Museums commonly deal with old things and creatures that have long shuffled off the mortal coil. You would not immediately associate them with a holiday like Easter which celebrates new life. However, among the collections at Buxton Museum, there are a few peculiar eggs; traditional symbols at this time of year. We thought we would share some of them with you while we are closed for renovation.
Eggs made from rock, minerals and gemstones were popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. We can only speculate why. With no internet, the people of these eras had to resort to talking to each other so perhaps such novelties inspired cheerful conversation. Indeed, Buxton Museum still sells quite a lot of colourful marble eggs in its gift shop. They look pretty and feel pleasingly tactile in the palm of your hand.
This egg has been crafted from the local rare mineral called Blue John, mined in small quantities in the Peak District village of Castleton. It dates from the early 20th century and is 13cm long. Buxton Museum has all sorts of intriguing objects made from Blue John, all displaying the same unusual purple-blue-yellow colour from which it gets its name; bleu-jaune, meaning blue-yellow in French.
This is a close-up of a petrified birds’ nest. Objects can be turned into limestone by exposing them to mineral-rich water or “petrifying them”. This specimen is from the collection of Randolph Douglas who once had his own museum in Castleton, the same village where Blue John can be found. He gathered fascinating items from around the world and exhibited them alongside keys, locks and miniature dioramas of his own ingenious creation. Douglas had a passion for escapology; the art of breaking free from death-defying traps, which ultimately hooked him up with famous magician and escapologist Harry Houdini.
When Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reopens on Tuesday 6 June, you will be able to see brand new displays featuring both Blue John and Randolph Douglas; admission free! We hope to see you.
Although most of the museum team are busy building a new gallery as part of the Collections in the Landscape project, you can visit the space to see the work in progress and get involved. A few treasures from the art collection are available to see and there are objects from the museum too, some of which you can handle. A special event on Saturday 2 April called Animal Roadshow plays host to a variety of real creatures. You can book your place on Eventbrite.
Creeping Toad is a well-known local storyteller and workshop leader and no stranger to Buxton Museum. He is running an event at Castleton Visitor Centre on Wednesday 6 April called The House of Wonders. Based on the collection of Randolph Douglas, a.k.a Randini, this unique event is free and not to be missed. More details on Toad’s blog.
Randini with friend and hero Harry Houdini
Like Creeping Toad, I’m a fan of Randini and his collection. I wrote a blog about him a couple of years ago.
One of Buxton Museum’s most popular annual events is Artwork, an exhibition by students from local schools Buxton Community School and St Thomas More School. Running since the year 2000, the work is GCSE and A Level and is of a consistently high standard. The range is diverse; bold portraits, amazing perspectives, fine drawing and digital manipulation demonstrate a huge breadth of media and creativity. Artwork enables the young people of Buxton to exhibit their work to a much wider audience. We always get lots of enquiries about the exhibition. You have the chance to see what all the fuss is about until Saturday 31st January 2015. Click here to plan your visit.
Image from Buxton Community School
Pertaining to our last blog; November’s Curiosity of the Month, Derbyshire Records Office is currently exhibiting some of the Randolph Douglas collection and you can find details here.
We begin a new monthly feature that highlights an object from the collections. Like most museums, the objects on display at Buxton Museum are merely the tip of the iceberg. Our blog offers us the opportunity to show you a few more. I’m going to get the ball rolling with a peculiar find from my favourite collection at Buxton; that of Randolph Douglas. I introduced the collection in our sister blog a few months ago: technology-and-magic.
My Curiosity of the Month is actually four dyed skeleton leaves from Formosa (Taiwan) in a transparent envelope with a handwritten description by Douglas himself: “In the beautiful island of Formosa, taken from China by Japan in 1895, the Frangipani tree grows luxuriously. The clever people have discovered how, by the use of chemicals, its leaves can be denuded of all their softer tissue, so exhibiting the fine network of veins. These leaves are later dyed some bright colour and sold as curiosities.”