Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Rockin' Reindeer Christmas Trail

This Christmas we're testing your reindeer spotting skills! Can you spot all the reindeer in the Museum with our festive Rockin' Reindeer Trail? The trail is based across both the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and will highlight lots of reindeer related objects in the collections.

Can you spot all 10 reindeer across the Museums? © Pitt Rivers Museum

Here's a sneak peek of one of the objects featured in the trail: 

Reindeer skin knickers, Siberia 1915.50.111 © Pitt Rivers Museum
These knickers would have been worn by people who lived in cold places like Siberia in Russia. They are made from reindeer skin and the fur is on the inside to keep the person wearing them warm and cosy, which was essential as temperatures can drop to -50 c. These knickers would have been worn by a woman with leggings and thigh high boots. They are not often worn today because the skills of making them lie with the older generation. Also most Inuit and Evenki peoples living in Alaska and northern Russia live in heated homes so there isn't such a need to wear them. Some people still wear them but on rare occasions such as when hunting. 

Come and take a closer look at these reindeer skin knickers in the Museum and discover more reindeer objects that we have on display. The trail runs from Saturday 19th December until Sunday 3rd January during opening hours

Carly Smith-Huggins, Families Education Officer

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

'Mythology by Moonlight' – a Museum Takeover project at Pitt Rivers Museum

We are excited to be working with nine students from Matthew Arnold School in Oxford on a Museum Takeover project. Their Takeover event, 'Mythology by Moonlight', will take place at the Museum on Saturday 5 March 2016 from 6-9pm and will be open to members of the public. Tickets will go on sale in January 2016. 

The project involves the students curating, planning and running all aspects of the evening event. The event will focus on myths and mythological characters from different cultures represented in the museum. There will be live music, craft activities, ‘mythology’ explainers and the screening of films created by the students. 

The project began with a training day held at the Pitt Rivers Museum in October 2015 where students from schools and colleges across Oxfordshire met to explore ideas for activities and events that they could run in museums. It was a day full of creativity and great ideas about how to get museums buzzing.

Since then the students have been meeting once a week in school to work on their plans for their Takeover event. As the Secondary School and FE Education Officer, I have been joining the meetings every other week. In November they visited the museum for a ‘behind the scenes tour’. We visited the Photographic Archive, where we looked in the Photographic Store, and saw the different types of historic photographs and negatives that are held by the museum. 

Tour of photographic archive with assistant curator Kathy Clough © Pitt Rivers Museum

We then had a tour of the Conservation Studio where conservators work using special equipment and techniques to care for artefacts in the collection and ensure they are preserved for future generations. 

Visiting the conservation lab with conservator Andrew Hughes © Pitt Rivers Museum

After that we went into the museum after it had closed to the public and had a chance to explore the collection, and see the different light effects that are possible for special events. 

Museum after hours! © Pitt Rivers Museum
Finally we heard from Maddie Ding, the VERVE Volunteer Coordinator, all about the planning and running of the ‘Day of the Dead’ special event held at the museum on 30 October, 2015.

Discussing how to plan an event in the museum © Pitt Rivers Museum
 Cyra, a participating student who is also coordinating event-planning on behalf of the Takeover group, said: “I thought that the visit was very worthwhile and it opened my eyes to the things that go on behind the scenes in a museum. I never knew that there was so much preparation that went into making the museum tick and it was fascinating to hear about the processes that go into keeping the museum and its artefacts safe.” The students will visit the museum again in this month.

The project is a partnership between museums across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire who are all working with young people on Museum Takeover events. The museums are working together in this way to help each other make their museums as welcoming as possible to young people and to plan more events like this in the future. It is funded by South East Museum Development programme. It is supported by Kids in Museums as part of their national Takeover Day initiative. 

