NatSCA Digital Digest

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Welcome to the August 2016 edition of the NatSCA Digital Digest: an oasis of calm in a raging tempest of olympics, Trump, brexit, austerity, and celebrity deaths.

News from the Blogospbere

Hannah Cornish has been writing about the often-overlooked gems of the museum collection: the slides. You can read it here.

psyduck-spirit-collection

Image courtesy of the Oxford University Museum of Natural history

So Pokémon Go happened last month: the Smartphone game that has been an unintended boon for the museum world. Several curators have weighed in on the phenomenon; here is Jack Ashby’s take on it.
News from Nature

The organisation which used to call itself “Nature First” has just demonstrated why that name was no good. In a shock announcement last week, Natural England seems to be favouring the lives of human-reared pheasants over the lives of the wild buzzard. We have watched buzzard numbers slowly recover over the past thirty years, it would be dreadful to see all that progress lost now – and even worse if the hunters mistake other struggling raptors (the Hen Harrier, e.g.) for a buzzard. Here is the RSPB’s response.
News from the Museums

I’ve been doing some travelling lately. I visited the Natural History Museum in Doncaster. It’s a small but delightful museum which has struggled through some hard times, as so many have, but makes the most of what it has. Its collections are benefitting greatly from having a specialist curator right now – long may it continue.

A little closer to home: I visited the Natural History Museum’s new Colour and Vision exhibition, which is beautiful despite not mentioning the Tuatara anywhere. The exhibition looks at the evolution of the eye throughout nature and the beautiful ways in which nature tries to catch the visual attention of others. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend it.

trilobite-montage

A montage of Trilobite sensory organs

Announcements

I am delighted to announce that Deputy Keeper of the Horniman Museum, co-blogger, and good friend Emma Louise Nicholls is engaged to be married! I wish her and her fiance every happiness for the future.

Micromuseum: The slide collection of J T Quekett

How many natural history collections contain drawers and drawers of unloved microscope slides? With a few notable exceptions, such as the Grant Museum Micrarium, museums often find slides difficult to display and use.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has a particularly large collection of 50,000 slides, making up more than half of all the objects in the collections here. Hardly any are on display in the Hunterian Museum. A closer look however, reveals that the RCS microscope slide collections are really something special. From William Osman Hill’s Yeti slides to William Hewson’s 240 year old microscope vials, the slide collection here is every bit as exciting and important as the other objects in the museums.

As Collections Assistant for the microscope slide collection most of my work over the last six months has been on the John Thomas Quekett collection. His name is not well known, but if you have heard of it that is probably because you have come across the society of microscopists named in his honour. The Quekett Microscopical Club (QMC) has generously funded a project to care for Quekett’s original slides.

John Thomas Quekett (1815 -1861) was a leading histologist and microscopist who was Richard Owen’s deputy at the Royal College of Surgeons.  Quekett took over as conservator of the Hunterian Museum in 1856 when Owen left for the British Museum to become the superintendent of the natural history department and oversee the building of what would become the Natural History Museum, London. Quekett was at the cutting edge of a revival of the popularity of the microscope in the Victorian period. He wrote A Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope which became a classic text for microscopists, and is known to have instructed Prince Albert in the use of his silver microscope. He was a fellow of the Linnaean Society and the Royal Society, and worked with famous scientists such as geologist Charles Lyell, palaeontologist Gideon Mantell, explorer David Livingstone, botanist Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin himself.

John Wu

John Thomas Quekett (1815-1816). (Image Royal College of Surgeons)

 

An octopus

An octopus from the Quekett Microscope slide collection. (Image Royal College of Surgeons)

 

Quekett was a pioneer in histology and microscopy, designing his own microscope and producing stunning histological preparations, especially injected specimens. Furthermore he put every natural object he could get his hands on onto a microscope slide. Animal, vegetable, mineral, everything. Tissue samples of every organ in the human body, a whole octopus, tiny flakes of silver, the exquisitely prepared respiratory system of a caterpillar. He prepared diatoms, ferns and coal, delicate sections of pterosaur bone, thylacine teeth and oak wood. There are even hair samples disturbingly labelled ‘vampyre’, although this probably refers to the bats rather than the undead.

He carefully labelled and catalogued his slides to produce a comprehensive natural history collection on a microscopic scale, and 12,000 of these slides remain today. It is not surprising that a recent review of the RCS collections concluded that the Quekett material is “one of the strongest representative collections of Victorian microscopy and scientific practice in general in the UK and possibly the world” (RCS Significance Review June 2015).

