Thursday, 28 November 2013

Behind The Scenes at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, South London

Working behind the scenes at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in South London, we get to open boxes containing artefacts that may not have been seen for years. These glimpses into the stored collections can be an almost magical experience at times, invoking a variety of reactions, from curiosity to disgust, to pure joy.

For a long time this was something we longed to share with a wider audience but did not have an outlet to do so. Happily, now that the heritage sector is increasingly embracing social media, we can share that experience beyond our own four walls, and our stored collections are increasingly available to a wider audience.

We set up our Tumblr account, In the Horniman, in 2012, as part of our Collections People Stories project, a three year physical review of our anthropological collections. So far we have highlighted 500 objects on Tumblr, and attracted nearly 20,000 followers.

Anyone in our team of reviewers, conservators and curators can contribute to Tumblr, and our criteria for posting an object is basically anything that makes us, for whatever reason, say ‘wow’. If something has made an impression on us, then it is likely to appeal to others.

We typically post an image of the object – we’re taking photographs for documentation purposes as part of our project – with a little text about what it is, where it’s from and its uses. Occasionally we ask people reading the blog to tell us more or suggest their own interpretation of an object.

It’s great being able to post and straight away see others share in our enthusiasm through likes and reposts. It can turn what could be an ordinary day at work, into a day to remember.

Some of us working on the project are big animal lovers so objects that look like or are made of animals tend to feature often. Last week we posted a buffalo foetus bag and a walrus bladder bucket. These are the kind of unusual and wonderful items that deserve to be seen by everyone!

We also post things that happen in the store that help give an insight into our daily work. Recently we posted the photography and remedial conservation of our Egyptian mummies.

We have had lots of lovely messages from people, saying how much they love the museum and are enjoying seeing inside the store. The most popular post so far was about a beautiful, intricate helmet from a Chinese theatrical costume, which attracted 325 ‘notes’ in response (see image at top of article).

This sharing of collections, knowledge and the reactions and discussions they bring about, is something I am sure that Mr Horniman would have approved of and encouraged. The collections, after all, belong to all of us, left to the people by Frederick Horniman to be enjoyed by all.

Laura Cronin is Collections Assistant at Horniman Museum and Gardens. For more information, visit For Tumblr, visit In the Horniman and Twitter, follow @HornimanWalrus

Photo credits: Horniman Museum and Gardens