What’s in a colour? Blue
16 February 2018 | 12:00 am

Fri, 16th Feb 2018

As part of our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed we will be learning about a colour each month. First up, one of the primary colours: Blue.Top choice Blue is one of the most popular colours in the spectrum. It comes out on top as the most preferred colour for both men and women across many countries. This could be because we see it in blue skies and clear water. This relationship to the sky and sea gives blue an association with calming and soothing environments in our homes, where it prompts feelings of dependability.In business and marketing the colour blue engenders a sense of security and trust. You will often see it associated with medical (Blue Cross, Oral B) or tech companies (Facebook, Twitter, IBM). Both of these sectors depend on customer confidence in the ability of the company to look after their wellbeing or their records, so blue branding is a subtle nod to this. However, you will start to notice lots of other brands which rely on the trust of their customers use it in their logos. More recently, Blue has come to mean something else in modern society – a link. Blue is the predominant colour for hyperlinks in documents and online. Feeling blue It is quite strange that, despite blue’s associated with dependability, this colour is closely associated with sadness. There are blue notes in music, often played in blues songs which evoke feelings of melancholy harking back to the origin of the blues in the US Deep South.  This is the first commercial recording of vocal blues by an African-American singer: Mamie Smith's performance of Perry Bradford's "Crazy Blues" in 1920:Some people think the association of blue with sadness came from ships showing blue colours when the Captain or officers were lost during the voyage. Washington Irving is credited with first using the term “the blues” in 1807, as a synonym for sadness. He was shortening the phrase “blue devils” which was a synonym to describe a menacing presence or a hangover. Creating blue Blue has placed an important role in our society as a pigment. Blue pigments were created from azurite and Lapis lazuli. It was an expensive colour to create, due to scarcity of the mineral deposits, so it is no surprise that you will frequently see it used in older artwork relating to those of high status in Europe, such religious paintings (think the Virgin Mary’s scarf) or stained glass windows, while cobalt blue has long featured in the Middle East and Chinese porcelain.The first official blue synthetic pigment came from Egypt in the form of calcium copper silicate. The earliest evidence is from around 3250 BC. Before synthetic blues were developed, plants True Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) and Woad (Isatis tinctoria) were used to make blue dye for clothing, dating back at least 4,000 years. The Indigo plant has also been used for food colouring, although many manufacturers have now switched to using spirulina. If you are wearing jeans, you are likely to be wearing indigo now.Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) seeds soaking in warm water, ready for sowing tomorrow. Not the easiest plant in the UK but we try to grow some for the dye garden every summer. Its hardier relative, Himalayan indigo (Indigofera heterantha), stays in the border all year round pic.twitter.com/kDdATfcFEF — Damien Midgley (@mucwyrt) February 7, 2018You can see some of the plants used to make blue dyes in our Dye Garden. Blue in nature While we think of ourselves as being surrounded by blue in nature, with the sea and sky, there is far less when it comes to animals. The blue you see in animals (particularly mammals and insects) comes often from the structure of their feather or scales, rather than a pigment. When you think of the blue in a peacock feather, or on our Blue Morpho butterflies in the Butterfly House, the structure of the scale or feather has been created so that it absorbs all other colours, leaving you with the blue light reflected, which is why there is an iridescence when they move.Joe Hanson explains this really well in his series Its ok to be smart.When it comes to plants and flowers, there are more blues that you would see in animals, but less than 10 percent of the 280,000 species of flowering plants produce blue flowers, and blue foliage is very rare. Found these facts about blue interesting? Learn more about colour in our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed.

A Horniman Rainbow Flag
15 February 2018 | 12:00 am

Thu, 15th Feb 2018

February is LGBT History Month and as we have just opened our new exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed, what better time to look at the Rainbow Flag, which has been a symbol of LGBTQI pride since the 1970s. The Rainbow Flag is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The flag was originally created by artist Gilbert Baker in the 1970s. Baker had been tasked by Harvey Milk to create a symbol of pride for the gay community and the original flag flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade in June 1978. “Flags are about power,” Baker told ABC in 2017, “Flags say something. You put a rainbow flag on your windshield, you’re saying something.” This original flag contained eight colours but was modified to six in 1979, and we have used this six-colour flag to create our own rainbow from our collections. Red The red stripe in the flag symbolises life and the colour evokes blood – a symbol of life. As a colour it is at the end of the visible light spectrum which is why it is the first colour in the rainbow.This is a wax seal from the mid-1800s. Wax seals are still commonly used to secure the padlocked doors and gates of important cabinets, offices and buildings in India and Pakistan. The inscription gives the name Narsinghadev, an official of an 'emperor' Bhagvant Singha, and dates that are equivalent to AD 1838-39 and 1859-60.  Orange The orange stripe represents healing. Orange is considered to be a friendly, cheerful colour combining the energy of red and the happiness of yellow.This is a clownfish from our Aquarium. Most anemonefish are protandrous hermaphrodites, meaning they alternate between the male and female sexes at some point in their lives. Yellow The yellow represents sunlight. It is a warm colour and the association with the sun evokes feelings of optimism and clarity.This is a painted, carved wooden mask of 'El Tigre' from Mexico and is part of our Handling Collection. Green The green represents nature, which is natural when green are the colours we associate with spring, growing and life.Unsurprisingly we’ve gone outside to the Gardens for this part of our flag for a picture from a sunny day under the trees. Blue The blue stripe represents serenity, harmony or peace. Blue is used commonly by brands to evoke trust, as it is the most popular colour for both men and women.We’ve gone for a Blue Morpho for this part of the flag, because they are just stunning. This specimen is part of our Natural History Collection, but you can also see then in our Butterfly House. Violet The final stripe at the opposite end of the light spectrum is violet which represents spirit. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, violet is most often associated with extravagance, individualism and the unconventional, which aligns with spirit well.This circular embroidered fan case came from China in the early 1900s. It is decorated with an embroidered scene of a young woman dressed in blue in a boat surrounded by lilies. Beside her is an overhanging willow and a bird, probably a crane, flying overhead.There you have it, a Horniman version of the Rainbow Flag. As Baker said, “I like to think of those as elements as [being] in every person; everybody shares that.”