Katherine Rose, Education Officer (Secondary and FE)

Museum Takeover students in the Pitt Rivers Education Office © Pitt Rivers Museum

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Take One... Totem Pole

Take One... Totem Pole is a highly successful primary school project which has been running at the Pitt Rivers Museum for the last year.  It is part of the National Gallery's Take One... brand which encourages schools to take one picture or object, and use it as a springboard for pupils' critical and creative thinking.  Pupils are challenged to find out the story of the 11.36m high totem pole in the Museum.
Totem Pole 1901.39.1  © Pitt Rivers Museum


The philosophy behind the project is that an entire school takes the object as a focus for their curriculum planning, ideally leading to a celebratory whole school event.  This year we have worked with West Oxford Community Primary School, St Swithuns CE Primary School, Cholsey Primary School and Bishop Carpenter CE Primary School.  The project is supported by a set of Teacher Notes and whole staff INSET is offered.

Art display at West Oxford Primary School © Pitt Rivers Museum

During the summer West Oxford Community Primary School made Take One... Totem Pole the focus of their art week. Every single class visited the Museum for a 75 minute taught session to experience the totem pole and find out more about it.  Pupils discovered that the totem pole comes from Haida Gwaii, a group of islands off the North-West coast of Canada.  They found out more about the traditions of the Haida people, and handled a variety of their objects from deer-hoof rattles to carved paddles.  They also heard about the stories linked to the totem pole and about the mischievous raven!  Back at school each class took a different creative response such as making raven masks or sewing button blankets. These artworks were displayed at a week long exhibition to which parents and the local community were invited.

Haida-inspired button blanket © Pitt Rivers Museum
Raven Masks © Pitt Rivers Museum

At the start of September St Swithuns C of E Primary School, Kennington, took part in Take One... Totem Pole involving just under 400 pupils in a 3 week project.  This culminated in an open afternoon for parents in which they could see all the childrens' creative responses.  There were totem poles lining the corridors made from all sorts of materials!

Totem pole at St Swithuns
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Nursery Class totem pole at St Swithuns
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Totem poles made from Pringle containers!
© Pitt Rivers Museum

If you are interested in participating in Take One... Totem Pole please contact Becca McVean at

Watch out for the new Take One Object which will be revealed in January 2016....

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Preserving What is Valued: Tom of Holland's Darning Workshop

Currently on at the Pitt Rivers Museum is the 'Preserving What is Valued' case display and museum trail.  It demonstrates how people from all parts of the world repair their material culture.  Conservators study objects in great detail and part of their role is to determine at what stage a repair has been made.  If the repair was made by the originating community while it was still in use this provides an additional level of information and can give the object a deeper resonance.  Identifying an original repair can raise questions that make us think about the object's history differently.
Gourd vessel decoratively repaired using beads © Pitt Rivers Museum
I was invited to run two darning classes as part of the events around this display.  My name is Tom and I'm a self-taught textile practitioner, and one of the things I do is run the Visible Mending Programme. Through this Programme I seek to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion's throwaway culture.  By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

'A Mother's Work' - Repair commission for private client © Tom of Holland
The darning classes were well attended and the participants were taught two classic knitwear repair techniques: firstly Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching, which is a good way to reinforce thinning fabrics such as elbows on sleeves, or to cover up stains.

Swiss darning in action © Pitt Rivers Museum
The second technique taught was the classic stocking darn, using a darning mushroom.  It creates a woven patch that is integrated with the knit fabric, and is a good way to repair holes.  Of course this is best known for sock repairs.
A completed practice swatch © Pitt Rivers Museum
Throughout the class, I shared many hints and tips on repairing, such as what tools and materials to use for best results, examples of my work, and how to look after your woollens.  Half-way through the class we had a break, and everybody was encouraged to see the display cabinet and follow the museum trail to find original repairs.

Repaired muslin handkerchief © Pitt Rivers Museum
Comb repaired with a riveted metal strip © Pitt Rivers Museum
I found the repairs very inspiring: an inventive use of locally available materials such as baste fibres, small decorative additions such as beads, or the neat way stitching cracks, the use of staples, or even items made in such a way that they could be easily repaired in the future.  I won't go into too much detail, as it's fun to go and see it all for yourself! 

The Preserving What is Valued case display and museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 29 June - 3 January 2016.  For more information click here.

