My name is Stephen Weir and I have recently been appointed National Museums Northern Ireland’s new Collections Access Assistant for the First Choice Community Curated Exhibition Project.
This project is an Urban Villages funded collaboration between National Museums Northern Ireland and Libraries NI. We will be working with groups from each of the five Urban Village areas and asking them to visit their assigned museum or library to choose objects for a photographic exhibition that they will help put together. The exhibition will launch in the Ulster Museum in the spring and then tour to libraries and community centres that serve the Urban Village areas.
But what is an Urban Village? Urban Villages are five areas designated by the Stormont Executive’s Strategic Investment Board as areas of historic deprivation and social tension. Projects like the community-curated exhibition are designed to help improve good relations outcomes and develop thriving places. As part of the project we have assigned each area a different site to work with.
- South Belfast (Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and Markets areas) – Ulster Museum, Belfast
- North Belfast (Ardoyne and Ballysillan) - Belfast Central Library
- East Belfast (Lower Newtownards Road) – Ulster Transport Museum, Cultra
- West Belfast (Colin Glen) – Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra
- Derry/Londonderry (Bogside and Fountain) – Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
Each group will be asked to attend two sessions at their assigned site. They will choose their objects for the exhibition, go on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the site and its stores and then help to put together the exhibition by photographing the objects and writing their captions.
These sessions will be followed by a museum skills training day, where all the groups will come together at the Ulster Museum to learn about how the museum operates. We will look at how exhibitions are created, how collections are cared for and how we try to engage with the public through our Education and Outreach programmes.
I am currently in the process of initial meetings with the groups to inform them about the project and see when they are available to visit us and start the project. I am very pleased with the interest and enthusiasm of the groups so far, they are very keen to get up and running.
Over the past few months I have been laying the groundwork for the project by liaising with curators to pick objects and finding groups that are interested and available. My absolute favourite thing has been finally getting a tour of all the museum stores after missing out during my previous posts as a Discovery Centre Facilitator in the Ulster Museum and a Front of House Assistant in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. It has been incredibly interesting so far and I am looking forward to getting into the final months of the project so I can bring all the hard work to fruition.
Keep an eye out for further updates in my blogs throughout February and March.
My name is Elish-Therese Campbell and I am a Second Year student studying a BA Hons in Textile Art, Design and Fashion. As part of my course I am undertaking a placement one day a week for six weeks, and where better to spend that time than in the Textiles Section of the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum with the Curator of Textiles, Valerie Wilson.
Today was the first of the six Fridays I will be spending at Cultra, and I began the day with a general introduction to the stores of costumes and textiles. I have never been so overwhelmed by the amount of costumes, textiles and artefacts that are hidden away, and the history behind it all. Valerie and I then took a break to make our way up to the staff canteen where we indulged in the great big ‘Friday fry up’ to fuel us for the day, and I was introduced to some of the other staff members from the other departments.
After a little walk back to our department, and taking off all the winter woollies, I began to work in the store on collections of modesty vests, undersleeves and tea cosy covers.
I was so pleased to be able to hold and examine the lace trim of the modesty vests, the hand-embroidered tea cosy covers and the delicacy of the undersleeves. I did not realise the importance of documenting, numbering everything multiple times and being organised with regard to storage and locations. I was keen to record my work ‘behind the scenes’ and began immediately jotting down different ideas and sketches for future reference.
After packing and labelling, the objects are put into boxes or drawers in the Textile Store and the location information is transferred to the museum’s documentation database.
This week I was able to take a look at a collection of 1950s- 1960s knit and embroidery magazines such Woman’s Weekly, Needlewoman and Needlecraft and Embroidery Designs. I enjoyed immensely looking at the old advertisements and how the clothes and photos were taken.
How they advertised their clothes and the setting of these photoshoots was something I found surprisingly very interesting from a 21st-century point of view, where image is everything. So this gave me a few ideas for when I want to display and take photos of my own work at college.
I also got a number of dress and jumper ideas, as well as inspiration from some gorgeous floral embroidery which I just can’t get enough of! I was able to extract a lot of information from the floral arrangements and the different techniques used to create certain textures. I am currently specialising in Knit and Embroidery at college so it has given me a lot of ideas of how I can further develop my work.
My task for today was to sort this large collection of needlework publications prior to documentation by the curator, in preparation for labelling and storage. I am learning just how important it is to keep everything in order and well organised, something I can also put into practice with my own work.