Given their age the slides are in relatively good condition, but there are some issues to contend with such as cracked glass, missing labels and leaking fluid. Since the 1880s microscope slides have been a standard size – 2.5cm x 7.5cm, but the Quekett collection predates this. His slides range in size from 1.8cm x 4.8cm up to a whopping 8.5cm x 20cm. Some of the slides are also very thick and all this makes storage difficult and any type of automated scanning nigh on impossible.

thyl

Slices through the teeth of thylacines. (Image Royal College of Surgeons)

The collection is obviously of interest to those working on the history of science and microscopy, but impressively the slides are still being used for scientific research, 170 years after Quekett made them. Preparations of harder materials such as fossils, bones and teeth have survived in excellent condition, enabling modern researchers to gather data from the collection. The image below was taken recently using reflected light fluorescence microscopy by a PhD student studying bone remodelling in mammal species.

Transverse section of the humerus of a mountain hare. Prepared by J T Quekett, photographed by Alessandro Felder, Royal Veterinary College. Image taken at 4x magnification using reflected light fluorescence microscopy

Transverse section of the humerus of a mountain hare. Prepared by J T Quekett, photographed by Alessandro Felder, Royal Veterinary College. Image taken at 4x magnification using reflected light fluorescence microscopy. (Image Royal College of Surgeons)

With the upcoming RCS decant and new Hunterian Museum planned for 2020 there is an opportunity to bring this collection to prominence again. We plan to include Quekett’s story in the new exhibits and make his collection better known, better protected and more easily accessible online. At first glance an old microscope slide collection might not look like much, but if you investigate further you never know what you might find.

Written by Hannah Cornish

(Collections Assistant, Royal College of Surgeons)

For more information about J T Quekett see:

https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/library/blog/quekett-and-exploration

http://www.quekett.org/about/who/history

A fond thank you

The number 8. A significant number in many different cultures around the world. It is the number of balance for the Ancient Egyptians, and in China it represents fortune. It’s a common number in the natural world too, and appears to be important in the genetic make-up of some groups of animals. Spiders have 8 legs (and the Orb-weaver spiders have 8 eyes). Octopuses (or octopodes) have 8 arms, and comb jellies have 8 tiny plates with which they use to swim.

For me the number 8 is particularly significant. I was 8 years old when I first watched The Land Before Time; the film that cemented my passion for dinosaurs and the natural world. More recently, and more relevant to this blog post, I was the Editor for the NatSCA committee for 8 years. At the last NatSCA AGM, we had our first ever vote for a committee member resulting in a new Editor for NatSCA.

The postrer for The Land That Time Forgot. It certainly was an adventure I never forgot! (Poster of teh film by Tom Chantrell. Public Domain)

The original poster for The Land That Time Forgot. It certainly was an adventure I never forgot! (Poster for the film by Tom Chantrell. Public Domain)

With 8 years of being your Editor, I thought I would write this little post. Not as a farewell, but as a thank you.

Starting back in 2008, I worked on the more informal NatSCA newsletter, NatSCA News. There were two, or sometimes three, issues of NatSCA News a year. Behind the scenes, it was a lot of work: formatting Word files into Publisher, sizing up images, font sizes, boarders, editing, references… It sounds glum, but really it was a great job to be involved in. I loved reading about other people’s projects, and networking with so many curators and other museum staff across the country.

Do you remember this? The old NatSCA newsletter,

Do you remember this? The old NatSCA newsletter, NatSCA News.

I remember the article in NatSCA News that changed it all. (Obviously I won’t say which one, but this sweet article was full of holes.) Authors would send me papers, and then I would check them and format them for NatSCA News. My background is geology, so I know my rocks, minerals and fossils. But best practice in microscope slide conservation? What about standards in care of herbaria specimens? I wasn’t an expert in those areas. Something had to change.

I wanted to create something new. Something that would be a good source of information for people working with natural science collections. Many curators, particularly in the regional and independent museums look after such a huge variety of collections, from plants to rocks. Talking ideas through with the committee, we decided to put together a new Journal. A Journal that people could really use to help with their every day work.

The First Volume of

The First Volume of the Journal of Natural Science Collections. Just beautiful.