Workshop participants show off their new skills © Pitt Rivers Museum

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Learning Beyond the Classroom: Oxford Brookes Education Students at the Pitt

During the week 5th-10th October 2015, the Pitt Rivers Museum extended an opportunity to four Oxford Brookes students to come and observe practices and activities within the Museum. Here we hear from those four students: Jack Harford, Katie Bragg, Becca Copas and Kat King.

Brookes Students with objects from Extreme Environments © Pitt Rivers Museum

"We are writing this blog post to share with you the activities and experiences we observed and participated in within the Museum this week. But first, we should probably share some information about ourselves. The four of us are students at Oxford Brookes University and are in the final year of a Primary Education course. The four of us attended this week at the Museum in order to observe and develop our understanding of the exciting and engaging learning opportunities that children (and adults) can experience outside their usual classroom environment. 

"Day 1: We were introduced to Becca McVean, the Primary Education Officer at the Museum.  We then attended an introductory lecture on Anthropology to give us little bit more insight and information about the Museum and the collections within.  Becca met us again to discuss initial perceptions of the Museum and how we as primary school teachers could use the Museum to enhance children's learning.

Pitt Rivers Museum © Kat King

"Day 2: We had the opportunity to observe Becca in action with a class of Year 6 pupils who had come to visit the Museum. The children were looking at Extreme Environments. Becca began by introducing the children to four very extreme environments and encouraging them to consider how the animals and humans who lived in this area had adapted to their environment. The children then had an opportunity to handle objects and decide which environment they thought the object came from. It was great to see children using their senses, exploring the objects, discussing with one another and forming and justifying their ideas. The children were then given a trail to go on around the Museum to find different objects from each environment. Whilst the children were fascinated by the objects around them, the trail kept them focussed and on task. The group were engaged and given an opportunity that they perhaps may not have received in the classroom.

 Activities for Extreme Environments © Kat King

"Day 3: We were introduced to Chris Jarvis, the Primary School Education Officer at the Museum of Natural History. To begin with we explored the Museums independently to consider the ways in which schools can interlink the learning between the two Museums.  We then regrouped to discuss the similarities and differences between the Museums and how we can teach children collaboratively using the resources and artefacts throughout them. 

"Day 4: Our final day. We observed an Ancient Egyptian trail with a class of Year 3 pupils. Children were made detectives and it was their job to find Egyptian artefacts focussing on different characteristics of Egyptian culture. The children also had the chance to handle various artefacts and explore the Museum independently to identify other artefacts from Ancient Egypt not previously shown. 
The Egyptian Mummy © Katie Bragg

"Our week at the Pitt Rivers Museum has demonstrated to us the importance of allowing children to handle objects and artefacts to support their learning outside the classroom. It is also important to consider the layout of various museums as some museums are presented in different ways which allows visitors to see the progression through time. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Pitt Rivers Museum and have gained a new perspective of learning beyond the classroom environment."

Friday, 4 September 2015

Pitt Rivers welcomes Artist Teacher Scheme from Brookes, August 2015

Hello, my name is Katherine Rose and I am the new Secondary and FE Education Officer at the Pitt Rivers Museum. I am excited to be joining the team here and to contribute my first post to the Pitt Rivers Education blog.

In August we were delighted to welcome Rachel Payne and eleven teachers in the new cohort of the Brookes' Artist Teacher Scheme to the Pitt Rivers Museum. We had two days of workshops and creative work inspired by the museum.

Day One was led by artist Miranda Cresswell, who is currently the artist in residence for EngLaID British Archaeology project. She asked us to think about landscapes we loved or knew well, and make drawings of textures in museum objects that reminded us of those landscapes. The Annexe then became a studio as we developed these initial sketches into art works using collage, paint, pastel and chalk. 

