Month: December 2013

Happy Christmas 2013!

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A quickie.  Some of our previous Christmassy blog posts:

Gold

Frankincense

Myrrh

Mistletoe

… And no list would be complete without the New Zealand Christmas Tree!

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Out of the Woods

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Connecting With Collections

6The latest display has been installed in the Collections Study Centre; Out of the Woods has been curated by MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies (AGMS) students from the University of Manchester.  www.manchester.ac.uk/museology

5The students developed their displays around the theme of trees and the ways people interact with, relate to, and benefit from trees around the world. Each group took this in a different way, group 1 focused on the olive tree and its use as a symbol as well as a 4commodity. Group 2 looked at the spiritual connection humankind has with trees. Group 3 looked at how trees can be seen as symbols of luck and spirituality while  group 4 explored the importance of the tree in Japanese culture.

The displays are part of the Tree collecting project which aims to reexamine how museums think about collecting. Within each display are objects from the museum’s collection shown alongside…

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Recommended by frogs and finance: Schefflera arboricola

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Schefflrea_1crop
The office plant

This week I was called over to the offices of the finance team to take a look at their dwarf umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola). It’s clearly received plenty of TLC and is thriving. However, in striving to reach the light it became too tall and very top-heavy. A bit worrying if you’re the one sitting below it! So it was time for some pruning and I’ll be taking the bits home to see if I can get some cuttings growing.

Photo by Josh Nolan
Frog on Schefflera

The finance team aren’t the only fans of this plant in the Manchester Museum. This beautiful little frog is a Lemur Leaf Frog; a critically endangered species which is part of the breeding programme in the newly refurbished vivarium.

The new view into the frog-breeding area of the vivarium
The new view into the frog-breeding area of the vivarium

The dwarf umbrella plant (S. arboricola) is a member of the Araliaceae (ivy) family and is a popular houseplant (especially in variagated forms). This specimen from our cultivated plant collection was collected in China by the plant hunter Augustine Henry (1857–1930). It is undated and was originally identified as a related plant, Heptapleurum octophyllum, but the identification has since been re-determined, as shown by the extra labels. The herbarium sheet is in our cultivated plant collection as the dwarf umbrella plant is native to Taiwan and Hainan, not the mainland Chinese province of Yunnan where this was collected.

Herbarium sheet of Schefflera arboricola
Herbarium sheet of Schefflera arboricola

Protecting the ‘Enchanted Forest’

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Interesting post about the importance of Witworth Park’s trees to the development plan of the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Gallery in the Park

Protecting the 'Enchanted Forest'

One of the things that first inspired our architects MUMA when they initially visited the Whitworth back in 2009 was the beauty of the mature ash and London plane trees adjacent to the building in Whitworth Park, and since part of the design brief was to deliver a green and sustainable project, protection of as many of these trees as possible was high on the list of deliverables.

Little attention had been given to the trees over the years and as a consequence their growth was quite unrestrained – this abandonment gave the appearance of an ‘Enchanted Forest’, one that delighted the architects and showed us that with careful consideration could become an important feature of the overall design and new connections with the park.

MUMA’s design includes a wing housing the Learning Studio with the Cafe above it extending out into the park and very close to the trees…

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Flood

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wiping wet edges of fungi specimens
wiping wet edges of fungi specimens

Yes, we had a flood, which was not as disastrous as it could have been.  Most of the water flowed down the spiral staircase or through the floor and affected the museum galleries below us on every floor.  Those galleries were closed that day and some still have warped floorboards.

several hours later. The source of the flood is the pipe with the red tap on the back wall.  It is just visible behind the stairs.
several hours later. The source of the flood is the pipe with the red tap on the back wall. It is just visible behind the stairs.

The flood started in our Mosses and Liverworts room on the 5th floor, where a water mains pipe fed into a smaller pipe.  It used to feed a water tank in that room, which is no longer there.  The pressure joint between the two pipes burst open in the middle of the night and water flooded out for a few hours before University security staff responded to the fire alarm.  They had to break open the door at the top of the spiral staircase to get in.