In 2013 it came. My baby; the new NatSCA Journal. Surprisingly the name of the Journal did take several emails back and forth before it was finalised: The Journal of Natural Science Collections. The new Journal is a big step up from NatSCA News. All articles are peer reviewed by two reviewers. Comments and recommendation are given to authors to improve and clarify points. Articles are written clearly for any curator to understand, even if it is not their area of specialism. Some articles have been rejected. The Journal is something which is accessible, and more importantly, useful, to those working with natural science collections.

Eight years as Editor. I am proud of the new Journal. Proud of how it looks, and proud of the high quality articles it contains. It is not easy work being an Editor: finding peer reviewers, chasing authors, formatting, sending off proofs and endless other little bits. Without the ongoing support of the fantastic NatSCA committee, and amazing volunteers, the Journal would not be what it is today.

More than half of the wonderful NatSCA committee.

More than half of the wonderful NatSCA committee in the Micrarium at the Grant Museum of Zoology. (Photo by Donna Young)

Behind the scenes the committee are working hard throughout the year, organising training, conferences, and grant applications to support the work you and I do every day, so we can do it better. They work hard at making sure they update us with the latest issues that may affect us and our collections. Perhaps more importantly, they make sure we all stay connected. Without our wonderful network of friends and colleagues, I know I would be very lonely.

I am still on the NatSCA committee, dipping my hand into other projects. I am now looking after the NatSCA blog, which is my new baby to help develop and grow. The blog is a great place for us to share projects we are working on, hidden collectors, quirky stories, or interesting training. The most wonderful thing about the blog is that it not only shares with our peers, but also the general public too. The blog is one way to reach new audiences, potentially worldwide.

I joked in the last committee meeting that there would be tears when writing this post. There may well be tears behind this writing. I have immensely enjoyed being Editor, and truly honoured to have stood for eight great years. I have been lucky enough to have met countless other curators through the role, and discover the exciting things they have been working on. There were difficult times, and late nights, formatting, proof reading, editing. But it has been a true pleasure to have served as your Editor.

This is Jan Freedman, NatSCA Editor from 2008 to 2016. Signing off. (For now).

Jan Freedman

Curator of Natural History,

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Jack Ashby

Name: Jack Ashby

What is your role on the NatSCA committee?

I tend to have more of a focus on matters relating to audiences and communication, but to be honest as an “Ordinary Member” of Committee I really enjoy getting involved in every aspect that I feel I can be useful in. Working in a small museum means I have a fairly broad experience across the different kinds of work our members might be involved in, from collections management, media and learning (which is where I started my career) to strategic direction. NatSCA is doing loads of great stuff at the moment – it’s nice to have such a range of projects to feed in to.

Job Title & Institution: Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL

Twitter username: @JackDAshby

WA 03-04.15 (95)

Tell us about your day job:

I have strategic overview of all our varied activities – developing the Grant Museum as both a valuable academic resource and an excellent public venue, while caring for our collections responsibly. A big part of my job is to develop and oversee ways for the museum to become a gateway for between the public and academia (I take the lead on exhibitions and most public-facing research projects, while the fantastic learning staff focus on events), and find opportunities to integrate the collection into more university courses. I’m responsible for our finances and income generation, staff management, interpretation, venue and marketing. I also spend a fait bit of time trying to ensure that we are having an impact on the museum and university sectors. I don’t really know how to describe a normal day.

Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?

Natural science are easy to interpret and they’re visually striking. There are far lower barriers to access – the level of knowledge even the least engaged visitor walks down the street with is more than enough to get something out of a museum visit. Unlike some other disciplines, which often expect and require their visitors to know things that aren’t easy to acquire (while not always doing enough to help them acquire that understanding), natural history is everywhere. Even if they don’t recognise a specimen instantly, in many cases all we have to do is say “that’s a rhino”, and the visitors have all they need themselves to make some meaning from what they see.

And also a lot of our stuff looks weird.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?

Sadly, challenges often comes from within the museum sector, or at least those close to it, like governing bodies. No sector has it rosy at the moment and it’s critical we work together and learn from each other. I think often if the individuals who are making the decisions aren’t sympathetic to the value of our collections, we can suffer from their inability to see the value of our work. Perhaps because natural history is so easily accessible, it can be easy to write us off as “just for kids”. Conversely, the disciplines that could be seen as being more elite or grown-up can somehow be viewed as more valuable. We can also (unfairly) be tarred with the “old-fashion” brush. This is often a result of under-investment in refreshing our galleries, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s so frustrating as we have demonstrated time again that natural science collections are far-and-away the most popular among visitors, and also arguably the discipline that has the most potential to change the world through our roles research around genuinely global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss.

