Meet the NatSCA Committee – Lucie Mascord

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Ordinary Member

Name: Lucie Mascord

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee? I am the new Conservation Representative

Job title and institution: Conservator of Natural History, Lancashire Conservation Studios

Twitter username: @LuceGraham

Tell us about your day job: I am a specialist natural history conservator, working for a museums service and my own business. In both, I provide conservation services to the heritage and private sector. This is mainly in the North West – everywhere from Cumbria or to Cheshire, but my work has taken me all over the country which means I get to visit lots of new collections.

My role covers all scope of natural history collections but I specialise in bone, fluid preserved collections and taxidermy. My work is incredibly varied; as well as a conservator I am a preparator – preparing bone, skins, taxidermy and fluid preserved material. I can spend 200 hours plus conserving a single specimen, or carry out a whole collection survey in 72 hours! I also provide training to institutions in natural history collections care.

 

Visiting the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée

Natural science collections are very popular with visitors. Why do you think this is?

Overall, I think it is about innate curiosity – the natural world is deeply fascinating and diverse. The reason natural history collections are popular with children is they are still in that stage of uninhibited curiosity.

Our interest and relationship to natural history collections has changed and evolved over time, but I have also observed that some of those traditional links with natural history collections are being revived. I think hobbyist specimen collecting and preparing is having a resurgence; there are more curiosity shops and natural history dealerships popping up; and natural history has been all over interior design for years now. It is very evident that we are in a taxidermy popularity peak at the moment, unfortunately it’s for reasons I don’t much like – the morbid factor. Isn’t it fashionable to be macabre! This very much celebrates badly crafted and poorly preserved specimens (very Victoriana). On the other hand, this is an engaged audience whom we can positively interest in our collections.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?

I think everyone in the community would agree that the loss of specialist knowledge and skills is really concerning. I am particularly concerned that these are also undervalued. We are continually having the conversation about whether we need them, and I think “specialists” within the museum community can often be characterised as inflexible, uncompromising and routed in “old-fashioned” practice when it comes to the use of our collections. This is an erroneous stereotype. Natural history collections, more so than any other, have to progress with research and science so not to become redundant.

With natural history conservation, these risks to skills are further magnified. There are very few specialists nowadays, and little appreciation of how vital the skills involved are. In many museum roles, we all find ourselves asked to take on more, this may sometimes manifest itself in untrained staff taking on conservation work on natural history collections. This would never be considered acceptable on oil paintings, so why should it be acceptable on other materials! Even within the conservation sector the specialist role can be overlooked.

We need to stand firm on our position on the need for specialist skills, and demand that our specialists are utilised in the work with our collections, and in training.

What would be your career in an alternate universe without museums?

I never wanted a 9-5 job or a desk job. I studied in human anatomy, and rather fancy myself as a forensic pathologist. I also wanted to pursue my art and anatomical illustration. In many ways, my current career is a good mix of all those things.

What is your favourite museum, and why?

I have a soft spot for the place I started my career as a volunteer, the Victoria Gallery and Museum at the University of Liverpool. It is worth visiting alone just to see the incredible Waterhouse architecture and glazed tile interior.

My favourite natural history collection is the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée in Paris, but the top spot has to go to the People’s History Museum in Manchester – sometimes it’s good to have a break from natural history. It’s invigorating to visit a museum that challenges you and inspires change.

Written by Lucie Mascord, Conservator of Natural History, and NatSCA Committee Member.

Confessions of an Amateur Aquarist: Having an Aquarium in a Museum Exhibition

Sea Life: Glimpses of the Wonderful‘ is the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery’s (RAMM) 2017 summer exhibition. It takes inspiration from the works of PH Gosse. Gosse was a Victorian naturalist who lived near Torquay and spent his time exploring the coast. He wrote many popular books and RAMM is fortunate to have over 100 of his original artworks.

Devonshire cup coral. Teaching aid drawn in coloured chalk by PH Gosse. (Image courtesy of Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery).

Gosse is well known for his interest in aquariums. He invented the word aquarium and was among the first to keep animals alive successfully. In 1856 he published a book; ‘The aquarium: an unveiling of the wonders of the deep sea’, and was also partly responsible for the aquarium craze that gripped Victorian England.

The exhibition team decided that no exhibition on rock pooling and aquariums was complete without a real one set up in the gallery.  Kids keep fish as pets – can’t be that hard … or so we thought. I’d like to share a few things we have learnt over the past few months: Continue reading

Meet the NatSCA Committee – Paul A. Brown

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Archivist

Name: Paul A. Brown

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee? I am the Archivist, responsible for collecting together the archives from our previous incarnations; The Biology Curators’ Group and The Natural Sciences Conservation Group and more recent NatSCA documents. Most of this sits by my desk. Do any of you membership have anything that could be added?

Job title and institution: Senior Curator, Hemiptera (Sternorrhyncha), Thysanoptera, Phthiraptera, Psocoptera, Collembola, Thysanura, Archaeognatha, Diplura & Protura, Insect Small Orders section, Life Sciences Department, Natural History Museum, London.

Twitter username: I am too old to learn how to have one!

On field work at Scolt Head, Norfolk

On field work at Scolt Head, Norfolk

Tell us about your day job: I am presently responsible for part of the ‘small’ orders listed above. This entails re-curating and data-basing the mostly microscope slide collections and dealing with scientific visitors, loans of material and answering enquiries. I still do some research into the taxonomy of Aphids in particular (see research-gate). Almost 40 years in Museums so according to some, I might know something? If you have problems with microscope slides then who ya gonna call, ‘slide busters?’! Continue reading

Meet the NatSCA Committee – Rachel Jennings

Meet the NatSCA Committee: Editor

Name: Rachel Jennings

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee? I am the Editor, responsible for managing our published content: Journal of Natural Science Collections, and NatSCA Notes & Comments.

