Shells, and gems, and dried cicadas

For the BM125 celebrations, my role is to create a series of events that will invite people to engage with the museum collection in creative ways. Events will happen in the museum itself and also out in the local landscapes that gave us so many of the wonderful specimens that we see in the museum today.

Events are already under way and as they unfold, we’ll advertise them here, on other museum social media and on the Creeping Toad* blog and facebook pages (just search for Creeping Toad). We’ll also feed back on the activities and results of the events: sharing poems and stories and “d-i-y” guides to the activities we have been doing, inviting you to try things for yourselves

Low Haymeadow

On National Meadows Day at the start of July, we were out enjoying the delights of hay meadows in the Upper Dove valley. Out of that grew a collective poem and a set of instructions for building your own landscape books

Memories are rooted in these meadows,

In the fleeting lives of butterflies,

In nodding seedheads

In thistledown drifting on a hot breeze,

Farms, families, paths, tools and stories,

All knitted as tightly to the earth as the meadow.

Childhood holidays rooted here too,

New names, first meetings,

Stonechats, curlews, those grasshoppers again.

Extract from the Haymeadow poem, July 2018

Cabinets 2018 - 42In August, there was a lively afternoon in the museum. Drawing inspiration from the current Collectors and Curiosities exhibition, we were making our own small cabinets of curiosity. Boxes, cupboards, treasure chests for precious finds and stray memories, these were bright, colourful and very distinctive.

You can see more of the cabinets here, find out how to make your own, here ,and listen to our “what will you keep in your cabinet” here.

The Cabinet poem follows: try reading it out loud!

Shells and gems and dried cicadas,

Stick insects if they ever stayed still long enough,

Or maybe just sticks.

 

Leaves and sticks and stones,

And rocks,

And sticks again sometimes.

 

Rocks and feathers,

And fossils.

Shells,

And sea glass from a wide, windy beach.

 

Cows, obviously,

And horses, maybe.

Pottery, Lego, coins,

Shells again,

Holiday treasures,

With sand from sunny places.

 

Cars and squishies and rubbers,

Because a special collection needs a special box.

 

Crystals,
And cryestels

And sharks teeth and other bones.

I collect shark’s teeth you see.

I have a lot of them.

There will be feathers and bones,

In my cupboard,

And my brother’s bones.

And my sister’s skull.

 

I have fossils from Robin Hood’s Bay,

And Lyme Regis where I found an ammonite,

Lots of tiny ammonites,

And one big one that will be too big for this.

 

This Cabinet will be full of memories.

This Cabinet will be full of leftovers.

This Cabinet will be a Museum for Bears,

This Cabinet will hold Treasures and Taonga.

This Cabinet will hold inspiration for my own creativity

Low Cabinets 2018 54

Our next BM125 public event is at Apple Day at the Dove Valley Centre  near Longnor, on Sunday 14th October from 12 noon – 4pm. Here we will be celebrating the heritage of orchards and old fruit varieties – a reminder that museums hold memories as much as objects and those objects belonged to lives lived in our wider landscapes. Join us and make your own apple-puppet to tell your own orchard stories. Check the social media pages mentioned above for final details

Low apples

*And I am Creeping Toad: storyteller, artist and creator of celebrations and disturbance. I also have a bit of a thing for amphibians…hence the Toad in the name!

 

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MERMAID TALES

Mermaids? Seriously? As if.

My name is Rob and I’m a mermaid denier. To me, the idea of a creature who is half-woman, half-fish, is ridiculous. She would smell! And why are they always top-half human? Why not fish-head and human legs? Why do they always sit on a rock, combing their hair and gazing into a mirror? Like they’re taking a selfie? The entire mermaid concept is daft.

Buxton Mermaid.jpg

So why is the mermaid image still stuck in our heads? We have cool superheroes now, like Ironman, Hulk and Black Panther – and not just men, who doesn’t want to be Wonder Woman? The Little Mermaid has no powers, she just flaps around dreaming of a Prince. It’s hardly an advert for Girl Power.

