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SPRI Review 2007: SPRI Polar Museum

SPRI Polar Museum

The Museum continued its programme of temporary exhibitions during the year. These included 'Scott's Last Letters Home' -an exhibition of the moving correspondence of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and members of the Pole Party; 'Svalbard' -an exhibition of watercolours by Trine Lotte Krogseth; 'Keith Shackleton: A Polar Retrospective'; 'Antarctica: Ice and Light' -an exhibition of paintings by Malize McBride and 'Art of Exploration: The Polar Vision of Sir Wally Herbert'. A small exhibition on seasonality in the polar regions was installed to coincide with a symposium, organised by the Institute as the AHRC Technologies of Polar Travel Workshop. This was the second event in 'The Material Culture of Polar Exploration' workshops series, bringing together curators, collectors and academics. In partnership with La Corderie Royale, Rochefort, France, SPRI also contributed to 'Survivants des Glaces', which presented Shackleton's Endurance expedition to a large audience.

In the late spring, Bonhams generously enabled us to exhibit in London a selection of items from the Institute's collections, including Scott's last letter, alongside the 'Antarctic paintings of Edward Seago', lent by kind permission of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The exhibition took place at Bonhams Gallery, 101 New Bond Street, London from 27 May to 15 June 2007. Several evening receptions were held to promote the work of the Institute. The Chancellor attended a private view of the paintings and a royal visit by Her Majesty the Queen was a particular highlight. This exhibition attracted a large new audience and provided an opportunity to fully launch the new book of the same name, written by the Director and Librarian.

A number of acquisitions were made during the year, including items of clothing and equipment worn and used by Quintin Riley on the British Arctic Air Route Expedition in 1931-32, the PanAm expedition, 1933-34 and the British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-37. The Institute acknowledges this generous donation from Noel Riley, whose intention is that these materials may be used for the Museum's schools education programme. Canon Lisle Ryder donated sledging mittens and an ice axe, formerly the property of his father R.E.D. Ryder, Captain of the Penola, also used on the British Graham Land Expedition. Sir Ranulph Fiennes donated clothing and instruments from his Transglobe Expedition and Commander Peter Bruce gifted Captain R. F. Scott's naval mess undress waistcoat in a wooden display case. Gerald W. Johnson gave two instruments, a tachometer and air speed indicator, recovered from the Hastings aircraft that crashed while supplying the British North Greenland Expedition, 1952. Both instruments were displayed at the Royal Society during the summer as part of an exhibition to mark the International Polar Year, for which SPRI supplied a large number of artefacts and archival materials.

Nick Kempe kindly donated the bronze bust of Duncan Carse by sculptor Jon Edgar, currently on display in the Library. David Wilson and Duncan Lawie presented the Museum with a jacket and kit bag issued to crew of the ill-fated MV Explorer cruise ship for the Antarctic season, 2001. Also received from Peter Evans were a pair of English-made long moccasin boots dated 1942. The pair belonged to Meredith Jackson, a member of the Cambridge Spitsbergen Expeditions.

The Museum purchased, from the estate of George Eric Northrop, a ship model of Discovery, made by Northrop in the early 1980s; a watercolour of Svalbard by Trine Lotte Krogseth, purchased from display of the artist's work held at SPRI; and a watercolour, 'Sunlit bergs, Hereira Channel' by Malize McBride, also following exhibition in the gallery. Additions to the art collection also included an oil painting entitled 'Scotia in the Weddell Sea, off Coats Land' by W.A. Cuthbertson, ca. 1904, generously donated by Mr Peter Speak; and three watercolours by Leo Cheyne of Beechey Island, HMS Assistance in winter quarters and HMS Resolute breaking out of winter quarters, gifted to the Museum by the Cheyne family.

Some interesting items were acquired on loan during the year. These included a sledging box and expedition equipment used by Sir Wally Herbert on his expedition to circumnavigate Greenland (British North-Polar Expedition, 1977-1979), lent by his daughter Kari Herbert; a clock which belonged to Sir John Franklin, lent by Mr William Bensen; a framed colour print of Captain R.F. Scott from Ewan Odie; and the oil sketch for the well-known painting of Captain Oates by J.G. Dollmann, on loan from the estate of the late Joan Spink, widow of David Spink and currently on display in the Museum.

Loans were made to a number of institutions. A selection of indigenous Arctic artefacts were lent to the International Polar Foundation, who have developed an exhibition which will be displayed in a number of European venues throughout the International Polar Year 2007-2008, shown inaugurally in Brussels in March 2007. The Royal Society invited the Institute's Museum and Archives to act as its partner in their own displays for the Summer Science Exhibition, enabling us to showcase developments in polar technology and clothing. A pair of sealskin boots and stockings, donated by Sir Wally Herbert, was also used to illustrate the 2007 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, Back from the brink: the science of survival, given by Dr Hugh Montgomery.

Rosalyn Wade, as Schools Liaison Officer, continued to develop the Museum's educational outreach programmes, alongside managing the Museum Shop. There were 54 separate school visits during the year, with over 1400 pupils of all ages visiting the Museum. A number of very successful family orientated events were held, including craft and storytelling sessions for younger children. Participation in national initiatives such as the Big Draw has helped to raise awareness of the Museum locally. The activities in Science Week attracted over 650 visitors, many of whom had not visited the Museum previously. The Institute also participated in the Twilight event, encouraging young visitors to explore the collections by torchlight, and in the Summer Trail. A number of workshops on environmental change were held for older pupils and proved very popular.

Dr Huw Lewis-Jones joined the Museum staff in 2007 as Curator of Art, on a one year grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to begin the process of cataloguing and providing electronic access to the Institute's works of art. He has also been actively engaged in developing the Museum's programme of temporary art exhibitions.

The Museum acknowledges the help given by its volunteers, who assist in many ways, from inventory to conservation. Mrs Jennifer Hirsh continued to advise as Honorary Curator and has done a great deal to ensure the smooth transition to the latest version of the Museum's collection management system, Modes XML. Conservation efforts this year were carried out by Amber Lincoln, working on a range of leather objects for the seasonality display, and by the Hamilton Kerr Institute, who cleaned and conserved the two large oil paintings by R.B. Beechey: 'Antarctic Expedition: Gale in the Pack, January 1842' and 'Escape from the Bergs, March 13th 1842', now redisplayed in the Friends Room.

The Museum was notified of the success of its Stage 1 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in June, and this support has funded the planning phase of the redesign and redevelopment of the galleries and stores, projected to be completed in 2010. Robert Smith was appointed in September as Museum Project Manager, with the remit to develop the £1m HLF Stage 2 bid by June 2008. Institute staff began work on plans for high quality permanent displays on the science and history of the polar regions, as well as reconstruction of the museum's foyer, shop and storage areas. The Project Manager is assessing the museum's requirements for collections care and will deliver a comprehensive report on design and construction, budgets, timelines and recommendations on tendering and contractor relationships, working in consultation with Institute staff to minimise disruption to museum operations. During 2007, much of the preparatory work was undertaken to ensure that the Stage 2 bid includes all the elements requested by the HLF, including detailed designs for the building work and for the exhibits and their interpretation.

Heather Lane