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SPRI Review 2012: The Polar Museum

The Polar Museum

Visitor numbers have continued to grow and we welcomed almost 52,000 visitors to the new displays and exhibitions during 2012. The Polar Museum benefited from the publicity surrounding the Scott centenary, which helped attract this record number of visitors. The museum was nominated for European Museum of the Year and received a commendation at the awards ceremony in Penafiel, Portugal in May.

The museum mounted five temporary exhibitions during the year: These Rough Notes: Capt. Scott’s Last Expedition (Dec. 2011 to May 2012) commemorated the Terra Nova expedition and was an opportunity to display the wealth of archive material relating to the expedition held in the Institute; many of the manuscripts had never been exhibited before and the exhibition attracted over 27,000 people; The Edge of Beyond: Dafila Scott’s Antarctic paintings (May to June) conveyed her response to the landscape and wildlife of the Antarctic during her time as the Friends of SPRI Artist in Residence on board HMS Scott in 2011; Reflections on Ice: David Smith in Antarctica (Aug. to Oct.) was a retrospective of work from SPRI’s art collections and from the British Antarctic Survey, to whom we extend thanks for the loan of one of Smith’s paintings; An Expedition in Porcelain (Aug. to Oct.) showcased the work of ceramic artist Jacqui Chanarin, reflecting her response to Captain Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13; and Robert Falcon Scott: A Century On (Oct. 2012 to Feb. 2013) explored the impact of Captain Scott’s achievements, Antarctic science and exploration, a century of art and literature and the wider cultural legacy of his expeditions.

We are grateful to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust for their continuing support, which has enabled us to recruit Sophie Rowe and Christina Rozeik jointly to the post of Conservator, with complementary expertise in organic and inorganic materials. After Sophie Weeks’ departure for Australia, Naomi Chapman and Rosie Amos provided cover for Education and Outreach, developing new resources and events during the Michaelmas Term. The Keeper chaired a number of meetings of the recently formed University of Cambridge Museums Steering Group and she and Documentation Assistant, Willow Silvani continued to take part in discussions on collections rationalisation and Mrs Lane spoke on the subject at the SHARE Museums conference in Ipswich.

Acquisitions during the year included the purchase of Sir Vivian Fuchs’ Graphlex reflex camera. Charles Swithinbank donated a cribbage board of marine ivory and a partially lithified mammoth tusk from Alaska and also several Alaskan walrus tusks and soapstone carvings. Jonathan Wager donated Greenlandic material which included wooden artefacts such as bow drills, fire boards, bird darts and children’s games, relating to Lawrence Rickard Wager, British geologist on expeditions in the 1930s and 1950s. Julien Courtauld donated a sledging flag used by Augustine Courtauld and a Union Flag which flew over the ice cap station on the British Arctic Air Route Expedition 1930-1931. Esther Grizel Ross bequeathed a ship’s (writing) desk taken by Sir James Clark Ross to the Antarctic and the Director donated a bottle of ‘Rare Old Highland malt whisky’ produced to commemorate Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09. A silver coin commemorating the centenary of Captain Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 was gifted by the Pobjoy Mint and the South Polar Race Medal, which commemorates those who raced to attain the South Pole, was given by Sim Comfort Associates. We were grateful to receive on loan to the Institute, from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s private collection, an oil painting Whale chase by whale catcher by Edward Seago, painted during the Duke of Edinburgh’s 1956/57 World Tour.

Behind the scenes, our conservators and collections care staff, ably assisted by a number of volunteers, began the rehousing and detailed photography of our polar footwear collection. This was followed by the start of a project to reorganise storage of the textile collection, placing each garment in a Tyvek cover and arranging the material in its own separate store. We were pleased to welcome Flavia Ravaioli from University College London as conservation intern, a post shared with the Fitzwilliam Museum. Flavia undertook a project to plan the rotation of textiles on display and to conserve materials from the Wager gift.

The Museum lent material for display to a number of institutions, including the Natural History Museum in London for their exhibition, Scott’s Last Expedition, which then toured to the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand. Objects, watercolours and photographic portraits from our collections were exhibited at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff and objects and artworks from the On Thin Ice touring exhibition went to the Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery. The loan of one of Captain Scott’s boots was made to the Northampton Museum and Gallery and the Museum continued its longstanding collaboration with the Fram Museum in Oslo, with loans into their major summer exhibition, Amundsen - First to the South Pole.

The 109 photographs taken on the Terra Nova expedition by Captain Scott, together with his personal camera, were put on display in the House of Commons at a one-day event sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), to highlight the major award from the HLF to the Institute that enabled the acquisition of the photographs. On 5 July, Dr Edward Wilson’s sledging flag was transported to Gloucester Cathedral where it featured prominently in his service of remembrance. Throughout 2012, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust displayed the panels from SPRI’s touring exhibition On Thin Ice at nine of their venues nationwide. The panels from the Scott centenary exhibition These Rough Notes were borrowed in September by the Gestingthorpe Historical Association and then in November by the Shackleton Autumn School in Athy, Eire, where they were displayed alongside a range of objects from SPRI’s collection.

The museum continues to benefit enormously from the help and enthusiasm of its volunteers. Thanks go especially to the large group of front of house volunteers, looked after by our volunteer manager Grant Rabey, who staff the museum and shop during opening hours and provide a welcome to visitors. The museum staff are also grateful for the assistance of their colleagues in the General Office, whose help in enabling the museum to run smoothly is much appreciated.

Heather Lane

Playing a game about Antarctica in the Polar Museum

Playing a game about Antarctica in the Polar Museum