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Ask A Curator 2018

What would you ask one of our Curators?

  • Blue Morpho Butterfly specimen, Blue Morpho Butterfly specimen
    Blue Morpho Butterfly specimen

For this year's #AskACurator day, three of our staff - Emma-Louise Nicolls (Natural History), Margaret Birley (Musical Instruments) and Wesley Shaw (Gardens) - agreed to answer questions from tweeters all over the world. So, what was discussed? Their answers ranged from parasitic plants to good doggos and musical sand.

See some of the questions and responses below:

Read all their answers on our Twitter Moment.

Poems to the Walrus

Write the Walrus a poem or lines, he will love it as long as it rhymes. 

Yesterday, 6 October 2016, was National Poetry Day. People across the country took to Twitter to write lines of verse that fit into 140 characters. 

The Walrus has his own Twitter account - @hornimanwalrus - and one poem especially caught his eye...

Soon, people from all over were tweeting their #PoemstotheWalrus. 

Here are some that particularly tickled us:

The Walrus even had a go at writing his own verse...

...and tried his hand at a haiku. 

Share your #PoemstotheWalrus with us on Twitter

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. 

Pokemon IRL – Teen Takeover Day 2016

We handed our precious Twitter account over to our Youth Panel for the day.

The 12 August 2016 was Teen Twitter Takeover, where cultural and heritage organisations across the UK handed their Twitter feeds over to teenagers using the hashtag #takeoverday.

This year, 73 museums were involved – and we were one of them.

The Youth Panel decided at one of their regular meetings that for this year's Teen Twitter Takeover they wanted to hunt for Pokémon.

The group were interested in using the platform to show how this popular game can link to the Horniman collections by finding objects throughout the museum and gardens that look like the characters in the game.

So, at 12pm we gathered with the Youth Panel and gave them two iPads set up with the Horniman Twitter account.

The group started by asking people to tweet in a name or picture of a Pokémon. They were inundated with tweets asking for Evees and Pikachus almost immediately.

The next step was to find objects IRL (in real life) that looked like these Pokémon.

Luckily, the team know the Horniman really well and knew where to go to find foxes, masks and garden plants. The teens are also very Twitter-savvy and so took to the game like a Magicarp to water. The group were great at using the hashtag to interact with other museums throughout the day.

They also managed to squeeze in some interesting facts about the objects they were taking pictures of. Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma, was on hand to give the team more information about the animals - for example, did you know the Bittern is one of the rarest birds in the Uk and in its native Norfolk lands is also known as a Butterbump?

Our Youth Volunteering Co-ordinator, Beth Atkinson, said ‘This year’s IRL Pokehunt for #takeoverday was ace. The Youth Panel excelled themselves yet again in coming up with such a hilarious idea, running around like human Zigzagoons and making it actually happen! Well done guys!’

You can read our Storify of the Youth Panel’s tweets as well as Kids in Museums’ Storify of all the tweets from museums across the country.

Find out more about how to get involved with our Youth Panel.

Pokémon’s Pikachu invades Horniman Museum

Our Deputy Natural History Keeper Emma-Louise Nicholls has been finding a large number of unusual specimens at the Museum that are definately new additions.

If you don’t play PokémonGo, that’s ok. If you haven’t heard of PokémonGo, you need to leave your cave and interact with the world more. Virtual reality is not a new concept but it is still one that blows my mind. Standing in the garden looking at my phone, I can see the real grass on the screen, and yet there’s a Jigglypuff sitting on it. He’s right there. That element is what persuaded me to bow to public pressure and PokémonGothere. As it were.

Of the 142 possible characters you can currently catch, they range in rarity from Pidgey which is as common as, well pigeons, to ones so rare they cause grown men to abandon their cars in the middle of the road and cause widespread chaos.

One of the rare Pokémon (I’ve been told) is the famous Pikachu, special friend of Ash (a cartoon human) and bright yellow star character of the Pokémon world. When I started playing PokémonGo I was told that Pikachu would be impossible to catch. Well, I caught 16 in two days at the Museum (not to mention the 5 or 6 that got away), and that’s just on my lunch-breaks.