This week I began by looking at embroidered table cloths in the collection, including a number from the 1930s to the 1950s. This was extremely helpful and useful for me as I was just beginning my embroidery workshop back at college. Hand embroidery is something that really interests me and something that I hope to develop my skills in over the next few months.
I really enjoyed looking through the number of different floral patterns and floral arrangements embroidered on the tablecloths. I was given numbered fabric labels to stitch carefully onto each cloth. These individual numbers link the objects to the museum records and this is a very important aspect of collections management. I find it extremely interesting that women spent days and hours on end being so dedicated to their craft and taking the time to create something beautiful for their home.
These are two of my favourite floral patterns, I love the contrast between the more bold colours such as the pinks and reds against the more subtle blues and yellows. I also I love the use of the leaves and stems to create more body and creating movement within the work. I have gained a lot of ideas from looking at these and I can’t wait to develop them further.
Today I was able to look at a wide range of textile items in the store, before carefully wrapping and labelling them for storage. One thing that I absolutely adored was this beaded mask from Central Europe (below left), which is part of the museum’s small collection of international textiles. I love the use of bright colours and beading and how they have been used to create such an individual pattern, and the use of fringing, pom-poms and ribbons accent this. This has links to my current college project which looks at African cultural masks, and gave me the opportunity to look at other cultural traditions and dress and compare and contrast their use of pattern and colour.
Another favourite piece (below right) was an unusual panel of embroidery and patchwork from around 1890.
In it, the use of mis-matched materials and the combination of different machine and hand-embroidered stitches, the disorganised and messy nature of this piece oddly works. Some sketches I did for my notebook….
Today I was able to look at loads of different pairs of shoes (see below), ranging from children’s hand embroidered pumps to Native American shoes embellished in bead work.
I really enjoyed looking at how shoes have developed so much since then and I fell completely in love with a little pair of cream embroidered children’s shoes. Looking at the number of different designs has given me loads of ideas if I am ever to design a shoe collection, which, after this, I think I might.
I was tasked with taking record images of the pairs of shoes using the departmental camera, before carefully wrapping and boxing them for storage.
These photos will be forwarded by the curator to the museum’s Documentation department, where they will be added to the records on the museum’s object database.
My final day working in the Textiles Collection at Cultra and I don’t want to leave! Today I’ve been looking at a number of hand-knit pieces from the 1960s and 1970s. These items come from a local shop, Sally’s, that opened in Ballymoney in 1964 selling yarns, knitted jumpers and cardigans etc.
I’ve chosen to specialise in knit next semester, so this is something that has sparked my interest. I don’t do much hand-knitting but looking at these hand-knitted cardigans it makes me eager to spend more time learning to do some simple patterns. I’m used to machine-knitting but it would be nice to add hand-knitting to some of my projects or themes.
I was tasked with taking record images of the different items using the departmental camera, before carefully wrapping and boxing them for storage.
I also was able to look at a number of the magazines and posters used to advertise the different knitted items. This is one thing I enjoy doing as it gives me an insight into how different things were advertised only 50 years ago, and how much of a contrast there is to how we advertise our clothes today.
Thank you all for following my blog.I’ve enjoyed my experience here in the Textiles Department immensely!
The Model Railway Day at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum happens one day in November, every two years. The event is a partnership between the Friends of Cultra, led by Ian Sinclair, and museum staff. Without the hard work put in by the Friends, the museum would not be able to host such an ambitious event. This year we welcome many friends from near and far as well as some first-timers from across the water, to add to the excitement.
Modelmaker David Holman is bringing his scratch-built model of Arigna Town-a fictitious branch line of the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway in North West Ireland. The SLNCR opened in 1882 and closed in 1957, remaining independent for its whole history. It ran from Enniskillen to Sligo and the main traffic was cattle. However, to the south there were coal mines and the layout assumes a branch line was built to tap this traffic. The model is built to the correct Irish broad gauge (5’ 3”) and everything on the layout has been built by David, mostly from scratch, though four of the five steam locomotives are from kits. The model is built to ‘O’ gauge which is 7mm to 1foot. The gauge of the model works out at an unusual 36.75mm. Wagons come from his own resin castings or are hand built from plastic sheet with white metal castings. The trains are representative of the real SLNCR, with a railbus and railcar for passenger traffic and steam-hauled freight.
