In September I was selected to join the Citizen Curator’s scheme here in Cornwall with the Museum of Cornish Life. It’s a ten-month programme where my fellow cohorts and I will learn about curating in museums. It really is what it says on the tin! We can help our museums in preparing for their exhibitions, but we also have a brief for the Cornish National Collection (more of that another time). We have core sessions each month, and also some optional workshops and excursions. I’m now three months into it, and I already love it.
Why do we have museums?
This was one of the early questions in the programme, which resulted in an interesting debate. It’s a Western European concept, born of colonial days, but a tradition that has carried on. Gone are the days, mainly, when it was showcasing ‘trophies and treasures’, but we found that there was a huge connection to the experience we had in childhood for our perception (and enjoyment) of museums.
My earliest museum memories
Let me frame this – I love a museum (maybe not surprising given I’ve landed on this programme), but I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t love a museum. Maybe it’s similar to my love of libraries, but there’s something other world in both. It’s also something personal, private even. I was a bookish, geekish young girl, so perhaps the spaces were just safe. I digress.
I grew up in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Museums were a day trip, an excursion. Most of my museum memories are in London, because of the excursioning nature of our visits. But not all. I used to relish going to the Corinium Museum in Cirencester. I wasn’t so enthralled by the pots and pieces, but I was curious about how Romans lived (the bathing!) and I adored the mosaics. They blew my little-girl mind. Several years ago I visited Sicily, and my photo record is littered with images of mosaics. It was like time had evaporated, and I felt the same degree of wonder and excitement. It was completely unexpected. That’s a super power that a museum has.
My London museums, of course, would include the mummies at the British Museum and the dinosaurs at the National History Museum. Both because of this other-worldly-ness about them. How they lived, particularly for me (for both) and what happened in death. The mummies were dead and wrapped up, and the dinosaurs became extinct. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, these were common favourites amongst the cohort of Citizen Curators. The National History Museum also gave me a fear of stuffed animals, particularly birds. I will still choose to avoid those galleries!
Rather unusually, the Geological Museum (now part of the National History Museum, no longer even the Earth Galleries) was also top of my museum list. It mesmerised me, and particularly the volcanoes and the earth-quake machine. Again, I think it was that it stretched my imagination. That the earth could move, and things fall off shelves. What can that have been like?
I have been lucky enough to travel widely, and I’ve built up a collection of favourite museums (and exhibitions) from these trips. I’ll save those for another blog, as it’s just nice remembering what it was that might have piqued my life-long love of museums.