Let’s face it, mermaids don’t exist. It’s a dugong, a fat seal with a big nose. Some drunken sailor saw one and mistook it for a woman. He should have gone to Specsavers. But in that moment, an urban myth was born.

Because that’s all it is, a myth. No proof, no evidence, no nothing. You examine any so-called mermaid exhibit in a 21st century lab and what do you find? A shrunken head stuck on a kipper.

So let me ask you again, why is the image still stuck in our head? 

Perhaps it’s because most of our body is made up of water?

Or like all folk tales, it’s a story rooted in fear. Because we are frightened of The Other. The Strange. The Unknown. Frightened and intrigued.

If you live in Buxton and there’s a storm coming, they let you know on the telly. But in the olden days, when hairy-people saw dark clouds on the horizon, they thought it was a curse. The fish-god was in a bad mood so was going to pelt them with rain. They genuinely thought that if they sacrificed a granny, the flood could be stopped. Thankfully, now we have apps, so can plan alternative routes.

But the primal fear remains. No matter how smart we get, there is always stuff we don’t know and that makes us curious.

We are fascinated by weirdness. Look at The Buxton Museum, the entire building is jam-packed with weird stuff that is totally brilliant, some it millions of years old. That is Pre-Ed Sheeran.

As humans, we are inherently curious. Look at babies. If they find a little disc, they want to know what it is. Is it a weapon? A toy? Or a Mini-Oreo? Because as any baby will tell you, if it’s not a threat, it’s food. It’s how we learn, by looking at weird stuff. It’s why Museums are important.

Mermaid?.jpg

I’m one of the artists who has been commissioned to ‘bring an exhibit to life’. I love that. What I’m going to do is this: spend the next few months looking at mermaids and let you know how it goes.

I’m going to start with the Buxton Mermaid because she is, without doubt, the best (and I’m guessing only) ‘shrunken head stuck on a kipper’ in the whole Peak District. And the Peak District is massive! 

So even though she’s ‘fake news’, I am still obsessed with that creature, because she’s not just a spooky doll, she’s the gateway to a thousand crazy stories and over the next few months, I’m going to haul ‘em up from the deep.

I’m going to share them in all sorts of ways:

I’m going to photograph a mermaid, not a real-one, obviously, a synchronised swimmer at Sharley Park Leisure Centre (Is it still synchronised swimming if you’re doing it on your own?). One of their brilliant swimmers is going to put on a fish tail, then we’ll turn off the lights off and try to create something spooky. I can’t wait.

For a land locked region, the Peak District has a surprising amount of ‘mermaid pools’ like Blake Mere where legend has it, a mermaid still lives. I’ll be trekking around the Peaks in search of stories, inspiration and evidence (like that’s going to happen). I’ll also be finding out whether having a sailor-scoffing-siren in your back garden pond has any effect on your house price.

I’ll be finding out what modern-day mermaids might look like? What issues would they might face? Does having a non-conventional body mean a mermaid qualifies for disability benefit? Is she half way through transitioning or an immigrant of no fixed abode? How do each of these groups relate to being viewed as ‘The Other’ when the truth is, we are all equal. My plan is to celebrate diversity using the mermaid as cipher.

I’ll be hosting storytelling workshops, so you can write stories of your own. If you don’t write, or can’t write, that is not an issue. Workshops for schools, groups, adults, fish… everyone is welcome.

I’ll also be writing a story of my own, a dark one, about a boy who lives in Buxton and a girl who lives in a pool. What could possibly go wrong?

And in all of the above, I’ll be working ‘out loud’ so you don’t just see the end result, you see how I got there. And why would I do that? To share my journey, so it’s not just me investigating the weird world of mermaids, it’s us. 

A Mermaid's Tale.jpg

Stay tuned… 

Rob Young

A Library in a Field

A blog by BM125 artist Creeping Toad, who’s out and about running all manner of exciting events for the project.