Michael White is a keen modelmaker who has built a recreation of the Rev Awdry’s ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ layout. The Ffarquhar Branch line starts at the junction of Knapford before reaching the top station, Ffarquhar. Here a special weather resistant stone, quarried from Anopha Quarry, is transported down to Ffarquhar where it is then cut and shaped, ready to be transported to Knapford harbour for shipping. A series of passenger and goods trains are carried as well. The layout is based at Ffarquhar where you’ll be able to see the line’s operation being carried out by its engines: Thomas, Percy, Toby, Daisy and Mavis. Further down the line, where the line curves to head southwards, there is a small village called Hackenbeck. It is here a small community of people live which have a few stories to tell. You’ll be able to see Mr. Peter Fryer who works at the small halt, as well as the Kneatley Family getting ready to go on their holiday; providing the car would start first after the father’s fettling with it. (Feel free to ask about the people on the layout if you wish to know more about them) The layout is a reconstructed replica of the original Ffarquhar Branch which the Rev. W. Awdry built to exhibit at the Wisbech Trades fair in 1956. It follows the original operation timetable, devised by the Rev. Awdry and Rev. Teddy Boston, and operated by replicas of the original models that ran on the layout.
Paul Titmuss has constructed a beautiful little model of Annascaul station on the Tralee and Dingle Light Railway, County Kerry, which opened in 1891 to passengers and goods traffic. Spring 1939 saw the end to passenger trains and the daily goods service was discontinued in 1946. This left the once-monthly cattle trains as the only source of revenue and this service came to an end in June 1953.The station was one of two intermediate passing places on the railway. Collecting information for the model has not proved to be as easy as first anticipated and new facts are still coming to light. Lots of photos were taken here by rail fans but the buildings were obscured by trains and by steam. Four trains run representing the Tralee and Dingle Railway. Watch out for others though from other Irish lines, the Isle of Man and even French metre gauge.
One of the highlights of each model railway day is the miniature train rides on the temporary track laid by the 7¼” Gauge Belfast & Co Down Miniature Railway Society. It will use engines and coaches from the society’s normal base at Drumawhey Junction, Upper Gransha Road, Donaghadee. For more info see; www.bcdmrs.org.uk
The Irish Steam Preservation Society from Stradbally, County Laois has supported the museum’s model railway events over 25 years. The society runs a preserved narrow gauge line in the grounds of Stradbally Hall. Their member Clifton Flewitt operates Ireland’s best mobile bookshop of transport books. Saturday’s stall offers the broadest selection of railway related books, slides and other items available in Ireland. Some are new and others second-hand giving you a great opportunity to enhance your book collection! www.irishsteam.ie
My name is Anna Liesching, I am the Art Engagement Officer for Creative Community Connections, a new project that is all about widening access to art collections.
In 2012 National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) received a gifted collection from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) of over 1000 works by artists from, or working in, Northern Ireland. The artworks included were collected by ACNI since it was established in 1962, and by the Committee for the Encouragement of Music and Art (the precursor to the ACNI) since the 1930s.
After receiving this gift we wanted to then share the collection with the public in the most engaging and accessible way possible; bringing the collections out of the museum environment into the community. We also wanted to form new working partnerships in order to engage a wide range of audiences, including those who do not necessarily visit museums and galleries.
A grant from the Esme Fairbairn Collections Fund has enabled us to embark on an exciting partnership with Derry City and Strabane Museums and Visitor Service. Through this partnership we aim to develop more of a presence in the north west of the country, and make publically owned fine art collections more accessible.
The success of the 2013 Derry City of Culture and the Turner Prize 2013 exhibition in the city, which attracted 34,000 visitors, indicated a real appetite for contemporary art in the area. Creative Community Connections is intended to be a response to this: we want to build on the strong foundations of community arts in the city, and engage people with art in meaningful, transformative ways.
This collection, like the wider NMNI art collection, belongs to you and we want you to experience the wonderful richness and diversity of the artworks within it. We have started by running various workshops and outreach activities with some community groups based in Derry. We’ve been taking works of art out to groups, delivering hands-on workshops and showing groups around the Ulster Museum and the Alley Centre in Strabane. We have also commenced the Your City, Your Art programme, which is a series of drop-in events giving the general public the chance to view and discover original artworks. Future initiatives are currently being developed and will include exhibitions of work. Future initiatives are currently being developed and will include exhibitions of work drawn from the ACNI collection, new public art created with young people from the area, and a series of print workshops in Strabane.
If you would like to learn more about upcoming Creative Community Connections events, or would like an event for your community group, please contact the Art Engagement Officer for the project Anna Liesching.
