Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Need / Make / Use Day 2013

UPDATE! 1 September
The sun shone and 1600 people came to make, handle, dance, drum, watch, browse, eat and drink. Thanks to everyone for making NMU Day 2013 such a success. You can find event photos on our Flickr page.

Need / Make / Use describes the cycle of necessity, ideas, design, experimentation and production that has driven technological change and innovation in all cultures from the deep past to the present day - essentially, how people USE the things they have to MAKE the things they NEED!

Need / Make / Use Day (Saturday 31 August 2013) is a chance for people of all ages to get hands-on with some of their ideas about the collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Who made that object? What for? How and with what materials? Do we use something similar today? 

We hope you will come along and join us for a day of fun, creativity and discovery. NMU Day is a FREE event and very much a collaborative effort, so we'd like to thank all the following who will be exhibiting, demonstrating, performing, providing refreshments or who have supported the event in some way: 

Workshops / Demonstrators
The Junk Orchestra           
Sol Samba                            
Habitat for Humanity          
Campaign for Real Events           

Craft makers (jewellery, accessories, clothing, stationery and more)
Susan Clark                         
Bunny & Bear                  
Georgie Beadman              
Scruffy Adams                   
Alison Newbould                
Maria Skoyles                       
Rosie Jacobs                       

Secret Pizza  Society                   
Pukeko Coffee                   

With additional thanks to Alan Joyce (ice cream), the Big Bang Restaurant (prize sponsor), University of Oxford Estates and Departments (parking, site management), and the Museum's wonderful volunteers.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Left arm in, right arm out: Museum hokey cokey with Japanese ogre figures

As promised in a previous entry we are going to look in a little more detail at the two Japanese oni figures 1964.1.1 and 1964.1.2, which are being redisplayed as part of the project.   

Oni are creatures from Japanese folklore. They are shape-shifters, able to change their form and appearance, and are most often depicted as evil, humanoid, demonic or ogre-like figures. Oni often have horns, extra eyes, or additional or fewer fingers and toes. As you can see, our figures have horns and only four digits on their hands and feet. Oni are also often depicted wearing a loin cloth. However, both our figures are dressed in velvet kimonos with differing embrodered designs on the chest. We believe they may be around 200 hundred years old. I have tried to find other similar examples elsewhere, but so far have drawn a blank. So, if anyone reading this knows of similar objects in other collections, please do get in touch.

The figures are large (approximately 1.2 metres tall) and occupy a big presence in the Collections office and Conservation lab! They are very eye-catching, especially with their bulging painted eyes, realistic-looking limbs and only four fingers and toes.

Oni figures in their old display, high up on the south wall of the Court

Once they were removed from the case we were able to get a proper look at them and discovered that their construction is very interesting. Dressed and perched high up in the Court for more years than anyone could remember, it was assumed that each figure was solid wood. In fact, a closer look revealed they were comprised of six, much lighter, separate parts, which was welcome news when it came to moving them! -
  • the torso and legs
  • two detachable arms
  • a detachable head
  • a velvet kimono
  • a silk belt
The lower sections of the limbs and head are carved in wood and then painted with gesso - a thick paint mixture, which gives a smooth surface. The body and thighs are made from a wooden frame bound and nailed with cane strips to give it a more naturalistic shape.

Once the figure was separated into its constituent pieces we were able to look more carefully at the construction techniques used. The arms and head are attached through slots in the torso. The upper arms are made using the same technique of winding cane around a wooden frame, but have then been covered with once-white textile.

Despite their hollow bodies, they are still very awkward and difficult to move.  The gesso is brittle and has separated from the wood in many places. The velvet kimono is very fragile and so far over 80 hours of conservation work has been done on one figure alone. The kimono and belt are still being conserved.

As with any object in the Museum that comprises several detachable pieces, the figures are being carefully documented. Each piece is being assigned its own number to ensure its movements through different departments at the Museum and its condition can be noted, as well as enabling us to add the maximum amount of information to our database.

At some point during these process, it became clear that at some point in their history, the two figures’ left arms had been swapped over! The limbs for 1964.1.1 are all numbered using small cream stickers with numbers written on them. Similar stickers are also placed on the body at the appropriate holes to help assemble the figure correctly. The head and arms for 1964.1.2 however, have no stickers and are labelled with the same Japanese characters, which we believe say “set one”.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that the figures’ limbs and bodies have also been numbered with roman numerals in blue pencil, but that this took place after the left arms were swapped over.

There was no mention in the accession books, card catalogue or correspondence regarding their arrival at the Museum  that the figures’ clothing and limbs could be detached. There was also no note regarding the labels, Japanese writing or blue pencil. However, this is not unusual. This kind of information was seldom included in documentation for objects donated until relatively recently. The cataloguing of these figures demonstrates how there is just no such thing as too much detail when adding information about objects. You never know what information someone will need in the future.  Therefore all the writing on these objects has been noted, including the colour and type of material used, i.e. ink, pencil.

Conservation intern Alison Foster (UCL) has spent
many hours working on one oni figure

So, what's next for these figures? Once the documentation and conservation processes are complete, they will head downstairs to our Technical Services department, who will start work designing their mounts and new display... 

Sian, VERVE Curatorial Assistant