OVER the years children visiting Weston Park Museum, or the City Museum as it once was, have formed special attachments to particular objects.
Now curators are hoping to have created some new favourites as the museum’s Treasures gallery has undergone a revamp with a whole new display of fascinating objects from Sheffield’s World Cultures collection, exploring their links with the city and its people.
Illustrating the diversity of Sheffield’s cultural heritage are objects that have travelled many thousands of miles here such as the skull of a crocodile which attacked a Sheffield man in India, a knife made in steel city which found its way to the Sioux people of North America and a series of ornate 19th century Japanese dolls presented to a local industrialist.
The new exhibits at Weston Park have been developed by a group of young people working with Museums Sheffield and local communities to share the stories of these objects and look at how they found their way into the city’s collections.
The Treasures gallery redisplay forms part of Precious Cargo, a London 2012 Cultural Olympiad project.
The young people who are aged 14-24 and members of Museums Sheffield Youth Forum have been working on the project for three years, not only selecting objects but being involved in other aspects such as marketing and with the designers and the technicians.
One of the young participants, Madeline Gill, said: “Through this project I’ve met lots of new people, learned many new skills and discovered so much about different cultures and their traditions. For us to have the chance to put our own views, ideas and opinions into the creation of gallery displays that will be seen by so many people has been an amazing opportunity.”
Clare Starkie, Senior Curator of Humanities, explained: “There are 2,000 objects in the collection to choose from so it was quite a challenge, but not all of them had a story to tell or related to the theme of making a journey into the region.
“We co-selected from a long list of around 100 objects. Some couldn’t be displayed because they were too sensitive to light or too fragile or simply too big or heavy. In some cases the story about them was more interesting than the visual impact.
“If they liked something these young people would show you how much they really liked it, or if they didn’t they would tell you,” said the curator. There were some hard choices and “some lovely objects” couldn’t be included.
While some of Weston Park’s enduring favourites with visitors, such as the Egyptian mummies and the sumo wrestlers, remain some are seeing the light of day for the first time. “We didn’t know what a lot of them were,” admitted Starkie, “and had to consult ethnological curators with specialised knowledge in Liverpool, Leeds and Hull or the British Museum and even as far as Japan. Often the items had been recorded 100 years ago and the information had been lost.”
Not all of them are ancient history. A raffia costume from Nigeria needed researching, even though it had been presented to the gallery by a visitor to Africa only in the 1960s. Other more contemporary items include a little girl from Sheffield’s doll bought for her by her granny at a market in Congo and there’s a place for a telephone made from a pumpkin gourd, a popular novelty in the Yemen.
The story behind the crocodile skull is that it was brought home from India in the late 1800s by Sheffield’s Fred Webster who was attacked by the creature but escaped with his life when someone shot it.
A knife on showwas made in Sheffield in 1835 by Joseph Elliot. Elliot had businesses all over Europe and the Americas and sold the knife to the Sioux people, who crafted its deer hide sheath. It was later discovered by Sheffield collector John Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie, Baron of Wharncliffe, who brought it back to the city.
The set of ornate 19th century Japanese dolls were presented to local industrialist Sir Arthur Balfour but have had to undergo a painstaking conservation process (funded by Museums Sheffield supporters) before they could go on show.
On Saturday there will be a celebration of the Precious Cargo project and launch of the Treasures Gallery display with demonstrations, performances and activities inspired by the city’s World Cultures collection.
It will include performances from African singing group Sosa-Xa!, dance from Shukti Biswas, Shahzad Khan and Somali women’s group, Durbaan, and poetry from Debjani Chatterjee who has contributed to the exhibition. There will also be drumming workshops with Mandla Sibanda and 30 Drums and the chance to try food from around the globe.