The events programme for the Collecting the Troubles and Beyond project began on 10 June with a talk and workshop led by Professor Graham Black from Nottingham Trent University entitled ‘Rising to the Challenge: Engaging with difficult history’. This involved interesting discussions on the role of museums in stimulating dialogue and understanding, supporting civil engagement and responding to visitor contributions.
Professor Black recommends creating more meaningful opportunities for engagement with collections and this is something that is central to the activity plan for this project. We recently acquired a collection of photographs by the Belfast photographer Martin Nangle, whose work provides a remarkably evocative record of life during turbulent times in Belfast. From this body of work we have selected a number of prints to offer as a touring exhibition to libraries and other local venues. The exhibition, which is called Street Life: Works by Belfast Photographer Martin Nangle 1973-1989 opened in Falls Road Library on 16 September and will remain there throughout September and October before moving on to Shankill Library. On Monday 19 September two colleagues from the Museum and I spent the day in Falls Road Library discussing the exhibition with visitors and encouraging them to share their memories of the local area. It was interesting to learn about the history of the Clonard Picture House and to hear accounts of Bill Clinton’s visit and numerous other anecdotes and we are grateful to all those who took part.
This event formed part of the programme for Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week and we followed it up with a session in Belfast Central Library on ‘Alternative Ulster’ on 21 September. We brought along a selection of objects from the Ulster Museum’s contemporary collection to represent the recent decades and spoke to library visitors about changing youth cultures and the importance of contemporary collecting. The platform shoes proved particularly popular and it was great to see people engaging with the collection. An important part of the Collecting the Troubles and Beyond project is to develop our contemporary collection through these sorts of outreach activities and we have been openly inviting people to contribute objects and photographs to the collection.
Upcoming events will be advertised on the Museum What's On page and will include two seminar days, one on the theme of Diverse Voices (11 October) and the other exploring the issues surrounding the display and interpretation of difficult objects (25 November). On 13 November at 3pm, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, will be at the Ulster Museum to present a talk entitled ‘Building a culture of peace and nonviolence for the human family’. All these events will be available to book on our website closer to the time.
If you would like to suggest an event or contribute to the Collecting the Troubles and Beyond project please contact me Karen Logan
I had never actually planned to spend several years investigating a 1.2 billion year old meteorite impact deposit in Scotland. I was just going to visit a couple of sites, pay homage to a remarkable event, collect a few lumps of this extraordinary rock, and then move on to other things. It all began early in 2011 when Geoff Steel, an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable amateur geologist (an acoustic engineer by profession) and friend of many years, suggested visiting Scotland to look at some of the geology there. Geoff drew up an itinerary but I insisted on two sites; the anorthosite mountain on South Harris (that’s another story) and a recently recognised meteorite impact deposit near Ullapool. Little did I know what that holiday ultimately would lead to, and it shows that science owes as much to chance as to carefully planned investigation.
This impact deposit, known to geologists as the Stac Fada Member, is a distinctive 5-10 metre thick layer sandwiched within hundreds of metres of sandstone layers known as the Stoer Group. These rocks, 1.2 billion years old, are found today as a narrow strip just a few km wide but stretching for more than 50 km along the coast to north and south of Ullapool in northwest Scotland. Beyond this area erosion and tectonic processes over countless millennia have destroyed all trace of them.
The Stoer Group is mostly sandstone that was deposited in rivers and lakes, but the Stac Fada Member is very different because mixed in with the sandstone are angular green fragments of what geologists recognised decades ago had once been molten rock. For years the Stac Fada Member was thought to be a volcanic mudflow, but there was a problem with this interpretation – there was nothing else like it anywhere in the Stoer Group.
Typical Stac Fada Member impact deposit at Stattic Point, with angular fragments of green ‘impact melt’ rock mixed in with muddy red sandstone.
This seemed odd considering how huge the volcano must have been to produce such a thick and widespread layer. Then, in 2008, a team of geologists from Oxford and Aberdeen identified microscopic shock lamellae in some of the quartz grains in the Stac Fada Member. These form only under the immense pressures generated by the impact of a giant meteorite and so their discovery instantly consigned the volcanic interpretation to the dustbin – the green fragments were rock that had been melted by the impact of a giant meteorite, perhaps several km across, that hit Earth at more than 15 km per second (33,000 mph)! The Oxford/Aberdeen team published their discovery but were unsure where the crater might be, suggesting that it was perhaps offshore to the west, beneath the sea and buried by layers of younger rocks.
