Monday, 2 May 2016

Well-smoked and slightly confused

Well-smoked and slightly confused
at the Highland Folk Museum at Kingussie

last thoughts of a blackhouse on N Uist
I don’t know why these places feel so familiar, and so comfortable. I didn’t grow up in a blackhouse or spend my summers in one of those quaint 2-room tin-shack summer houses by a windswept western beach, but they feel so instantly familiar that I am left confused.



N Uist, looking out
 In the peat-smoked interior of the long, dark, heather-roofed house, the box-bed, the worn dresser, the enamel pans on their nails, I know them all. My grandparents lived in a tenement in  Campbeltown at the tail end of the Mull of Kintyre - the dead-end, they call it now although when we visited there, there was still an RAF base at Macrihanish and a ferry over from Glasgow. That row of tall houses, with their stairs worn into alarming ripples by years of shuffling feet and the outside loo where giant sea-slaters lurked in wait, is long gone. My memories are of darkness and dark uncomfortable furniture and a coal fire range and a tin bath and the cheerfulness of family and the stern-ness of grandparents who were yet indulgent. And the walk in the morning with a jug to the dairy down the road…
and i wonder if the furniture in that upstairs apartment was essentially that of any highland home or any highland couple of a certain vintage, a sort of standard set that might have been found in blackhouse, or croft or tenement apartment in Campbeltown

And that doll’s house of a seasonal home, corrugated iron and sleepers shaping two rooms and looking like the refuge of a maiden aunt. Perhaps that what it is: those clothes hanging behind the door could be her clothes, that coat her coat, the smell of soap, the pin-point neatness, the small ornaments, the understated evidence of a quiet life lived by being and not by owning, all this could be hers.

But I am still standing here in the Highland Folk Museum, blinking in the sunlight and heading for a bit of singing stillness in Leanach Church
N Uist, looking in

Sunday, 1 May 2016

A Feast for Lost Travellers

A feast for lost travellers
 on tour in northern Scotland, April 2016

snow on the mountains
It is always tricky during workshops to catch the moments I treasure as photos. My camera tends to get left in corners or daubed in glue or lost in a pile of cloth. Wherever it lurks, it is rarely to hand on those critical moments when….

across the whirling, weird, wonderful waterfall
where the freaky, fabulous, flying fish
feast on lost travellers 
 (poem by Daviot School's storytellers)
drawing and story notes, Daviot
So I often feel slightly off-kilter when I’m trying to report back on the latest adventures as the images I’ve got do not do credit to the excitement of activities. (So come on, last week’s schools! All photos gratefully received - especially ones I can post here!)

I am working up in the north of Scotland just now…2 weeks of wildness from the beautiful woods of Middle and led more and a day for the Woodland Trust with alternating sunshine, rain and occasional hail. The weather then rather set the standard for the rest of the week,working indoors as the clouds variously added rain to puddles, hail to drifting lines across playgrounds or even snow in squelchy moments while it gathered in more dramatic sweeps across the mountains

A return to Daviot on Monday warned of the risks of wandering across the hills, let alone venturing boldly into any ruined buildings you might stumble across. But beyond the hills and the trees, the sea is always waiting….
a smooth sea on a sunny summer’s day,
darting dolphins dancing in the dark waves,
the voice of the sea invites us to dance with the dolphins

storybox theatre in action
We were making story boxes there and it was a delight to see people turning storybooks into instant puppet theatres….

exploring the haunted house while lightning hovers overhead,
climbing carefully through the crumbling windows,
into the echoing corridors,
following the sound of flapping wings to the room
of the rattling bones and chattering skulls

a castle from Culbokie
and a mysterious door from Kiltearn
fine details in Kiltearn
cheerful adventures in Strathdearn
Other hosts during the week were Culbokie (tales of old Scotland and heroes for adventures), Strathdearn ( exciting story landscapes) and Kiltearn (some very carefully precise artwork there, picking out the stones in old walls and enthusing about……..

