International Museum Day is an annual event, co-ordinated by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which has run since 1977. Each year ICOM selects a theme that it feels is central to the purpose of museums within society. This year’s theme is “Museums as Cultural Hubs: The future of tradition”.
According to ICOM, the role of museums has shifted away from simply being repositories and display spaces, they “have become cultural hubs functioning as platforms where creativity combines with knowledge and where visitors can also co-create, share and interact…. As institutions at the heart of society, museums have the power to establish dialogue between cultures, to build bridges for a peaceful world and to define a sustainable future.”
I understand this in two ways, by thinking of museums as spaces to take part in cultural activities in the present, and museums as spaces that can showcase international cultures and histories to help us understand our world’s past.
The museum as a contemporary cultural hub
Even though we are a relatively small museum we are proud to be a local history museum. We collect, safeguard and share the history of our town and the surrounding district and want as many people as possible to be able to engage with, and enjoy our collections. We are also working to better understand who our visitors are, what they enjoy, what inspires them, and what we can do to involve them in our work. Without the engagement of our community we can hardly claim to be a “cultural hub”.
One of the ways we have striven to develop greater connections with our community has been through our programming. Throughout this year’s Horsham District Year of Culture we have developed a number of exhibitions that highlight the many facets of Horsham’s culture. These exhibitions have been informed and shaped by individuals and groups from across the District. For example, our recent exhibition The Beautiful Game: A History of Football in Horsham District incorporated memorabilia, objects, and stories kindly provided by a number of local football clubs and individuals. The exhibition not only allowed us to get to know our community, but also encourage members of the public to share their personal archives and memories with others. Much of my time at the private view was spent watching huddles of people who hadn’t seen each other for decades chatting and reminiscing about their time playing football together. As a result of the exhibition a number of new friendships and connections were forged, and some clubs are now looking at creating permanent displays of their precious archives.
As well as working on (hopefully) interesting and community lead exhibitions, we also aim to support local artists and photographers by offering them gallery space in which they can showcase their work. This year we will feature work by upcoming creatives such as the hugely popular Joe James Autistic Photography, printmaker Sue Collins, artists Ian Hadley, Cherry Parsons and Alison Ingram, and landscape photographer Stef van Vuuren. All of these people work, live or create in Horsham District and contribute to, shape and highlight our area’s culture and heritage. We aim to be a creative hub where visitors can enjoy and be inspired by the work of Horsham’s people.
Our new children’s Artzone, a Year of Culture initiative that has been supported by the Friends of Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, is a space where children and families can explore art, crafts and creativity, as well as encouraging families to become regular visitors to the Museum. The walls have been repainted in a bright, modern scheme and the room has been filled with a number of café-style tables enabling the space to be flexible and open. We also developed a small range of inclusive and creative activities, and created an eye-catching object display area to inspire kids to draw and paint items from the collections.
For me, one of the most important ways in which our museum acts as a cultural hub for our community is by being a place where people can get hands on with culture and cultural artefacts. We have regular visits from researchers, whether they are looking into their family history, writing a self-published book, preparing a scholarly article, or just want to find an answer to a burning historical question. We work to keep our collections available to the public, and ensure that anyone who wishes to conduct research into our collections has the opportunity to do so. We also have a large number of volunteers who not only help us keep the museum running, but also carry out hands on work with our collections, cleaning, storing and researching items so that they are available to the public and that we fully understand the things that we have in our care. Our volunteers and visiting researchers share their knowledge with us, filling in gaps about the history of the area and the people who have lived here. With the help of our volunteers we can be a cultural hub, preserving and sharing the traditions of the local area.
Museums showcasing international cultures and histories
Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is proud to have a wide selection of ethnographic material in its collections. These items have been given to the museum throughout its 125 year history and represent the travels and curiosity of several generations of Horsham’s residents.