On Day Two Adrian (Joint Museums Art Education Officer) and Andy and I led discussion and activities focusing on interpretation. We considered how we interpret art and museum artefacts, and ways of doing this. We also looked at how visiting artists had created installations in the Pitt Rivers Museum as a way of interpreting or intervening in the collection. There was a creative chinese whispers activity that involved writing tweets, drawing and making models of different objects. We finished by doing in-depth explorations of three objects in the Pitt Rivers collection to think about how we build up layers of meaning based on our personal response and associations, what the object looks like and is made of and what we can find out from similar artefacts. We also thought about the different contexts we can understand the object in. Each group made a performance based upon their object to finish the day.

Performance inspired by the Haida Totem Pole (1901.39.1) © Pitt Rivers Museum 
We wish the group all the best for what promises to be an interesting and creative year ahead as they develop their practice and link this back to their work as art teachers and educators.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Winners of the Bookfeast Creative Writing Competition

After taking part in the Bookfeast Festival, hosted by the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and The Ashmolean, Oxfordshire primary school pupils were invited to write a story opening which had a strong sense of place.  After attending author events linked by the theme of 'Once Upon a Place', and participating in Creative Writing Workshops run by OUMC Education staff and Flashes of Splendour, many pupils were inspired to enter the competition.  Read the winning entries of the Bookfeast Creative Writing Competition here.

Years 5 and 6

 First Prize

Hanan Hussain
(Year 6, St Michael’s CE Aided Primary School)

 Day of the Dodo

The Dodo Walks Out © Oxford University Museum of Natural History
This story starts in Oxford, in the early Victorian era, before the Dodo became extinct. That is an important fact, remember it. It was early morning and gentlemen in sleek black top hats and ladies with fancy lace dresses were bustling around. This, along with poor people crying on the streets, was a common sight. Not so common was the dodo that waddled through St. Giles, seemingly heading for that huge monument located there. Once the Dodo had reached the monument it tapped it with its beak. And, as if by magic, a hole appeared and the Dodo walked through.

Second Prize
Lola Meyer
(Year 6, St Barnabus Primary School)

The Bird Box

Key from the Pitt Rivers Collection 1901.49.33 © Pitt Rivers Museum
At the end of a tiny back garden in central Oxford, there is a colossal oak tree. Hidden between the overgrown ivy and gnarled branches, there is a small, rusty keyhole. The key to it is kept in the handmade wooden bird box at the very topmost branches of the old oak tree. Nobody has ever discovered what is inside the tree. However, a nine- year-old girl has just moved into the house and she adores climbing trees. Inside the tree is a secret library filled with books such as Spying on Birds and Hypnotizing Hedgehogs.

Third Prize

Youna Seymour
(Year 6, West Oxford Community Primary School)

Darkness. Darkness so Deep.

Darkness. A darkness so deep it could terrify even the bravest. All those times when I was little, hiding under the bed sheets afraid of what lay in the dark…And then as I stood there, the darkness seemed to be breathing slow, shallow breaths, but when I listened I could hear nothing. We all get that feeling sometimes, there’s something there, something we can’t see. A sudden light illuminates a barren landscape; ruins of a mighty house, now cracked and covered in moss. Old pines spring up in random places. I take a few steps and turn around…

Fourth Prize

Beatrice Vincent-Ratti
(Year 6, St Aloysius Catholic Primary School)

Kaia Ran

Kaia ran. Through maze-like roads, through narrow streets. All she could hear was the padding of her feet and her jagged breathing. Eerie sodium light burned the darkness. It felt peculiar to run through these streets with nobody around. In the daylight, it was teeming with life. Now everything seemed sterile and spooky. The houses were quiet; the kind of silence after an attack. Kaia stopped. The repugnant smell of the alleyway’s decaying food hit her nose hard. Bags lay piled up, the contents spilling open. Dark walls seemed to be closing in on her. Snap! She turned…

 Years 3 and 4

 First Prize

 Lorien Bray
(Year 4, Little Milton Primary School)

The Fairyland Forest

Wondrous and amazed, I gazed absently into the never-ending canopy of this fairyland forest. As I came to my senses, I realized that I was in a small clearing surrounded by tall, leafy trees that reached the sky and waved slowly in the light breeze. Around the trees, exquisite birds flutter while they sing a beautiful tune. On the ground condensed soil lies silently and peacefully. My nose tells me that damp moss covers the soft earth. In the distance, a stream trickles enchantingly. My footsteps crunch loudly on the mixed dirt and bark.