Now it is May Day and the world turns towards summer (at least in theory). i was woken, to my delight, this morning at 5.30 by ravens having a loud discussions in the trees at the end of the garden and yesterday spent a sunny afternoon (hoorah!) watching the racing waters of Rogie Falls

Next week is fully booked but I am due back in Scotland in September if anyone out there reads this and would like to plan a session…

With many thanks to the lovely pupils and 
welcoming staff, 
our storytellers, artists and inventors of adventurers at 

a ruined castle from Kiltearn
and an adventure involving bats, caves and a bridge from Strathdearn

Sunday, 10 April 2016

boxes of delights


House of Wonders, 
boxes of delights


Between 1926 and 1978, the Douglas House of Wonders in Castleton offered visitors a wonderful collection of curiosities from a motor that could fit into a thimble to the Lords’ Prayer written on a thread thin enough to pass through the eye of a needle. There were minerals, native spears, and a selection of locks and keys that were featured in the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects. Randolph Douglas was also an accomplished escapologist who worked with Houdini but we’re not going to ask you to go down that path on this workshop!

an Insect Cabinet
Inspired by the original Douglas House of Wonders, we invited visitors to the Castleton Visitor Centre on Wednesday 6th April to make their own Cabinets of Curiosity. Part of Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project, with events like these we aim to inform people about the links between the Museum Collection and the places in the Peaks where that collection comes from

Next event in this series: Up your street on June 2nd: looking at old panoramic photos of Buxton streets and making our own streets (or other places) as pop-up landscapes: more details here  and on this blog soon

Victorian and Edwardian Cabinets of Curiosity were personal museums with collections that ranged from local fossils and shells to exotic trade beads and even shrunken heads from distant travels. In size, these Cabinets could be free standing glass display units or small glass-fronted cupboards mounted on a wall. In effect anything could become a “Cabinet” if it offered a space that could hold a selection of items. While at one level being simply collections of odd bits and pieces, Cabinets are also reflections of an individual’s interests and travels, offering glimpses into the interests and fascinations of Victorian society and the personal lives of their owners.

optimism
Starting with flat-pack cardboard boxes, we cut windows, added pictures (old copies of wildlife magazines mostly), chose compartments and generally got carried away. Some people pursued themes: there were a couple of seasonal Spring boxes, an insect cabinet an owl box and someone wanted one for his collection of teeth*.

Searching for Pizza, Pirates sailed the Seven Seas braving storms, giant waves and even the legendary Kraken. From Tortuga to the wild Malagasy shores, their pizza search carried the pirates to far, strange lands and in the end there was no pizza. Shipwrecked on Candy Island, they stayed there until their teeth fell out and they were rescued by some children on a school trip in a Boat-bus
 …and all that evolved during the making of a Pirate Cabinet

Find out more:
About Randolf Douglas and the Douglas Collection:
“Randini, the man who helped Houdini” by Ann Beedham, Youbooks, 2009
ISBN 9781905278299

About Cabinets of Curiosity: "Cabinet of Curiosities: collecting and understanding the wonders of the natural world" by Gordon Grice , Workman 2015 ISBN 978-0-7611-6927-7





* We did not enquire too deeply about just whose teeth these originally were









Saturday, 2 April 2016

Creative Giants


The Giants of the Peaks
Get Creative Day, Derbyshire

2nd April 2016

 Chesterfield and Bolsover libraries

elk antler adjustments


giants and creatures started as card sculpture
“Are all the giants dead” starts the poem in Mary Norton’s book of the same name. Well, the answer we can reliably inform everyone is, “No!”. Today we met…

Inkersoll who has slept for a thousand years, breathing only once every year. She has lain there across the hills so long and so deeply asleep that she has grown a skin of grass and hair of twig. An outcrop of rock has become her forehead and her lip has become a grassy bank, sprinkled with flowers.