  • Pikachu Army, This Pikachu Army was caught at the Horniman Museum over just a couple of days
    This Pikachu Army was caught at the Horniman Museum over just a couple of days

Although I found him under a bush in the Horniman Garden once, as well as loitering around the Conservatory, Pikachu seems to have a special affinity for the Natural History Gallery (so clearly he has good taste). I've not once run into him on the balcony (perhaps he's afraid of heights) but I’ve seen him a number of times in the Bird Case looking at the ducks. Maybe he’s a closet Ornithologist, or perhaps he’s brushing up on his comparative anatomy skills. After all, does anyone know where in the tree of life a Pikachu sits? He’s sort of a yellow squirrel with lightening for a tail. Hmmm.

  • Pikachu in a bird case, The Shelduck on the left looks startled by the sudden appearance of a bright yellow Pokemon
    The Shelduck on the left looks startled by the sudden appearance of a bright yellow Pokemon

He seemed to be particularly excited about seeing the Dodo, or maybe it was the Okapi that put the electricity in his tail. “Wooo look, they’re rare like me!” (rough translation) he squealed in Pokélanguage.

Whatever Pikachu, I see you daily. I don’t think you’re rare at all.

  • Pikachu Jumping, Pikachu seems to get very excited about seeing the Dodo in the Natural History Gallery
    Pikachu seems to get very excited about seeing the Dodo in the Natural History Gallery

I really rather like my job and don’t want to be fired for chasing Pokémon around the galleries when I should be unravelling curatorial mysteries, so I can only play PokémonGo at lunchtimes. Despite this, over the two days that I’ve been playing I have caught 23 species of Pokémon at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. There are no less than 11 Pokéstops in the 16.2 acres of ground at the Horniman, and someone is always setting off a lure at one of them (this attracts Pokémon, for those who cave-dwell). Pikachu and I have been seeing so much of each other, he now comes to visit me at my desk. Aww, what a friendly chap.

  • Pikachu on desk, I think he wants to join my array of mascots
    I think he wants to join my array of mascots

In short dear Pokéhunters if you are in need of a Pokémon, especially one that is Pikachu shaped, I recommend you sidle down/up/across to the Horniman.

Pokémon sighted at the Horniman

As if you needed another reason to explore the Museum or wander around our lush Gardens in the sun, you can now find a whole clutch of Pokemon, Pokestops galore and even two Gyms at the Horniman.

Stock up on your Pokeballs and potions at our Pokestops near:

We also have two Gyms which you can find by the Bandstand and the totem pole at the front of the Museum.

Remember if you are heading to the Horniman for Pokémon Go, stay safe. Explore the game with your friends, keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of the people around you and your surroundings, especially near the very busy London road at the front of the Museum.

Using WhatsApp to answer visitors' questions

Two years ago, we wrote a blog about an idea we had to use WhatsApp as a way of answering visitors questions.

At that time, we had run a very simple test to try the idea out, and had plans to do more. It took us a while, but we did eventually try something out.

Last September, around the annual Ask a Curator twitter event, we put posters around the museum telling visitors that they could ask questions either on twitter or by texting via SMS or Whatapp.

We put these posters in all our galleries, in the gardens and near the Animal Walk.

We initially had thought we would keep the posters up for a day or two, but, in the end, decided to keep them up for just under 6 weeks.

In that time, we received quite a few questions - though not as many as we do via Twitter or Facebook, or indeed as many as our staff in the galleries were asked.

Some of the questions we were asked are below - a mix of practical, easy-to-answer questions and more in-depth discussions.

Does the walrus have a name?

Why are the bees fighting?

Why do the African statues all have navels facing out of their body?

Why are the alpacas out in the rain?

Why have you labelled an object as being from a specific island and another as being from Papua New Guinea?

Are the miniature dogs real?

Their questions, and how and when they were sent, lead us to consider:

  • Where we placed the posters - we did not want these to obscure objects on display, but that meant they were not always in very prominent, visible postions.
  • The speed with which we were able to reply, particualry on weekends.
  • Our visitors ask fascinating questions, some of which we'd never have thought about.

