Here is some information about the final two object handling models that we tested over February Half Term.
The third model continued in the playful vein, with visitors being invited to find replica objects from the IWM handling collection ‘hidden’ in discrete areas throughout the Main Exhibition Space. In stark contrast to the contemporary design of the space, these areas appeared as small ‘sets’ using old furniture with visitors being invited to rummage through the drawers or wooden chests to find objects and information, handle and digest information about them, making connections with the objects and themes on display around them.
Each ‘set’ had its own identity and contained varying levels of information in order to discover what visitors preferred. The most popular (and my personal favourite!) was an old hi-fi cabinet made to look like a mysterious cabinet, reminiscent of a fortune tellers’ booth. Covered in question marks and Alice in Wonderland style labels and rhymes, visitors could also see a tempting glow seeping out from between the red velvet curtains. As they peeked inside they found a replica First World War gas hood and various postcards and letters nestled in the red velvet lined cabinet. My favourite observation was when a little girl discovered it on her own with no one else around; she beamed with delight and quickly ran off to fetch her brother, who after further exploration ran off to get their Mother! The family stayed for quite some time and left great feedback, as did everyone who stumbled across it.
For the final model, visitors were encouraged to interact with the thirteen pounder Field Gun on display. The gun actually fired the first shot for Britain of the First World War and still bears the scar from a direct hit in September 1914. This is a poignant memorial to Lance Bombardier William King who was killed instantly as a result. Battlefield film was projected on the walls around the gun, information tags were attached to its various parts, whilst personal testimony and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate for William King was placed around it.
Small groups were told about the munitions workers (such as turning yellow from TNT), tried on a replica munitions workers outfit and felt the weight of a replica 13 pound shell. They learnt about the amazing and moving history of the field gun, how it worked and the session ended with the opportunity to sit on the Field Gun and/or take the position of a crew member, including being able to open the breach were the shells would be loaded. We discussed how it might have worked and how difficult, challenging and dangerous it was to operate for the crews. All participants were immediately engaged and discussions, questions and conversations flowed freely and easily between all those who took part.
Again, we were so pleased that the session was incredibly well received by our visitors. They thought it was a very engaging way of using a large object and had gained an insight into how tiresome and dangerous life would have been for the munitions workers and field gun crews. Above all however, they were so moved by the story of William King. As a museum that strives to tell our visitors how ‘war shapes lives’ and encourage them to think of the personal and social implications of conflict – this outcome was just what we had hoped for.
It has been so interesting and rewarding to develop and in many cases, deliver the object handling models. On both on a professional and personal level, I have been challenged, surprised, delighted and inspired. Everyone who has been involved has been enthusiastic and offered their help whenever and wherever necessary…it seems the Happy Museum fairy dust continues to be spread and I’m sure it will continue!
Helen Grice, Interactor