An Ocean Find

Whilst exploring our geological collection in preparation for Sea Finds: a Hands on History session looking at objects related to the sea, I found a brain coral. I can’t say that I particularly like this object as its brain-like appearance discomforts me but it truly is an ocean find with a fascinating life story.

 

Brain Coral

 

Composed of limestone compacted into a stony exoskeleton, brain corals grow very slowly with each generation adding to the limestone skeleton. Amazingly, they can live up to 900 years. Their big, strong structures form the foundation of coral reefs; colonies of brain corals can reach up to six feet tall.

 

Underside of brain coral

 

Despite their rock-like appearance, brain corals are actually animals with living parts called polyps. The bodily form of a polyp is a soft fleshy tube with tentacles surrounding the mouth. Individual polyps look much like tiny anemones. Polyps excrete the limestone which forms the stony non-living part of the coral. The limestone skeleton of the polyp remains after its death and each generation of polyps continues to add to the structure. Polyps stay permanently stationary, feeding on miniscule organisms that float past them called zooplankton and the algae that live among them provide them with oxygen.

 

Brain coral detail

 

Brain corals are invertebrates related to anemones and jellyfish. They live in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Most coral reefs grow in tropical or subtropical water. Brain corals ideally prefer clear, shallow water that sunlight can permeate.

Drop in between 11 am and 4 pm on Saturday 19 January to handle sea-related objects with our Access Assistants.

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As 2018 draws to a close…

Christmas certificate2

2018 has been a busy year, with numerous events marking the 100 year anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Many people were not able to be with their families during the Christmases of the First World War. Parcels and cards were therefore posted overseas to servicemen and women. Schools and communities joined in and did their bit too.

This Christmas certificate was sent to local school boy, Noah Elwell, to thank him for the gifts his school had sent to soldiers fighting in the Great War.

100 years on from that time,  we would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas from all the team at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery.

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Raise Shields!

Most people are not unfamiliar with the idea of a shield. It is something which, either figuratively or literally, protects, defends, or shelters another thing. The most common association being that of a handheld object used as a piece of protective equipment in warfare or combat.

Now, such a dry and clinical opening description may seem odd to those reading. “Don’t be daft, I know what a shield is,” you think to yourself, but it is just that kind of thought with which I am trying to contend! The term ‘shield’ is very general and relates to wildly different things depending on whom, when, and why we are referring to it. A shield today, designed for riot control or with the purpose of resisting shrapnel, will be very different from a Late Medieval buckler, a heater shield for jousting, a Norman kite shield, or a Classical Greek aspis or hoplon – each of these being just as different from one another.

This month’s Hands on History session at the museum on Saturday 15th December will see us getting to grips with some of the shields in our collection that have come to us from around the world. Investigate with us and work out how things like size, shape, and material might effect how one might best utilise a particular shield and, just as important, how needs, technology, and resources impact how and why shields get made.

Take, for example, the shield pictured here from Queensland, Australia. It is, as a shield and in relation to other forms in Australia, smaller in size, with a narrow and elongated shape, and carved from a thick piece of wood. As it would be unable to cover a large part of the body, this shield was likely used to assist in dodging, parrying, or deflecting blows rather than attempting to absorb them. The shape, as well as the grip, suggest that the shield was held in front of the wielder in a forward and ready position. This would allow full use of the senses to determine threats and relied on agility and dexterity. The material is a single, thick piece of carved wood which would have been a strong yet light and somewhat pliable material. Its thickness would also lend an ability to absorb some blows and receive, without significant damage, piercing attacks.

These factors well suit the context in which this shield was produced and used. The most common weapons faced by the wielder of this shield would have been javelin-style missiles, spears, and clubs. While a thinner and broader shield would be preferable for a massed spear fight, this shield’s form is ideally suited for tracking and dealing with light missiles, as well as countering and occasionally absorbing strikes from clubs.

So shields are more  complex than you may have believed. If you are curious and want to know more, or are interested in seeing and handling some historic shields from our collection join us on Saturday from 11am to 4pm.  We look forward to seeing and hearing from you!

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‘Tis the Season to revisit Christmas memories.

The November Hands on History session saw the, perhaps early, showing of some of the Museum’s more seasonal collection items. Some of the standouts included a silk postcard sent home from ‘somewhere in France’ circa 1914 as well as a splendid example of an easily recognised Princess Mary gift box, again from 1914.

