Museum education

Pressing Business

Proofing press

Some of the items we feature in From the Vaults are stored somewhere in the giant labyrinth beneath the museum, catalogued and carefully kept in temperature-controlled conditions until needed for display or research. Others are presented proudly behind glass, under lights or on models as part of a current or ongoing museum exhibition. Seldom do we find something that is in use, still doing the same job it was designed to do more than a century ago.
The museum is in possession of an ancient proofing press, once part of the Wanganui Chronicle plant and equipment, and now a working exhibit in the Whanganui Regional Museum tactile collection. When it was in daily use as a newspaper tool, printing staff would use it to print each page for proofing purposes, enabling a practised eye to be cast over the newsprint before going to press.
Museum educator, Margie Beautrais uses the machine as an educational tool at the museum. “We have the wooden poster type,” she says, “which is very old and very precious, and we feel really lucky to be allowed to use these with kids.”
The wooden type comes in many sizes and is stored in their original type drawers, also sourced from the Chronicle. Unfortunately, the museum does not possess a full complement of any particular font.
Included among the carved wooden letters is an array of logos and graphic art, once used in newspaper advertising. Margie has arranged all the letters in sizes so posters can be created with differing font styles of the same size. It works well and the posters look great.
“It’s all good learning for kids,” she says. “They find out that this stuff is called ‘furniture’ (wooden blocks used for line spacing) and these things are called ‘quoins’ (metal wedges) and they have to learn the writing goes backwards.”
Margie showed me some of the old Chronicle art she has used to create themed posters. There are ads and logos for long gone Wanganui companies, pictures of riverboats, Christmas art, the Wanganui District Council crest – all stamped in metal and glued to wooden blocks.
“Every child gets a tray, they get to choose a picture and they have to think of a word to go with it. It’s really good for supporting literacy,” she says. “I do a demo for them and they help me find the letters, working in pairs or by themselves.”
Margie holds up a mirror for the children to check their work before they move over to the press to ink it up and print a copy. The posters are then hung to dry and given to the school the following day.
When the proof press was given to the museum it went straight to the education programme, where it has been retained. “The value of it as an educational tool is high,” says Margie. “It’s not getting damaged. It’s fairly robust.”
To see it used as it was intended in a museum context is refreshing. “It’s old and it’s cool and it’s still being used,” she says. “I would love more schools to come and do this programme. It doesn’t get used as often as I would like. I’d like to run this programme every week.”
Teachers interested in any of the educational programmes on offer are urged to contact the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek on 2nd May 2 2012. Reproduced with permission from the publishers.

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House of Bones revisited… again and again and again

HOB10I work as a Museum educator. The other day I hosted a small group of Year 12 girls (around about 16 years old) who visited the Museum with their art teacher to draw the African masks and statues in Minkisi. The students worked really well and made some amazing drawings.
At the end, their teacher gave them a reminder that there was just 5 minutes to go before they had to leave for school. A couple of the girls asked, “Can we go down to the House of Bones?” When he said yes, a small group of them RAN down the stairs, squealing with delight. What was so fascinating to them?
HOB14The House of Bones is set up as a 1930s era house of a professor who collects bones, and fills his house with them. There are animal skulls in the bookcases; crates of bones in the hallway that seem recently delivered, but not yet unpacked; an office with old oak desk, typewriter and assorted handwritten letters and notes; and a newspaper lined attic with chests of bones for hands-on investigation.
HOB31Why did this excite the teenagers? Possibly because it is a little bit dark, a little bit weird, and a sound-track of strange creaks, scrapes and footsteps makes the “house” feel a little bit creepy.
It is interesting that after being up for just two months, with lots of different activities for children to do, there are some local children who have already visited House of Bones so often that they have completed all the existing activities, and are asking for new challenges. Although I’m not surprised that children are interested in the bones and want to come and see them, I would never have guessed it would attract so much repeat visitation from both children and teenagers.HOB24
I think it shows that the way that we design exhibitions can make an enormous difference to the way people respond to museum objects and collections.

Margie Beautrais is an Educator at Whanganui Regional Museum