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Potty prototypes

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

The Polar Museum is full of curious objects designed to make living and working in the hostile polar regions easier.  In fact the collection started out more like a resource centre where prospective explorers could come and see equipment that others had used and share ideas (and perhaps even borrow something…).  Not surprisingly, some items were tried out once or twice and never used again, but we still have them in the collection, along with the comments that people made about them which are recorded in our accession register.

One of the fringe benefits of doing a thorough condition survey of our objects is that we get to see some peculiar  one-offs that we might never have noticed before.  One that caught my eye was this combined snowshoe-ski (Y: 2011/36):


This was an experiment by the Falkland Islands Dependency Service aiming to get the best of both types of snow footwear – but apparently “they worked in neither capacity”!

Another oddity is the “racket ski” (N: 127) originally designed in the 1930s by George Seligman, an eminent glaciologist, for use by porters in the Himalayas.  From the top it looks like a rather stubby ski:


But on the underside it has an unexpected covering of velvety fabric!


When you look closer you can see that there are actually two strips of fabric with the nap pointing in opposite directions.  This prevents the skis from slipping either forwards or backwards, as the bristly fabric pokes into the snow.  This technique was borrowed from the Lapps and the Inuit, who know a thing or two about snow travel, and used fur on the underside of boots and snow shoes in a similar way.

The telltale wire and small screws show where it was once hung up on display in the old style museum, for explorers to see the construction – many of our older objects have similar traces of historic display methods.  The other ski in this pair has the wire on the other side so the pair could be hung next to each other showing the top and underside.

The advantage of racket skis was that “they require absolutely no skill in use, and a man, quite unversed in ski-ing, can put them on and walk straight away with them, the only precaution necessary being to keep the points from digging into the snow….Racket ski are superior to snowshoes in that it is not necessary to lift the foot or to walk with feet far apart, and their smaller width makes traversing on steep slopes much easier. They are particularly valuable for use in the neighbourhood of camps and for taking observations, being far less cumbersome and less likely to get mixed up with tripod legs and the like than ordinary ski.”

These racket skis actually made it off the drawing board and were manufactured briefly by Lillywhites in London, but were apparently not widely used.

The most bonkers-looking “ski” in  the collection by far is this one:


It was made during the British Graham Land Expedition (Penola) in 1934-7 for crossing treacherous sea ice – and it too has spent time hanging on the wall in the old style Polar Museum:


It consists of a short bit of wood wrapped with fur, with a leather toe strap to hold a boot.  A pair of these would work by spreading the weight, and the fur was there to prevent slipping.  The ski is very thick and heavy but only 63cm long.  Personally I think you would have to be very brave or desperate to go out on treacherous sea ice wearing these.  Not surprisingly this particular design never caught on – but several slimmer versions without the fur and with more complex foot straps were developed and manufactured in the 1940’s.  So appearances can be deceptive!



“Please touch the objects”: planning our first touch tour

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, the Polar Museum held its first touch tour for people with visual impairments. This was a subject particularly dear to my own heart: my own son is registered blind and I’ve become increasingly aware that museums are not always the most accessible places for blind and visually impaired visitors. But it’s also interesting to me because it ties in with a current dilemma for museum conservators: balancing access to the collections with preservation.

Several weeks before the tour, Sophie, Rosie and I went down to our stores to look for suitable objects. We were looking for things that were robust enough to be handled, that had enough tactile detail to be interesting to people with little or no vision, and that told the story of the polar regions and the people who have lived and worked there. Here’s what we came up with:


Our objects fell into two groups: items related to polar art and crafts (Inuit sculpture and carved scrimshaw), and items related to survival and everyday life (including boots and a primus stove used on the Terra Nova expedition). We tried to cover a wide range of themes: Arctic and Antarctic, exploration and science, domestic life, art and crafts, objects old and new, different materials, textures and sizes … all in just seven objects! We also made sure that we had plenty of items available from our education handling collections, including a full suit of modern polar clothing:


We were very lucky to have two conservation interns (Ronja and Megan) and three brilliant volunteers (Alex, Lenny and Claire) helping out, so we ended up with a team of ten people in all. A week beforehand, we got together to plan the tour. An important part of that was training: Rosie showed us how to support visually impaired visitors to the museum, and we all took turns to guide blindfolded colleagues around the museum. It was a very illuminating experience to be in a familiar space but without sight, and also to think about kinds of information are useful to visitors who cannot see the objects.

We then tried out some blindfolded handling. Here are Sophie and me presenting some objects to Willow and Alex … and then having a turn on the other side of the table:

tour3 tour4

We also tried out a tour of our outdoor sculptures, many of which are gorgeously tactile – and one of which encourages some rather “intimate” encounters:

IMG_6751 IMG_6747

After that, we were ready for the touch tours! We had about 15 visitors over two sessions, and they all had a chance to handle several objects and to talk to conservators, collections staff and volunteers at the Polar Museum. One of the most popular objects was an Inuit carving called Unexplainable Joy of Becoming Grandparents:


Although the sculpture is mainly made from serpentine, the faces are inlaid in reindeer antler. The tactile contrast between the cool, smooth stone and the warm, slightly ridged antler is wonderful. The subject (the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren) is also a universal one and led to interesting discussions and recollections from the visitors.

We all really enjoyed putting together our first touch tour of the Polar Museum collections, and look forward to running more next year – watch this space!


Friday fun: homemade hats for heroes

Friday, October 9th, 2015

We’ve been celebrating National Knitting Week at the Polar Museum all week! On Monday, I blogged about a pair of balaclavas that were knitted by the Empress Eugénie and her ladies for the crew of the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-6.

On Tuesday, we welcomed some new woolly residents to the museum: a set of three miniature knitted explorers from the Heroic Age of Scott and Shackleton, together with six huskies, a pony, two sledges and lots of skis and ski poles. These have all been knitted for us by the immensely talented Eileen, and are full of accurate detail:


You can read more about our new woolly team members and what they will be doing in a new blog by our Education Officer, Naomi.

One of the great things about these figures is that everything they’re wearing has been hand-knitted – including the hand-knitted items! I tied myself in knots this morning, thinking about the meta implications of this (and the possibility of knitting a knitted figure that was wearing a knitted hat…) before deciding that recursive knitting was probably too silly a topic even for a Friday Fun blog post.


If you’ve been inspired by these pictures to try out some Heroic Age fashions, then you’ve come to the right place, especially as today is also Woolly Hat Day! While Greta was at the Science and Society conference in Durham recently, she picked up a flyer for an exhibition about Antarctica that is currently on at the Palace Green Library. As part of the exhibition, they are encouraging people to knit hats based on ones worn by Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean, in order to raise money for the charity Walking with the Wounded. If you would like to join in, you can download the patterns from the website here.

When I saw the pattern, I thought that Tom Crean’s hat in particular looked very familiar. It’s exactly the same hat that he’s wearing in one of our archive photos:

Tom Crean. SPRI Picture Library P66/19/6A
Tom Crean. SPRI Picture Library P66/19/6A

It’s a curious style of hat, more like a snood or hood than a traditional bobble hat. With its decorative tassels at the corners, the designer suggests that it might work equally well as a tea cosy – I’ll report back if I ever get round to knitting one!

A few weeks ago, I came across the Spring 2015 issue of Knitting Traditions magazine, which contains an entire section devoted to knits inspired by the poles. Among the many intriguing and historically-inspired designs are a headband, a pair of socks and a hat. But best of all, there is a pattern based on a pair of mittens belonging to Edward Mackenzie that is in the Polar Museum:


I have previously blogged about these mittens, and look forward to comparing this pattern with the actual mittens in our collection!

If you fancy a more modern hat, albeit one that’s still focused on Antarctica, this one allows you to display the entire continent on your crown:


It was designed and knitted by Ken Mankoff, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University, during a long season of fieldwork in Antarctica. The long days (and nights) at the poles, not to mention the isolation, seem to be conducive to knitting: while researching this article, I discovered the Antarctica Knitters group, who spend their downtime on the ice creating beautiful patterns inspired by the landscape around them.

So, if you’re a knitter, I hope this post has inspired you to knit something polar-themed … and if you’re not a knitter, I promise that the blog will be free of woolly things next week. Happy Knitting Week!


Imperial hats and polar sheep

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Yesterday saw the start of National Knitting Week (5-11 October), so I thought this would be a good opportunity to blog about some of the knitted items from our collections. We have lots of woolly or knitted things in the Polar Museum, dating from between the mid-nineteenth and late twentieth centuries. Obviously, sheep are not indigenous to the polar regions, so these objects were all made elsewhere and taken to the Arctic or Antarctic during expeditions. (In fact, there are sheep in the subarctic Americas and on the subantarctic South Georgia, where they were imported to provide food for the whaling stations; their presence is reflected in the name of Sheep Point, on the northern coast of South Georgia. Incidentally, polar fleece, which you might think comes from polar sheep, is actually made more prosaically from PET – the same plastic that water bottles are made from.)

N:994 Y: 51/1/12

The pictures above show two balaclavas presented to the British Arctic Expedition by the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III of France. Following her husband’s deposition in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war, Eugénie fled to England, where she settled in Chislehurst. Eugénie already had a track record in hat design as the populariser of the “Eugénie hat“, so it is perhaps unsurprising that she decided to support the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-6 by providing its members with headgear. Albert Markham, second-in-command to George Nares, remembered the gift with (intentionally punning?) gratitude:

The name of her Imperial Majesty the Empress Eugénie must always be associated with the expedition as one of its warmest friends. Her kind and considerate present, consisting of a fine woollen cap for each individual, contributed materially to our comfort whilst engaged in the onerous duties of sledging.

Albert Hastings Markham, The Great Frozen Sea: A Personal Narrative of the Voyage of the ‘Alert’ (1878) [my emphases]

Considering that the other donations recorded by Markham include magic lanterns, books, games, a piano, four bottles of “excellent punch” and “a complete set of instruments for a drum-and-fife band”, Eugénie’s gift must have been welcomed for its practicality! Certainly, Nares was prudent enough to name the Empress Eugénie Glacier after his benefactor:

This, the largest discharging glacier on the west shore of Smith Sound, was named after the Empress Eugénie; who, besides taking a personal interest in the expedition by her thoughtful present of a number of homely but most useful articles, added considerably to the comfort and amusement of each individual.

George S. Nares, Official Report of the Recent Arctic Expedition (1876)

I don’t know exactly how the Empress contributed to the “amusement of each individual” on the expedition, but I wonder if the hats themselves were the source of the hilarity. Balaclava helmets are named for the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, because civilians were encouraged to knit hats to government-approved patterns and send them to the troops at the front. These hats were not called “balaclavas” until several decades later, however, being known originally as “helmet caps”. Following the Empress’s gift to the British Arctic Expedition, these helmet caps became “Eugenie wigs” or just “Eugenies” in nineteenth-century naval slang. I can certainly imagine the “amusement” that Nares’ crew might have derived from this irreverent terminology!


Summer at the Polar Museum

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

As if on cue, the sun disappeared and a chill was in the air as the summer holidays ended. It is amazing to think it was only weeks ago that we were enjoying a summer of ice experiments to keep cool!

We launched the summer with the Big Weekend back in July where hundreds of children joined the University of Cambridge Museums in the ‘Make and Create Tent’ on Parkers Piece to discover how Polar Bears keep warm in icy conditions and make an origami penguin or two.

Inspired by the our summer exhibition ‘Ice Limit’ a series of works by artist Emma Stibbon, the main activities of the summer focused on the joining of art and science. On the 5th August we opened our doors to the ‘Drawing Out Science Activity Day’ where the children of Cambridge learnt all about the science and mythology of the Polar Auroras and even drew their own with hidden pictures below in UV pens for other to uncover their Aurora stories.



And our Polar Science Lego was used to make photo stories too.


As well as producing our summer exhibition, Emma Stibbon also ran art workshops with children aged 7 – 13, introducing the art of science observation drawing using rocks and fossils from ours and The Sedgwick Museum’s collection.


But the summer could not be over without a mention of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition during the centenary. Our very own storyteller Naomi Chapman told the story of the crushing of ship in the ice using a ‘model’ Endurance made out of yellow foam and pink pipe cleaners to demonstrate the effects of ice on the boat. Every child and parent got together to help ‘push’ the ship out of the ice, but alas to no avail.



But now, although the summer might be over, there are still more activities to come with the Festival of Ideas only just over a month away. Hopefully see some of you then.


Family ties

Monday, April 6th, 2015

(SPRI Museum Y: 2005/7/11)

When museums all over the world celebrated Museum Week, a Twitter campaign which asked us to consider our collections in terms of themes, we were inspired by the theme of ‘Family’, and we have contemplated our stores and found some fascinating stories in our Inuit art collection about the way the art of carving is passed on through families.

A number of families across the Canadian Arctic have become well known as carvers since the artform became established in the early 1950s, with skills handed on from one generation to the next. For example, Goota Ashoona is a third-generation artist. She is the daughter of Kiawak Ashoona and the granddaughter of Pitseolak Ashoona. She works with her husband, son and nephew in their family studio in Cape Dorset.

Pitseolak Ashoona, born on Nottingham Island, Hudson Strait in 1904, died at Cape Dorset on 28 May, 1983. She carved this Head of a Giant from green serpentinite.


(SPRI Museum Y: 2014/1/28)

Ningeosiak Ashoona (b. 1979), the youngest daughter in the family, learned to carve from her father, and by watching her mother Mayoreak. She started carving when she was 13 or 14. Very few women carve now, other than Ovilu Tunnillie and Mary Oshutsiaq. While she has tried drawing, it does not hold as much appeal for Ning as for her sister Siassie Keneally or her cousins, Annie Pootoogook and Shuvinai Ashoona.

Here is one of Ning Ashoona’s characteristic works, a loon in dark green steatite from 2009.






Shorty Killiktee (1949-1993) was another a well-known carver from Cape Dorset, renowned by collectors for his depiction of birds. His legacy is continued by his son Simeonie Killiktee (b. 1973) whom he taught to sculpt at the age of seven, and by the dynamic young carver Toono Sharky (b. 1970), his nephew.

Inuit Art photographed for SPRI HLF Collecting Cultures project

Bird with fish by Shorty Killiktee (SPRI Museum Y: 2014/1/28)





(SPRI Museum Y: 2010/10/62)

Here is a carving called ‘Sea Spirit’ by Toonoo Sharky, also of Cape Dorset, an Inuit hamlet in Nunavut, Canada, famous for its artistic tradition.

Largely self-taught, Toonoo Sharky (b. 1970) began carving at the age of ten, influenced by his uncle Shorty Killiktee. Toonoo first exhibited his work at the age of seventeen, leaving school early to carve full time. He is now the leading young Inuit carver of his generation, and his works are beginning to attract high prices among collectors. His father, Josephee Sharky (1942-1979), and grandfather Sharky Nuna (1918-1979), were both talented carvers but were drowned in a hunting accident. His mother was the daughter of master carver Kuppapik Ragee; his younger brother, Napachie Sharky (b. 1971) has also emerged as a bright new carving talent.

Working primarily in serpentine stone and marble, Toonoo Sharky’s compositions ‘use an interesting juxtaposition of sturdiness and fragility’. He is fascinated with spirit beings and his themes often include vivid treatments of wildlife. While he decides what to carve depending on the shape of the stone, his ‘favourite subjects include birds with a fish or lemming and animal/human spirit transformations thus expressing the age old Inuit belief in the inherent spiritual unity of nature’.

Sharky certainly represents a new generation of artists. For his grandfather, carving was something he came to later in life after years of living on the land in the traditional Inuit way. Two generations later, Toonoo Sharky has grown up surrounded by artists, instilling an entirely new perspective into his art. Sharky’s work has been widely shown, included in exhibitions across Canada and the US as well as in France and Germany. He was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy in 2003.

Toonoo’s younger brother Napachie Sharky has also taken up the art of carving, though at a later age than Toonoo. Here is a piece of his called ‘My first ski-doo ride’.

Inuit Art photographed for SPRI HLF Collecting Cultures project

(SPRI Museum Y: 2010/10/57)


Napachie’s interest in the world around him is evident in his range of subjects. He is perhaps best known for his carvings of birdlife, for which his open, delicate style is ideally suited. ‘Napachie is now well-known for making bird carvings, whose knife-edge wings are so thin they are sometimes translucent when held up to the sunlight’. This degree of craftsmanship takes a great deal of skill, proof of his emerging talent. In recent years he has begun carving objects that look to the future as well as the past. His miniature depictions of modern everyday life – the ski-doo ride, or a hunter with a rifle – with their small parts and fine detailing are impressive workings of the stone.

Inuit Art photographed for SPRI HLF Collecting Cultures project

(SPRI Museum Y: 2010/10/77)

Another community in the Canadian Arctic famous for its Inuit art is Baker Lake, which is home to Louie Arnayuirnaaq, who is the son of one of Baker Lake’s most well-known artists, Toona Iquliq (b. 1935). He was adopted by Yvonne Kanayuq Arnakyuinak and Paul Arnakyuinak, who are also carvers in Baker Lake. His brother Johnny Iquliq (1966-1996) and sister Camille Iquliq (1963-2005) were also carvers.

Here is one of his sculptures held in the collection of the museum, entitled ‘Mother and child (child in amauti)’

Louie has become renowned for his basaltic carvings, with throat singers and family groups most common. His mother and child sculptures have become his signature. An amauti is the type of parka worn by Inuit women of the eastern Canadian Arctic. Up until about two years of age, the child nestles against the mother’s back in the amaut, the built-in baby pouch just below the hood. The pouch is large and comfortable for the baby, and the mother can bring the child from back to front for breast-feeding without exposure to the elements.

Baker Lake is the English name given to Qamanittuaq, which is translated as ‘where the river widens’ (population 1,728 in 2006). It is located on the lake’s northwest shore near the mouth of the Thelon River, some 320 km inland from the west coast of the Hudson Bay, and it is the Canadian province of Nunavut’s only inland community. Southern influence has been felt in the area for almost a century. In 1916 the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post at the mouth of the Kazan River, which flows into Baker Lake from the south. Twenty years later, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up shop and soon traders and Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries would follow. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police established a temporary base at the east end of the lake in 1915, moving to the present settlement of Qamanittuaq in 1930. When children from the region were brought in for school in the 1950s parents eventually moved as well in order to keep their families together.

Joy Martin and Heather Lane

For one week only… 3 Siberian objects on display in The Polar Museum

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

This week, we are preparing a number of beautiful objects from our reserve collections to be sent to the Manchester Museum for an exhibition  ‘Siberia: At the Edge of the World’ which opens 4 October 2014 – 1 March 2015.

Until Saturday 20 September, we have put other similar objects on display in the museum.


Nentsy knife with sheath. SPRI Museum: N: 373a-b. Given by Mrs F. G. Jackson, 1939

This Nentsy knife with sheath from the Yamal region would have been used for ceremonial purposes. The Yamal Peninsula is a stretch of peatland that extends from northern Siberia into the Kara Sea, far above the Arctic Circle. To the east lie the shallow waters of the Gulf of Ob; to the west, the Baydaratskaya Bay, which is ice-covered for most of the year. Yamal in the language of the Nenets means the end of the world.


Hair Ornaments. SPRI Museum N: 384f-h. Given by Mrs F. G. Jackson, 1939

These hair ornaments are made of brass, beads and sinew, and were worn by Nentsy women to decorate their plaits. These examples were collected by Frederick George Jackson during his 3000 mile sledge-journey across the frozen tundra of Siberia in 1893–94.  The Nenets, also known as Samoyed, are an  indigenous people of the Russsian far north, whose main subsistence comes from hunting and reindeer herding.

Bridget Cusack
Museum Development Coordinator

An Inuit Master Carver: Niviaksiak (1908–1959)

Monday, August 11th, 2014

A visit by Mr Ian Miller on 6 August 2014 to investigate our Inuit Art collection sparked an interesting line of research. He brought with him a range of very interesting Inuit carvings from his own collection, including a sculpture of a hunter which he wanted particularly to compare with one in The Polar Museum, which he had found in our online catalogue.


Above: carving of a hunter carrying a cub, Niviaksiak, Polar Museum Y: 2010/10/82

When placed side by side, it was immediately evident that these pieces were by the same hand and our Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane, was delighted to be able to confirm the identity of the stonecarver.

The Polar Museum sculpture next to Ian Miller's piece

Above: the Polar Museum's carving (left) next to Ian Miller's sculpture

Niviaksiak was born in 1908 and died in 1959 whilst hunting a polar bear. His early death ended a promising career as an artist. A renowned sculptor, Niviaksiak was one of the first Inuit artists to make a print and, despite his short career in the early and experimental period of the Cape Dorset co-operative, he made some extraordinary works. Cape Dorset (now called Kinngait) was the first community to attempt printmaking, under the enthusiastic leadership of James Houston, an artist and employee of the Department of Northern Affairs. The earliest experiments used sealskin stencils (later replaced by stencil paper) and stonecuts. The sources for the earliest images were incised tusks and inlaid sealskin designs. Houston encouraged people to draw, and purchased drawings as resources for the printmakers. Their first collection was released in 1959 and immediately sold well to enthusiastic audiences in the south. Copperplate engraving was introduced in 1961, and lithography in 1962 by Terry Ryan, who followed Houston as the artists’ principal advisor. Cape Dorset prints are still released in annual catalogued collections, and remain among the most sought after by collectors.

Kinngait (population 1,240 in 2006) is now a thriving regional centre for arts and tourism. The Hudson's Bay Company had established a trading post here in 1913. A Roman Catholic mission was established in 1938 but closed in 1960 as the majority of the residents are of the Anglican faith. In 1953, the Inuit of Cape Dorset built the Anglican Church on their own initiative. In the same year, the artist James Houston arrived in the community, having already spent some time in Arctic Quebec investigating, on behalf of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, the potential for Inuit Art. He and his wife Alma, together with their sons, spent ten years in Cape Dorset, finding gifted artists, encouraging carving and handicraft production and, after a research period in Japan, introduced print-making to broaden the artistic horizons of the Inuit in Cape Dorset. As a result, the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative was formally founded in 1959. In that year the first major exhibition of Cape Dorset Inuit sculpture was held at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. It was a success and carving and graphic art have now become the economic mainstay of the community.

Time Magazine reported Niviaksiak’s passing in 1960:

No artists live a more hazardous life. In the last year, two of Cape Dorset's twelve printmakers have met death on the ice fields. One of the deaths has given the new art form its first legend. Niviaksiak, 51, was already a famous carver when he took up prints. Of all the subjects he portrayed, the one that preyed most on his mind was bears. During the last months of his life, he pondered deeply on the soul of the great, inscrutable polar bear. Three months ago Niviaksiak and a young companion were tracking a bear. After several hours they finally caught sight of him. As they crept closer, the bear, instead of running, turned and gazed squarely at them. Niviaksiak moved in, raised his rifle to fire, then faltered and shrieked: ‘It's dark. I'm falling!’ Without firing, he collapsed on the snow, died within minutes. The next day, when Niviaksiak's companion and others returned to bury him, they found his body unmauled; the bear had not even come near him. Among Cape Dorset people there was only one explanation: Niviaksiak's art had probed too near, had offended the spirit of the great polar bear.

Niviaksiak Man at Seal Hole

Niviaksiak’s artwork has become highly prized by collectors in recent years. In 2008, at the Waddington’s annual auction in Toronto, the striking image in brilliant blue of a hunter waiting to strike – Man Hunting at a Seal Hole in the Ice – a 1959 skin stencil from the inaugural Cape Dorset collection, was finally sold for $64,600 CAD including buyer’s premium, a record price at auction for an Inuit graphic.

Impressions of Man Hunting at a Seal Hole are in The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection which was donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 1959, Niviaksiak’s print Polar Bear and Cub was used for a Christmas card for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which also holds a copy.

