The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A peep round Snibston Discovery Park

Snibston Discovery Park is located in Leicestershire, in Coalville a small town close to Leicester. It proudly calls itself the region's 'largest interactive museum' and is a showcase for 'science, technology and design collections, including major innovations in transport and engineering history' (Leicestershire County Council). A little while ago I went on a trip to Snibston, predominantly to see an exhibition on the 100 years of Girl Guiding (I am a Guide leader in my 'spare' time), but as this proved to be a slight disappointment the day really belonged to noodling around the main part of the museum and letting off steam in the adventure play ground outside.

I was not that interested in the science exhibition part of Snibston, mainly because I have a slight aversion to science interactives after a year and a half of working as an 'enabler' in Magna Science Adventure Centre but the ones here were decent enough, if little worn out and sad-looking from years of children trying to break them. They unfortunately eat money too and this is one major struggle of trying to keep these places looking fresh and modern. Still, the children I was with seemed to enjoy them.

One of the interactives I did enjoy was a skeleton sitting on a bike (see below) - you climbed onto another bike next to the case and cycled until the skeleton's heart lit up. As you moved the bike, the skeletons leg's and arms moved too. Jaunty skeletons always get my vote!


If you like social history - in terms of the development of industry and technology - then Snibston has some interesting displays about local industry. I did my best to ignore my concern about the underlying narrative of progression - you know, the idea that history is about the progression from a 'primitive' past to a technologically advanced present - although this was almost turned on its head by the juxtaposition of displays about 16th century and 19th century miners. The 16th century miner was rather jauntily dressed in a smart outfit, the 19th century miners almost naked and with only dirty sheets to protect their modesty. Of course this was explained by the much deeper mines in the 19th century compared to the 1500s but it did hint towards some of the more negative aspects of industrialisation which compelled men, women and children to work in abject conditions.

Being a geek, nerd, whatever I do love to look at old vehicles, mainly because their design seems to reflect their function much more clearly than modern things, which tend to hide their mechanics away. This picture shows a lovely replica of one of the buses that used to work the streets of Leicester.


A more modern but equally delightful shiny red bus from Leicester - this one was travelling to Stoneygate.


I'll come to the quality of the models used in the fashion galleries in a moment but it was a shame that the models used to portray people in the social history gallery were amusing rather than believable. Take this model of George Stephenson and tell me that it really, really resembles the portrait of him depicted on the wall...


The Fashion Gallery at Snibston is for me the jewel in their collection; not only is it presented really well - thematically rather than chronologically - it uses believable looking models for the clothes. In fact it was quite spooky being surrounded by cases of plastic models when not long before I had watched the Dr Who episode where shop dummies come to life....

I liked the thematic presentation because it prevented the usual 'look at how clothes have developed through the ages' narrative but instead it showed how different periods and countries have approached the 'problem' of what to wear depending on the social occasion / climate / job / event / lifestyle choice. It is also fun to see the following, an 18th or 19th farmer in his blue smock juxtaposed with more modern dress. In some ways it helps to distinguish just how different the past was from the present in a very direct way.

There was an exhibition by contemporary textile students who had used the galleries to inspire their work, it was interesting to see what they had come up with considering that it could be argued that fashion is always shamelessly ripping off the past.

One thing I noticed about the difference between the models was that the historical female models were much more modest / passive looking than their modern counterparts. I thought it was interesting that the museum had consciously sought to make a difference between the poses and expressions depending on the period it was depicting. I am reading at the moment about the need for 'historical awareness' to take into account that even the manners, emotions, mentalities and personalities of people in the past could be very different to ours and it seemed this exhibition had taken that into account.

The exhibition even had its own Mr Darcy clone...

During my visit there was a special costume exhibition, 'Starstruck', which exhibited a 'dazzling' collection of costumes from stage and screen. To my delight most of these costumes were from historical dramas and I recognised many of them. In the picture below you can see one of the costumes worn by Cate Blanchett when she played Elizabeth I (left hand model). Other costumes were worn by Helen Mirren, Keira Knightly and Tom Cruise. Most of the models were left headless, presumably it being difficult to portray a living actor in plastic.

Speaking of Mr Darcy, they had on show one of the real costumes worn by actor Colin Firth from the BBC's adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice'...

Equally exciting they had one of the costumes won by the brilliant actor Rufus Sewell when he played Charles II in the recent BBC series.

The theatre was equally well presented, with costumes (mainly from Shakespeare plays) worn by the acting greats including Lawrence Olivier and the gorgeous Vivian Leigh, and even one worn by David Tennant (the jester's costume below).

The costumes were interesting in their own right, as well as having been worn by famous actors, for showing how we attempt to recreate the fashions of the past when they can be compared with the real thing in the Fashion gallery next door. Surprisingly some of the costumes looked far more ordinary up close, attesting to the power of TV and film to beguile the senses. In contrast the theatre costumes were much more detailed and ornate, presumably because they are seen 'in the flesh' and therefore need to look more special.

All in all it was an interesting day out to Snibston, the variety of collections on display providing entertainment for diverse interests and of course the adventure playground was on hand for when the excitement died down!

3 comments:

Mike Simpson said...

Snibston also has a great collection of old toys including two recently aquired early 20th century Steiff bears. My six-year-old named these* in a competition and won us a year's family pass to the place.

*Hindenberg and Zeppelin

Ceri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ceri said...

Congratulations on your competition win! Yes I had neglected to mention the toy collection, an oversight on my part. What caught my eye in particular was a female action man... not wearing an army uniform or something cool like that but a pink ballerina dress!!