Handling Collection: Good Practice

In the final article of this series on handling collections, Muriel Bailly gets to the heart of things: how can we use handling collections in museums for public engagement?

While conducting research for this blog series, I’ve been amazed at the inventive ways to use handling objects in museums. Each institution I spoke to had its own way of using handling objects; there’s a wealth of ideas across the sector and we can learn so much from each other.

The benefits of using handling collections seem endless to me, but here are some concrete examples so you can make your own mind up. Continue reading

You say: Skin

Skin by Hailstories on Flickr

Skin by Hailstories on Flickr

It isn’t just our visitors’ book or press notices that tell us what visitors think of our exhibitions. Many write down their impressions and thoughts in blogs. We’re always delighted when someone has taken the time to compose and publish their thoughts about what we do; often, blogs offer some of the most reflective, personal and interesting writing of all about our exhibitions.

It was clear from the start that ‘Skin‘ would provoke mixed reactions in visitors: revulsion, fascination and powerful personal associations, often all wrapped up in the same object or drawing. The correspondent for Bristol’s ‘Helicon’ arts blog likened the experience to “recoiling from some gloriously riddled glittering treasure-box that you’re partly afraid to take from”. A strong stomach was also required, according to some: “apart from feeling like I wanted to vomit at the skin diseases on display,” wrote Kerry Squires, “many of the pieces were incredibly beautiful”. One of our favourite bloggers, Anna Sayburn, noted that “there is something about skin – especially detached from its living, breathing embodiment – that prompts discomfort, unease, even disgust”. Morbid Frog summed it up simply as “lots of whoaa and lots of beurk”.

Alex Field, like many others was pleased to find many contemporary artists in the exhibition, “all of whom have created innovative works on the theme”. ‘Skin’ provided not only evidence of long-lasting inspiration for artists, but also immediate fascination for artists visiting the gallery. Eleanor Crook (a sculptor and wax model artist who you might recall from this Exquisite Bodies video) relished the chance to see a long-admired ecorché drawing by Charles Landseer in the flesh. Wendy Helps found the contemporary art on display particularly interesting for her research into touch.

Sarah Housley wasn’t alone in seeing an element of cruelty in the exhibition: “Lots of drawings of vaginas and male hands rummaging around, and lots of reminders of how hideous men were to women”. Many writers also noted the sinister implications of an early 20th-century photograph displaying writing on the back of a female patient, apparently carving a psychiatric diagnosis into the patient’s flesh (the truth is more complex: see this blog post on the skin condition known as dermatographic urticaria).

‘Skin’ also prompted very personal reflections. Karen Rumsey picked up a common thread of feeling, responding to images of aged, stitched and scarred skin: “suturing, disease and ageing are less imperfections in the skin and more a part of the tale telling of our lives on our own surfaces”. Philip Carr-Gomm also reflected on his own experience and feelings about nakedness after delivering a talk as part of our ‘Skin: EXPOSED’ symposium.

We want to keep track of what bloggers are saying about Wellcome Collection. If you’ve blogged about an event or exhibition you’ve seen here, or even something we’ve done online, please drop me (d.birchall@wellcome.ac.uk) a line and we’ll try to include you in one of our round-ups. We’re also planning a blogger’s view for our next exhibition, High Society.

A fond farewell

Kirsten Warren

Kirsten demonstrates the correct handling technique for fragile objects

Wellcome Collection loses a very valuable member of staff today, one who has been here since the very beginning, and who has shaped the Wellcome Collection experience for the thousands who pass through our doors. Visitor Services Assistants Valerie Brown and Jess Croll-Knight pay tribute…

Most visitors to Wellcome Collection will come across members of the 21-strong Visitor Services team, who try to cater for their every requirement. What they may not see is who is behind this (usually) seamless service.

There is an oasis of calm, a powerhouse of production and an omniscient organiser, all, amazingly, rolled into a single entity.

Her name is Kirsten Warren.

Kirsten was here before Wellcome Collection opened its doors and visitors took their first faltering steps into the unknown. It was her vision that formed the ethos behind the visiting experience, something which over 1 million people have subsequently enjoyed.

Visitor Services is a lively and challenging place to work, all thanks to Kirsten’s unrelenting support, dedication and high standards, and it is with much sadness that we say goodbye to her.

Kirsten has accepted a new challenge, replacing the urban environment of NW1 with pastures new: sweeping countryside, a deer park, and a suitably regal environment. As  Visitor Experience Manager at the National Trust’s Dunham Massey she will not only bring her talents to people, but also to wildlife, flora and fauna.

Their gain is our loss and we wish her every success and happiness in her new venture.