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The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

Photo of Viking Ship Museum entrance in the snow

It started with the Gokstad ship

I read about the Gokstad ship when very young and was fascinated. The survival of so much of the original and the items buried with it caught my imagination. Since then I have read about the Viking age, as it now referred to, at university and then for pleasure. But this ship kept it’s grip on my imagination.
 
I suspect the ship scenes in the film the Vikings starring Kirk Douglas may also have influenced me.
 

Visiting the Viking Ship Museum

On a snowy morning in November I caught the bus to the museum. With snow falling it felt most atmospheric walking up to the doors. The museum is cruciform with each ship filling an arm of the cross. The third arm houses the objects.
 
The first ship is the Oseberg ship and is magnificent. I’ve seen the remains of longships before but not an almost intact one. Before my visit I discussed Viking ship remains with a Danish colleague. We agreed that now restoration as done on these ships is no longer part of museum practice. The restored Oseberg ship does make an impact and is over 90% original.
 
Photo of the prow of the Oseberg ship

Prow of the Oseberg ship

The Gokstad ship

My next port of call was the Gokstad ship and I was very excited to see it. Did it live up to expectations after 45 years? Yes, it did!
 
Walking around the ship and seeing some of the objects from it felt a real treat. One of the features of the museum is the small viewing platforms in each ship gallery. These let you see into the ship from above. All the ships were sailing vessels before becoming burial vessels. So you get a good idea of the space available on them.
Photo of the Gokstad ship from above

The Gokstad ship seen from above

 
The 64 shields from the Gokstad ship are not on display. This disappointed me because I enjoy painting model Vikings with their shields. In contrast some of the peacock feathers from the grave are on display.
 
Seeing the burial chamber and small boats made up for the shields though. The burial chamber had a large hole made by tomb robbers. The two small boats were complete.
Photo of the Gokstad ship burial chamber and small boat

Gokstad ship burial chamber and small boat

 

The Tune ship

The Tune ship is in poor condition because it’s excavation in 1867 saw items lost and damaged. Given there is not much left of the ship a film about the Vikings plays in this room.
 
I liked the way the film uses the shape of the gallery. The main focus is the arched end wall but the side walls display supplementary scenes. 
Photo of the film playing in the museum

Film playing in the museum

The objects and textile gallery

The remaining gallery contains the object found in the ships including textiles. Seeing a lot of objects from one source for this period was a treat. The amount of carved and applied decoration was astounding.
 
Most objects were very ornate, such as the horse drawn sleds, and spoke of wealth. Other objects like buckets, tools and loom weights were more everyday items. It was good to see the more everyday objects that most people would use alongside the richer items.
 
The decorated wagon was not an everyday object. The richness of decoration on is wonderful. I spent some time following the patterns and noticing small parts I had seen in photos in the past. The sleds also have rich ornamentation but replacement runners imply regular use.
 
The textiles recovered from the graves were remarkable. Patterns and in some cases colour is visible. Another film gave an insight to how the cloth could have looked.
Photo of a detail of a sled ornament

Detail of a sled ornament

The museum shop and cafe

I enjoyed the shop’s mix of expensive things and cheaper traditional museum souvenirs. No prizes for guessing which I got! Luckily there wasn’t a model of the Gokstad ship so my wallet was safe. The cafe is outside the museum and has a very appropriate name as the photo shows.
Photo of the museum cafe

Viking Ship Museum cafe

And there’s more

The museum website has accounts of each ship’s excavation and finds. It also discusses the burials at each site and the need for continuing conservation work.
Photo of the 3D scanning to help plan conservation

3D scanning to help plan conservation

 

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Henry Lamb at Salisbury Museum – art , literature and war

Henry Lamb sign at Salisbury Museum

I knew of Henry Lamb’s work only though his portrait of Evelyn Waugh. On seeing this exhibition at Salisbury Museum I realised I had seen some of his Second World War paintings of Canadians before. So this exhibition was a great chance to see more of his work and find out more about the artist.

The exhibition at Salisbury Museum

The museum itself is close to the cathedral and the staff are very welcoming. It is paid admision so be prepared for that.

The exhibition covered the artist’s life from start to finish with plenty of work from each phase. As well as finished work sketches were included. In the war artist section this showed how he made colour notes on sketches. These informed the finished work which was also on display. I thought this was a lovely bit of curation.

Some of the highlights were seeing major works alongside family portraits. Also the quotes from others and his relationships as a young artist. He was legendarily good looking, so there was plenty to read about! The portraits of his family and children were a contrast to the earlier and war work. Again seeing a body of his work on his family made the exhibition worthwhile.