Make your own Haymeadow Book

This idea can lend itself to all sorts of situations – you could put together a little book-building kit and make books about different places or different occasions

On our National Meadows Day event (http://creepingtoad.blogspot.com/2018/07/rippling-ribbons-of-colour.html), we invited people to gather their own experiences, reflections and knowledge about the meadows they were visiting into little books….These are concertina books which essentially fit one long folded strip of paper into a cover. Once you are used to doing these, you could experiment – stick books together by the cover to make thicker volumes, have sections that fold out in different directions….

You will need:

  • 1 piece of thin cardboard (about 15cm x 10.5cm)
  • scissors
  • glue or a gluestick
  • paper for the bookblock (see below)
  • pencils, wax crayons, coloured pencils, scrap paper…

Make your bookblock: this is the set of pages that make the body of the book. You might use a long strip of paper (A2 cut into quarters lengthwise works well) or take a sheet of A4 (standard printer size) and cut or tear it in half lengthways. Overlap the ends by about 1cm and stick them together

Write a poem for a page?

Falling sky splinters
Into scabious and cornflower blue,
While tormentil nestles in the grass,
Droplets of sunshine on the green

Concertina: fold your strip of paper in half and then in half again. Unfold it: this should give you 8 sections of about the same size. Use those folds as guides to now fold the paper into a zig-zag pattern

card cover and tearing paper for book block
first fold should give you this
concertina fold

 Try an acrostic perhaps?

M – many harvest mice hiding
I  – in the long grass, swaying,
C – curl up in careful nests
E – every night in safety.

You might write, draw or print on pages

Now you are ready to make your book! It is easier to work on the book before you fit it into the cover. Work on one side of your paper. On your pages you might:

write
draw
add a patch of scrap paper and draw on that
make a pocket
do a rubbing
print
add a map
make a pop-up
think of something else….

Add a patch perhaps or a rubbing?

 

Add a map?
Make a pocket?

When it is done decide if you are having
a) a book that unfolds completely – stick one end page into the cover. You could now work on the back side of your pages (Picture 9: stick one end of the finished block into the cover)”
Or
b) a book that is fixed at both ends. If you are going for this, you might need to refold your concertina so it looks like the picture below:

Cover: fold the card in half. Decorate the cover. Glue in the book block….Title? Author?

Please, send us a picture of your finished book! creepingtoad@btinternet.com

All things weird and wonderful

Collections in the Landscape

Last weekend we changed some displays in the project space so we could show off some of the fantastic items from the Randolph Douglas collection. This was acquired by Derbyshire County Council in 1984 with help from the PRISM (preservation of industrial and scientific material) fund. The scheme is administered by Arts Council England to encourage collecting and conserving items that tell the story of the development of science, technology, industry and related fields.

Douglas display
The new display in the project space at Buxton Museum

Randolph Douglas has already been written about by my colleague Ben Jones in a previous blog here, and we know from the questions we get asked that he is a popular subject of interest for our visitors. He is particularly well-known in the magician community and for the museum he ran in Castleton, called the House of Wonders.

randini postcard  4 Randolph Douglas took the stage name Randini. Here he is on a postcard signed Jan 1914.

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Curiosity of the Month

This month’s curiosity was discovered by volunteer archivist Ian Gregory. Over to you, Ian:

In the stores of Buxton Museum is a large piece of paper decorated with two muscular men and a woman deep in thought. Above her are the words in nature’s infinite book, a little can I read. This is a certificate of an exam pass. It was awarded to a man called Frederick M. Moores in 1893. He had passed the elementary stage of Magnetism and Electricity. That year, 8,529 students sat this exam. Only 1,904 of them passed.

IMG_2810

I don’t know much about Frederick but the paper I scanned today was once his treasure and presumably that of his family too. Back in 1893, fewer people went into higher education than today so Frederick’s pass was far less usual. How did his life work out? How did his certificate come to the museum? I don’t know but across 120 years, I wish him well.