Second Prize

Millie Elwin
(Year 3, Little Milton Primary School)

 A Dark Gloomy Forest

There was a dark, gloomy forest. As the thick trees swayed side to side, it looks like the midnight starry sky gets darker. Sometimes it smells like dead flowers and dry fruit. It’s horrific. You don’t want to go there. As the misty moon rises, you can hear 1000 packs of howling wolves.

Third Prize

Imogen Hobbins
(Year 3, Beckley School)

How Birds Learnt to Fly

Have you ever been sitting in your garden on a summer’s day and watched a bird fly? Well, they didn’t use to do that. This is how it all began.

Way back when humans weren’t invented, well almost, there was a land called Canaloo. There were sparkling, raging waterfalls, lots of neon palm leaves and thousands and thousands of different coloured birds. There were yellow long-tailed birds, green sparkling chirpy ones, blue water canary ones and the most beautiful bird, Falona, the red phoenix. The only problem was none of them could fly.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Pop-up Pitt Rivers

The Pitt Rivers outreach programme is part of the Need / Make / Use project. Between 2013 and 2017 we are taking the Pitt-Rivers ‘experience’ to events, fetes and festivals in and around Oxfordshire. Our aim is to reach out to communities that may not have had the opportunity to visit the Museum, so they can engage with the collections in new ways through handling museum objects, craft activities and workshops.

So far in 2015 we’ve been lucky enough to attend Abingdon Fun in the Park in the Abbey Grounds and Florence Park Festival in June and Salisbury’s Festival of Archaeology in July.

Pitt Rivers pop-up tent at Abingdon's Fun in the Park in June © Pitt Rivers Museum

Inside our beautifully decorated tent we have a selection of intriguing museum handling objects on display from around the world to spark people’s curiosity and encourage conversation. The great thing about museum handling objects is that people can pick them up, feel the materials and even give them a sniff!

One of our favourite ‘smelling’ objects is this Kenyan milk gourd, made from a calabash (a type of vegetable), which has been cleaned and dried in the sun until it becomes hard and watertight. Its distinctive smell comes from a blend of milk, cows blood and ash, providing the local Maasai herdsmen with their staple food and all their protein and caloric needs in a convenient portable ‘lunchbox’. These gourds were treasured, mended when broken and used for many years.

Kenyan Maasai gourd from the education handling collection © Pitt Rivers Museum

As always our pop-up tent also features a selection of free family friendly craft activities relating to the museum’s collections and some of the handling objects on display. This summer we’ve had fun making porcupine fish helmets, fish scale breastplates, mini Zulu shields, feather headdresses, drum shakers and more!

 Porcupine fish helmet activity & replica porcupine
fish helmet from the education handling collection. © Pitt Rivers Museum

At Salisbury Festival of archaeology, emulating a fish-scale
breastplate from Sarawak © Pitt Rivers Museum
Children wearing their porcupine fish helmets, 
and pretending to be one! © Pitt Rivers Museum

This August, look out for our tent in Witney’s Marriotts Walk shopping centre (Wed 19th) and the next Oxfordshire Play Day event in Wallingford (Wednesday 12th)!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Make and Take a Carp Kite: Family Activities

We have many beautifully crafted kites that can be found on the first floor of the Pitt Rivers Museum. In our education handling collection we have one of my favourite types of kite, carp kites. 

Japanese Carp Kite from the Education handling collection © Pitt Rivers Museum

What I like most about the carp kite is not only how colourful and great they look blowing in the wind, but also the story of why they were created and how they are used in Japan.

Carp kites are traditionally flown in Japan to celebrate a yearly national holiday called Children’s Day (Kodomo Nohi). It used to be known as Boy’s day until 1948 when it was changed to make it a celebration of boys and girls. In 2015 Children’s day fell on 5th May and we celebrated in the museum by making carp kites with under 5s.

