‘Animal Mummies Revealed’ at the World Museum: behind the scenes

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Having completed its stint at Glasgow, the Animal Mummies Revealed exhibition opened on 14 October 2016 at the World Museum in Liverpool. I visited the exhibition when it was on at the Manchester Museum last year, and was really looking forward to following it up again at the World Museum and seeing how it looked in a different exhibition space.

 

(Unfortunately, I was unable to make it up to Glasgow to see the exhibition there, so I’m not able to include it in the comparison.)

 

Curator Ashley Cooke very kindly arranged for me to come in for a couple of hours while the exhibition was being set up to get a few behind-the-scenes photos to share with you all. It really was just a snapshot of a small part of a process that had taken several weeks to complete, but what I saw was just fascinating.

 

In this post I’ve included photos of the setting up of the exhibition, as well as some of my girls enjoying the interactive parts of the exhibition both new and old, to give you an idea of how it differs from its time in Manchester. Oh, and I’ve finished off with a few gratuitous photos of objects in the exhibition, because … why not.

 

Behind the scenes at Animal Mummies Revealed

Having never been involved in setting up a museum exhibition, it was great fun to be able to have a nose around. The gallery was still packed with ladders, trolleys, crates, tools and paint. Most of the display cases were still empty at that point, too.

 

There were several conservators unpacking artefacts, inspecting them and then setting them up in the display cases. They were working at large tables with panel lights. With the low lighting in the rest of the gallery, it was really quite atmospheric in there.

 

The job of conservators at this point was to check all the objects for any damage that might’ve occurred during transport. When items are shipped to an exhibition, they’re inspected and photographed before being packed up and moved. Then, when they’re unpacked again, the conservator checks the artefact against the photos for any changes. It’s a bit like when you hire a car, and you check around the car for any bumps and scratches before leaving so you won’t be held liable when the car’s returned.

 

While I was there, the enormous 19th century oil painting, The Gods and Their Makers, by Edwin Longsden Long, was brought in. Before it was mounted on the wall, it was inspected, inch by inch, by David Crombie, a conservator specialising in paintings.

 

Here’s a few photos from my morning at the gallery.

 

Looking across the room, partially put together. There is a large ladder and pile of pots of paint in the middle of the room

Still so much to do, with only a couple of weeks before opening

Looking across the room, partially put together. There is a large ladder and pile of pots of paint in the middle of the room
Two women stand at a tall table with paperwork in front of them and a box and ancient Egyptian artefact

Tracey and Alex unpacking and inspecting objects

Two women stand at a tall table with paperwork in front of them and a box and ancient Egyptian artefact
Closeup of one of the women inspecting the artefact - the head of a falcon statue. She's wearing latex gloves and is holding photos of the artefact to compare with the item

Tracey inspecting a falcon head

Closeup of one of the women inspecting the artefact - the head of a falcon statue. She's wearing latex gloves and is holding photos of the artefact to compare with the item
The conservator is keeling down so she is looking across the top of the table. She is inspecting a mummified cat's head

Tracey inspecting a mummified cat's head

The conservator is keeling down so she is looking across the top of the table. She is inspecting a mummified cat's head
Conservators standing around a table with a large, bright light illuminating them

Irit, Steve and Alex at an inspection table

Conservators standing around a table with a large, bright light illuminating them
A conservator inspecting a mummified animal

Irit inspecting a wrapped ibis mummy

A conservator inspecting a mummified animal
A closeup of a conservator inspecting an animal mummy

Every inch of every artefact is carefully checked

A closeup of a conservator inspecting an animal mummy
A conservator putting an animal mummy into a display case

Steve mounting the ibis mummy in the display case

A conservator putting an animal mummy into a display case
The curator talking to two conservators about the items in a display case

Curator Ashley Cooke talking to Alex and Tracey about ancient mummification practices

The curator talking to two conservators about the items in a display case
Looking across one of the galleries. The gallery is full of boxes and construction equipment

Enough DIY equipment to rival a B&Q store …

Looking across one of the galleries. The gallery is full of boxes and construction equipment
A large, framed oil painting being brought into the gallery

Bringing in The Gods and their Makers

A large, framed oil painting being brought into the gallery
The painting being inspected

David gets to work inspecting the painting

The painting being inspected
A closeup of the conservator inspecting the painting

With special magnifying glasses and light, no paint stroke goes unchecked

A closeup of the conservator inspecting the painting
The curator and conservator looking at the painting and talking about it

There's so much to look at in this painting; we were poring over it for ages

The curator and conservator looking at the painting and talking about it

 

How does the exhibition differ from its setup at Manchester?