We also asked those who came and talked to us if they would kindly like to share with us some of their past Christmas memories. I was surprised as how many self-described ‘humbugs’ we had – a symptom of the times, I suppose – but we soon found that most had happy and entertaining stories to tell!

Perhaps the most talked about subject related to family:

  • “My son was watching Elf on TV, then copied Elf by jumping onto the Christmas Tree. He then slid down, taking all the branches with him!”
  • “My best Christmas was celebrated with a new grandchild who was three months old in 2015. All the family gathered around a beach in South Africa for the day.”
  • “Playing board games with our neighbours in the evening and watching Christmas variety shows on TV.”
  • “Seeing people over Christmas we had not seen all year, singing carols like Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer, playing piano with the neighbours, and having a bit of sherry.”

Another great theme related to anticipation of activities and gifts:

  • “When I was a boy, Christmas meant a wait after the school holidays began, till the big day. I recall playing with my brother in the garden – imagining what presents might appear on Christmas Day. One year, it was my first bicycle.”
  • “One year, we hunted for Santa on a canal by boat in Birmingham”
  • “Waking up to find a pillow case filled with presents at the end of the bed and hoping they didn’t include a box of embroidered hankies!”
  • “We would get to play Pass the Parcel – wrapped in newspapers – and make paper chains by licking strips of paper. On the day, we would get to open our single present, such as a second hand book.”

Finally, a number of memories pertained to mealtimes:

  • “My favourite Christmas foods are chocolate Yule logs and Florentines.”
  • “The smell of Roast Chicken on Christmas Morning (Chicken was very expensive and a rare treat).”
  • “We would use the fancy China reserved for for Christmas (we still have it in the same cabinet – I don’t think we’ve opened it for years). We would have a bigger dinner than usual and would eat one of our own chickens from the garden. Then Dad would wash the dishes after the meal.”

In the end, it proved to be a wonderful day talking with all of you who came out. I would like, especially, to mention Sylvia who has become one of our regulars. We talked for a long time about what Christmas was like in the past and reminisced about many small and important things.

For all of you reading now, what memories do you hold of holiday seasons past? Feel free to share them with us in the comments. And whatever you may be doing this holiday season, we wish you joy and happiness.

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A hedgehog family

hedgehogs

This family of hedgehogs snuffled into our Museum stores this morning! They were made in the 1970s by a woman studying Industrial Ceramics at Nuneaton Art School and are the latest addition to our museum collection.

Did you know that these hedgehogs started out as bottle-shaped pots, made on a pottery wheel?! Their eyes, noses and bodies were then shaped using a damp sponge and modelling tool. The pots were fired and dipped in a white glaze. Lastly, the hedgehogs’ eyes and prickles were painted on using an iron oxide liquid and they were fired again.

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Wonderful visit from Escape Arts

Drawing by member of Escape Arts

Drawing by member of Escape Arts

 

Niamh dressed as George Eliot

Niamh dressed as George Eliot

 

Drawing by a member of Escape Arts

Drawing by a member of Escape Arts

 

Museum Volunteer Jessica writes about meeting local group Escape Arts at the Museum today…

Having the gallery spaces enjoyed by groups and members of the public is always exciting for everyone at the Museum. Today we were very pleased to have local group Escape Arts join us. They spent the morning in the George Elliot gallery, sketching any pieces from the exhibition that caught thier eye and inspired them. Everyone produced some really beautiful drawings of various objects from around the exhibition, from the textures of George Eliot’s gown to the intricate detailing on her lace shawl.

The group’s Volunteer Coordinator, Niamh, even dressed in a fabulous gown that was actually a replica of the one on show. Wearing it, Niamh performed a wonderful short autobiography on George Eliot and her triumphs as a female author in victorian times.

Visitor drawing in the gallery

Visitor drawing in the gallery.

Here at the Museum & Art Gallery it’s always fantastic to see how enthusiastic visitors are to come and spend time getting inspired by the exhibits and I really enjoyed getting to see the group work on their selection of fab sketches!

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Town Clerk’s Historic Robes

These are the Town Clerk’s historic robes that we are hoping to display soon in Nuneaton Town Hall. A conservator came to visit us yesterday to assess the robes’ condition and to help get them ready for display. She came with some brilliant items including a super-magnifying glass that helps her to see all the individual fibres of the garment. She found a few small areas of loose stitching and fray that need some repair but otherwise the robes are in great condition!

Conservator - Town Clerk's Robes

 

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