The tradition is that kites are hung outside the home to honour children, usually one for each child. The kites are based on Koi carp fish, which are known to swim upstream so they represent determination and strength. Parents fly these kites outside their home in the hope that their children will grow up to be brave, strong and dedicated like the carp. 

Handmade Carp Kite © Pitt Rivers Museum

Why not try making your own carp kite to fly inside or outside your home! Find instructions here. 

Carly Smith-Huggins, Family Education Officer 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

CPD Event for Primary School Teachers: From Stone Age to Iron Age

Calling all Oxford primary teachers! Have you been asked to teach Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age for the first time and don't know where to start? Or even if you gave it a go last year but want some ideas to liven it up this year, then Kim Biddulph of Schools Prehistory is running an afternoon workshop at the Pitt Rivers Museum on 22nd September from 1.00 - 4.30 pm.

Getting to grips with a Neolithic Axe during a training day
© Schools Prehistory

Kim has been a museum educator for fifteen years, and has worked in schools, museums and heritage sites. Her specialism is in the prehistory of Britain so she will run through a timeline and an overview of the major changes that happened during this period, to help you think about planning a block of work as well as bring in lots of handling objects to help you get the feel of the period. She'll get you to try out some activities that could help bring the topic to life in school, like making your own pigment or making replica Bronze Age axes out of chocolate. Kim has been working with us to develop a new workshop that will be available to book after October half-term, and you get to see a sneaky peek at all our fab resources.

For only £40 for the afternoon, with a free 2-metre timeline and booklet of information, resources and links thrown in for free, you can't afford to miss it!

Handling Palaeolithic handaxes at the Bucks County Museum © Schools Prehistory

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Phillip Pullman draws a crowd at Bookfeast

Philip Pullman was one of 23 authors to talk at the Bookfeast Festival, jointly hosted for the fifth year by the Pitt Rivers, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and The Ashmolean.  Over 1,968 children from 27 Oxfordshire primary schools participated in these author events, focussing on the festival theme of 'Once Upon a Place - Places, Spaces and Setting in Children's Stories'.

Philip Pullman signing books at Bookfeast © Pitt Rivers Museum

Top tips were given by Pullman to an audience of 300 pupils as to how to create a compelling setting. He explained how you have to help the reader see something in their mind's eye and how you can use details to make things stand out. When an illustrator came and made sketches in the Pitt Rivers Museum for his Dark Materials trilogy details picked up on were the roof brackets and joists. He encouraged pupils to understand how authors have to suggest things with words - if you read something how do you know where you are? - is it indoors? - what light is there? - is it a small or big room?

 Pullman talks about Pitt Rivers as an inspirational setting © Pitt Rivers Museum

Pupils were then given the opportunity to develop their own sensational settings in creative writing trails around the Museums, led by OUMC Education Officers. Key Stage 2 pupils explored a range of genres as they transformed the Museums into settings for a fantasy, action adventure, and spooky story. These ideas could be developed into a story setting for an opening paragraph and entered into the Bookfeast competition. Key Stage 1 pupils created picture book pages of adventures in a range of settings from underwater to the jungle.

A fantastic line-up of authors explained how they got inspiration for both their settings and characters.  Matt Brown, author of Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe, explained how village names on road signs and maps give him inspiration for character names. Elen Caldecott, creator of The Marsh Road Mysteries: Diamonds and Daggers, explained how a specific London street well known to her inspired her setting and story.

Gary Northfield introduces Julius Zebra © Pitt Rivers Museum

Illustrators also gave tips on how to create evocative settings and characters.  Gary Northfield got pupils recreating Julius Zebra from the world of the Roman Colosseum.  Meanwhile Carnegie Winner Tanya Landman enchanted younger pupils with her Jetsam and Flotsam dolls.

Jetsam and Flotsam come to the Pitt Rivers! © Pitt Rivers Museum

Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a fantastic festival  - it was a great partnership project between the charity Bookfeast, authors and Museum staff as to how central places, spaces and settings are to successful creative writing.  Now watch out for the winning entries of the Bookfeast competition!