Ten objects, twenty stories
News / Published: 6 June 2013
Ten previously hidden objects – weird, wonderful and beautiful by turn – go on display today in 'First Time Out' (6 June–31 July), a unique collaboration that sees ten museums and galleries each exhibit an artefact from their archives that has never been seen before.
In a twist, their ten stories will become twenty when the artefacts are switched between partnered venues midway through the project, with fresh interpretations provided by the new hosts.
From an exquisite Rothschild Meissen dish and the rarest of Darwin's publications to a macabre bone guillotine carved by prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars, the objects are as varied and surprising as the stories they tell.
'First Time Out' gives each treasure a chance to speak to different audiences and find new meanings; for some, this may be the only time they are ever seen by visitors.
The objects being displayed are:
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Charles Darwin's rarest work, 'Letters on Geology'. Privately printed (Cambridge, 1835), displayed with corresponding original letter.
- The Lightbox, Woking: 'Torso - Woman', a stone sculpture by Eric Gill (1913).
- Horniman Museum and Gardens: The ceremonial mask of Dzunukwa, or 'Wild Woman of the Woods', from the Northwest Coast of Canada (c. 1900). Displayed in collaboration with U'mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay, British Columbia.
- Royal Shakespeare Company: The Fool's bauble, a prop for the RSC production of 'King Lear' (2007) with Sir Ian McKellen as King Lear and Sylvester McCoy as the Fool.
- Natural History Museum, London: A rough-toothed dolphin skull with ink scrimshaw decoration by unknown sailor (mid-19th century).
- Peterborough Museum: A model bone guillotine crafted from leftover rations by Napoleonic prisoners of war (early 19th century).
- Science Museum: A set of ten ivory mathematical puzzles in black lacquer box, made in China (19th century).
- Discovery Museum, Newcastle: The first light bulb and light switch designs by Joseph Swan and John H Holmes (1881 and late 1880s).
- Wellcome Collection: A carved cigar holder representing the coronation of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1864.
- Waddesdon Manor: An oval dish from the 'New Dulong' pattern service used by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (late 18th century).
The Horniman Museum and Gardens, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and Wellcome Collection are twinned with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Lightbox, Peterborough Museum, Discovery Museum (Newcastle) and Waddesdon Manor, respectively.
Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, says "'First Time Out' is a disarmingly simple idea which opens up complicated questions about the millions of intriguing artefacts looked after by museums and galleries behind closed doors. At its heart are ten fascinating objects whose value is held in the different stories we tell about them.
"The project is generous in spirit, governed by a shared curiosity about what others' views and interpretations may lend to our own holdings. We hope that visitors, wherever they see the project, and however many pieces they see, will participate in extending this creative exchange before the objects return to their archives."
'First Time Out' runs from 6 June to 31 July 2013. Objects will be swapped by partner museums and galleries on 4 July. The website of each venue carries more information about the objects in both their locations.