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Preserving Whistler’s murals

Anna ECornelius8 April 2019

This blog is from Graeme McArthur, Conservator at UCL Culture.

UCL’s Whistler Room, located next to the Octagon Gallery, is so named because it contains murals painted by the artist Rex Whistler, who studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and whose career was sadly cut short by the Second World War. These were originally completed in 1935 for a private residence on Gower Street; however by 1959 the house was due to be demolished. The murals were saved by literally cutting them out of the wall and removing them to their current location. They are part of  the UCL Art Museum collections and therefore come under the care of UCL Culture.

Two people crouch below a mural embedded in the wall

Removing a mural in the Whistler Room

The murals are painted in oil on top of house paint, supported by around 2cm of the original wall plaster with an auxiliary support of wood battens and plaster of Paris. Unfortunately the change in environment and support has caused severe stability issues. Ongoing conservation has been required since 1960 as the house paint layer keeps cracking and flaking away from the plaster beneath. Glazing was added in 1963 to try and alleviate these issues, but although it protects the surface from physical damage it has not improved the environment.

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Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month March 2018

MarkCarnall27 March 2018

Welcome to March’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month. For the blissfully ignorant amongst you, this series brings the worst and dullest fossil fish from the Grant Museum of Zoology’s collections for your viewing displeasure on a monthly basis. Natural history museums are full of this material, not every museum specimen can be the first, last, oldest, biggest or nicest smelling because life can’t always about the best. It’s important to take some time and some space to think about the mediocre. The run of the mill. The quotidian. The also ran. Sure, the sparkly stuff is what we put on display in museums but it’s really the middling masses that are key to understanding life.

Not these fossil fish though. They’re ugly and useless. Or are they?
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Specimen of the Week 321: the Wall of Mice

JackAshby15 December 2017

One of the most extraordinary collections in the Grant Museum relates to one of the most Ordinary of Animals. Since its creation, it has been kept behind the scenes. The man who created it, over decades of barely believable dedication and hard work, would probably never have imagined that anyone would firstly want to display it, and secondly find a way to do so.

Mice Space at the Grant Museum - a wall of 4000 mice skeletons.

Mice Space at the Grant Museum – a wall of 4000 mice skeletons.

Personally, I have a real interest in pondering the differences between what gets selected for display in museums and what doesn’t (I published an article in The Conversation about it this week), and in the Grant Museum we have a lot of experience of finding ways to display collections that were not intended for the public eye (our Micrarium is a great example of this). This week’s Specimen of the Week definitely fits these themes… (more…)

Specimen of the Week 318: The newly recapitated bandicoot

JackAshby24 November 2017

This is embarassing. The sheer scale of natural history collections means that some objects are going to be wrongly identified, and the fact that generations of professionals have worked here over nearly two centuries means that there has been plenty of opportunity to get things wrong. I am embarrased because I utterly failed to spot that someone had attached the head of one animal onto the body of another. I am particularly embarassed because both animals involved fall within my particular area of zoological interest – Australian mammals.

A chimeric skeleton of a woylie's skull on a bandicoot's body. LDUCZ-Z85 + LDUCZ-Z58

A chimeric skeleton of a woylie’s skull on a bandicoot’s body. LDUCZ-Z85 + LDUCZ-Z58

Allow me to introduce you to…. (more…)

Whales on the Road

RuthSiddall6 July 2017

This weekend, 8th and 9th July, the Grant Museum is running an event of massive proportions – the Whale Weekender – when the public is invited to come and rebuild and clean their whale skeleton. Long before it came to the Grant Musuem, the whale in question begun life-after-death, in 1860, when it was sold to be toured around the country as a whole carcass. That particular venture did not go very well for anyone involved.

This post is about dead whales touring the country on the back of lorries. There are not many things these days that provide pretty much no hits when Googled, but this subject seems to be one of them. You may well be asking why I would be Googling ‘Whales’ ‘Lorry’ ‘Supermarket Car Park’. Here is the answer…

I was talking to my colleague Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum, about their upcoming #WhaleWeekender extravaganza, and he mentioned the incredible history of their specimen and its intended national tour. I told Jack that I remembered seeing a whale in the back of a truck when I was a kid in Salford in the early 1970s. Jack looked at me like I had said 1870s. On reflection there is certainly a circus side-show, freak-show element to this experience. Until speaking to Jack, I have not thought about this for years. (more…)

Help us build and clean a whale skeleton

JackAshby3 July 2017

Some of the whale's backbone, in one of our stores.

