More than a Dodo

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More than a Dodo no band

Missing tales from behind the scenes in the Museum of Natural History? Yearning for photos and stories of our fabulous collections? Just want to know what we’ve been up to lately? We’re no longer darkened, but we’re as busy as ever and you can now follow our new blog More than a Dodo.  You won’t miss a thing.

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And we’re back!

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Knights of Mentis

Just a very quick post to say that today has been amazing. Thanks very much to all our visitors – it has been wonderful to have so many people back in the court – and also to our musical entertainers, The Alternotives and The Knights of Mentis who provided a real party atmosphere.

Time for a beer and rest. If you didn’t make it today, then hopefully see you soon.

Rex in a box

Credit: Nicola Fielding

Credit: Nicola Fielding

We couldn’t just tease you with last week’s shot of the Iguanodon being unwrapped. The sight of our enormous dinosaurs being liberated from the foam, tape and chip board which has encased them for the past year is too good not to share.

Credit: Mike Peckett

Credit: Mike Peckett

Each time I look out into the Museum court, another specimen has been revealed. The elephants are back, the camel is looking great and the giraffe is next on the list. But the biggest impact over the last couple of weeks has to be the large dinosaurs regaining dominance in the centre of the Museum.

The T rex and Iguanodon skeletons are far too huge to move… and wouldn’t even get out of the front door! So they had their own bespoke wooden boxes built for them, which protected them from damage and dust during the roof restoration project.

But with just 3 weeks until our re-opening, the boxes are down and the foam wrapping has been discarded. Here are a few of my favourite shots of the return of the dinosaurs.

T rex being revealed Credit: Nicola Fielding

T rex being revealed
Credit: Nicola Fielding

Credit: Nicola Fielding

Credit: Nicola Fielding

The Iguanodon’s tail escapes its box

Credit: Scott Billings

Credit: Scott Billings

Our dinosaurs are ready and waiting for the visitors to return on Saturday 15th February. We all hope to see you then!

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Breakout!

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I bring you breaking news from the Museum of Natural History. As you all know, the Museum has been closed for over a year and, during that time, a number of our specimens have been popping up in unlikely places around Oxford city centre.

The Goes to Town project has seen a penguin in the fish mongers, a bank vole in the bank and a book worm in a book shop. All was going swimmingly until today.

3.RachelSeriousWe’ve been receiving reports from several of our Goes to Town venues that there’s been a breakout. The snowy owl has vanished from the University Church, the edible insects have escaped from the Turl St Kitchen and a white rabbit is on the loose from the Central Library. There’s trouble afoot.

We’ve put together a special bulletin of Oxford University Museum of Natural History News.

Scott Billings at St Mary the Virgin Church

Scott Billings at the University Church

Reporters Bethany Palumbo, Jess Suess and Scott Billings joined me to bring you the latest story direct from the scene.

The mystery has been give an even more intriguing twist by the appearance of letters left behind by the escaped specimens. Each creature has its own motive for abandoning its case, but there is a definite theme throughout; they’re all coming home!

A note left behind by the white rabbit, Oxford Central Library

A note left behind by the white rabbit, Oxford Central Library

Bethany Palumbo at Turl St Kitchen

Bethany Palumbo at Turl St Kitchen

As each report unfolds, it’s clear that the specimens have escaped in order to return to the Museum, ready for our re-opening on Saturday 15th February.

So, who is behind this mass escape? Watch the report video to find out.

Jessica Suess at Oxford Central Library

Jessica Suess at Oxford Central Library

The Museum of Natural History will be the place to be on Saturday 15th February. Even the Goes to Town specimens don’t want to miss out on the action! Join us then, dawn till dusk.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

“A thoroughly charming and highly skilled man”

Moths in a drawer made by Brian Edmondson

Moths in a drawer made by Brian Edmondson

At the beginning of the month we heard about the sad death of Brian Edmondson. Brian was a carpenter and ran his own business in Oxford for 42 years. Although many of the staff in the Museum may never have heard Mr Edmondson’s name before, they certainly know his work.

Brian Edmondson Credit: Oxford Mail

Brian Edmondson
Credit: Oxford Mail

Thirty years ago, the Museum’s Hope Entomological Collections started an enormous project to ‘rehouse’ their millions of specimens, moving them from substandard storage boxes to proper glazed drawers. Brian and his team beautifully crafted a huge number of drawers to hold the specimens and made them to satisfy the Museum’s exacting demands for design and build quality. For example, it was essential that they were airtight to prevent any pests (larvae of the museum beetle) getting in.

Dr George McGavin, television presenter and Honorary Research Associate of the Museum, remembers working alongside Brian on this project.

Dr George McGavin

Dr George McGavin

“Brian Edmondson was a thoroughly charming and highly skilled man. His workshop was on the Abingdon Road in Oxford and every so often a truck would arrive and teams of us would carry hundreds of drawers all the way up to the attic floor of the museum (there was no lift in those days!). Brian was a true professional and led a team of first rate craftsmen – the drawers were so well made you could often swap lids from one drawer to another and they still fitted.”

The drawers that Brian designed are still in use today and hold millions of insects in the Museum’s collection. Each time a drawer is pulled out and its contents admired or inspected, we mustn’t forget to pause and appreciate the craftsmanship that went into creating the specimens’ bespoke home.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

Turtley happy!

Black marsh turtle

Why’s our black marsh turtle smiling? It’s turtley obvious, he’s a star! He’s having a Christmas holiday at Banbury Museum where he features in our Natural Histories exhibition. He’s joined by other treasures on tour from the University of Oxford, such as a meteorite from outer space as old as the Earth itself, the jaw of a real Oxfordshire dinosaur… and much, much more.

One of the things I like about Banbury Museum is that its entrance is slap bang in the middle of the Castle Quay Shopping Centre, next to the picturesque Oxford canal. It’s really easy to take a break from Christmas shopping and have a look around, and (yes, you’ve guessed it!) admission is turtley free!

Natural Histories is on until 22 February 2014, Mon – Sat: 10am – 5pm but check holiday period opening times on the museum website http://www.cherwell.gov.uk/museum/index.cfm?articleid=5758/.

Monica Price, Head of Earth Collections, and co-curator of ‘Natural Histories’

The Whales’ Tale

Once in a Whale

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This week, the ‘whale aisle’ was invaded by a hoard of riggers and scaffolders, constructing a safe and simple means to transfer the specimens into their new positions in the gallery.

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Not moving too far, the specimens are now in size order and are staggered, taking advantage of the vast roof space. The Northern Bottlenose Whale is now at the highest level (7 meters up!) and the Dolphin at the lowest. This new positioning meant transporting the Orca, Beluga and Dolphin out of the aisle on wheels, and then returning them to their new locations, ready to be hoisted.

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As a parting gift we made each specimen an engraved acrylic sign. This included updated taxonomic information and a contemporary, larger font to keep with the museum’s new visual identity. To further engage visitors, we provided all information on both sides of the panel. We also used this opportunity to take…

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Scaffolding sketches

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The Museum has a long history as a source of inspiration for artists; from the involvement of the Pre-Raphaelites in the building’s construction, to the thousands of art students that visit each year. This year’s closure period has been particularly interesting for one artist, Kate Kay.

Kate Kay in the Museum

Kate Kay in the Museum

Kate, who lives locally in Oxford, is doing a continuing practice course through Ovada, an Oxfordshire contemporary arts organisation.

An architectural background and interest in drawing in large internal spaces led Kate to the Museum. She said “I’m particularly interested in framed structures through which one can see. The Museum of Natural History certainly provides this, with its dramatic and innovative structure, and its remarkable collection of skeletons adding further layers of interest. When I heard that the Museum was to be closed for renovation works, I realised that the scaffolding, and the protective wrapping of the skeletons would add yet more layers.”

Cut paper work inspired by the layers in the Museum

Cut paper work inspired by the layers in the Museum

During the early part of the year, Kate visited regularly and was welcomed on site by the contractors. With hard hat and high-vis jacket, she was allowed to  go anywhere on the site, and she made numerous sketches and took photos. From May she then worked on a very large charcoal drawing (top of this post), incorporating various elements of the Museum and the renovation project in one image. She also produced a work in cut paper (right) combining several ‘see-through’ images. These were exhibited in an end-of-year show at the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.

P1030503“Now that most of the scaffolding is down, one can see how the Museum has been transformed. I’ve really appreciated the opportunities that this project has provided, particularly in exploring up in the roof structure. I look forward to drawing in the Museum again, once it’s back in action in the spring, possibly focusing more closely on some of the other exhibits.”

It’s important that this special year of closure has been documented in Kate’s drawings. When we re-open, I hope that more artists than ever will be inspired by the Museum, as sunlight floods through our sparklingly clean roof.

Rachel Parle, Education Officer