Left: Man Hunting at a Seal Hole in the Ice by Niviaksiak (1959)


Working with our collections: Hannah Rickards

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

On Spatial Configurations, 2014

The Scott Polar Research Institute includes a polar library, which includes the Shackleton Memorial Library, and has comprehensive holdings of scholarly books and journals on polar research, with exceptional archival collections from the exploration of the Antarctic and Arctic. Part of the Inspire Libraries scheme, anyone with an interest in the polar regions is most welcome to use the library for reference. This year we have been delighted to welcome Hannah Rickards, one of the artists in residence from the North West Cambridge Artist Programme who had been spending time in the library and archives.

On Spatial Configurations represents one of the outcomes of Hannah Rickards’ research at the Cambridge University’s Department of Earth Sciences during her 2013 residency and takes the form of a double-sided poster. It follows, and in part reflects, a screening of Michael Snow’s 1971 film, La Region Centrale exploring the relationship between geological time, landscape and the moving image.

DSC_6215      DSC_6218

On Spatial Configurations, Hannah Rickards, 2014

During her residency, Hannah Rickards spent time researching in the libraries of both the Earth Sciences department and the Scott Polar Research Institute, and she became fascinated by the different scales and inscriptions of time she found in the images of geological strata and landscapes in Geological Journals in both libraries.

“I am interested in the notion of geological time and its duration in relation to recording media: to moving image, photography or sound and to the relationship between the still and the moving image. My interest is therefore in how the application of a geological temporality might affect a reading of landscape and space in relation to a sense of time, with the objects, landscapes, spaces and materials themselves being recordings of a process.”

Hannah Rickards work deals with perception and its description; with how one can translate an encounter – be that with a sound, an object, a space or an image. In particular, she has explored the relationship between atmospheric phenomena and experience of them (a sound heard accompanying the aurora borealis, a remembered image of a mirage, a thunderclap re-performed by a musical ensemble) in installation, video, text and sound works.


‘Unidentified landscape, bizarre iceberg’, watercolour. One of a collection of 81 watercolours and drawings by Sir John Ross, while on his second voyage in search of a North-West Passage, 1829-33.

Her previous exhibitions include Thunder, a performance part of the Contemporary Art Society Centenary Programme, Pier Arts Centre, Orkney 2010; Chasing Napoleon, Palais de Tokyo, Paris 2009-2010; No, there was no red. Max Mara Art Prize for Women, Whitechapel Gallery, London 2009 and The Quick and the Dead, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 2009

Posters are available from The Polar Museum, The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and Kettle’s Yard.

Bridget Cusack
Museum Development Coordinator

The journey of a new stamp collection

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Hannah Carney, Creative Apprentice, University of Cambridge Museums


The Polar Museum’s new exhibition is Delivery by Design: Stamps in Antarctica and I was lucky enough to go and see the stamps, printing proofs and the original artwork being moved from the British Library to The Polar Museum with the assistance of the Foreign Commonwealth Office.

Stamps 362

On 30 April, Bridget Cusack, The Polar Museum’s Development Coordinator and I went to the British Library in London to pick up the collection. We met with Ken Ball from Crown Agents, and Vicky Taylor and Paul Skinner from the British Library. Once everyone was there, we went up to Paul’s office to see and collect the stamps. The collection was in several envelopes and when we got to the office, staff from the British Library were writing a list of all the stamps that they  were going to hand over.

Stamps 382 

While the list was being typed up, Ken Ball suggested that we did a random sampling to see the condition of the stamps. I enjoyed this as I got to see the artwork up close and all the detail which went into it. I really liked looking at the printing proofs as you can see all the notes which were written for the printers.  I also thought that it was interesting to see the range of designs of the stamps, as there were the obvious designs like penguins and the less obvious ones such as the sea life of Antarctica.

Stamps 365

After we did the sampling Bridget, Vicky, Ken and Paul all signed the documents that they needed to. Then we had to load all the stamps into our means of transport for the day (Bridget’s car.) This was interesting as we had to fit all of the stamps into two boxes and load them into car. Once everything was safely and securely packed up it was time for the trip back.

Overall I really enjoyed this experience as it taught me a lot about moving objects, the logistics and the effort it takes to collect objects.