide celebration and in this hunt have uncovered an object that shows how poetry and art unites us all across borders.

Horniman Object No. 2013.366 may not look like much at first glance. Wooden boards bound into a book by a leather spine does not make for the most eye-catching display, but open up the pages of this tome and you will be stunned. Each double-page spread features a unique poem written in both Chinese and English by an individual whose portrait has been lovingly painted as an accompaniment.

These poems were written to commemorate Reverend Robert Wilson, or ‘Mr Wei’, who had lived in what is now the city of Wuhan in Central China. Robert had passed away, leaving behind his wife and daughters. With the family set to return to England, it seems that friends and congregants of Mr Wilson had collaborated to produce this book to thank his widow for the impact he had on their lives, and to express the sadness that she too was leaving theirs.

We have highlighted three of these poems in particular that highlight how a group of ordinary people used the universal language of poetry to explore the sorrow and grief that they all shared.


Ah! How sad, the pastor is gone to heaven;

Having gone to the heavenly hall he has left

                The world forever.

Alas! The mother teacher has to return solitary,

When I think of the miles of ocean and

                Sea, my heart grows very sorrowful

                And sad.


-          Liu Chang Sin


  • 2013.366_01, Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait
    Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait


Oh how joyous! The mutual acquaintance between

The pastor Wei and myself was complete.

Oh how sorrowful! The teacher is gone to heaven,

And the teacher’s wife and daughters will

Now be separated from us.


Still my joy and my sorrow do not simply

Consist in this.


More sorrowful is it, that the harvest is great

And the Labourers few.

More joyous still is it, that there is a day when

The Teacher, with his wife and daughters

Together with ourselves shall meet each

Other in heaven.


-          Shun Tsi Sin, the local evangelist


  • 2013.366_02, The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin
    The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin


I am having my likeness taken,

And in presenting it to her who is about to return,

My object is to a small degree to soothe the sadness

                Of the voyage,

And not because I regard it of any value.

Though visibly there is a temporary separation,

After death we shall be again near each other.

Say not that the distance will be great there;

In heaven we shall all be neighbours.


-          Chii Hien Ohme


  • 2013.366_03, The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme
    The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme

How an idea becomes a gallery

Have you ever wondered how we put together a brand new gallery? Well, Sarah Watson from Collections Management tells us how.

This year the Horniman has been preparing for the opening of a new gallery which will show around 4,300 objects from our anthropology collection. The new World Gallery will redisplay a number of objects previously found in the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries, and importantly will include many more objects - some of which have never before been on display.

Once the World Gallery is open you will see inspiring and exciting objects from across the world highlighting different themes and cultures. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Before you rush to the Museum though there is still a lot of challenging work taking place behind the scenes in order for the doors of the World Gallery to open for the first time. 

Before any of the Museum's objects can be installed there needs to be decisions made about how they will be arranged and how these displays can be made possible physically. Considering how to arrange objects in a new exhibition is no easy task and one which our curators have been focused on for the last six or so years.

Some of these decisions are made at layouts when objects are set out in a mock-up of how a showcase might eventually look. Conservators, curators, collections management, documentation, and workshop staff all attend to discuss the practicalities and challenges of displaying particular objects. 

Prior to a layout, all of the required objects must be retrieved from the Horniman’s very own TARDIS - the Study Collections Centre (SCC) - our offsite storage facility which houses the majority of the museum’s collection.

Retrieving objects is carried out by the Collections Management Team who are responsible for the care, storage, and documentation of the collection. As part of this team, I work with my colleagues prior to each layout to identify the location of selected objects, collect them, and arrange them according to a design planned by curators. 

This process of retrieving objects from the SCC can be quite time-consuming, usually taking between one and four days depending on the number of objects needed and the complexity of moving them. One of the largest layouts we have done so far featured over two hundred objects. One of the challenges we encounter when retrieving objects is if they are heavy or large, or both, making them more difficult to move. This adds to the amount of preparation and time needed, and will often require the assistance of additional colleagues and lifting equipment to move them safely. 

So, what happens after the layout has finished I hear you ask. After the curators, conservators, and workshop staff have met and agreed on which objects can be displayed and how collections management carefully pack all the selected objects so they are ready to transport from the SCC to the Museum. Objects that haven’t been chosen will be packed away and go back into storage. As with retrieving objects, packing them also takes time, often as many as four days as we need to ensure that objects are packed as to not sustain damage while in transit. 

To get to the point where we start retrieving objects to the moment they are packed and ready to transport can take the best part of two weeks, particularly if there are a lot of objects involved. Once the layouts are complete we will begin the process of installing objects in the refurbished exhibition space for the World Gallery to open in 2018. In the meantime, we are getting very good at packing, and are delighted to see so many fascinating and unusual objects going on display from the collection.

Horniman Youth are Charmed and Hypnotised

Artist Rachel Emily Taylor has been working at the Horniman as part of an Arts Council Award project, Charmed & Hypnotised. The project explores the Horniman's collection of British charms and amulets.

Working alongside hypnotherapist Lorna Cordwell, with the support of Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, Rachel collaborated with members of the local community to explore the benefits of the charms through touch and hypnotic inductions. The participants were not told what the charm was before they worked with it and their experience was audio recorded.

The project allowed for the participants to think outside the standard set of meanings presented in relation to the objects. For example, rather than reading facts about the origin of the item, they could focus on the temperature of the object: was it hot or cold?

  • Image-from-Charmed-and-Hypnotised, Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor
    Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor

The audio recordings can be considered as an alternative “caption” to accompany the Horniman objects.

Listen to the hypnotic recordings.

The research was disseminated through art workshops with the Horniman Youth Panel.

The group listened to the recordings and, without seeing what the object was, drew what they thought it might be. Like a game of Telephone.

  • Image-from-Charmed-and-Hypnotised, Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor
    Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor

The artwork made during the workshop with the Horniman Youth Panel will be included in a publication and an exhibition on the project, which will take place at V22 Louise House in August 2017.

Funded through the National Lottery by Arts Council England.

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

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.

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