Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Oxfordshire Travellers' Stories Project

"Socks", belonging to the Collins family at the Redbridge site.
Over the last six months, the Museums Outreach Office and VERVE have been working alongside Oxfordshire County Council's Family Learning team (Oxfordshire Skills and Learning Service) and the Museum of Oxford with four of Oxfordshire’s Traveller communities: Redbridge, Middle Ground, East Challow and Bloxham.

The collaboration aims to capture something of the lives of these different local Traveller communities - encouraging them to tell their own stories, relate their families’ cultural tales and represent themselves through objects, pictures and oral history. All these things are integral to their values, history and lifestyle. 

Traveller groups are under-represented museum visitors, so this ASPIRE-funded project aims to raise awareness of the local museums among these communities, and encourage further engagement and visits in the future.

Diana makes blankets for any new babies
born at East Challow, Wantage (her
grandmother taught her how to make them
Initially, each of the four groups spent some time with the Family Learning team discussing which objects reflected their Traveller community and history. Now the groups are developing work for display in an exhibition this winter to be held jointly at the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of Oxford. While each of the four groups have chosen to represent themselves through different objects - taking photographs, writing and telling stories, making model wagons, knitting blankets and decorating 'Crown Derby' papier mache plates - they have also been working on their literacy and computer skills. As the exhibition takes shape, Family Learning will continue to work with the groups by creating trails, captioning work and presenting their story. 

The Oxford University Museum’s Outreach team have been busy visiting the four sites, joining the local Children Centres and Mobile Children’s Centre bus, taking museum handling objects out, and meeting different members of each community. They have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about Traveller culture and lifestyle, which in turn has highlighted how many misconceptions exist with regards to education, jobs, lifestyle and sites.

Chantelle collects porcelain dolls and displays
them on her trailer at Middle Ground site, Wheatley
During the Easter holidays, the Redbridge and Middle Ground groups visited the Pitt Rivers Museum to have a guided tour, handle objects from the collections, and take part in craft activities such as drum and mask-making. The majority of the group had never visited either museum before, so it was an eye-opener to many!

Several weeks later during the summer holidays, one of the Middle Ground families visited the Museum of Oxford and took a tour behind the scenes. They spent time exploring Oxford’s stories through a wide range of objects. Some of these were surprisingly familiar like the Victorian stove from West Oxford, which reminded a group member of her mother’s old stove:

“It’s amazing, everything here has a story. We used to have a stove just like that. It was my Mum’s when we were travelling. I love stoves like that.” (Chantelle, visit to the Museum of Oxford).

Other objects were less familiar and even a little spooky, including 'Giles the Skeleton' and one of the Museum’s old wax dummies! The youngest member of the group was particularly interested in the Museum’s Civil War collection and was inspired to paint himself dressed up as a Cavalier soldier (see photo). The group enjoyed exploring the gallery space where their work will be displayed later this year and the Museum is looking forward to welcoming other families from the project once the exhibition is in place. Do come and visit us then!

Work with the four groups will continue in the autumn in preparation for the exhibition at:

  • Museum of Oxford                                                   21 November 2014 – 10 January 2015
  • Pitt Rivers Museum                                                   5 December 2014 – 18 January 2015 

Maya Herbolzheimer (Pitt Rivers Museum)
Antonia Harland-Lang (Museum of Oxford)
Nicola Bird (Oxford University Museums)

Sarah Levete (Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire Skills and Learning Service, Family Learning Tutor Coordinator)