For at least 500 years, Europeans have been travelling the globe, trading, exploring and colonising many lands. Motivated by commerce, science and curiosity, these voyages established many important connections with the wider world, shaping and influencing cultural relationships around the globe. Many of these travellers collected objects from around the world and brought them home, many of which are now housed in museums in ‘Ethnographic’ or ‘World Cultures’ collections. This material culture can come from anywhere in the world, including Europe, but is often from Africa, the Americas, Asian and Pacific regions, mainly consisting of objects made and used by people local to their area.
Below I have highlighted a small selection of our wonderful objects that originated in other parts of the world. These fascinating items show that even a small, local history museum can be a hub for many cultures and histories.
In the 1870s, Horsham residents Robert and Emma Henderson travelled the globe by land and sea collecting souvenirs as they went, including a large number of photographs taken by professional photographers in the countries they visited. The beautiful image shown here was taken from the Hendersons’ album of Japanese photographs, purchased in the first few months of 1875. The albums form part of a collection that Robert and his wife, Emma, curated over their lifetimes.
This particular photograph was purchased from the studio of Felice Beato, one of the finest professional travel photographers of the 19th century. It is not truly a colour photograph, it is a black and white image that has been hand-tinted. Due to the difficulties in producing colour images photographers would hand-tint their photographs using watercolours, oils, crayons, pastels and other paints or dyes applied to the image surface. Beato was one of the first photographers to consistently employ hand-colouring in Japan. His studio was inspired by the skills of Japanese watercolourists and woodblock printmakers, applying these traditional techniques to contemporary European photography.
“Out for a Walk”
Originally titled “Three Women and a Girl” Beato’s full photograph included a small girl dressed in simple, slightly ragged clothing. This later reprint has been cropped to focus on the three geisha. This reflects the tastes of the western audiences who were captivated by the colour, splendour and otherness of the geisha, more so than day to day scenes.
The wooden club pictured in the bottom of the display case was originally brought back to England from Tonga in 1798 on the Missionary Ship Duff. The MSS Duff travelled at a similar time to Captain Cook’s voyages and visited many of the same countries in an attempt to bring Christianity to the indigenous people. We don’t have detailed provenance for the club, but presume that one of the MSS Duff’s passengers lived in Horsham and brought it back as a souvenir from their voyage.
Barkcloth (Tapa) Production
We have a number of pieces of barkcloth (or tapa) in our collections, many of which date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Tapa is a material made from the inner bark of shrubs or trees, which has been softened and expanded into think sheets by a process of soaking and beating. Dependent upon the purpose of the cloth, the tapa may then be decorated using incisions, pricking, dyes or paints. Commonly found across the Pacific and in parts of Africa, particularly where there is no weaving culture, barkcloth served as a useful material for the production of clothing, flooring, bedding, and ceremonial objects. The cloth is hard-wearing, easily renewable, and cheap to produce. Given that barkcloth does not have strong insulating properties, it is most commonly used in warm climates where there is no need to furs or skins. Barkcloth is still produced in many communities, both for practical purposes as well as for tourist keepsakes, and the techniques have changed very little over the millennia. The examples in our collections are from the Pacific region.
“Maori Studies” – Photographic Album
These photographs are taken from the book “Maori Studies”; a series of 12 sepia toned photographs of Maori people published in 1907 by photographer Thomas Pringle of Wellington, New Zealand. Thomas Pringle (1858-1931) was a member of the Wellington Photographic Association and subsequently employed by the newly formed Department of Tourism which then became The National Publicity Studios. He produced an early series of coloured postcards of New Zealand and self- published this book and others. As with many other such items in the collections, we believe that the album was brought over to the UK by an intrepid Horsham citizen. It arrived in our collections in 1930.
“Mairie the Arawa Beauty”
Te Arawa is a confederation of Maori tribes based in the Rotorua and Bay of Plenty areas of New Zealand. Members trace their ancestry to Te Arawa waka canoe, one of the great ocean-going, voyaging canoes that was used in the migrations that settled New Zealand.
“Poi Dancer, Whakarewarewa”
Poi is a traditional Maori dance. During a poi dance weights on the ends of tethers are swung through rhythmical patterns.
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