A staff post from Nicola Scott and Becky Smith, Collections Management Assistants at The Hunterian.
Doors Open Day 2017 was a landmark occasion for The Hunterian at Kelvin Hall. It saw the first public tours of the new museum store!
The Doors Open Day tours were a chance for us to show people what we have been doing behind the scenes at The Hunterian for the last 3 years. One of our favourite statistics is that only about 1% of our collections are actually on display across our museum and art gallery venues – and the other 99% – that is roughly 1.5 million objects – has to stay somewhere! That takes a lot of storage – 9 different stores in our case.
In 2014 The Hunterian began a major decant project, moving its stored collections from those 9 sites all over Glasgow to be housed in one state-of-the-art facility based at Kelvin Hall. Kelvin Hall is also home to The Hunterian Collections Study Centre which has given greater access to the stored collections for students, researchers and the public through teaching and events.
Here are some of the things we got to show the people who visited the store!
The Art Collection
In The Hunterian Art Collection there are about 900 framed artworks, and 40,000 works on paper, including prints, drawings, and sketchbooks. The tour began within the picture racking, home to works by artists from Whistler to Alistair Grey.
Amongst the canvases and gold frames we found some prime examples of Glasgow’s artistic and architectural history: a Francis MacNair watercolour and architectural drawings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Kelvin Hall is built on the site of the Machinery Exhibitions Hall of the Glasgow International Exhibition 1901. The architectural drawings we showed were entered into a competition to design another building for the prestigious exhibition. Sadly Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s cross and long sections of the Industrial Hall (GLAHA: 52556 and 52558) failed to win the judges over but our visitors were still impressed!
Works on Paper
We moved onto our works in paper storage where we took the opportunity to explain a little about the collections management of a large collection of works all stored in boxes which look largely the same! We barcode them – and then we scan them – and we can scan their location – so we can always easily locate and track the whereabouts of all of this collection, something that the collections management team are very excited about!
Moving our tour further into the depths of the store, we reached the first part of our very large zoology collection – the trophy heads. This is quite a sight as you look up and are faced with a variety of creatures looking back at you. Here we could explain more the benefits of moving into the new store, as these trophy heads have lots of space and can be organised into a clear taxonomic order, as all zoology collections hope to be. It was also at this point in the tour that we could explain how we treat collections like these for museum pests – the dreaded carpet beetle and humble clothes moth (two of many insects who like to dine on fragile organic material).
The new store’s climate control teamed up with our quarantine methods and freezing programme means all the collections, including our Ethnography Collection, are protected from such pests and any damage that could occur due to fluctuation in temperature. Our Ethnography Collection includes ‘first contact’ objects acquired by William Hunter from the Captain Cook’s voyages to the South Seas and the north-west coast of North America in 1769-80. The collection has a diverse range of objects from clothing to tools which all need different packing solutions. The Decant Team made bespoke boxes for many of these items. We showed the visitors a few of the boxes we have made and packed, and the objects they housed.
To finish off their Doors Open Day tour our visitors experienced a showcase of objects in our Collection Study Centre, displaying the variety of collections housed in Kelvin Hall. These included entomological and geological material which we didn’t get a chance to talk about in depth in the store (it is tricky to encompass all of The Hunterian’s vast collections in a 25 min tour!). In order to learn about the chosen objects we had some of our brilliant MUSE’s (Museum Student Educators) telling the visitors all about them so our visitors got an excellent behind-the-scenes experience and learned about our collection up close.
This event was hopefully just the beginning of many more tours of our store, as we would love to continue sharing all that The Hunterian has to offer – so watch this space and come and join us!