Job title and institution: Documentation Assistant, Horniman Museum and Gardens.

Twitter username: @rachisaurus

Tell us about your day job: I work across the collections at the Horniman, but at the moment I am mostly focused on cataloguing and photographing objects selected for a major redisplay of our anthropology collection. I get to work with a fascinating variety of objects from all over the world. I’m really excited to see the new World Gallery when it opens next year. Continue reading

Top Ten Most Read Blogs of 2016

Blogs to shout about (Dakshin, 2013, image in public domain)

Blogs to shout about (Dakshin, 2013, image in public domain)

2016 was a busy year for the NatSCA blog, we published 27 blogs from a super range of authors on an exciting variety of topics. When looking at the analytics of the blog to see what’s popular, it became apparent that people don’t just read what’s current in terms of publication date, they read what’s relevant to them at the time. This means that on top of the 27 blogs published last year, a further 102 blogs dating back to 2012 were also viewed from our archive, in 2016.

Since its inception in August 2012, there have been 182 blogs published on the NatSCA website, and so with such a large number, it’s really interesting to see what grabbed people’s attention, or search engines, the most. Continue reading

A fond thank you

The number 8. A significant number in many different cultures around the world. It is the number of balance for the Ancient Egyptians, and in China it represents fortune. It’s a common number in the natural world too, and appears to be important in the genetic make-up of some groups of animals. Spiders have 8 legs (and the Orb-weaver spiders have 8 eyes). Octopuses (or octopodes) have 8 arms, and comb jellies have 8 tiny plates with which they use to swim.

For me the number 8 is particularly significant. I was 8 years old when I first watched The Land Before Time; the film that cemented my passion for dinosaurs and the natural world. More recently, and more relevant to this blog post, I was the Editor for the NatSCA committee for 8 years. At the last NatSCA AGM, we had our first ever vote for a committee member resulting in a new Editor for NatSCA.

The postrer for The Land That Time Forgot. It certainly was an adventure I never forgot! (Poster of teh film by Tom Chantrell. Public Domain)

The original poster for The Land That Time Forgot. It certainly was an adventure I never forgot! (Poster for the film by Tom Chantrell. Public Domain)

With 8 years of being your Editor, I thought I would write this little post. Not as a farewell, but as a thank you.

Starting back in 2008, I worked on the more informal NatSCA newsletter, NatSCA News. There were two, or sometimes three, issues of NatSCA News a year. Behind the scenes, it was a lot of work: formatting Word files into Publisher, sizing up images, font sizes, boarders, editing, references… It sounds glum, but really it was a great job to be involved in. I loved reading about other people’s projects, and networking with so many curators and other museum staff across the country.

Do you remember this? The old NatSCA newsletter,

Do you remember this? The old NatSCA newsletter, NatSCA News.

I remember the article in NatSCA News that changed it all. (Obviously I won’t say which one, but this sweet article was full of holes.) Authors would send me papers, and then I would check them and format them for NatSCA News. My background is geology, so I know my rocks, minerals and fossils. But best practice in microscope slide conservation? What about standards in care of herbaria specimens? I wasn’t an expert in those areas. Something had to change.

I wanted to create something new. Something that would be a good source of information for people working with natural science collections. Many curators, particularly in the regional and independent museums look after such a huge variety of collections, from plants to rocks. Talking ideas through with the committee, we decided to put together a new Journal. A Journal that people could really use to help with their every day work.

The First Volume of

The First Volume of the Journal of Natural Science Collections. Just beautiful.

In 2013 it came. My baby; the new NatSCA Journal. Surprisingly the name of the Journal did take several emails back and forth before it was finalised: The Journal of Natural Science Collections. The new Journal is a big step up from NatSCA News. All articles are peer reviewed by two reviewers. Comments and recommendation are given to authors to improve and clarify points. Articles are written clearly for any curator to understand, even if it is not their area of specialism. Some articles have been rejected. The Journal is something which is accessible, and more importantly, useful, to those working with natural science collections.

Eight years as Editor. I am proud of the new Journal. Proud of how it looks, and proud of the high quality articles it contains. It is not easy work being an Editor: finding peer reviewers, chasing authors, formatting, sending off proofs and endless other little bits. Without the ongoing support of the fantastic NatSCA committee, and amazing volunteers, the Journal would not be what it is today.

More than half of the wonderful NatSCA committee.

More than half of the wonderful NatSCA committee in the Micrarium at the Grant Museum of Zoology. (Photo by Donna Young)

Behind the scenes the committee are working hard throughout the year, organising training, conferences, and grant applications to support the work you and I do every day, so we can do it better. They work hard at making sure they update us with the latest issues that may affect us and our collections. Perhaps more importantly, they make sure we all stay connected. Without our wonderful network of friends and colleagues, I know I would be very lonely.

I am still on the NatSCA committee, dipping my hand into other projects. I am now looking after the NatSCA blog, which is my new baby to help develop and grow. The blog is a great place for us to share projects we are working on, hidden collectors, quirky stories, or interesting training. The most wonderful thing about the blog is that it not only shares with our peers, but also the general public too. The blog is one way to reach new audiences, potentially worldwide.

I joked in the last committee meeting that there would be tears when writing this post. There may well be tears behind this writing. I have immensely enjoyed being Editor, and truly honoured to have stood for eight great years. I have been lucky enough to have met countless other curators through the role, and discover the exciting things they have been working on. There were difficult times, and late nights, formatting, proof reading, editing. But it has been a true pleasure to have served as your Editor.

This is Jan Freedman, NatSCA Editor from 2008 to 2016. Signing off. (For now).

Jan Freedman

Curator of Natural History,

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery