In this session you will learn all about what a curator is and does; then, have a go at being a curator yourself.
This activity can be completed with materials that you have at home or in the class room, or can be used to look at objects in one of our loan boxes. We also offer this as a taught session deliverd by our learning team.
What is a curator and what do they do?
A curators looks after the collection of exhibits in a museum or art gallery.
Their job is to look after and build up collections, often in specialist areas such as archeology, natural history and social history. Curators plan the ways in which objects in museums and galleries can be interpreted in exhibtions and displays, books and publications and events and presentations.
Question: Why do we need Museums? What are they for?
Have a think about what you think Museums are for and why we need them. On a piece of paper, or in your work book, write down your ideas, then scroll down to see some answers.
Answers: Why do we need Museums? What are they for?
A museum is a building that holds a collection of objects. Some museums focus on a single subject—eg, natural history, local history, art, science, or archaeology.Other museums contain a mixture of objects which cover different subjects.
Museums are there to look after important objects, to research them, conserve them (which means to stop them being damaged and repair damage if necessary) and in most cases make these exhibits available to members of the public so they can learn from them to.
Museums are important as they help us to understand and learn from our shared past, to keep cultural anf natural heritage safe and most importantly to help us learn about fascinating things.
A keeper or someone who takes care of a museum, gallery or other collection
Cultural heritage is the physical objects and intangible elements such as ritual, of a group or society that are inherited from past generations and continued or maintained in the present.
Natural heritage combines many elements of biodiversity, including flora (plants) and fauna (animals), ecosystems and geological structures (rocks).
What do curators do all day?
In this section of the activity we will discover what curators do all day to document and care for the objects in a collection. Then you can have a go at some of the actvities yourself.
1: Documentation of Objects
Documentation is an important part of any curators job. When a curator is documenting objects, it means that they are creating and/or looking after the information about the object. This could be recording written information such as size, material, place of orgin and the cultural/natural history of the object; as well as visual information such as photographs and drawings.
Documentation is also important as it means the museum can account properly for its objects. This mean that docuemntation makes sure that the museum can say what it owns and where it is, and makes sure that nothing can happen to the collections without being properly considered and authorised. This might seem like an easy task but museums can hold hundereds to hundereds of thousands of objects, so knowing where every object is, and even which object is which is very important. This can only be achieved through documentation.
In the past curators used accession registers to document the objects in a collection. The flip book on the left shows a selection of pages from one of Saffron Walden Museum's early accesion registers. "Register A" shows lists and some drawings of the museum’s objects created by John Player in 1844, along with descriptive notes which were designed to be used for object labels created by H. Ecroyd-Smith in the 1880s.
Some of the articles and views contained in these registers represent views and attitudes held in the 19th century, and are not the views of the Museum today. Some of these practices were linked to British colonialism and racial discrimination, or to practices of wildlife collecting that have since been made illegal by national and international legislation. The Museum does not condone these practices in any way.
2:Exhibitions and Displays
Curators also curate displays and exhibtions using the objects which they look after or somtimes, objects that are on loan from other museums and gallaries. Curating an exhibtion means displaying the objects in a way that helps viewers understand the story and history of the object. This is a really important part of what a curator does, as it makes the objects in the Museum accessible to the public, so they can learn from them.
Below you can see some information on temporary exhitbions that have been shown at Saffron Walden Museum in the past. The information includes text pannels, which go on the walls of the exhibtion and include information on the theme of the exhibtion and the objects in it. There are also pictures of the exhibtions themeselves and in some cases an exhibtion guide which ucompanied the exhibtion.
The curator of the exhibtion oversees all of these aspects of an exhibtion, which help vistors to understand the story of the objects on display. While you are looking at the examples, try to think about how the curator has told the stories of the objects in the exhibtion.
Exhibtion One: Worlds Under Glass: Adventures in Taxidermy
Exhibtion Two: From Death Masks to Diaries: The many faces of portraiture
Activity One: Documentation, making an object record card
As we learned earlier, an improtant part of a curators job is to document the objects in a museum or gallaries collection. In this activtity you will have a go at documenting an object yourself by creating your own object record You can either use an object from your home or class room, or an object from one of our loan boxes.
