Posts Tagged ‘north-east days out’

Yesterday my Mum and I took my kids to the Great North Museum, or as I used to know it, the Hancock Museum in Newcastle. We had such a brilliant time that I wanted to tell you all about it.

I used to visit this museum as a child myself. I remember going with my grandparents, probably in the school holidays while my parents were at work. The images I have are of a large, dark building, filled with dusty cases of animals. The butterflies were pinned in orderly rows in glass cases all along the upstairs balcony. There was a ‘Noah’s Ark’ feature, with stuffed animals in jaunty poses around a painted ark, again all behind glass. There were some interactive elements 20 years ago: I remember being very taken with the brass rubbing plates, and I think we built some sort of Egyptian pyramid or casket. But there was nothing like the displays and facilities they have now.

The museum underwent a massive refurbishment starting in 2006 and finishing two years later, changing from the Hancock Museum to the Great North Museum as it incorporated collections from three other local galleries. The change is extraordinary.

Upon entering the first main hall, you’re faced with a huge display of animals from floor to ceiling. Birds are suspended from the roof as if flying through the air. Some of the animals are still behind glass, but many are out in the open. Squirrels scamper across the roof of display areas and a wolf prowls through the trees as if they’ve sneaked out of their cases. The staid and stuffy museum has really come to life and the clever arrangement does justice to the collected animals.

This shot shows some butterflies suspended haphazardly in the window of a house-like display area, as if they were fluttering by. Anyone studying the collection could see them just as clearly as if they were mounted neatly in a case, but for the casual viewer or for children, the innovative arrangement brings a sense of life and of the outdoors, putting the artefacts into context.

My two-year-old absolutely loved it. He was delighted by all the animals. His favourite exhibit, though, was a journey into the afterlife, Egyptian-style. In a darkened room, a ceiling projector cast images of snakes, feathers and fire on to the floor, depicting the various stages of an ancient Egyptian descent into hell. The voiceover went quite literally over his head, but he would happily have spent hours dancing around trying to avoid the snakes or catch the feathers on the floor.

He was also pretty impressed with the dinosaur.

One of my favourite parts of the museum was a little gallery tucked away at the side of the ground floor. It was a gallery about museums: about how and why we collect things, categorise them and preserve them. The objects in this gallery were really varied, from a selection of skulls arranged neatly on a shelf to a drawer of My Little Ponies. This gallery captured, for me, the spookiness and oddity of the original museum. Amazing as the ‘animated’ collections are, there’s something special about the sense of past, the sense of wonder at this world full of diverse stuff, that a formal, ‘scientific’ museum collection evokes.

I took lots more photos yesterday and there are a few more of them on my Flick page. Unfortunately they aren’t as good as I’d like; my excuse is that most were taken whilst wearing a large and wriggly baby on my front. I’d love to go back to the Hancock Museum myself and take some proper photos with a real camera – perhaps I should add that to my plans for 2011!

This post is linked up to Something for the Weekend at Thinly Spread, a weekly link-up with loads of ideas for things to do with the kids at the weekend. Take a look for a variety of posts from some great blogs.

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