Soggy Solander boxes. The sides had bowed so couldn't be saved. We threw away about 40 of them.
Soggy Solander boxes. The sides had bowed so couldn’t be saved. We threw away about 40 of them.
materia medica specimens drying on tissue next to their broken boxes
materia medica specimens drying on tissue next to their broken boxes

Luckily most of our specimens were off the floor on shelves but some were damaged by spray in that room.  The few boxes of specimens on the floor (that suffered the most) were unnamed,  unincorporated or labelled “Offer or dispose”.  They still all had to be dried out!

We found that each shelf acted like a floor: a horizontal surface on which puddles sat, slowly seeping into boxes.  Only perforated shelving would reduce this, I suppose.

specimens & books laid out to dry
specimens & books laid out to dry

The Manchester Museum’s wonderful conservation team and house services team came in during the night and grabbed boxes & specimens to lay out on extra benches on blotting paper.  We had lots of soggy boxes, which were thrown out, but the specimens inside were not as soggy and could be dried out and saved.  Some of the paper is a bit crinkly but the plants just dried out and the ink on the labels stayed.  Good old Victorian indian ink and good quality paper!

boxes with wet sides. Box discarded & specimens laid out to dry
boxes with wet sides. Box discarded & specimens laid out to dry
These british flowering plant specimens were part of our reserve collections but still had to be laid out to dry
These british flowering plant specimens were part of our reserve collections but still had to be laid out to dry

Conservation already had a flood plan and some boxes of gear to grab, which was great, but there were no torches, which they needed because the flood had shorted the electric circuit and the emergency lights hadn’t come on.  Thank goodness for torch apps!  But at the time, nobody knew what was important, fragile or to be disposed of.

this is the floor below. The flood water got into the cupboards by dripping through the ceiling
this is the floor below. The flood water got into the cupboards by dripping through the ceiling
the kitchen on the 3rd floor, not yet mopped. Water is about 1cm deep
the kitchen on the 3rd floor, not yet mopped. Water is about 1cm deep

My role over the next few days was to check and turn everything laid out to dry.  Folders and packets of specimens had been laid out on every available surface.  Some offprints were made of strange shiny paper which wouldn’t dry and went mouldy after a week so we threw those away.  Some specimens were left without a home as the box and outside label had been thrown away.

We are mostly back to normal after the flood.  The water pipe was sealed and removed, and specimens have been put in new boxes and are back on the shelves.  Ready for the next project:  Roller racking in the Quad room!

Sunset on the Quad Room

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Sunset over the Old Quad
Sunset over the Old Quad

It’s the end of an era in the Manchester Museum Herbarium as we have a room cleared in preparation for a new storage system. The Quad Room (overlooking the Old Quadrangle and the John Owens building) was home to the lichen, algae and Leo Grindon cultivated plant collections along with part of the herbarium library. In the last two weeks we have moved them all out so that the old wooden cupboards can be removed. These were built when the collection was stored in a different style and so now that the herbarium sheets are in green solander boxes, the cupboards and shelves don’t make the most efficient use of space.

Leo Grindon cupboards
Leo Grindon cupboards
Central bench
Central bench
Lichen cupboards
Lichen cupboards

In its place, we will be having a compactor system installed and it’s moveable racking should make much better use of this room. These mobile racks are secondhand and have been dismantled from the Whitworth Art Gallery as part of the major refurbishment works. It’ll be the last time we get to see some of these views!

Removing the cupboards
Removing the cupboards

While we’re making changes, not all of our collections will be as accessible as usual. In particular, we don’t currently have access to the lichens, the fungi, the algae or the Leo Grindon Cultivated Plants. However, there is still plenty to see, such as the majority of the flowering plant collections, the ferns, the fruits and seeds and the mosses. While access to the herbarium for visitors will be limited while the work takes place, these collections can still be viewed in our Collections Study Centre.

Lichen and Algae collections in temporary storage
Lichen and Algae collections in temporary storage