This is going to be short and to the point. COVID sucks. To elaborate. It’s been 8 months since i’ve stepped into a museum and 6 months since i’ve read anything conservation related or thought deeply about conservation matters and it really boils down to COVID. It was not until i participated in the IIC Congress that i really felt the effects of the isolation. It was as if COVID put me into this soundproof box and now after attending day 1 of the conference my ears feel relieved to hear sound again. It felt so good to be hearing talks about conservation, IPM, authenticity, interpretation and visitor engagement. Most importantly and also the reason why i say i got very emotional, i’ve been so isolated that i forgot what it was that i love so much about conservation. I love that we think about significance and think about how to use data to make decisions. I love how conservation can be so varied in discussion topics from climate change, storage space to what i term the sciency stuff like epoxy glue. Conservation is the cool stuff. Covid is not.
I was initially surprised to find out about Jane Austen’s House Museum located in Chawton, Hampshire because I had thought that the house in Bath was the only Jane austen centre in the UK. Austen did spend some time in Bath after her father retired but Austen, her mother and her sister moved to this house in Chawton after her father died. If you’re wondering what the difference is between the two museums, Jane Austen’s House Museum seems to distinguish itself by stating that this is the place where Austin wrote all her books. Personally after visiting both, I much prefer Jane Austen’s House Museum compared to the one in Bath mainly because the interpretation of this place is more about Austen and her life in general rather than her life in Bath specifically. In this review I’ll take you through the museum and point out things that made me like this place over the one in Bath.
As you enter through a small gate, you’ll first need to purchase tickets at the gift shop which also acts as the entrance to the museum. I would suggest going into the learning centre if it’s not occupied by school groups, there is a short video about Jane Austen’s life that provides a good introduction on what you’re about to see in the house itself. There is also the bakehouse which you can visit and see ongoing restoration works. This museum is run by trustees who are all Jane Austen enthusiasts and much of the restoration work has been funded by Austen enthusiasts all over the world, it’s remarkable how so many people are connected through Austen’s works. Since I made my visit in the winter there wasn’t much to see in the garden, but if you do visit during the other seasons it is a nice place to have a picnic and enjoy the outdoors.
Before you enter into the main house, don’t forget to visit the kitchen at the side. I love that you can practice writing with a quill and leave your notes and messages on the community board. Since it was Christmas there was a little clove pomander that you could make and take home, I love this little crafts as these are the little things that makes the experience memorable.
In the house itself there are several rooms to explore. If you brought your kids along there is a little treasure hunt they can do to receive a sticker for if they complete and pass it to a room attendant (pass it to them before you exit the house itself). This and other kid friendly activities can be picked up in the little room that you enter as you exit the gift shop to go to the garden. The house contains several authentic pieces either from the time or belonging to Austen and her family. You’ll read about Austen’s time in the house living with her mother and sister on the provision of her wealthy brother who lived nearby in Chawton house, you’ll learn about her siblings, what family life would have looked like and also her writing.
I enjoyed that the museum also displayed items donated by enthusiasts or items related to Jane Austen as it shows how much impact Austen had on the world.
In my opinion there’s just enough on display to satisfy visitors who want to learn more about Austen and not overtire visitors with too much information. There isn’t much furniture but that’s alright with me especially since there isn’t much space to begin with and the museum can get crowded during peak seasons. I think there’s enough space for everyone to enjoy the house properly but still give you the sense of what it might have looked like when Austen lived in it.
Overall, my takeaway is that the Jane Austen House museum is a must go for Austen enthusiasts. The museum does an excellent job of telling the tale of Jane’s personal life in the context of the house and as a visitor I felt connected to this beloved author. I would budget at least 90 minutes if you really want to go through all the text and the entire house thoroughly. The museum doesn’t have a café but there is a pub right across the museum if you needed to get some lunch. The gift shop has many Jane Austen related merchandise and it was a great struggle to refrain myself from buying everything. If you plan to visit, the house is a bit out of the way as it’s not a touristy area but if you’re on the way to Bath this would be a priority stop over.
Museum website: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/
Note: I wrote this for mainlymuseums.com originally https://mainlymuseums.com/post/616/jane-austen-s-house-museum/. Visit their site for more reviews of museums. All pictures belong to me, please ask for permission before using them.
Hello! Before i begin talking about my time volunteering i should do a short introduction about myself. I’m a MSc Care of Collections student at Cardiff University. It’s a one year masters program where you learn about how to do preventive conservation. What is preventive conservation you may ask, don’t worry I only really understood what it was halfway through the course so we good. It’s the actions that we as conservators take to prevent museum objects from deteriorating quickly. We can’t stop deterioration but we can sure try to slow it down. We take actions so that (cross our fingers real tight) we don’t have to send them off to a conservator to work on….at least not in the near future, probably in a 100 years or so but not while i’m alive baby. I know there seems to be a lot of stuff added on to my description of what preventive conservation is but that’s because there’s a whole lot of debate about those issues so i’m trying to be as clear as i can but not go into too much detail ya know?
Anyways, so that’s what i learn and so this volunteering is specifically for preventive conservation because there are other volunteering opportunities available at the museum like conservation, interacting with visitors, cataloging, gardening, etc. I want to be as specific as i can to help whomever in the future who is interested in volunteering for this.
So let’s jump right into it. The main thing that i did as a volunteer was integrated pest management (IPM). Now don’t worry, it doesn’t involve catching any insects (although you may need to pick up pest monitors filled with insects) it’s really about monitoring pests by laying pest monitors and checking them in this case every 6 months to see what sort of pests we’ve caught. This will allow us to determine what sort of pests we’re dealing with and where so that we can take action. Pests are a problem because they (especially the larvae) find museum objects especially delicious. National Museum Wales has a natural history collection so dead animals and pests don’t go well together especially if we don’t want our collections to be eaten and destroyed. The part i found easy was the one where you looked at a floorplan with the pest monitors marked on it and located the pest monitor. The not so easy part was the identification of insects. We identify the insects caught in the trap and write down the type and approximate number on the back of the monitor. It took awhile and i made my own cheatsheet to help but really after awhile you’ll see that the same pests come up again and again so it’s a matter of learning how to identify them by certain distinct features. We would also change pest monitors once they were filled with insects.
Two interesting things i learned from this is that spiders are not considered pests because they don’t eat the collection, but they are a sign that there are insects that we should worry about because the spiders eat those insects. Secondly is that sometimes when the pest monitor is not too full we leave the monitor there again even if it has one or two dead insects. The next time we go and check it we can see what changes there are (since we mark what type of pests are caught on the monitors) and sometimes we find things have changed after some months. For example if there was a larvae and an adult insect, 6 months later we find only the larvae shell what do you think happened? Basically the larvae hatched and the sticky parts of the monitor wasn’t sticky no more from the dust trapped on it, so the larvae found some convenient food – another insect, ate it, grew and went away. Not everybody finds that fascinating but i thought that was cool when i learned about it. Other IPM related things we learned was to identify frass. Frass is insect droppings. Being able to identify them will enable you to learn if you have a pest infestation.
Moving on, another thing we did was dusting and interacting with visitors. Why do these go together? Usually we dust in the galleries and it’s a fantastic opportunity to talk to visitors about what we’re doing and why. As you can see from the picture here i’m wearing a backpack vacuum holding a brush and my fellow volunteer is holding a small vacuum too. We usually set up like this with the poster and sandwich board just so that if visitors are shy they can read about what we’re doing on their own. In the background you can see some pictures and the organ so we’re in the gallery with the organ and we had just finished dusting the frames. Dust comprises of dead human skin and some organic material from clothes and other objects that enter the galleries so they can accumulate on frames especially those around the height of the average person. We vacuum because dust can cause damage on the frames and it doesn’t make them look very nice and dust is also food for pests.
One of the most amazing experience i had whilst volunteering was being able to vacuum under Dippy the dinosaur! Dippy is a dinosaur from the Natural History Museum and now (2018-2020) he’s on tour around the UK. National Museum Wales Cardiff hosted dippy from November till end of January and he brought in a lot of people. Lots of people means lots of dust so i helped to vacuum all the accumulated dust and keep Dippy clean and happy. I think it’s really fun because how many people can say they cleaned up in a dinosaur enclosure? I had to be real careful of course and not bump into any of his bones especially the feet. As you can see i’m the perfect height as i’m short enough to not bump into the bones making up the body section.
We were taught techniques for dusting objects and it’s really about the magic wand swish and putting the nozzle of the vacuum at an angle to catch the dust.
Lastly we did microclimate conditioning. We worked with the archaeology collection for this. They were kept in stewart boxes and we needed to change the silica gel so that the microclimate in each box was dry enough to prevent corrosion from happening on the metal archaeological objects. We also put a humidity indicator to see if the silica gel was doing its job. Metals need to be kept in conditions with low humidity to prevent corrosion from happening so the silica gel functions to absorb the moisture that is trapped in the box and the moisture that seeps into the box after awhile. It was fun seeing all the cool archaeological finds especially the helmet collection.
Another thing that i really loved was the diversity of the volunteer team. I’m from Malaysia and my fellow volunteers came from Ireland, Scotland and Senegal. It’s really good that we all had this chance to experience this, learn and get to know each other through volunteering. Background wise 3/4 of us were Care of collections and conservation students at Cardiff university while one was volunteering time doing media shoots. So you don’t need to be in conservation to do this you just need to have the interest and passion to learn.
I hope this has given some helpful insight to anyone who wants to learn more about volunteering at NMW or preventive conservation.
Please note that everything here is my own personal experience and opinions, everyone has a different volunteering experience. If you want to learn more check out the links below.
Here is the NMW preventive conservation twitter account if you want to check out some of the things i did and preventive conservation related topics. The official Amugueddfa volunteers twitter account is really useful to get more information too and of course the Amgueddfa Caerdydd/National Museum Cardiff twitter account.
Another volunteer has written about his experience doing the same volunteering program so you might want to check out his post. Also check out the ‘Volunteer’ tag in the blog for other posts and volunteering position experiences.
Never; will life as we know it change,
East and the west may be divided,
But freely are we able to move between.
The conflict lies amongst the governments,
Again we tell ourselves that,
It will never concern us or our families.
Whispers of change are getting louder,
Another neighbor has left yet again,
We sit here,
The day begins as usual,
We get ready to cross to the other side,
There is a crowd where the divide is,
Guards are posted by barbed wire,
What are they protecting?
There is a silent divide between guard and civilian,
Suddenly someone runs towards them,
We hear a shot, again and again,
The cold reality hits us,
Never did we ever believe,
this day would come.
With that barbed wire,
Never will we cross freely again,
Never will we live in peace,
Never will we forget missed opportunities,
Never will we be complacent,
Never will we keep quiet again,
Never will we doubt again,
Was looking through some postcards i got from my recent trip to Germany and the ones that hit me the most were the ones picturing the Berlin wall in the 1960s. I’ve not read enough to make comments about it, but, just looking at how people looked over the wall or found ways to made me wonder how it felt like to be trapped in there against your own will. Granted, not everyone in East Berlin wanted to go over to the West, but from the many escape attempts we’ve learned about we know that there were definitely those who weren’t in the East on their own will. Why build a wall if there’s nothing to keep in right?
As such, i’ve made an attempt at poetry writing based on this image that I had. This was the ‘Berlin Wall’ at the very beginning. It was only barbed wire as they could not build a wall overnight, but in terms of restriction, it mirrored those of a wall. I remember the guide telling us stories of people just staring at the barbed wire and people who attempted to cross were shot dead on the spot. Those stories were the basis of this character who believes that what the government is doing has nothing to do with them/him, they keep quiet, ignoring the signs around them until one day they wake up and it’s too late. Even then it takes a rude awakening for them to realize that life will never be the same again. I think that’s how i feel with all the politics, local and international happening around me. It’s easy to just live your life and pretend it won’t affect you, but truth it, it will, eventually. I’m not saying i’ll become a political activist, i wouldn’t know where to start honestly. I think we need to be aware of the issues that arise, start conversations about it, and when it comes the time to act, act wisely.
p.s.Had to use italics to separate the stanza’s as wordpress automatically adjusted it to space everything out evenly.