You will need:
A sheet of paper, either lined or plain or you can print out the object record card sheet by clicking the print button on the PDF viewer below.
A pencil and coloured pencils if you have them
Something to measure your object like a tape measure or ruler
What you need to do:
1: Begin by choosing the object you are going to document. You could choose an object from your home or classroom that you find interesting, or perhaps something relating to your topic at school. It needs to be somthing you can safley handle and study.
2. Next you need to prepare your record card. You can either copy the table on the left using paper, pencil and a ruler ot you can print it out.
3. Now its time to fill in your record card. Begin by giving your object a simple name. In the Museum we use this to catigorise objects. Examples of a simple name would be things such as: hat, stone, chair, toy, cup, book, shell, photo, painting, bird, bottle etc
4. Next give your object its full name. This is a name that describes the object more thouroughly. For examples rather than just hat as in the simple name, you could say "yellow, woolen boble hat" or rather than just bird, you could say "Taxidermy male pidgeon.
5. Now you need to write a discription of your object. This means you need to use adjectives (describing words) to talk about the colour, size, texture and age of the object. A good way to do this is to imagine that you are describing the object to someone over the phone. Try and write a discription that is co clear that they could see the object in their heads.
6. It is really important that the condition of objects in a museum is recorded. This is so curators can monitor if objects are becoming damaged by their storage conditions. Record the consdition of your object. Does it have and chips or cracks? Has it been fadded by the sun or become dirty from being used.
7. Next you need to record the size of your object. Measure your objects height (how tall it is) width (how wide it is) and depth (how deep it is). Use cemtimeters cm and millitmetres mm.
8. Finally draw a picture of your object. Look back over the accession register flip book above to inspire you.
Activity Two: Curating displays, make a mini museum!
In this activity you can practice curating an exhibtion by building your own mini museum!
Before beginning any practical activity or craft, please read through all of the instructions and check that it is suitable. Please be careful when using scissors and make sure any cutting equipment, glues and paints are suitable for the user. Never cut towards yourself or anyone near you.
What you will need
A card board box, or rigid cardboard to make one with
Extra cardboard for making "rooms" and object mounts
Paint or coloured paper
Sticky tape (preferably masking/paper tape)
Some exhibits for your museum (these can be found in the garden/ in the play ground/ around the house or on a walk - please adhere to government guidelines on leaving your home)
Step One: build your museum
Take your cardboard box, a shoe box would work well.
Cut away one of the largest sides so you have a big opening
Use strips of card, roughly the same depth as your box, to create rooms or galleries in your museum
Paint or decorate your rooms with coloured paper
Step two: how to make an exhibit
If you don't have any exhibits you can make your own using pictures from magazines/postcards/photos etc.
Cut out the picture you want to use
Stick it onto card and cut it out
Step three: collect exhibits and research
Collect some exhibits for your museum. I have chosen to focus on natural history but it could be a toy museum, or any other kind of museum.
If you have access to an outside space you could try finding exhibits there but please adhere to government guidelines about going outside.
If you do collect exhibits from nature please be careful and sensible about what you pick up, and wash your hands after touching the objects. Only collect discarded things such as empty snail shells, sea shells or seed heads.
Once you have assembled you exhibits you need to curate them. This means you need to research and record information about each object. This information could include:
- its common name
- its scientific name
- where it was found
- when it was found
- who found it
- what it is made of
- what colour it is
Write down your findings, you could use books or the internet to help you. Once you have researched your objects you can write them some labels, neatly. Choose the information you think the visitors to your museums would like to know. If you wanted to be very thoughrough you could create an object record card for each.
Step Four: Mount your exhibits
1.Cut out your labels
2. Next decide how you are going to arrange your objects in your miniuture museum. This is just like curating an exhibtion. Think about the story you want to tell will the exhibits and arrange them to tell that story.
Step five: Assemble your museum
Make mounts or stands for your exhibits to keep them safe in your museum
Install your exhibits with their labels
We hope you have enjoyed this activity and being a curator for a day!