Inkersoll sleeps there, just outside Chesterfield, forgotten by everyone. There are no stories about her. No histories, no hysterical references in the ancient Chronicles of the Brigantes. But this spring, just last weekend, on that one and only sunny day of the holiday weekend, some children went out for a picnic.



Inkersoll
They scrambled up the hill behind the houses, through the trees, splashing in puddles, climbing until they came out on a beautiful sunny bank where they settled down beside a craggy, pointed nose of a rock. When she heard an odd grating sound, one of the girls turned round and said, “O, look! There’s a cave! I didn’t notice that before.” Investigating, she felt a breeze blowing past her and into the cave. She stepped into the darkness but stumbled and fell forward into the darkness. Tickled up her nose, for the first time in a thousand year, Inkersoll sneezed. And woke up.



sabre-tooth eye
We also met the last of the tigers of Stony Middleton and sabre tooth cats from the Hindlow Bonepits.  This was a day for giants and creatures, drawing inspiration from the landscape of the Peaks: rabbits and foxes, wolves, dogs and horses, a leopard, a magnificent elk, a scuttle of spiders on fingers, a couple of finger-mice and a landscape full of life unfolded itself….and you never know what you're going to find in the backstreets of Derbyshire.






"With blood-red teeth
And blood-red claws, 
There's a tiger
In the old shed
At the bottom of the garden..."



 
Hidden in the woods, 
Gnarly as an old tree,
The green of the grass.
The brightness of moss,
The purple of heather,
And violets in the spring,
A nose running red in summer,
Dripping icicles in winter,
The ripple of water,
Over skin slippery as stone in a stream,
The glitter of crystal in a dark cave.
A giant



“Are all the giants dead,

Are all the witches fled,

Am I quite safe in bed?

Giants and witches all are fled,
My child, thou art quite safe in bed."*







the story of Pink Rabbit has yet to be told
 With many thanks to all our mask-makers and giant-shapers 
and the staff of Chesterfield and Bolsover Libraries


“Are all the giants dead?” by Mary Norton, JM Dent and Sons, 1975



Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The end of the bones



Bone Detectives 
for 
British Science Week, 
12 - 20th March 2016



There were bones, and teeth, there were skulls and even the fragmented paw of a cave lion. And there was time to look, to handle , turn over, touch, test a fingertip against a crocodile’s tooth.

Time to talk, wonder, ask and ask again and say, “No!” and “What’s a hyrax?” and
“This is a porpoise?”
“Where is the elephant’s trunk?”
“Can I pick this up? Oh. Can I pick that up? Good”

There were beautiful replica skulls for the slightly squeamish and gloves for the bolder – or for anyone who just wanted to look sort-of-scientific like they were on some police procedural drama

For British Science Week, in a collaboration between Stone and Water, Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project and Creeping Toad, we ran a series of “Bone Detectives” workshops. These set out to introduce people to some basic skull features to look for and understand the clues they can give us about the original animal. The thought was that this would encourage people to look – to really open their eyes when they are out or maybe even to set off and do the hopeful walk they wouldn’t have done before

Skulls, skeletons or bits often turn up on walks over the moors of the Peak District, or perhaps are found by someone strolling in a casually acquisitive manner along a beach. We were looking for the questions (and their answers) that would set some inspired investigation in motion. We concentrated mostly on British mammal skulls – given time and the scope of vertebrate anatomy we had to draw some lines somewhere. But there were extension opportunities and as confidence grew, participants could move onto British bird skulls, a few exotic extras – a crocodile, assorted horns, replica hyrax, lynx and wallaby* and a wide selection of shells including a spread of annoying cone shells (this one? That one? No, the other one? Why would you call something a geographical cone, for goodness sake”. There was even a d-i-y snake spine

The workshops were a delight: from keenly questioning WATCH members to the surprise of casual visitors, workshops invite participation and challenged preconceptions. “But it’s so small! “ (same comment applied to rabbit, rat and squirrel skulls). People brought their own puzzles with them: beautfully delicate mouse and hedgehog skulls, a mysterious jaw bone (probably sheep), the museum added some mind-boggling teeth: woolly rhino and hyena.

