Waving Goodbye to the Walrus: Reflections on Leaving (and Starting)

To paraphrase that great Disney wildlife documentary, The Lion King: change is good, but it’s not easy.

Leaving any job after a long time is always strange, and I’ve been lucky enough to have spent (almost!) seven years at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. In that time I’ve worked on several large projects, learned more than I thought I ever would about anthropology collections, and made some wonderful friends. But sadly, I have now had to move on. Happily, I’ve been able to move on to the wonderful Powell-Cotton Museum, where I will be spending the next year curating the natural history collections.

This has meant quite a large change: I’ve moved to a different part of the country, and started a new job that is very different to what I’ve been doing for the last few years. I’ll admit to feeling some imposter syndrome – I have been working almost exclusively with anthropology objects for a long time now (not my subject specialism: I studied zoology), and worried that I might have forgotten some of my natural history knowledge! Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to have been the case, and in fact working with anthropology collections has taught me a surprising amount about working with natural history collections… from identifying worked animal materials (such as ivory and bone) to documentation standards and procedures (I was a Documentation Assistant at the Horniman), I have gained skills and knowledge that will be invaluable in my new role.

Sad to say goodbye to the Horniman Walrus. (C) Horniman Museum and Gardens

In a sector that is plagued with funding cuts and a resultant trend towards short-term contracts, I am aware that it is unusual to have stayed in one place as long as I did at the Horniman. I count myself extremely lucky – I started on a 9-month contract back in 2011, and was in the right place at the right time to piggyback from one project onto another (and another). These projects have all been amazing learning experiences, and I have loved being involved in the process of planning and installing a new permanent gallery – something that does not happen very often in museums (for good reason – it is a laborious, expensive, and exhausting task! But extremely rewarding). I am only sad that I was not able to see it through to the end, having been there from the very beginning of the project. The Horniman’s new World Gallery opens at the end of June, and I can’t wait to see it finished.

But now, I am looking forward to settling into my new life by the Kent seaside and working with a natural history collection that includes internationally important primate material, and some of the oldest intact large-scale taxidermy dioramas in the world (which blew my mind the first time I saw them). Change is not easy, but it is good!

Written by Rachel Jennings, Project Curator; Natural History

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