‘The story behind it is as important as the object itself’ was the message that staff at the museum store gave us on our night at the museum – oops day at the museum store 🙂
We had a fantastic morning visiting Sheffield Museums storage where a large number of art works, social history objects, metal work and archaeological finds are housed, waiting to be displayed. Staff from the Graves gallery and Weston Park museum is busy undertaking conservation work, cataloguing, research and management of these objects. From the 10th of May 2014, Weston Park museum hosts an exhibition featuring objects from the store which speaks to us about Sheffield!
As we arrived at this unmarked location, we signed in and after introductions had a wonderful tour of the place. It was amazing to see so many things all covered up, wrapped, shelves and storage everywhere, steel cupboards stood row on row, paintings were hung on wire frames which were sliding frames that covered the whole of both sides of the room, skeletons of animals from around the world were wrapped up in polythene, heads of hunted animals were displayed on one side of the wall, draws contained thousands of pieces of knifes and forks and other metal items. The items may not be labelled and displayed with lights carefully shining on them, accompanied by detailed descriptions of their origin, ownership and use, but that did not take away the magic of these objects. In fact, it was fascinating to discover what was in the next cupboard, draw and shelf. Here and there, there was an exposed object, uncovered and eye-catching. A figure in blue and green copper with hands up in the air, head thrown back popped up as we turned around into the corridor, a Japanese looking warrior seemed to be futilely pushing at the shelf as we emerged from the top of the aluminium staircase which led us into the social history section, a long frame collage containing a thousand themes stood beside a door. Orangutan in a box, and oh, the mandatory dinosaur roaming the halls, looking for prey, with flesh hanging from its teeth!
A gangetic crocodile skull
Staff members were so very professional, friendly and good fun! We looked at metal work first, along with some chance finds from the bronze and copper ages. Cutlery and hollowware were part of the dazzling pieces of silver we got to see, along with the story about the object. A smooth carved stone with a hole in the middle was a stone hammer from the bronze age! A snake headed bracelet, rather tiny, was another chance find in Sheffield. The butterfly tile was a beautiful specimen that we saw from the medieval period, might have been a tile that formed part of an arch like formation in a church. Shinier objects lay in wait for us to see and learn about. A set of cutlery – things that cut were lined up, surgical instruments, tableware, a lovely collection of scissors, knifes, razors, a goblet and a flask are what I can recall from the spread on the table. I was fascinated by a blade with a handle made of Indian buffalo horn, a set of razors in a box, which has ‘Bengall razors’ on the inside of the box written very stylistically on it. An exhibition piece from Bikaner, India formed part of the collection that came from all parts of the world to Sheffield, so its artists could be inspired to learn and make new things.
Scissors with the Chatsworth coat of arms
Lovely bird motifs
Tobacco pipes, earthern bowl, bracelet and other objects
A bowie knife
100th of the 100 knifes made at this artisan knife makers!
Knife with Indian buffalo horn handle
Moving on from there, we went to view flat art! Paintings by Sheffield artists, or those associated with Sheffield. There was an eclectic collection of paintings, in different styles, from different periods and showing different faces of Sheffield. Industrial Sheffield was well documented, a painting with bold brush strokes showed a bridge and buildings and smoke coming out and filling the sky. Another showed pipes and boilers with a pheasant in the front, happily strolling away! A beautiful one was of Weston Park museum interior, it was made of dim tones, and very alluring and reminiscent of a quieter, different era. There was an impressive ‘green’ painting of Sheffield – Beauchief lane if I remember right, it was wonderful and serene. Another detailed painting was called High street, but it wasn’t one we could recognise as any particular street in Sheffield! A lovely one with a hillside was ‘A road to Sheffield’, one that depicted Sheffield like it was in the middle of nowhere!
The high street
Horses in th lane
Road to Sheffield!
Our last stop on the morning at the museum store was at the social history section which had Hendersons, Bassetts Allsorts boxes, a line of shoes, hats, and samplers. There was a retro touch to this display. Hendersons made two relish bottles, one for the two football blubs of Sheffield with their respective colours! This was very different to an early very small-sized relish bottle, which drew a comment that perhaps Hendersons relish was more of an expensive delicacy at one point. The shoes were so modern looking, but tiny in size! Embroidery work by children learning to do them were called samplers and a selection of them was on display, one of them was intriguing, in that it was unfinished – why?
Sheffield Wednesday and United relishes
An old bottle alongside a newer one!
So why did she not finish ?
A shoe from 1975
My curiosity got the better of me and I asked to see something that I had peered at through the glass window of a cupboard. It was a Krishna statue just as I had suspected from getting a glimpse of its outline! I believe it is a crudely made brass ornament that screws on to the top of a brass lamp! Here it is, what do you think?
The staff members were kind enough to open the cupboard and we looked at more objects from the Indo-Persian collection!
Ravia deciphers writing on the Koran holder using a mobile app!
An exquisite silver box from India made completely of wire
A cool water bowl with fish carvings on the inside!
The fish water bowl from outside
Now, if you so wish a small Indo-Persian contingent from Sheffield could visit the museum store! Let me know. Once we had made our rounds and looked at the objects picked by the staff, we were asked to nominate the objects that we would like to see go into the exhibition. Here’s my selection, and why.
So what happens now? The project team meets to select the objects (12 or 13 of them) that will go on display. A number of factors will be taken into account when making the selection. The placement students (a masters and UG student from the University of Sheffield) will be researching the stories of these objects more comprehensively. They will be in conversation with us till the exhibition goes up on the 10th of May at Weston Park museum. It will be on for a few months after that, so do visit and see what you feel about the exhibition. This is a mini exhibition as there isn’t enough money in the pot to do a hundred objects, but the plan is for doing the full 100 objects in the future based on an evaluation of this pilot project.