The very bold in the museum went off to find the cave bear skull

We were pleased: these were sessions that maybe didn’t get quite the quiet, dedicated concentration we had imagined but they were sessions that got people handling material, talking, asking questions, feeling more confident.

Sources:
Just to be clear, the skulls and shells we sued were all found materials or were already in established collections. Nothing was killed for the sake of this project

Reproduction skulls came from a wonderful online shop: CrimsonRichDesire

* and, yes, we know we had a small population of feral wallabies until recently in the Roaches. Sadly missed



Monday, 28 March 2016

House of Wonders, public event


The House of Wonders
Wednesday 6th April
Castleton Visitor Centre



 a short expedition into the world 
of personal, portable museums



Between 1926 and 1978, the Douglas House of Wonders in Castleton offered visitors a wonderful collection of curiosities from a motor that could fit into a thimble to the Lords’ Prayer written on a thread thin enough to pass through the eye of a needle. There were minerals, native spears, and a selection of locks and keys that were featured in the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects. Randolph Douglas was also an accomplished escapologist who worked with Houdini but we’re not going to ask you to go down that path on this workshop!


Inspired by the original Douglas House of Wonders museum in Castleton, join artists from Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project to make your own Cabinet of Curiosity or set out to find the lost scenes from Castleton.

Victorian and Edwardian Cabinets of Curiosity were personal museums with collections that ranged from local fossils and shells to exotic trade beads and even shrunken heads from distant travels. In size, these Cabinets could be free standing glass display units or small glass-fronted cupboards mounted on a wall. In effect anything could become a “Cabinet” if it offered a space that could hold a selection of items. While at one level being simply collections of odd bits and pieces, Cabinets are also reflections of an individual’s interests and travels, offering glimpses into the interests and fascinations of Victorian society and the personal lives of their owners.


We’ll use folding cardboard boxes as bases, cutting windows, adding acrylic sheets, hidden pictures and museum trays to make compartmented boxes to hold collections of small objects. You might go looking for shells and fossils, find a special leaf or a precious feather and store your mementos and souvenirs in your own portable museum.



There will also be a selection of period pictures to use, inviting you to explore Castleton and the Hope Valley and try to find those same places a century later. If you send us those 21st century photos we will build a project Gallery of Changes





Where: Castleton Visitor Centre, Buxton Rd, Castleton, Hope Valley, S33 8WN

Times: 11 – 1 and 2 – 4: allow 45 minutes for your visit

Bookings? These sessions are free and no booking is needed, just drop by and join in. Car parking charges may apply



 
what would you put in your Cabinet?

(The two Cabinets here are from the Creeping Toad collections rather than anyone else's!)







Saturday, 26 March 2016

Store rooms!



Embracing change: 
the battle for Store Room 2

the approach

I know there was progress. No-one else might have noticed it, but I know Useful Changes Happened

a first look
Over the last year I have been making not-frequent-enough and not-nearly-ruthless-enough forays into my store rooms to try to pull them into some sort of useful organisation. This week-end, I am turning my attention to Store Room 2….








The supporting team - a sort of Greek Chorus of woe and misadventure

You never know what is going to turn up:  an unexpected squid, a whole big bag of fur-fabric scraps, a box of buttons, some Skull-and-Crossbones bunting


There are also, in this room alone, 5 empty fishtanks and 1 usefully sized vivarium. Oh, dear. I can already hear the “pond in a bedroom” argument unfolding and know that I’m not good at resisting…..

Work is progressing. The carpet Has Been Revealed. Stray piles of mounting board have been pulled together into a single pile, ribbons compelled into a box. 


an unfortunate encounter with a tassle anemone

The Action Men found a Treasure Chest (empty). 

a promise of treasure

Tomorrow we have hopes of Reaching the Fossils and possibly Organising the Stone Boxes
progress?