The single most obvious difference between the exhibition at Manchester and Liverpool is the size of the exhibition space. Liverpool’s is much bigger. (If you want to compare, have a look also at my post about the exhibition at Manchester.)

 

This meant that there were a few more oversized prints of wall reliefs from Egypt, and there’s more space for visitors to move around. The World Museum, from my own personal experience, gets massively busy at weekends. I always make a point of getting to the museum as early as possible on a Saturday, so we can enjoy it before it gets too crowded (as you can see in the photos below, it was quite quiet when we were there, as it was early in the morning).

 

But, the extra space also meant the exhibition could add in a few more things for younger visitors. As well as the mummification smells, the microscope and the corner to write your message to a god (with the wonderful hieroglyphic embossing stamps) that were in Manchester, there was also:

  • a wall-mounted hieroglyph game
  • an ‘Escape from the Mummy’s Tomb’ game on a computer terminal
  • dressing up (with a choice between Ancient Egyptian costumes and explorer costumes)
  • a large set of soft bricks with images from Egypt printed on them, which you can put together like a jigsaw
  • an enlarged photo of early Egyptologists (including John Garstang) with two of the faces cut out for visitors to replace with theirs

 

Interestingly, there’s also a few objects that have had further analysis carried out since Manchester, meaning there could be more information about them available to visitors (such as the actual contents of some of the wrapped mummies).

 

Two young girls at the entrance of the exhibition Two young girls at the entrance of the exhibition
The two girls in front of the large oil painting The two girls in front of the large oil painting
The two girls playing a wall-mounted hieroglyph game The two girls playing a wall-mounted hieroglyph game
The younger girl looking down a microscope The younger girl looking down a microscope
Looking inside the microscope at a magnified image of some linen Looking inside the microscope at a magnified image of some linen
The two girls writing messages at a table The two girls writing messages at a table
A closeup of the younger girl stamping her piece of paper A closeup of the younger girl stamping her piece of paper
Looking down from above at the two girls writing messages on pieces of paper Looking down from above at the two girls writing messages on pieces of paper
The two girls writing The two girls writing
The younger girl pointing at a video on a computer screen The younger girl pointing at a video on a computer screen
The younger girl with her face looking through a cut out photo of early Egyptologists The younger girl with her face looking through a cut out photo of early Egyptologists
The two girls looking at themselves n a mirror in dressing up clothes The two girls looking at themselves n a mirror in dressing up clothes
The girls in their dressing up clothes playing with large jigsaw blocks The girls in their dressing up clothes playing with large jigsaw blocks

 

Gratuitous shots of Egyptian artefacts

And finally, for no other reason that we all love them so, here’s some photos of a few of the items in the exhibition.

 

A coffin in the shape of an ibis A coffin in the shape of an ibis
A small statue of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet A small statue of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet
A page of a handwritten journal with small illustrations of animal mummies A page of a handwritten journal with small illustrations of animal mummies
A cat-shaped coffin A cat-shaped coffin
A row of animal mummies in a display case A row of animal mummies in a display case
A cat mummy lying on its side. The front of its skull is exposed where the bandages have been damaged A cat mummy lying on its side. The front of its skull is exposed where the bandages have been damaged
A statue of a sitting baboon with a stone offering table in front A statue of a sitting baboon with a stone offering table in front
A closeup of the inscription on the baboon's chest A closeup of the inscription on the baboon's chest
A cat mummy with intricate bandages A cat mummy with intricate bandages
The head of a wrapped crocodile mummy The head of a wrapped crocodile mummy

 

If you’re visiting …

… a couple of points to remember:

  • be sure to look up when you first come into the exhibition, otherwise you’ll miss the little guy in the photo below
  • beware the pop-up shop at the end of the exhibition … I won’t tell you how much I spent, but it was far more than it should’ve been …

 

A stuffed bird of prey up on a wall with a light shining on it

 


I would like to thank the following people working on the exhibition when I was photographing the behind-the-scenes shots. They were very friendly and happy to show me what they were doing:

  • David Crombie, senior conservator of paintings, National Museums Liverpool
  • Steve Newman, senior conservator of metals, National Museums Liverpool
  • Tracey Seddon, senior conservator of organics, National Museums Liverpool
  • Alex Blakeborough, organics conservation technician, National Museums Liverpool
  • Irit Narkiss, conservator, Manchester Museum

 

I would also very much like to thank curator Ashley Cooke for taking time out of his already hectic schedule to arrange for me to be able to come in and take these photos on two separate occasions, and for showing me around the exhibition.

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