Overall, this experiment was useful - partly to tell us that maybe our visitors' interest in this is not what we thought it would be. That, more than anything, has led us to wonder whether we should continue exploring this area or move on to something else, something our visitors will find more immediately engaging.

Enter a European Design Challenge

  • Food and Drink, Some objects from the Horniman's collection relating to food and drink: a teapot from India, a cup from England, a porringer from Romania and a butter container from Ethiopia.
    Some objects from the Horniman's collection relating to food and drink: a teapot from India, a cup from England, a porringer from Romania and a butter container from Ethiopia.

Calling all designers, makers, creatives and crafts-people! Have you ever been inspired while visiting a museum?

The Horniman is a partner in a Europe-wide project called Europeanan Food and Drink. It aims to create exciting products inspired by Europe's rich food and drink heritage.

Our recently launched web app Tea Trail London is our contribution to the project.

The project has recently launched a product design challenge with two prizes of €2,000.

Explore food and drink related collections (like those above) in Europeana and also on the Horniman site.

Use the inspiration you find there to design a 2D or 3D product - it could be product packaging, towls or tiles or something we've not thought about so far. The two winners (one for 2D and one for 3D) will receive €2,000 which will be presented at a Challenge Event in January in Seville, Spain.

To enter, make a short video explaining your product idea.

The closing date for entries is 20 December 2015. There is lots more information on the Europeana Food and Drink website

We'd love to see your ideas. If you have any questions, feel free to tweet us or Europeana Food and Drink.


Musical Wonders of India

Among the highlights of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Festival of India this autumn, is a display in the Nehru Gallery of a number of the important and beautifully decorated historic instruments from India in their collection.

  • Our Musical Instrument display, Sophia Spring
    , Sophia Spring

One of our musical instrument displays featuring a sitar

‘Musical Wonders of India’ is also a digital project featuring instruments in the exhibition, and created in partnership with Darbar Arts Culture Heritage Trust. At a symposium at the V&A celebrating the launch of ‘Musical Wonders of India’ last month, I discussed the Indian musical instruments in the collection of the Horniman, and their close connections with the V&A.

  • Indian Symposium Sitar, Darbar
    , Darbar

  • India Symposium, Darbar
    , Darbar

Margaret speaking at the V&A Symposium 

The V&A generously loaned 25 superb instruments to the Horniman which are now displayed in the ‘At Home with Music’ display in the Music Gallery. They also transferred over 150 European, Asian and African musical instruments that were passed to the Museum between 1956 and 1970. These are one of the cornerstones of the Horniman’s collection, which we have since added to and made publicly accessible.

Since the year 2000, the Horniman Museum has developed the South Asian collection by acquiring and commissioning instruments from makers in different regions of India. We have also filmed the instruments in performance, and documented aspects of their manufacture.

Thimila, hourglass-shaped drum made by Cherussery Kuttan Marar, Cherusserry village, Thrissur district, Kerala, 2001

This rudrā vīṇā or bīṇ, made in Patna around 1830 was formerly in the collection of the East India Company. It is a plucked stringed instrument with gourd resonators, which in this example are delicately painted in green and gold.

Rudra vina or bīṇ, Patna, circa 1830

A beautifully crafted 20th century example of the rudra vina by Kanailal & Brother of Kolkata, probably made between 1960 and 1980 by Murari Mohan Adhikar, was given to the Horniman in 2010 by John Larson, a former conservator at the V&A, and demonstrates how the instrument has developed. 

The rudrā vīṇā is traditionally used to accompany dhrupad, a revered and long-established genre of North Indian vocal music. During the 20th century, like many other stringed instruments in South Asia, the rudrā vīṇā was developed to become a solo instrument in its own right.

Ustad Bahauddin Dagar‘s concert on 20th September in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall vividly demonstrated the high level of virtuosity that can be attained on the rudrā vīṇā, and the instrument’s profound expressiveness. His memorable performance of a morning raga was part of a festival of Indian music at the South Bank organised by Darbar last month.

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.

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