What do you love most about working with natural science collections?

So much. Seeing how every lump and bump on a specimen translates into how that animal survived in its habitat always gets me going.

It’s a delight to work in a sector that gives people opportunities to get genuinely excited about the natural world. My office sits directly above the Micrarium in the Grant Museum. Every time I hear someone say “Wow!” I smile.

#CheesyButTrue

What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?

I spend a couple of months a year as a kind of expert volunteer on fieldwork in Australia, trapping small mammals, reptiles and frogs with wildlife NGOs and universities with conservation agendas. It’s probably an even more competitive field that the museum sector, but I could see myself doing that full time if museums didn’t exist.

What is your favourite museum, and why? (It can be anywhere in the world, and doesn’t have to be natural science-related!)

Am I allowed two? The Biologiska Museet in Stockholm makes me very happy every time I go out there, for a reason I can’t really explain as it’s impossibly old-fashioned. It’s a single wooden building from the 1890s with one huge diorama running around the inside of the whole building (it’s more or less the only thing in there), over two stories high. You go up a wrought iron staircase through the middle. As you walk round the wall, each of the Nordic biomes are represented with all their animals in an original diorama setting. There’s no interpretation except for a type-written piece of paper with a list of every species (hundreds) visible from each numbered pane of glass.

Also in contention is the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby. It’s an amazing example of how professional a volunteer-run museum can be, and I just love age of exploration and voyages of discovery. I was working with them on a big partnership project over the last couple of years and it’s been an absolute pleasure. I’ve learnt a lot.

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Holly Morgenroth

Name: Holly Morgenroth

What is your role on the NatSCA committee? Treasurer

Job Title & Institution: Collections Officer, Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM)

Twitter username: @Comet_Moth_HM

HollyPic

Tell us about your day job:

A bit of everything.

My specialism is natural history (I am a marine biologist by degree), so I am the first port of call for anything that is recently dead (biology) or long time dead (palaeontology) that isn’t human. I deal with public enquiries, write exhibitions, give talks and care for the collections.

As Collections Officer I manage a small team of Assistant Curators and oversee the collections management for all the collections, not just natural history. I help to write policies and funding bids, coordinate team projects and manage budgets. I also manage a few volunteers.

Are you working on any projects that you’re really excited by at the moment?

HMSChallenger.net – check it out!

What do you love most about working with natural science collections?

Dead things in jars. Spirit collections fascinate me.

I have a bit of a thing for glass – currently thinking of Blaschka models and contemporary artist Steffen Dam.

Occasionally coming across specimens from some of the early voyages  – Challenger, Lightning, Beagle, Blossom etc.

Puzzles – piecing together the stories behind the specimens.

What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?

If my ears would let me dive and boats didn’t make me very sick, then a marine biologist. Otherwise a florist perhaps…

What is your favourite museum, and why? (It can be anywhere in the world, and doesn’t have to be natural science-related!)

Horniman – I love the aquarium, particularly the tank inspired by Victorian naturalist P. H. Gosse.

Gosse-inspired tank in the Horniman Museum & Gardens aquarium (Image: Horniman Museum & Gardens)

Gosse-inspired tank in the Horniman Museum & Gardens aquarium (Image: Horniman Museum & Gardens)

Art, Nature, Engagement, and Rural Life

On my first visit to a NatSCA conference I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was in for a treat. Initially planning to write only about Amgueddfa Cymru‘s ‘Museum in a House’ talk, I found myself drawing parallels between all three presentations in the morning’s second session (likely more by design than accident), as well as the new temporary exhibition at my current museum, the Museum of East Anglian Life.

In ‘The Artist and the Dead Zoo’, Nigel Monaghan delivered a selection of somewhat lighthearted accounts of artists of all genres (modern and traditional, writers and musicians) who have used the natural history collections of the National Museum of Ireland as inspiration, as raw material for casts, and the galleries as backdrops and venues – the museum hosts recording slots for artists on Mondays. Suitably relaxed and open-minded to the benefits of establishing strong working relationships with artists, we were treated to Amgueddfa Cymru’s visual log of their ‘Museum in a House’ project in Roath, Cardiff.

