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SPRI Review 2008: SPRI Polar Museum

SPRI Polar Museum

The Museum was notified of the success of its Stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in December 2008, with an award of £994,500, bringing the total granted to the project to £1.04 million. Following his work on the development of the project bid, Robert Smith agreed to continue as Museum Project Manager, to coordinate with Claire Gresswell and William Daykin from Blue, the design company, Hilary Glegg, the University Architect and the team from Estates Management. We will begin in Spring 2009, renovating the galleries and archive strong room and building a new museum store and curatorial spaces. Work is projected to finish in 2010. Institute staff continued to develop plans for the permanent displays on the science and history of the polar regions, in conjunction with scientists from the British Antarctic Survey.

The Museum mounted a series of temporary exhibitions during the year, including First Across: the 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (17 January - 26 April 2008) which put a selection of SPRI's extensive CTAE archive on display alongside material kindly loaned by Peter Fuchs; and South Georgia: A Centenary of Good Government (17 July – 24 September 2008), arranged in conjunction with and sponsored by the South Georgia Association. This latter exhibition was subsequently toured and was on display at Discovery Point, Dundee, to coincide with the visit of the Princess Royal. The final exhibition planned before the closure of the Museum, Nimrod, an exhibition celebrating the centenary of Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909, opened on 21 October 2008. On display have been diaries from expedition members, including Raymond Priestley, Alfred Cheetham and Shackleton's personal diary for the South Pole journey, which had its pages turned each week to allow visitors to follow in his footsteps. This exhibition will continue until April 2009.

In addition, exhibitions of art and photography were presented in the Foyer Gallery including Ships & Shoes & Snow Goggles, paintings and sketches by Vincent Alexander Booth (12 January - 15 March 2008); Melt Down: The Changing Arctic - photography by Louise Murray (20 March – 17 May 2008); etchings from the international travelling exhibition Breaking the Ice: Works from the Antarctic by Jörg Schmeisser (30 May – 19 July 2008); Nanoq – photographs by Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson (13 May - 30 August 2008); Face to Face: Polar Portraits – historic photography from the SPRI collections with modern portraits from leading expedition photographer Martin Hartley (25 July - 13 September 2008); etchings and paintings from the polar travels of Chris and Vikky Furse (18 September - 8 November 2008); Maybe Tomorrow / Immaqa Aqagu – photography by Tiina Itkonen (9 September – 8 November 2008) and Glacial Shift: Drawn to the Alps – recent drawings and prints by Emma Stibbon (13 November 2008 – 10 January 2009).

Touring exhibitions included Face to Face, on display at the Shackleton Study School in Athy, Ireland (24 October - 21 November 2008). The book to accompany the exhibition, Face to Face: Polar Portraits by Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, was also launched in November.

Over 15,500 visitors were recorded in 2008. Rosalyn Wade continued to build on the Museum's very effective educational outreach programmes as Schools' Liaison Officer. As this aspect of the work continues to grow, some of the duties of managing the Museum Shop have been taken on by the Institute's Senior Clerk, Maria Pearman. There were 67 separate school visits during the year, with 1,950 pupils of all ages visiting the Museum. Four further family events were held, including craft sessions for younger children. The Museum again participated in national initiatives such as the Big Draw, this year with the assistance of artists Vikky and Chris Furse. The "To the ends of the Earth" polar activities in Science Week also attracted many new visitors to the Museum, and the Twilight and Summer Trail events again proved very popular. The SPRI Museum and the IPY worked together to host a special "Above the Poles" event, connecting pupils of all ages with polar experts around the world, including a live connection to Antarctica. At SPRI, pupils were at the heart of this event, meeting and talking to local polar scientists face to face, asking questions, and exploring polar equipment in the museum.

Acquisitions during the year included a model of Nimrod made by Wyndham B. Williams to 1:72 scale, for which the Friends made a contribution towards the cost of materials. A group of geological samples from the South Shetland Islands and the Shackleton Range, Antarctica, was kindly gifted by Peter Clarkson. We also received a narwhal tusk modified for use as a harpoon, possibly dating from the Franklin search era, a bequest from the late Robert Moss; two IGYE sledging ration boxes donated by William Bellchambers and a group of items of whaling paraphernalia recovered by the British Army Antarctic Expedition, relating to the wreck of the Gouvernøren, a whaling ship run aground in 1916, in Svend Foyn Harbour. Mr David Williams gifted ten outstanding pieces of Inuit sculpture to the collection, as well as a narwhal tusk in exceptional condition and a painting by Keith Shackleton. We are also grateful to Mr John D. Harper and the Rev. Stuart Burns, who each donated tupilaks which were brought back from north-east Greenland by Stephen Pitt, who travelled aboard H.W. Tilman's vessel Mischief.

During the summer the Institute purchased, with assistance from the Friends, the Quintin Riley collection, comprising of diaries, letters, photographs and expedition equipment, including a wonderful group of cameras and accessories. The material covers both the British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-1937, and Riley's Arctic expeditions. A small section of the material deals with his involvement with the John Mills film Scott of the Antarctic.

Huw Lewis-Jones began a 20-month project funded under the Collecting Cultures scheme by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The £200,000 grant is for the improvement of and research into SPRI's Inuit art collections. Library Assistant, Mark Gilbert, who has a particular interest in the subject, has been seconded to this project for one day a week. His post will be covered by Mrs Ann Keith.

Two new sections of our online Museum catalogue were prepared during the year. Dr Janet West provided invaluable advice and assistance on the Scrimshaw collection, providing the descriptions and overseeing photography by Don Manning. The second group of materials form the catalogue of SPRI's Polar Art collection, which has been compiled by Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, with the aid of a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In the process, several hundred paintings and sketches have been identified and described. The catalogue also incorporates images of all 1100 of Edward Adrian Wilson's works from the SPRI collection.

The Museum loaned a range of material to external bodies. The whaling equipment donated by the British Army Antarctic Expedition (2001-02) was displayed for a celebration of the Expedition's achievements at the Painted Hall in Greenwich, an event attended by HRH The Prince of Wales. Items from the Wordie expeditions of the 1930s were exhibited at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. At the request of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, further items from Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition were loaned for display. The mid-19th century model baidarka from the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, was loaned for an exhibition entitled "Smoking coasts and ice-bound seas: Cook's voyage to the Arctic" held at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby.

The Museum gratefully acknowledges the help given by its volunteers, who contribute so much to collections care. Bryan Lintott, who has extensive museum management experience in his native New Zealand, volunteered for one day per week to assist with the redevelopment project. Mrs Jennifer Hirsh continued to provide advice as Honorary Curator. Jack Williman helped with the continuing inventory project and Janine Lettau joined us to assist with photographic cataloguing and the development of a marketing strategy for the new museum.

Heather Lane