The Collective meets the objects
13 February 2018 | 12:00 am

Tue, 13th Feb 2018

Learn about the Studio Collective's visit to the Study Collections Centre to inspect objects that may feature in their exhibition later this year. The Collective spent a lot of time in our meetings talking about objects from the collection and looking at pictures of them. But nothing compares to seeing objects in real life, so our visit to the Study Collection Centre, where the Horniman stores everything that isn’t on display, was much anticipated. Collective member Julia says ‘Sometimes you can be really surprised when you “meet the objects” – things which didn't seem so special on the database can really shine and some objects which we thought would be huge turned out to be tiny!’Horniman staff at the Study Collections Centre had laid out our selection of objects on large tables, and there was plenty to catch the eye, and keep our interest. Collective member Dom (the Horniman’s Community Engagement Coordinator) says ‘I enjoyed the cabinet of curiosities vibe of seeing such a range of objects. I particularly liked the small, ordinary-seeming objects we looked at, like the piece of bark which is actually a fragment of a much larger object used for divination.’Several of the Collective were particularly fascinated by this figure of a donkey, made up of other interlocking animals including swans, fish, a monkey and a lion (and a man’s face, see if you can spot it). It’s from India, was made before 1837 and is part of a set of 12 similar figures including two people also made of animals.Seeing our longlist of objects ‘in the flesh’ was the next step towards deciding what will be included in the first Studio exhibition, opening in autumn. Will the horse figure make it into a display case? You’ll just have to wait and see but in the meantime, the last word goes to Julia… ‘Seeing all the objects together, outside of a glass box, gets your imagination going. They conjure worlds. It's a lot to take in but it's very special.’

The Mini-Museum of Travel
8 February 2018 | 12:00 am

Thu, 8th Feb 2018

Helen Merrill fills us in on how our volunteers went about putting together their latest Engage Discovery Box, a mini-museum in itself. In the run-up to the opening of the World Gallery later this year, many of us here at the Horniman have been trying to answer the question, What does it mean to be human? As a part of this project, the volunteers from our Engage Discovery Box Project took the lead in creating new discovery boxes that will be used in conjunction with the World Gallery by visitors and groups for years to come. Discovery boxes act like mini-museums, containing objects that follow a theme chosen by the group. A thirteen strong team was organised and a theme of 'travel' agreed upon to complement the vision of the museum's Founder, Frederick, J. Horniman – Tea trader, Collector, Philanthropist and Anthropologist. The team needed to search for Museum objects in the Horniman collection that considered this theme while taking into consideration a broad target audience of young families, outreach venues and other community groups.The objects had to incorporate sight, colour, smell, sound, and touch. The catalogue of available objects was vast but the objects not only had to represent the theme but they needed to be the right size and shape to fit into the Discovery Box. Safe handling was also a key factor. Eventually, the list was whittled down to 8-10 suitable objects.Saddled camel model Horniman tea tin Bike gear  Compass  Yugoslavian slippers  Image of Dorothy’s shoes  Indbanas head piece  Masai milk gourd  African head scarf London tube map Range of other maps Monarch butterfly Three smell pots out of a choice of cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, and coffee.Once the objects were chosen, the next stage was trial and evaluation with visitors. A special session was run in the Hands on Base to gauge visitor perception. Questions and feedback focused on discovery, adventure, travel, transport, and nostalgia, giving a picture of how the objects fit into the theme of travel while some objects were potentially not so relevant. On the whole, the experience was extremely positive and thought-provoking, and it was great to know that a whole host of specialist groups would benefit from the mini-museum. For their efforts the team were nominated for the London Volunteers in Museums Awards which took place in September 2017 at City Hall. The team were declared runners-up in the award for 'Best Team Contribution', clearly recognising the enthusiasm and hard work of this dedicated team. The accolade proved that the Horniman Volunteer Teams certainly know what it takes to engage, inspire and enrich visitor experience.


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