Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A mummy, a silver penny, a spider and a piece of flint

Objects of our affection
Warrington Museum & Art Gallery, 2nd July 2013

spider and scorpion Courtesy of Warrington Museum & Art Gallery

We're working with a group of carers to re-label objects at Warrington Museum, creating new viewpoints and stories from items we've encountered in the museum displays and the stores. Yesterday I worked in the museum itself, inviting visitors to talk about their personal connections to the museum objects.

The day was one of contrasts, the first person I worked with was a young man, who honestly explained: It's a museum, I don't think it reminds me of me at all, it doesn't connect with me... but I like the mummy, you can't miss it- ancient history is more spectacular.

One woman explained her connection to the spiders in the glass jars. A particular spider, reminds me of my Uncle, he would pretend to hold one in his hand and chase me round the room. I didn't like him much, and I hated spiders! It was the fear of not knowing. 

One man choice the flint collection; I remember trying to make axes and bows and arrows when I was a child, without much success... 

A short question 'what objects do you connect to and why?  produced a wide variety of answers, and as ever in this project, made me re-look/re-think museums.

Edward the 3rd Silver penny

Do you know where the coins are?  was the opening lines from an older visitor to the museum. It turned out she had a deeply felt connection to the museum and in particular one object. 

I was walking up Cairo Street, where they were building Golden Square, when I saw a lovely shinny button, I bent to pick it up. My daughter says thats not a button but a penny, a silver penny. This is the first time I've been in the museum since I was a little girl (except to donate that penny) A silver penny, it goes back years and years. The church made the pennys in those days. I got a scroll from the Major of Warrington thanking me. A silver penny it was, at the old market, they were knocking buildings down and starting to dig. It wasn't declared treasure, so I asked my son if he wanted it, I asked if my daughter wanted it, they didn't so I gave it to the museum. 

This silver penny is in here somewhere, 19 or 20 when I last came in here, now I'm 80. Its small, not as big as my thumb nail, probably a months wages back then, quite a loss. The Guardian Office made a story of it, I've still got the scroll from the Lord Major, had it framed. 

Her concern now was to make sure it was still safe, so Craig from the museum went off to look in the records to find the details. Mrs G. left the museum clutching a piece of paper with all the details of her coin written on. 'Edward the 3rd silver penny... dates from 1369-1377....

I was so pleased to have been involved in a small way with this encounter. It was a timely reminder of the often complicated history of an object- not just why it was made, or who owned it, or what was it used for or its financial value, but also how an item ends up in a museum, its journey to a cabinet or store cupboard. Its not just Victorian collectors and philanthropists who stocked our museums,  but everyday people finding objects with their metal detectors or simply picking up a penny in the street, creating museums that really do belong to everyone.

No comments: