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Diversifying Skills in Museum Technical Service Teams

27 October 13 -- jsuess

On 8th October 2013 technical services staff from the four Oxford University Museums and the Bodleian Library came together to recount experiences and discuss opportunities to share training and equipment. As part of this meeting we were treated to a tour of the Pitt Rivers Museum's technical workshop and a glimpse behind the scenes at their current redisplay work.

The Pitt Rivers is currently working on a major HLF funded project called VERVE. This £1.6 million project will support vital conservation, refreshment of selected areas of display and much improved case lighting, alongside a wide-ranging programme of free public activities illuminating the ways in which human creativity has driven developments in design and technologies.

The Pitt Rivers’ technical services team, led by team manager John Simmons, is playing a key role in the project’s lighting and refreshment of display elements. Already, as part of a DCMS/Wolfson award, new, flexible, energy-efficient LED lighting has been installed into most of the cases around the outskirts of the Museum’s court and lower and upper galleries, illuminating the traditionally dark museum while maintaining it’s Victorian personality.

Masks being redisplayed in court cases.

Currently Alan Cooke, Chris Wilkinson and Adrian Vizor are working on the redisplay of high level court cases in consultation with the curatorial and conservation teams.  As well as creating new mounts for each mask, the technical team is providing expertise for the 3D case design. Alan and Adrian were recently trained on Vector Works, multi-purpose design software used by exhibitions designers. Alan, working with Chris, used this new expertise to work with a curator to design the recent exhibition Visiting with the Ancestors: The Blackfoot Shirts Project, rather than employ an external designer.


Mount masks being made and case layouts designed in the new temporary working space.

The team is fortunate to have been able to take over the museum’s temporary exhibition space for the duration of the redisplay project. This has increased their workspace dramatically, and has meant that they have been able to work hands on with the objects in the new space: it would have been impossible to take the objects in to the wood and metal workshop where they would be at a high risk of damage.
Graphic design training has increased the range of activity that the technical team can deliver in house. They can produce labels, panel designs and contribute to the production of marketing materials. Alan designed the main poster and flyer for the current photographic exhibition Surviving Tsunami: Photographs in the Aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Private view invitation designed by Alan.

At the meeting John Simmons expressed the added value to the museum of technical teams diversifying their skills and expertise. In these tight economic times when funding is increasingly difficult to come by, it is a boon for the museum to be able to do the majority of their exhibition design in house, utilising technical know how.

Technicians are largely the unsung and often undervalued element in the making a successful museum. Hopefully by raising their profile more people will appreciate the crucial role they really play.


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