Study Visit: Hancock Museum: April 1st 2017

Why visit?

I had documented this museum as one to visit, due to the local historical connections it holds, along with its wider variety of Egyptian and Greek objects.  I felt that looking at the ways museums displayed and contained their pieces, would also give me ideas for my own archive placement.

The Great North Museum: Hancock was purpose built in Newcastle as a natural history museum in 1884 to house the growing collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

Noted Newcastle born ornithologist and trailblazing taxidermist John Hancock was instrumental in securing funds for the museum. When he died in 1890 the museum, briefly called the New Museum of Natural History, was renamed the Hancock Museum.

John Hancock donated his prolific collection of British birds to the museum, many of which are in the museum today.

There are a lot of animal taxidermy objects within the building, however I wanted to give special attention to the objects which have a historical context.

I find myself interested in messages and meanings and have a desire to look into how other civilisations expressed themselves and how.

I may be then able to link this within my own modern interpretation.

There are three main areas of the museum which I will briefly document:

  • Classification
  • Greek
  • Egyptian


This section has been made to help visitors understand the processes behind the museum, how objects are chosen and filed.  This was especially helpful to myself of course, as I want to investigate the concept of an achieve and how this has been implemented by others.

This part really comes under the context of Exercise 4.2 Organizing your archive.



The wording in this glass display cabinet was simple, yet made sense.  It makes the point that in order to “make sense” and to understand the relationship between objects, we need to group and name them.  This can apply to any object, not just one type.  Thus the box of chocolates illustration; where we often find a “contents list” in the box, classifying each one, what’s in it, its name etc.

When walking around the museum, I paid special attention to how each piece / item was displayed; not just the item itself.

Below are a few of my favourites:

Above:  Coins and butterflies have been sorted and grouped.  Fossils have been artfully displayed.  Use of planning drawers, deep drawers, glass display cabinets and shelving have all been acquired to distinguish difference and separation.

Here are a few notes on the types of sorting used in the museum:

Image (61)

Note that everything was labelled too, clearly.


I was surprised that this collection was sitting so near my home, yet I had not idea.  My vision of this museum, was the memories collected from school trips, thus it was different observing it as an adult and actively looking for the history, rather than simply being told it.

What captured me most, was the carving and depiction of life on the vases and other utensils.  This was their “diary entry” as it were, their way of recording the time in which they lived.  The objects obviously took time to create, thus value must have been bestowed on them at the time but also now, in this “want it now” world in which we live.

My own notes and drawings taken while walking around the museum:image-62.jpg

From reading the blurbs on the wall, I found that this was a man dominated world, thus often we see this conveyed on the pottery.  Women were there to serve; effectively as “objects” themselves.  This may be worth further research, the meanings on the vases?  What the illustrations were supposed to mean?

The respect towards death was also a feature.  Note the image bottom right above my notes, part of a carving detail for a burial.

For more drawings and detail on the exhibition, see my study visit sketchbook.


Before visiting this section, I had thought it would be the utensil range which inspired me, yet it turned out to be the papyrus work.

I had never before appreciated the art and planning of the Egyptians, or the tools they used.  Apparently natural plant and mineral particles were adapted to make paint and ink.  Paintings on papyrus were planned before fruition,  as seen in the image above.  Use of line here, rather than any major colour detail.

From this museum, what can I learn?

  • Grouping objects:  Labels, number code system, shelving, display cabinets etc.  There is reason for this, random order creates confusion and wastes time.
  • Greek civilisation, use of pottery to convey life and god(s).  Thoughts on where women were placed at the time.  Could this lead me to produce my own social conversation?
  • Egyptian’s use of materials; what they had on hand, natural resources.  I wonder on reflection, what inks and style of paint the Greeks used in contrast?




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