Sunday, 1 September 2013

Future Curators hit the North-East: Visiting the Great North Museum and Durham's Oriental Museum

One of the GNM: Hancock displays
Despite living within spitting distance of the north-east for the past 27 years I had never visited Newcastle or Durham, so I was particularly happy when a Future Curators visit was arranged this week. After a tour of their stores we visited the Great North Museum: Hancock and I made a bee-line for their Egyptian galleries. The GNM's Egyptian collection is made up partly of their own objects and also of a long-term loan from the British Museum. The gallery was arranged thematically which in most cases worked well, typically splitting the gallery into aspects of life and death in ancient Egypt. 

Visitors heading into the Afterlife interactive
Signing and video accompaniment
Snakes in the Underworld
The way the museum did this however was pretty innovative: after visiting the 'life' part of the gallery, the visitor passes through an interactive doorway into the next life on the condition that they successfully pass through the dangers of the underworld. We visited at the end of the day when the gallery was quiet and the experience was a bit disconcerting, especially when the snakes slither past! A booming voice reads through the tasks while a computer screen with signing and subtitles for those hard of hearing, making it a meaningful and memorable experience for all visitors. The collection itself contains several important pieces and overall I enjoyed the layout and design of the gallery though I would have liked to see more information on the object labels, particularly provenance and accession number, and the gallery also had a number of other interactive stations but unfortunately some of these were out of order so I look forward to using them on my next visit.

Durham Oriental Museum
Sphinx of Tuthmosis IV
We then trekked to Durham's Oriental Museum where we were greeted by friendly staff and a beautiful museum, not so large in size but with an incredibly important Egyptian collection. Two galleries are named after Prof. T. W. Thacker, Director of Oriental Studies at Durham from the 1940s until 1977 and contain objects acquired from the Duke of Northumberland's Collection (Prudhoe Collection), the Wellcome Collection and from the sponsorship of fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Steatite statuette of Amenhotep III
The overall layout of the galleries and use of the space was appealing; each object is relevant to the thread of the collection story and several key pieces were exhibited in their own cases, well-lit, as highlight objects, including my personal favourite - a glazed steatite statuette of Amenhotep III from his memorial temple at Kom el-Heitan, Thebes (EG 3998). I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that a diorite sphinx of Tuthmosis IV on display (EG 3997) was the inspiration for the two bronze sphinxes flanking Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment in London. And of course it was a pleasure to finally see the beautiful wooden servant girl; probably the most famous Egyptian object in the whole collection (EG 4007; temp. Amenhotep III).

Throughout the museum the panels were word-heavy which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing for a University Museum, though I found myself sticking with the object labels provided as laminated handouts next to each case; a technique which I would normally question as it can sometimes make finding the objects rather time-consuming, however it worked very well as most cases were not particularly full and the labels contained a lot of useful information. 
Snippet of the 'Satire of the Trades' alongside ancient Egyptian tools
I also enjoyed the use of snippets of Egyptian literature in some of the cases, which added interest and helped to bring the objects to life for visitors. I think my only bugbear was the lack of Sudanese objects on display from their collection, or when they were on display (e.g. a vessel from Buhen) the provenance was not named. Overall though definitely worth a visit and happy to have had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the galleries and have a chat with the staff of the museum.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Yan Tan Tethera: A rhyme derived from a Brythonic Celtic language used by shepherds to keep sheep in many parts of England and Southern Scotland.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the use of traditional number systems was common among shepherds, especially in the Dales of the Lake District.

[This Blog is best viewed in Mozilla Firefox]

Total Pageviews