Exciting as it was to see this impact deposit for the first time in June 2011, I had no expectations of being able to contribute anything new or startling to the conclusions of this eminent team of geologists. However, at just the second site we visited, appropriately called Second Coast, I came across something quite unexpected that demanded an explanation. Embedded in the sandstone immediately beneath the impact layer were large angular blocks of a different, and still older, rock called Lewisian Gneiss which lies beneath much of northern Scotland
Large angular blocks of Lewisian Gneiss embedded in the sand immediately beneath the Stac Fada Member impact deposit at Second Coast. These show no sign of either falling from a nearby hill nor of being swept there by a flood; they represent rock fragments blasted from the crater edge by the impact.
How had these blocks got here? If they had rolled off a nearby hill they would not be as widely scattered as they are – and there was no such hill nearby anyway. If transported there by a flood then they would be aligned by the flow – but their orientations are entirely random. It looked as if they had fallen from the sky – which is exactly what I concluded! They are fragments of near-surface rock that were launched at velocities of 4-5 km/s (more than 10,000 mph) very early in the impact process. They reached their present location before the main impact deposit, itself travelling outwards from the impact at several hundred mph, arrived. This is why they are found immediately beneath the Stac Fada Member.
However, other geological wonders awaited us elsewhere and a day later we were heading across the water to Lewis. Nonetheless I thought it would be worth taking a closer look at these strange angular blocks sometime and perhaps write a short article about them. Returning almost four months later, in September 2011, I made another surprising discovery. At Stoer, further to the north, some of the impact deposit appears to have been pushed between some of the sandstone layers by the force of the impact blast. These ‘wedges’ thin out to the west and, crucially, show that it must have been coming from the east. The crater – if it still exists – must actually lie to the east beneath mainland Scotland! However, just 20km to the east these ancient rocks pass beneath the Moine Thrust, where a thick layer of younger Moinian rocks (~1 billion years old) have been pushed westwards across northern Scotland for tens of kilometres by tectonic movements around 450 million years ago. Any Precambrian impact crater that lies further east will now be deeply buried beneath these Moinian rocks. So, assuming it still exists, how might the crater be detected?
The spectacular exposure of the Stac Fada Member impact deposit at Stoer, looking south-west. The crags in the background are the main impact deposit while the layered rocks in the foreground are river sandstones deposited prior to the impact. A wedge-shaped mass of the impact deposit can be seen intruded along some of the layers of sandstone and indicates the direction that the impact blast was moving.
Impact craters often have a distinctive geophysical signature. Excavating a large hole in dense rock and filling it with rubble and sediment creates an area of lower density that can be detected as a ‘gravity low’. Returning to Belfast after this second trip I consulted the museum’s rather crumpled copy of the British Geological Survey’s gravity map of Britain, and I was astonished to discover a large and roughly circular gravity anomaly centred on the town of Lairg. This is more than 50km east of the remaining patches of impact deposit, but in location that is remarkably consistent with the directional data from the Stac Fada Member. The size of the gravity anomaly suggests it could represent a crater at least 40 km across
An annotated section of the UK gravity map published by the British Geological Survey. Red and orange indicates a stronger gravitational pull than average; blue and purple is weaker. Gravity lows in The Minch and the Moray Firth are due to thick sedimentary rocks; the Cairngorm gravity low is due to the granite there. The Lairg Gravity Low had defied any easy explanation until now.
Until now geologists have explained the Lairg Gravity Low as due solely to the effects of tectonic processes. Although it is similar to the gravity signatures of other well-documented impact craters, it would be quite unrealistic to suggest that the Lairg Gravity Low is a buried impact crater on this tenuous evidence alone. What makes this a much more plausible explanation is the existence of a thick and extensive impact deposit, the Stac Fada Member, just a few tens of kilometres to the west and the evidence within the deposit of its emplacement from the east. Taking all of the evidence together, the impact hypothesis appears to explain both the cause and origin of the gravity low, and indeed its specific location, as the consequences of a single event for which the Stac Fada Member impact deposit provides substantial surface evidence.
When Geoff and I set off to Scotland in 2011 we intended only to pay homage to an unusual rock and collect a few samples. The subsequent journey has been remarkable, culminating with the discovery of Britain’s first impact crater that – at more than 40km across – is among the fifteen largest on Earth. But the story did not end there. In February 2016 I was approached by Dr Tori Herridge, a palaeobiologist who has fronted several science documentaries (e.g. Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy), with a view to making a documentary about the search for this Scottish impact crater. And so in May of this year I spent a week on location, in an unseasonably sunny Scotland, filming for the Channel 4 documentary ‘Scotland’s Lost Asteroid’.
