Sunday, May 3, 2009

The British Museum

This was the second of my first two busy days in May and I had to be up at 5.00 to catch the train to London for three viking storytelling sessions at the British Museum.

I arrived early before the main museum was open and so spent an hour or so relaxing in the covered Great Court. Its a cathedral like space and even when busy seems a peaceful place to be. Not least because you can loose yourself in the museum exhibits placed there; from the Alabaster Stela of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpall II to a House Frontal Pole from Kayang in Canada.

The Great Court

Alabaster Stela

Canadian House Pole

That's the thing about the British Museum; as you can see from the floor plans on the museum website it has something for every one. So much in fact that you would need many days to really take it all in. Certainly more time than a traveling story teller with viking tales to tell has! I did make a brief visit to the Egyptian galleries, especially the mummy room. Ever since a small child on my first visit to Norwich Castle museum to see their one and only mummy who appeared to be looking straight back at me, I have had a fascination with such things. But unfortunately for me I'm not alone in this interest and within half an hour of opening the gallery was already packed with visitors all with mouths agape. And so many mummies!

I also went into a themed exhibition that dealt with both life and death and was packed full of objects relating to various types of medicine, as well as death rituals and the like and all from various parts of the world. What was interesting was that it included a modern piece of artwork made up of many of the different types of pill we take in the western world in order to try and cheat the inevitable. What made it more moving was the inclusion of family photographs of people who were dying but also people having fun and living! The artifacts that really caught my eye in this exhibition were the carvings of evil demonic looking creatures (I have a particular interest in Devilish tales!)

One of many 'demonic' carvings

Also the eharo storytelling masks of the Elema people of Papua New Guinea. There are many modern storytellers who are uncertain about the use of masks in storytelling, but it seemed to work for the Elema!

Eharo Masks

For the most part of the day when not telling, I spent in the European galleries that dealt with the Roman, Saxon, Viking and Medieval world. All were wonderful as far as I am concerned, for all were object rich each with its own label close by to tell you what it was, when it was from and where it was found. You might be thinking so what, but because I have worked in museums I have seen many new exhibitions where new fashions for large interpretive panels full of text have taken over from the objects themselves. I for one like to let the artifacts speak for themselves (Or maybe with the help of a storyteller once in a while!) They certainly do in the newly redisplayed medieval gallery which seems to focus on all that was beautiful in medieval times, both religious and secular. And that's got to be good, because we are all to often bombarded with images of medieval people grubbing about in the mud and falling prey to foolish superstition. Its about time there was something to redress the balance! Two objects that really grabbed me for their craftsmanship and exquisite, elaborate design were the Chaucer Astrolabe , a multi functional instrument used for time keeping, surveying and casting horoscopes (At a time when astrology was considered a science) and also the Citole , a musical instrument covered in fine carvings of hunting and the like. Its an object that must have been much prized and cared for by its many owners and Its worth remembering that it was made before the Black Death came to Britain. I think that its amazing that something like this has survived especially in a time when in human terms so much was lost.

There are many more items I could write about but I suppose the exhibits I really like best are the various hoards of coins on display from different times and places. Sometimes huge collections of coins and many of them gold. And by that I mean real gold, the bright yellowy orange pure gold. What I like to call proper gold- The kind I would like to discover in a great wooden box buried in the roots of an apple tree at the bottom of my garden!

Thanks to Claire Johnstone for inviting me to tell and also Anthony and Yvonne for their help on the day...

No comments:

Post a Comment