Working with Natural Science collections

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The Monument Fellowship is a Museums Association scheme which is aimed at capturing collections knowledge held by experienced individuals who have retired from museums. As part of this scheme I have been working alongside the recently retired assistant Keeper, Jeremy Adams, in an attempt to transfer over 30 years of experience and knowledge to the next generation of staff, namely myself!

During several day sessions carried out on Thursdays (when the museum is closed to the public) Jeremy has been teaching me about the history of the collections and the building, first hand recollections of transferring the natural history collections from the main museum to the Booth Museum, as well as detailing the changes that have been made to the stores and galleries in the Booth during his employment.

Jeremy has also run sessions on the notable people who have provided the largest collections to have been added since Edward Booth’s death. These sessions have been recorded for transcription in order to ensure that important information on the collections will be permanently available to future generations.

Recently, he has been teaching me more ‘hands on’ skills, such as taxidermy. Although it is a skill of great use to natural history museums, it is rarely taught elsewhere.

After an initial observation session, I was let loose on a sparrowhawk, which had been found dead on a local farm. Despite being a little tricky (imagine skinning a chicken but with all the feathers left on) I managed to remove the skin without any tears, or broken bones. After dealing with the head (the one gory bit of the process) the skin was treated to ward off insect infestation and frozen.

The following week the skin was recovered from the freezer, and prepared for stuffing. During the observation session this involved creating a lifelike body and wiring the limbs in place in order to make a mounted specimen. Unfortunately I was only required to produce a research skin, which essentially resembled a bird lollypop! Rather an unglamorous end for the bird, and disappointing for myself. Hopefully the next specimen will have a more satisfying result!

Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences

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