Anyone wishing to read the original article can download a copy at Researchgate
or download a copy here
Dr. Mike Simms
Susan Lu is currently spending a year working here at Cultra on a placement as part of a British Museum ‘Skills for the Future’ project in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund. She is planning to come to this year’s Cultra Hillclimb with her dad Paul Hunter and her dog Finn in the family Austin Seven. Dogs are welcome on the day but must keep their owners on a lead at all times.
Each year the museum likes to display recent conservation and restoration work to the vehicle collection at Cultra Hillclimb. This year we plan to show a 1924 Rolls Royce hearse that had been stored for 50 years. It has recently been brought back to life by museum conservator Stephen Loftus and is well worth a look. The dashboard alone is a work of art.
Both the Thoroughbred Sports Car Club NI and the museum take safety very seriously at Cultra Hillclimb. Just donated to the museum by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service is this splendid 1950s Daimler Ambulance. Let’s hope it isn’t required to work on the day. It will be on display beside the ‘race track’ and perhaps we will demonstrate the sound of the bell- a reminder of the days before noisy sirens. Andrew Crockart from Groomsport will be showing his equally magnificent Daimler convertible car at Cultra Manor.
‘Engage with Art’ is one of nine new projects National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) is running in the ‘Urban Village’ areas in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. These projects have been developed as part of our social inclusion initiative and collections outreach programme, and are about getting our collections out of the stores and shared with others, as well as promoting discussion. We want to learn from community groups and build relationships and connections to the museum, as well as simply finding out what people think about museums and what we could be doing more of within local communities.
Susan Lu, Collections Access Trainee
We were delighted to spend the day with a group from the Gasyard Centre, Derry. As it was Shrove Tuesday, the day naturally started off with some lovely pancakes and coffee! After a brief introduction to NMNI and some of the art collections on display at the Ulster Museum, we decided to look at some artworks up close. We brought along a range of prints from the print collection at NMNI, showing various different techniques and styles achievable through printmaking. We were able to discuss what the Artists may have been trying to express through their artwork, taking into consideration their surroundings and life experiences. Many of the prints were created by local Artists, which led us into discussion about many of the group’s own artistic practice.
Everyone was able to share their own experiences and opinions of different forms of art over lunch before showing off their creativity and artistic skills in our print workshop in the afternoon. Local artist, Lisa Malone, facilitated a great workshop on etching. Everyone made their own unique etching which proved to be a very therapeutic activity! Lisa then took everyone through the process of printing their etchings and showed how the image is transferred with ink, creating a unique piece of art. Every individual’s final outcome was fantastic and many were impressed at their new found talent!
Thanks to all who attended the day and made it so enjoyable for us. We look forward to working with the group again, this time welcoming them to the Ulster Museum on 1st March, to view more of our collections and explore our art exhibitions.
William Crawley’s recent TV series, on the contribution of people from Northern Ireland to life in New Zealand, reminded me of ethnographic material held in the Ulster Museum and in particular to the islands off the east coast of New Zealand, in Polynesia.
The loan of rare and precious objects to other museums is often on the condition that they are ‘couriered’ by a member of staff from the lending institution, who will oversee their installation in the exhibition space. Just before anyone complains about cost to the NI taxpayer, these trips are always covered by the borrowing museum!
So began a trip to Australia with our Polynesian god, or ‘Atua’, a small organic figurine who was about to be reunited with one of only two other Atua, of this type, that survives. The Ulster Museum acquired its Atua from Thomas Augustus Thomson, an Ulsterman who travelled in the Pacific in the wake of Captain Cook, between 1836-40. It was made in Easter Island from a wickerwork frame covered in a cloth fashioned from the bark of a mulberry tree (tapa cloth), which was then painted in a fashion probably representing tattoos.
Although small in stature (in this case 47.5 cm in height) Atua were regarded as powerful gods and were carried on trips across the Pacific and into battle, as well as occupying sacred enclosures. The zeal of Christian missionaries who regarded them as heathen idols encouraged their deliberate destruction on conversion of the population, which helps explain their rarity.
The Ulster Museum’s Atua is likely to be a female, though the evidence is hidden inside the maro (loin cloth) that wraps around her body. She was reunited with her male counterpart, also from Easter Island and now in the Peabody Museum in America. Without doubt both figures were created by the same artist.
Atua Sacred gods from Polynesia was a major exhibition borrowing material from around the world and displayed at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. And I’m pleased to report that both the courier and the precious cargo made it back to Belfast safely.
Dr Greer Ramsey