Recently as part of the Skills for the Future Traineeship, we were all encouraged to try a week placement elsewhere. I opted to work at Worcester Museum and Art Gallery for the week. I wanted more experience with collections and they were kind enough to let me play with the collection at the museum stores (located in a secret offsite facility – honestly I can’t tell you, I’d have to kill you…). My first day was an introduction and tour of the stores which are vast and full of lovely objects. From big horse drawn carriages to the smallest piece of Iron Age pottery, it was all there.
After tea break, I was introduced to the pods which is a structure built within the store to enable better environmental monitoring. The more delicate objects that are susceptible to deteriorating quickly due to rapid changes in the temperature are put in these stores and checked regularly, as there has been in the past a moth infestation. The team have been working hard and have procedures in place to combat the problem, and it has been treated successfully. There are 4 pods in total and I was working in the 2nd pod, which held the costume and ethnographic objects.
The museum has a fascinating collection of objects from around the world and it was like Christmas as I opened each box to discover the delights within. I found that I had a real interest in weaponry! There were about three boxes with all sorts of daggers, swords, knives and axes, as well as objects from my beloved New Zealand. In fact Deborah (Curator of Natural History and Archaeology) commented that it was a boon to have a Kiwi in for the week to be able to identify certain objects such as the ceremonial spear we found on the shelf. It was great to be able to share with them what the spear would have been used for.
So what was I doing with these objects? We were there to keep an eye on the infestation problem and to check that it wasn’t progressing, so the objects were taken out of their boxes, carefully looked over and wrapped back in acid free tissue, and placed within plastic bags. These were then returned to their boxes with a vapona strip (insecticide) sealed and put back on the shelves. Any detected moth activity (activity was in the form of moth carcasses found in the boxes or tissue as we found no live ones), the objects were placed within plastic bags, sealed and depending on what they were made out of, put directly into the freezer just to be sure.
Towards the end of the week, I saw how archaeological archives were stored and how they were brought into the collection. I assisted with making a list of a deposit from an archaeological unit and saw some examples of how they were presented. This was great for me to see as I hope to assist a local archaeologist deposit his archive at the Worcester Museum and it was helpful for me to see the procedure. Once I had got to grips with it, it was straight back to the ethnography!
I spent most of the week working with this fascinating collection, and lunchtimes were spent outside (it was glorious weather) discussing everything from collections, museology to Flight of the Conchords. I realised I was working with an extremely dedicated, professional and talented group of volunteers and staff who made me feel really welcome and were very complimentary to the work I was doing with them. The staff shared with me their career pathways and offered me great tips and advice to further my own career. One of the aspects of the Skills for the Future traineeships is the ability and time from our placements to go to other museums, either as a visitor or to work to gain an understanding of how other organisations operate. I shall be indebted to this traineeship in that respect as I may not have this opportunity again. As one of the staff said last week when I was opening the boxes and cooing over the contents, “Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”.
Kerry Whitehouse is the Skills for the Future Trainee at The Infirmary and George Marshall Medical Museum