Left: giant deer skull and antlers in the Museum of Ireland’s stores [1]. Right: artwork created using a cast of these antlers by artist Paul Gregg [2]

Conceived and designed as part of a local modern arts festival, the idea of deliberately displaying natural history items outside a museum context had unsettled me slightly, given the recent focus at my own museum to saturate an exhibition of historic art with rural life context, at once visual, audible and intellectual. No need to worry, though, as Jen Gallichan and Annette Townsend ably demonstrated great enthusiasm throughout the project, with a non-hierarchical team allowing for freedom of everyone’s ideas on design, content and installation, from volunteers to curators.

Displays from Amgueddfa Cymru’s ‘Museum in a House’. Left: an arthropod-covered snooker table. Middle: Two dung beetles fight over a vital resource. Right: garden windows bring to mind giant microscope slides [3]

This collaborative and fun approach yielded excellent results, and even some context drawn from popular art and culture of recent decades: suspended taxidermy harked back to the mid 20th century, while the family’s DVD collection was carefully arranged to highlight animal- and nature-related films such as Jurassic Park and Madagascar. The aim was to excite the local art world with a playful exhibition, and create new interest in natural history collections. In this they excelled, seeing 600 visitors in 10 hours, with many visitors returning later with friends and relatives. On-the-hoof creation of a ‘nature trail’ proved the value of freedom of ideas, added purpose to a visit and created another layer of engagement with the artistically-minded public.

Left: Flying taxidermy in the stairwell of the museum in a house [3]. Right: porcelain flying ducks in a 1950s living room display at the Museum of East Anglian Life [4]

Speaking immediately afterwards, Kay McCrann further strengthened the case for the role art (this time fine art) can play to increase awareness and popularity of natural history collections. William Jones’ 18th century taxonomic work ‘Icones’ and Jeff Gabel’s modern line drawings were front and centre. Gabel is known for drawing portraits of real and imagined subjects, while naturalists may have to draw specimens arranged in their mind’s eye to portray all pertinent features for taxonomic identification. Both Jones’ and Gabel’s works are confined using borders. These shared aspects of process and composition between modern artists and historic naturalists offer a handle for appreciators of fine art to begin to appreciate the value of natural history collections and connect to the natural world.

Left: ‘Praimus no. 1′ from William Jones’ ‘Icones’ [5]. Right: Jeff Gabel’s work ‘Art Historian Waiting…’ [6]

At the Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL), 34 historic oil paintings, watercolours, and drawings rub shoulders with rarely-seen objects from the museum’s stores. Each item illustrates a facet of rural life in East Anglia during the last two centuries: horse shoes sit alongside a thatcher’s needle; a lady’s bonnet overlooks a model wagon; a shepherd’s smock stands sentinel over the whole. The artefacts emphasise a specific item or theme in each artwork, offering our reliable visitor base a gateway to the appreciation of the splendid art on offer, while a soundtrack of birdsong and traditional song, of water mills and farriers and farmyards transports the physical displays into their wider natural environment.

Left: a local shepherd’s smock. Middle: an assortment of MEAL’s objects. Right: A birdcage overlooks its corresponding painting [7]

At MEAL, interest in art arises when art is placed in the context of our collections and our 75-acre site, but it’s not a one-way street. Amgueddfa Cymru generated huge excitement and interest in the museum by removing specimens from a museum context, while at the National Museum of Ireland and in fine art research interest in natural history arises through its relationship with art organisations, the creative process and artists themselves.

James Lumbard

Museum of East Anglian Life

 

References

1. NMING:F7768
Megaloceros giganteus (Blumenbach, 1799)
Skull with antlers, complete, of male giant deer; Jamestown, Co. Tipperary.
Gift: Major Purefoy Poe in 1946 (accession NMINH:1946.14)
O’Rourke 1970, fig. 37 (p. 110). O’Rourke, J. (1970) The fauna of Ireland: an introduction to the land vertebrates. Mercier Press, Cork.
Reynolds 1929, fig. 11 c, p. 29. Reynolds, S.H. (1929) The Pleistocene giant deer. Palaeontographical Society [Monographs] 81 (371): 1-62
2.‘Ancient Ecology Pavilion’ at St. Mary’s CBS. Image copyright Paul Gregg, 2016. Image available from: http://paulgreggstudio.com/stmary.php
3.‘What’s In Store At No. 32?’, Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales, 2015. J Gallicgan, pers. comm, May 2016
4.‘Home Close’, Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket, Suffolk. Image copyright James Lumbard, 2016
5.‘Praimus’, no. 1, Icones Volume 1, William Jones, 1783. Image available from: http://www.jonesicones.com
6.‘Art Historian waiting…’ #22 of 50, 2nd Series. Jeff Gabel, 2004. Image available from: http://stolperer.blogspot.co.uk
7.‘Life through the Eyes of East Anglian Artists’, The Day Collection and Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket, Suffolk. Image copyright James Lumbard, 2016

