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Exhibitions « The Polar Museum: news blog


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.

The creation of an exhibition

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Creating exhibitions for The Polar Museum is challenging. It requires intense research and dealing with a wealth of material (much of which is original) but being limited by space – and managing the expertise and enthusiasm of Polar community curators as they endeavour to share their knowledge and experience of the Arctic and Antarctica. It is also deeply rewarding to be at the edge of current research, providing exhibitions that convey the present state of knowledge and also to raise questions about new fields of research. 

Each exhibition is unique; conveying an artist’s response to the Polar Regions; communicating the latest scientific research; or discussing historical themes and characters. Sometimes all three of these aspects can be in one exhibition. One size does not fit all, and creating a narrative structure on which to base an exhibition is a core task.

Polar Hydrography 1

Our current exhibition, Sea Monsters to Sonar: Mapping the Polar Oceans was the idea of Dr John Ash an associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and former submariner. To gather ideas and material for the exhibition, he and I travelled to Portsmouth and visited HMS Protector, the Royal Navy's polar patrol vessel and one equipped with excellent facilities for mapping; we also visited the nearby Submarine Museum. We had the privilege of visiting the United Kingdom's Hydrographic Office (UKHO) where we saw original polar maps and charts and the latest developments in mapping the seabed and coastlines of the harsh Polar Regions. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) were also very helpful with information from their Mapping and Geographic Information Centre (MAGIC) and they kindly loaned us a model of the James Clark Ross, a scientific vessel that they operate.

Inspired and informed by our colleagues at the Scott Polar Research Institute, the ideas for the exhibition began to emerge until we were ready to develop themes, design panels and choose the final items for display. Fortunately, our Conservator, Sophie Rowe, is fluent in Danish and assisted in securing replicas of Inuit driftwood maps, the originals of which are in the National Museum of Greenland. Here in Cambridge, the University Library kindly loaned a Mercator Atlas and the Whipple Museum of the History of Science provided an instrument for measuring depth. SPRI's own collections provided a rich source of visual, archival and artistic material. Exhibitions are a team effort and thanks to expert and enthusiastic support from our colleagues John’s vision is now a ‘live’ exhibition.

Polar Hydrography 2

When a visitor leaves The Polar Museum we hope that they know more than when they entered but we also hope that they're now curious to know even more about the Polar Regions. The current exhibition, Sea Monsters to Sonar: Mapping the Polar Oceans, offers science, art, history and a 'submarine'! Once again we hope to have combined several interesting themes to create another informative and engaging exhibition.

Bryan Lintott, Exhibitions Officer

The tag of a famous dog

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

The brass tag of a dog named Tresor is one of the most recent additions to the Museum’s permanent display. Tresor was one of thirty-three Siberian sledging dogs on Scott’s British Antarctic Terra Nova Expedition (1911-13).

The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who beat Scott to the South Pole and got back alive, was an expert in using dog teams: they were a key factor in his success. By killing a certain number of the dogs at each stage of his journey to create food for the others, Amundsen reduced the weight of supplies needed for the trip. He also ensured that his men would not have to pull the sledges themselves, which was Scott’s exhausting method in his fatal attempt on the Pole.

Unlike Amundsen, Scott didn’t believe that dog teams would be effective as a means of transport in Antartica, but the members of the expedition felt a great deal of affection for their dogs. They must have been a welcome reminder of the normality of home in the strange and lonely Antarctic environment. 

The expedition geologist and founder of SPRI, Frank Debenham, wrote a story about one of them, Stareek. In the Antarctic, a book of light-hearted stories from the expedition published in 1952, gives us a wonderful sense of how the presence of the dogs gave things a domestic feel, writing that “sledging-dogs have just as much individuality as we know exists in our own pets in civilised life.”

He also described the pleasure of working with them, explaining that

“One of the delightful things about dog-driving is their eagerness for work. When you came out of the hut with the dog-harnesses on your arm the loose dogs would rush up to you and try to insert their heads into the loop of the harness, begging to be taken.”

They were a lot more fun than the stubborn and obstinate ponies which were more heavily relied on for transportation by Scott and his men.

Despite his scepticism about the dogs’ usefulness, Scott himself was profoundly compassionate and concerned for the wellbeing of all the animals he took with him to Antarctica. On one occasion, a team pulled by thirteen sledge dogs crossed a concealed crevass. Only the lead dog made it across: the rest were left hanging by their harnesses in the sudden chasm, and two had slipped out and fallen to the bottom completely. It took the men hours to rescue the dogs; Scott himself insisted on being lowered 65 feet into the crevasse in order to rescue the two who had fallen.

Tresor Photo

When Debenham finally left Antarctica in February 1913, of all the surviving sledging dogs it was Tresor he took with him, whom he described as “a marvel of quietness and amiability.” Looking at the photographic portrait of Tresor, it’s not hard to read those human characteristics in his face – he seems peaceful and benevolent; his gaze passes off into the middle distance as if he’s gently contemplating something. Debenham’s sketch makes his affection for Tresor palpable – he’s given him a friendly smile and that same contemplative expression.

Tresor Sketch

Returning to England via Sydney, Debenham left Tresor with a young man called Archbold. After Tresor’s death, his dog tag was kept in a button box for many years. Luckily, its connection to a well-travelled dog and a historic expedition was identified and we are delighted to see it join The Polar Museum collection.