Some of the whale’s backbone, in one of our stores.

This weekend we will be attempting to rebuild our largest specimen – a northern bottle-nosed whale skeleton. And we would like you to help us do it.

The specimen’s story begins in 1860 when it was originally collected in Somerset, when an expedition set off across the Bristol Channel in pursuit of “two great fish” (as they were described by the local newspaper – whales are, of course, mammals) – one of which was brought back to land. After a period “on tour” as a whole carcass, the prepared skeleton was displayed hanging from the ceiling of the Weston Super-Mare Museum. It eventually came to the Grant Museum in 1948, but it had been dismantled into its separate bones. (Its full, remarkable story, including the use of entirely inappropriate whale-murdering equipment, misguided entrepreneurship, rancid carcasses, financial ruin, and the unusual tasks the wife of a 19th century curator might find herself doing, can be read in a previous post).

At over eight metres long in life, different parts of the skeleton have been stored in different cupboards and cabinets across the Museum and its storerooms. (more…)

Make Taxidermy Great Again! We launch our new conservation project

JackAshby12 June 2017

Taxidermy Elephant shrew in need of treatment. LDUCZ-Z2789

Taxidermy elephant shrew in need of treatment.

This week the Grant Museum is launching a project to conserve our important collection of historic taxidermy, which involves taking these much-loved specimens off display to be treated. In their place, we will be filling the gaps with toy stuffed animals to raise awareness of the project.

The specimens have been on display for over a century, and in that time some of them have begun to split and crack, their filling may be poking out or they are just plain dirty. They require expert museum conservators to repair them, ensuring that they will survive for the long-term future. That is the key aim of this project: Fluff It Up: Make Taxidermy Great Again. (more…)

Specimen of the Week 288: Pipistrelle bat skull

Dean WVeall21 April 2017

 

Pipistrelle sp. LDUCZ-Z617

Pipistrelle sp. LDUCZ-Z617

Hello Specimen of the Week fans, Dean Veall here. This week I have chosen a specimen that requires some very delicate handling as it’s a tiddler. The specimen is beautifully delicate and I would say demonstrates expert skills in preparation. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

 

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Why natural history museums are important. Specimen of the Week 278: The British Antarctic Survey Limpets

JackAshby10 February 2017

There is much more to a natural history museum than meets the eye, and that’s mostly because relatively tiny proportions of their collections are on display. At the Grant Museum of Zoology we are lucky enough to have about 12% of our collection on display. That’s because we have a lot of tiny things in the Micrarium and our collection is relatively small, with 68,000 objects. While we REALLY like to cram as much in our cases as is sensible, these percentages are not realistic for many museums, whose collections run into the millions.

Limpets from South Georgia. LDUCZ-P878 Nacella concinna

Limpets from South Georgia. LDUCZ-P879 Nacella concinna

The vast majority of specimens in natural history museums, ours included, were not intended for display, and that includes this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

Fun with Minerals 2: Back in the Habit

SubhadraDas15 September 2016

UCL Earth Sciences student and veteran of UCL Geology Collections curation Nadine Gabriel returns with another guest blog relating her work with the mineral collection over the summer. It’s great to have her back and to demonstrate that collections management is clearly habit forming.

Hello, it’s Nadine Gabriel again and I’ve been spending another summer working with UCL Geology Collections. Since the Rock Room will soon have another home, I’ve been removing minerals from display cabinets, auditing the collection and accessioning some new specimens. Once again I have seen thousands of minerals and one thing that always catches my eye is the wide variety of habits, so I thought this topic would make a great sequel to my first blog.

A mineral habit is the shape of a single crystal or group of crystals. This is dependent on a mineral’s crystallographic system (the atomic arrangement of a crystal) and its growing conditions. The basic habit classification is defined by how well-formed a crystal is. A mineral is euhedral if all faces are well-developed, which means it grew in uncrowded, optimal conditions. However, if a mineral grew in unsuitable conditions, it becomes subhedral (some faces present) or anhedral (no faces). Below are the more specific habit classifications.

First up is the massive habit which contains no visible crystal structures, but don’t assume that this doesn’t make them less eye catching! Many beautiful minerals such as deep blue lapis lazuli and vivid red (but poisonous) cinnabar have this habit.

Minerals with cubic habit

Cubic: pyrite, fluorite and galena (top). Hexagonal: quartz (middle left) and aragonite (middle right). Platy: biotite (bottom left) and talc (bottom right)

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