I recently came back from a road trip to Texas and on the way i visited a couple of museums, two in particular that i’m thinking of in terms of the topic of carpets is Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley and the McFaddin-Ward House. Both places claim to have the original carpet or rugs that were present when the owners were alive. Personally I have a hard time believing them at Graceland because millions of people have walked in and out of that house, including the time when Elvis was alive and to say that the carpet is the original one that he had, even if they changed it a couple of days before he died is still hard to believe. I walked on that carpet and i could just imagine people with mud and wet shoes walking all over it. How they’re going to keep the original as it is with the current situation? I don’t know, even if they were to put a glass walkway over it, you’ll still have to think about discoloration and off gassing. Again, i’m having a hard time believing that it’s the original so i don’t have much to say about it.
At the McFaddin-Ward house they have all the furnishings in place as it was when the family lived there. And I do believe that the carpets and rugs are the original ones unless they specifically stated that it was changed when the house underwent renovations to become a museum. When it came to the carpet, the museum decided to keep the original carpet where it was placed, but to preserve it, they decided to put another carpet on top of the original for visitors to step on. I think this works to a certain extent because there is still contact with the carpet and that will cause wear and tear or even stretching because the carpet, which i will refer to as the walking carpet, was placed on one end. The strain will be focused on that end unless they switch the ends from time to time. Also, i think putting this walking carpet on top of the original puts it in danger of uneven discoloring because sunlight will discolor the carpet, but if the carpet is just left there the whole time, the spot under the walking carpet will not discolor as much as the rest of the surface area. So here we have two problems, stretching and uneven discoloring. I think that if the museum switches the carpet around so that different ends are exposed to the walking carpet that would reduce the stretching and strain on just one end, and if the walking carpet was removed from the original at the end of each day, this should help reduce the obvious discoloring that will eventually happen. According to the docent, the carpet is really fragile, and the items are over a 100 years old, so i think if they’re really wanting to keep the originals in good shape, i hope they have some sort of long term plan for it. I’m not sure about this, but perhaps put a backing to support the rug if it became too fragile.
So this is just my personal thoughts on original carpets and rugs in museums such as these, the floor is an artifact you can’t help but let people “touch” it because they need to walk on the ground, if it’s a rug, you could always place it away from the walkway, but a carpet, that’s a little more difficult. On this topic though, I love this video from Historic Royal Palaces England where they’re cleaning a tapestry, it’s not a carpet, but the idea is almost the same as a rug. Here’s the video for your viewing pleasure. As a museum nerd I’ve watched this a couple of time in awe of the dedication and care they put into preserving their artifacts.
It’s been a couple of years since i’ve added a new category to this blog of mine and i think it’s important as it reflects how i’m acknowledging how history and museums have become such an important part of who i am, i now work at a museum as an intern and i’m looking at the next step whether that be another internship or grad school. Despite what the result will be, this is definitely something that i want to identify as an important aspect of my life. All the other categories are snippets of things i’m interested in and regrettably i’ve been busy with life to write about it. But hey, this blog has evolved as i have evolved over these past few years and it’s an exciting and interesting aspect to me. So stay tuned and i’ll try to put all sorts of things that interest me or pop up as i write and share it with you.
This comic explains it all, libraries and may i add museums (especially the ones that offer free admission) are a valuable asset to society especially the ones who do not have the resources to buy books or travel. I have been to the Smithsonian museums, the Museums in London, they are all free and have an extensive collection that spans the many centuries of human history. They hold the knowledge that human civilization has gathered and discovered over time in a single place and it is fascinating. My favorite experiences have been in museums where I learn by experiencing and looking at artifacts from the times or being at the place where history was made. You learn all sorts of things, how the human experience was in a certain time period and how it compares to today, and there is that connection that you make with the past. I believe that governments providing free access to libraries and museums is a public service that is worth the tax money you pay. An educated public is an asset to society.