Category Archives: Objects

Nature and the Sense of Self

Myna Trustram, Research Manager, Manchester City Galleries (Renaissance) writes…


Some of you will know about the Who Cares? Museums, Health and Wellbeing programme that Renaissance NW has been running for the last two years.  The six members of the NW museum hub ran projects with health partners which sought to use their collections to assist health and wellbeing.  The partners came from NHS clinics, community groups, day care centres and so on.  We commissioned the Psychosocial Research Unit at the University of  Central Lancashire to do research about the impact and the methods of the work.

One of their findings is about the effect on a person’s sense of themselves when they make a close attachment to an object from the public collections of the museum.  It can reduce a sense of social isolation (both a cause and effect of mental ill health) because contact is made with socially owned objects.  One feels more included.

The findings have made us think about the public  nature of museum collections and how they can help to improve public  health.

Why am I telling you this?  Because of all the collections in museums, you might argue that natural science collections are the most public.  The mammals, birds, insects and geology belonged to no one before they were collected.  They are the public heritage.  I wonder what effect making a connection with the natural heritage might have on a person’s sense of their place in the world?



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Who Cares? Natural science and health and wellbeing

The NLOB blog has been quiet for a while, but that will be changing. First up, we have a series of blog posts by guest authors looking at the recent Who Cares? research, with an emphasis on how natural science collections can feed into this work. We’ll have new posts the next four Mondays, starting on the 4th July. So please subscribe, read the posts, and comment on them.

If you want to read the Who Cares? report, it’s available here:

Who Cares? report

David Craven


Filed under Meanings, Museums, Objects, The project

An NLOB Easter egg…

I thought I’d quickly give all NLOB readers an Easter egg. Specifically, this scrimshawed Rhea egg from the collections at Rossendale Museum. They have a couple of painted eggs too, but I think the skill involved here is remarkable.

Scrimshaw egg

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The Manchester scans

The Cobra and Mongoose waiting to be scanned in Manchester

We’ve been asked how things went in Manchester, so here are some images of what was revealed. We’ll keep adding more as soon as we have them ready, and ask Pat Morris to take a look at them for a bit of expert analysis. Thanks again to the staff at the Henry Moseley X-Ray Imaging Facility for making this possible.

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Cabinet of Curiosities – Portraits

Last week a small group of us met at Rossendale, where among other things we discussed collecting impulses. Why do we collect the things we do? What’s the significance of these objects? What are our motivations?

It’s something we think about a lot in NLOB. What do the objects museums hold tell us about the people that collected them, and about the attitudes of the time? With all that in mind, I’ve been very interested in Vincent Kelly’s Cabinet of Curiosities project

The idea is for people to select nine objects that they feel have some meaning to them. Back in August, I agreed to have a go at this. It’s taken me till March to find the time and wean my selection down to nine, but at last my nine object biography is up.

So I’m going to just take a minute to talk about some of my selections.

The “bowl of Yorkshire fossils” was sitting as you see it there, in the trunk in which I keep all my geology specimens that aren’t out. I have many more aesthetically and academically interesting specimens, many which would be more phtogenic. But I thought this represented the collecting impulse. There’s material there I probably collected nearly 30 years ago. Most of it is rubbish. So why do I keep it?

The bone figure is one of a small collection I have. The obvious conclusion would be that I’m a Buddhist. I’m not. I’m not remotely religious, in fact I’m an atheist. The figures were brought back from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in the late 1800s by my maternal Great Grandfather. Growing up, they were “things” from my Grandmother’s house. With her now gone, I find they are a reminder of her, and how her house made me feel. There’s a lesson here about the assumptions we make when assessing collections in museums. The obvious answer may not be the right one.

The boot was bought in my first year at university, on recommendation from one of my lecturers. It’s largely unused now as it’s designed for use in more intensive mountain hiking, which I rarely do any more. But I’ve kept them all this time. They’re not even clean. The boot was full of dead leaves (no idea why) and the clasps are clearly degrading with copper staining appearing. But it’s again a connection to a significant part of my life.

Both the bird book and the binoculars represent my love of the natural world, and in particular birds. I don’t really do the “if I had my time over” thing, but I do sometimes wish I’d gone into ornithological research. I’ve never managed to assign a date to the bird books. i have the full series at home. I don’t really use them, but again they are a thing I horde.


I’m not going to go into the other objects as they are broadly self-explanatory. The process was very interesting, and refining my selection down from 32, to 16, to 12, and then to 10 was incredibly difficult. I don’t think of myself as materialistic, but obviously I am, but maybe not in a rabidly commercial sense? I’m probably fooling nobody but myself.


Anyway, happy to address any questions here out at Vincent’s blog. I’d like to suggest you have a go at compiling your portrait too, preferably for Vincent’s blog but if not then just for yourself.

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Taxidermy X-Rays

Pat Morris examines an X-Ray of a Platypus.

Following a period of time exploring some of the existing research and engaging with both visitors at the Rossendale Museum and members of the local community, this is our first response and contribution to the NLOB research. We wanted to take a collection of animals from the Rossendale Museum and give them an X-Ray, a slightly surreal process, given that the animal is already dead. Why do it?

For us these x-rays are beautiful images that touch on the afterlives and mortality of the animals on display, while revealing taxidermy practices and the human intervention required to construct each exhibit. I suppose it’s new light on old bones taken literally! (although most of the bones are missing)

They also offer something that nobody visiting or working at the museum has seen before, generating local interest and adding a layer of interpretation that encourages the viewer to see the displays of taxidermy from a new perspective. They remove the mystification or illusion of life, and in some cases drama, that were often aspired to by the taxidermist or collector, reminding us that we are looking at man-made artifacts using parts of dead animals, rather than true-to-life biological representations. Maybe then the question of ‘why’ people created or collected taxidermy (and why they still do) presents itself more tangibly in the space; What does the taxidermy on display reveal about human nature, social history and cultural conditions?

They also create nice little line drawings.

Some of these images will be used by the team currently tweaking the displays at the museum in response to the NLOB research, while others will be available in the form of a catalogue at the museum, and an online gallery of images. They will also be available for workshops at the museum, and included  in educational packs.

Many thanks goes to Pat Morris, a leading authority on taxidermy and author of ‘The history of taxidermy, art, science and bad taste‘, and to the Henry Moseley Manchester X-Ray Imaging Facility for making this possible. We are hoping to conduct a similar experiment with some larger animals later in the year with the help of Rapiscan, a kind of Noah’s truck, with overtones and associations surrounding immigration and transit, a potentially provocative image within both historical and contemporary contexts.

Animals all wrapped up for tomorrow’s trip to Manchester.

X-Ray images drying out at the museum on Monday.

Once we have finished digitalising and touching up all the scans we’ll let you all know where they can be viewed.

Susanne & Kaspar

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The inner workings of taxidermy

Our friends from Treacle Theatre, as part of their work on NLOB, have recently had Dr Pat Morris in at Rossendale Museum x-raying the taxidermy. While nothing truly remarkable showed up on the x-rays, they are still fascinating insights into the process. Kaspar and Susanne are going to go into greater detail later, but I thought I’d just share a couple of the images in a “mystery object” style to see what you all make of them.

Here’s object number one, I suspect this will be an easy one:



And here is object number two. Maybe a little more tricky:

As ever, your thoughts, comments, and suggestions are welcomed.


David Craven


Filed under Objects, The project