The permanent displays

We had a good look around the rest of the museum. The archaeology galleries are very well laid out and plenty of objects to discover in cupboards and drawers. Seeing familiar objects from photographs in context with related finds is always interesting.

From the very contemporary archaeology galleries the costume display is very much traditional regional museum in feel. We both liked this mix of new and old in presentation though. The costume collection is impressively varied and naturally has local connections. The reconstructed doctor’s surgery is a reminder of how tough things were before the NHS.

If you’re in Salisbury I’d recommend a visit to the museum. And they have their own cafe.

Touring exhibitions in museums

Photo of my ticket from Grayson Perry exhibition

When I say touring exhibitions I mean an exhibition that travels to different venues. Not going on a tour of exhibitions myself!

What makes a touring exhibition good?

For me its a strong theme so you know there is content relevant to your interests. Also the opportunity to see a show that you would normally have to travel a long way to see or simply not be able to get to.

If a touring exhibition has related objects from the host museum’s collection that’s another draw for me. A bit like get an unexpected treat!

A range of souvenirs is always a bonus. Admittedly I tend towards fridge magnets because they don’t take up much space. Having a selection of linked books, prints, cards and other items does make finding something easy.

A themed exhibition

An annual treat for myself and a friend is going to the International Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in Bristol. Wildlife photography fans will know this tours around the country. Having this available in Bristol is much closer and cheaper to get to than in London.

The show is consistently good both in terms of quality of images and addressing issues affecting wildlife. The photos have enough information on shooting them to give a connection with the photographer and an insight into their thinking. The subject range is broad enough to include contentious issues like pollution, deforestation, poaching and local jobs in conflict with wildlife preservation.

And a fine range of souvenirs across the prices range too! Sadly our favourite shot wasn’t available as a fridge magnet. It was there as a framed print at a reasonable price but I managed to resist temptation.

Photo of IWPY fridge magnet

IWPY fridge magnet with polar bears

Touring exhibition with local collections

This second example is also from Bristol and again it was easy to get to for us. We saw Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences because we both wanted to see this work and it was easy for us to get there. Having seen the Rake’s Progress at the John Soanes Museum in the past we were keen to see how it inspired Grayson Perry.

We found the tapestries both impressive and thought provoking. Seeing this subject addressed nearly 200 years after the original was interesting in itself. What added to the exhibition was a copy of prints of the orignal Rake’s Progress on display to refresh the memory or let visitors discover it for the first time. An addition that I really enjoyed was a display of David Hockney prints also inspired by the orignal.

The Hockney sequence added to the exhibition by showing a different modern approach to the subject. It also was a very personal approach unlike the original and unlike Perry’s depiction of the Rake.

From a museum point of view

When there are touring exhibitions where I work the common response is visitors appreciate something different on show. Also an exhibiton no usually associated with our collections is popular. An exmaple of such an exhbiton was Hiroshige from the Ashmolean museum. As described above as host venue some items from RAMM’s collection were included and it meant visitors saw items normally kept in store.

Phot of gallery Hiroshige’s Japan RAMM’s triptych book

Hiroshige’s Japan RAMM’s triptych book in the exhibition gallery © 2018 Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council

 

 

How museums get new objects

New artefacts for old?

Something I’m regularly asked when people find I work in a museum is “how do museums get new objects”?. The answer probably is that it varies. Where there’s a collecting policy the process is transparent but otherwise an enigma inside a mystery.

On visiting the National Army Museum in Stockholm in early September 2017 I saw their exhibition dedicated to explaining this mystery.

How museums get new objects – the exhibition

The Army Museum’s exhibition was in their temporary exhibition space on the ground floor. I liked the focus on objects for visitors to reflect on and practical examples. Also the emphasis on who made decisions.

Exhibition sign saying who made decisions

A key part of the exhibition was an infographic showing the path an object follows to join the collection. Unfortunately this was in a shadow so whilst legible in the museum didn’t photograph well. This was supported by another display explaining who makes the decisions.

Flow chart of accessioning object

This display was very honest about the influence of individuals and groups on collecting policy. It stated that in the museum’s early days former soldiers were making the decisions but now it’s mainly highly educated middle class people.

Display showing who makes decisions

An object that didn’t get in

An example of new objects was based around items used by an officer in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Most items were conserved ready to go into the collection. One item was not and this was the shipping crate the officer had lived in. Why was it rejected? Because it wasn’t the actual container the officer used but one the shipping company sent. So a good example of an object being rejected because of a lack of direct association with the museum’s purpose and lacking heritage authenticity.

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