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SPRI Review 2010: The Polar Museum

The Polar Museum

Museum entrance

2010 marked a major milestone for the new Polar Museum. Following the completion of the building and renovation works in 2009, the museum fit-out contractors, The Workhaus, started work early in the year, building the showcases and exhibition ready for the installation of objects for the displays. At the same time, the interpretation went into full stride, working closely with the graphic designers, Blue the design company Ltd, to produce texts and graphics to accompany the objects on display. With the completion of the fit-out works, a specialist museum object installation company, The Museum Workshop, was employed to make and install all the mounts and fittings for the objects in the displays. While this was progressing, object conservation was completed in time for mounting in the galleries. May was an extremely busy month as the whole museum project – objects, captions, texts and graphics – were finally installed. The new Polar Museum opened on 1 June, the hundredth anniversary of Terra Nova leaving London at the start of her journey south, and was officially opened on 8 June by Their Royal Highnesses, the Earl and Countess of Wessex. Following the opening of the Museum, an event for the descendants of the officers and crew of Terra Nova was held over the weekend of 12/13 June. Some 125 participants gathered at the Museum to celebrate with a weekend of tours, lectures and a gala dinner. With the opening of the new museum a series of publications, Polar Profiles, has been initiated. Two titles were published in 2010, Douglas Mawson and Roald Amundsen, both written by Beau Riffenburgh. Response to the new Museum has been very positive and visitor numbers are significantly higher than in previous years. In the period 1 June to 31 December 2010 we welcomed 25,466 visitors (for the same period in 2008, visitor numbers were 9,121). Recognition of the work that has gone into the renovation came at the end of the year when the museum was chosen by the Art Fund as one of ten on the long list for Museum of the Year 2010. The winner will be announced in June 2011.

The Museum mounted three temporary exhibitions between June and December. Alongside the preparatory work for the new museum, the acquisition of Inuit Art objects, made possible by a grant of £200,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Cultures scheme, was completed with the invaluable assistance of Ken Mantel of the Narwhal Inuit Art Education Foundation (NIAEF). Library Assistant Mark Gilbert helped to put together Sananguaq: Inuit Art, the first display in the newly refurbished special exhibition space, which included a wall hanging by Jessie Oonark from the Royal Collection, as well as many exceptional works lent by private collectors. A fully illustrated catalogue, Tuvaq: Inuit Art and the Modern World, edited by Ken Mantel and Heather Lane was published to coincide with the exhibition. A second exhibition of Inuit Art from the Institute’s collection and from other British collectors was also staged at Canada House, in cooperation with the Canadian High Commission. The Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association also assisted by funding two artists, Andrew Qappik and Jayko Ishulutak, to spend a week in Cambridge, collaborating with the Museum to create new work using the facilities of the St Barnabas Press and Gallery. A print by Andrew was presented to the Earl of Wessex at the opening of the Museum. In the autumn the museum exhibited Sidney Nolan: Antarctica, displaying paintings completed after a visit to Antarctica by Nolan in 1963. The exhibition was made possible by the generous assistance of the Sidney Nolan Trust and we extend particular thanks to Lady Nolan and Anthony Plant. A catalogue of the paintings was published to accompany the exhibition.

With the appointment of Education and Outreach Officer Katherine (Suzy) Antoniw at the beginning of the year, new educational programmes were developed, including the popular Exploration Station series of in-gallery activities. A highlight was the opening of the Museum as a check point on the city’s annual Bridge the Gap charity walk, when over 3000 visitors passed through the doors in a single day. There were 67 planned school visits to the museum between June and December 2010, totalling 1635 students. The breakdown is as follows:

Level Number
Key Stage 1 7
Key Stage 2 14
Key Stage 3 9
Key Stage 4 7
Higher education 7
Overseas students 20
Teachers 1
Miscellaneous 2
Total 67

Acquisitions during the year included a number of gifts and purchases. On behalf of the Scott family, Dafila Scott presented the museum with a silver model of the Terra Nova, which had been given to her father, Peter Scott, in 1913. This magnificent gift is currently undergoing detailed conservation and will be added to the displays at the end of 2011. A silver matchbox with the initials of William Burton, given to him by E.L. Atkinson on the return to Lyttelton as a member of the crew of the Terra Nova in 1913, was presented to the Museum by his granddaughter Louise Hoskins. Dr Richard Hudson offered on loan the sextant used on the journey of the James Caird to South Georgia, which had belonged to his father Huberht Hudson, a member of Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition. Papers and items belonging to Leading Stoker Edward McKenzie of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 were purchased at auction, with the help of a generous donation from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. Mrs Verity Isitt presented the museum with a set of 21 ivory miniatures. Mrs Isitt had been given the set as a child by a Moravian missionary based in northern Canada prior to 1930. Iridium Communications Inc. presented a satellite phone. Peter Clarkson donated a set of standard issue British Antarctic Survey clothing and equipment. Four Inuit carvings by the well-known artist Henry Evaluardjuk were presented in memory of Orpheus Jacovides. The museum also acquired, by purchase, a number of items including Inuit carvings bought from Bill Johnstone, the Narwhal Gallery (NIAEF), the Spirit Wrestler Gallery and the collections of Orpheus Jacovides. Bill Johnstone and NIAEF also generously agreed long term loans of further material.

The family of Kevin Walton kindly presented his medals as a loan to the museum at an event in April to celebrate his life and achievements. Walton was awarded the Albert Medal for rescuing a trapped colleague from certain death in a crevasse. Walton was lowered into the crevasse and, after three hours chipping at the ice, placed a rope around the trapped man who emerged like a ‘cork from a bottle’. Walton received a Clasp (Antarctic 1946-7) for his Polar Medal and a Queen’s Commendation for a second crevasse rescue on South Georgia in 1952.

The Museum lent material for display to a number of institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York for Race to the End of the Earth, a major new touring exhibition on Scott and Amundsen. SPRI’s touring exhibitions included: Art of Exploration: the polar vision of Sir Wally Herbert at the Braintree Museum, Face to Face at the Stevenage Museum and The Antarctic photographs of Herbert Ponting on board HMS Scott in Cardiff in June 2010, which then transferred to Cardiff University until September. We worked closely with the Natural History Museum (NHM) on the first collaborative venture undertaken by their Centre for Arts and Humanities. Dr Beau Riffenburgh led a research project on the impact of the science of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition, which will underpin the NHM’s projected exhibition on this subject in 2011-12.

The museum web site has been greatly enhanced by a blog maintained by our conservator, Fiona Cahill, on the work she carries out behind the scenes to clean and conserve objects from the museum’s collections. Work also continued to develop a new design for the site and to add new content relating to exhibitions and outreach events. The Museum benefits greatly from the help and enthusiasm of its volunteers. Thanks go especially to the group of new volunteers, now over 40 in number, who staff the museum during opening hours, meeting and greeting visitors and looking after the shop. This team was recruited by our volunteer manager, Nick Hunnisett, who stepped down at the end of the year. The volunteers are now ably looked after by Grant Rabey.

Heather Lane and Robert Smith

New display cases in the Polar Museum, showing Oates’ sleeping bag and a model of Shackleton’s Nimrod

New display cases in the Polar Museum, showing Oates’ sleeping bag and a model of Shackleton’s Nimrod