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 education@prm.ox.ac.uk

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