NatSCA 2016: Inspiring Connections to the Natural World

Why NatSCA?

Joining NatSCA, for me, means being part of a group that makes me feel at home. By that I mean, being with others who view nature (living or dead) from a different perspective, and will look at something with a keen interest regardless of its condition – decomposing, or completely expired (like the barn resident below).

Skeleton from a barn (2016). Image: Sarah Scarlet-Farr

Skeleton from a barn (2016). Image: Sarah Scarlet-Farr

Membership of NatSCA also means being part of a support network, closing gaps we feel are limiting in terms of knowledge and skills. No one person can be an expert in everything, and sharing our experience with fellow colleagues helps us to look after and protect the collections we manage for future generations.

Why the NatSCA 2016 Conference?

This year’s conference was my first. The subject ‘How museums inspire our connection to the natural world’ was one everyone could relate to at any age or stage in life. It presented the opportunity to connect with like-minded colleagues sharing their experiences in live presentations, poster contributions, and from trade stands.

Taxidermy insides: rat form by Jazmine Miles-Long. Image: Sarah Scarlet-Farr

Taxidermy insides: rat form by Jazmine Miles-Long. Image: Sarah Scarlet-Farr

Taxidermy in progress: half-finished pigeon by Jazmine Miles-Long. Image: Sarah Scarlet-Farr

Taxidermy in progress: half-finished pigeon by Jazmine Miles-Long. Image: Sarah Scarlet-Farr

Selected Conference Highlights (for me):

Jennifer Gallichan and Annette Townsend’s ‘Museum in a House: Collections out of context’ contributed an inspirational presentation demonstrating the benefits of enabling practitioners to offer fun, creative and uniquely energising engagements with the public by utilising community support and unique venues.

Tom Hartman’s presentation on ‘Engaging with objects and images: using zoology specimens for outreach and education’ emphasised that having the freedom and opportunity to use collections without restriction, or organisational expectation, can support the development of ideas that better inspire and engage its users.

Sarah Wade’s presentation, ‘The Art of Craftivism in Museums’ demonstrated that problems such as pollution, poaching and extinction can be presented in an approachable and inspired way in tandem with showcasing beautiful ethical artwork (who would believe a Sainsbury’s plastic bag could be so stunning?).

Jazmine Miles-Long’s presentation, ‘How taxidermy can inspire us to view collections in a different light’ reminds us all that, whatever material we have in our collection, we should be fearless in our use of it and derive inspiration by connecting with it in many different ways. I was certainly engaged by the materials demonstrated for taxidermy mounts.

Chris Orgil, Adam S. Smith and Sheila Wrights’s poster, ‘Engaging the Public with Taxidermy Restoration at Wollaton Hall’ provided an illustrative snapshot of how sharing the processes involved in the restoration and colour correction of specimens can provide new forms of public engagements, and so inspire exhibitions and inventive collections’ learning spaces.

Creativity

A creative approach can help present controversial or sensitive topics with impact, yet greater subtlety. It can be used to deconstruct perceptions and create interpretive dialogues about nature between communities, and strengthen peoples’ connections with nature – in ways that suit them and meet their needs. Making room for a connection sometimes means moving out of a comfort zone, but If we retain curiosity we open our minds and so can inspire others.

Free-styling

What I appreciated most was that to inspire connections to nature means we must not control the experience of our visitors. Connecting to nature is not simply about transferring facts and figures.

We should aim to be less prescriptive about the limits of our offers to audiences to enable more artistic, inventive and playful engagements to take place.

As custodians of collections, we need to respond to our public. This means being open to alternative ideas, new ways of thinking, and exploring engagements utilising all our senses.

 

I am very grateful to NatSCA for supporting my attendance at this year’s conference.

Sarah Scarlet-Farr

University of St. Andrews