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SPRI Review 2006: SPRI Polar Museum

SPRI Polar Museum

The Museum mounted a series of successful exhibitions during the year, including Arctic Encounters - an exhibition of the material culture of northern Canada, Greenland and Alaska, which ran from May to December. This was the culmination of an AHRC funded project, undertaken by visiting curator Judy Hall, to catalogue the Institute's collection of artefacts of indigenous manufacture, and enabled many of the exhibits to be displayed for the first time. From 23 August to 30 September, the Library and Archives jointly mounted an exhibition on The autobiography of John Rae (1813-1893), celebrating the 125th anniversary of the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund by focusing on the SPRI's first purchase with the aid of the Fund - the manuscript of Rae's autobiography. Rae was an unsung hero of Arctic exploration and unacknowledged discoverer of the Northwest Passage and of the fate of Sir John Franklin's exploring party. To coincide with the world premiere of a play of the same name by Fraser Grace, staged at the Shed Theatre, Cambridge, the Museum exhibited Frobisher's Gold (26 October to 30 November 2006), including information on Sir Martin Frobisher's expeditions and examples of the "black earth" from the 1576 voyage, which Frobisher believed to contain gold.

Acquisitions during the year included, most notably, the camera taken on the Pole journey by Captain Scott, manufactured by A.E. Stanley & Co., London. This is one of the most important gifts to the collection in recent years and the Institute acknowledges the generosity of the Scott family, who made the donation. Among many other generous gifts received were: a set of eighteenth-century brass drawing instruments belonging to Sir Ernest Shackleton, given by Mr Hugh Spendlove; a parka, gloves and trousers, which belonged originally to Roald Amundsen, donated by the family of Donald Robertson; binoculars in leather case, owned by Frank Wild; a woollen jumper belonging to George Murray Levick, worn on the British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition, 1910-13, kindly donated by Dan Weinstein; a wool military cap, formerly the property of Petty Officer James Edward Brown, Sr, Petty Officer First Class in the U.S. Navy, who accompanied Admiral Peary's expedition to the North Pole, presented by U.S. National D-Day Museum; a set of clothing worn during the Cambridge University Spitsbergen Expedition, 1930, presented by Mrs L.E. Jackson in memory of her late husband, as part of the R.M. Jackson collection, which also contains archival and photographic material. The executors of the late Raymond J. Adie gifted expedition kit, artworks and photographs. Dr Roy Carlyle, an expert model-maker, built two models of the vessel Fram at 1/50 life size and donated them to the Museum, with a range of other memorabilia.

Additions to the art collection included an oil painting of Port Lockroy by Lucia De Leiris, given by the artist; a watercolour by Lisa Goren; two oils of Arctic subjects by Charles Bezzina, received in lieu of sponsorship for Elizabeth DeGaetano's participation in the Friends' Arctic dog sledge; and two framed watercolours by David Smith, of the Weddell Sea, Antarctica and Port Stanley, presented by William and Rosie Stancer. Charles Swithinbank presented three artworks, namely a sketch of Alaskan caribou by Wilbur Walluk; and prints of Shoreline, fuel dumps and driftwood logs, by Gunnar Brusewitz and Accibuck the seal hunter by Fred Machetanz. The Museum was also able to purchase three works by E.A. Wilson, including two watercolours from the Terra Nova expedition, and was successful in acquiring at auction, with generous assistance from the Bevis Foundation, a half-length portrait of Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, KCB, FRS (1819-1907) in naval uniform, wearing the Arctic Medal, by John Lewis Reilly (d.1880).

Some interesting items were acquired on loan during the year. These included an important set of clothing, a model sledge and kayak, tools and other items of Khanty-Mansy origin from Siberia, collected by James William Wardropper prior to 1911 and lent by Mrs Janet Turner (née Wardropper), with a copy of the family's photographs from the region. Mr Colin Cameron lent a watercolour by E.A. Wilson, entitled Sunset 7 p.m. March 30.11, Hut Point Ski Slope; Robert and Penny Cook lent a sample of Mount Erebus lava and a piece of a flag flown at Base Camp on Scott's Discovery Expedition, 1901-04; and from P.C. Craik we received a seal harpoon from the same expedition.

Loans were also made to a number of institutions, including the Fitzwilliam Museum, the National Museums of Scotland and the Royal Geographical Society. The Institute was also pleased to be able to lend a number of items relating to Sir Ernest Shackleton's Nimrod and Endurance expeditions to Survivants des glaces (Survivors of the ice) - an exhibition in partnership with La Corderie Royale, Rochefort, France, which runs until 30 June 2007.

As ever, the Museum owes thanks to its dedicated volunteers, who continue to assist with a range of projects, from recording new accessions to preparing items for conservation or photography. Mrs Jennifer Hirsh kindly agreed to take on the role of Honorary Curator and during the year has put in considerable work to ensure the standardisation of the Museum's electronic catalogues. We were also fortunate to enlist the services of Alistair Auffret as a volunteer for four weeks during the summer, enabling us to carry out an inventory of the Museum's main store.

Heather Lane