This afternoon we had four hours to explore the amazing city of Oxford. I am very lucky to have visited Oxford some years ago. This time I was desperate to visit the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museum. This is mostly because I have learnt so much about both museums in my master’s course. I was not quite prepared for the Pitt Rivers to say the least but more on that later.
The Ashmolean is the worlds first public museum so I felt as though not going would have been a huge mistake. We spent some time in the permanent galleries and in the temporary exhibition space. I also managed to complete a kids trail in the Egyptian rooms which was a lot of fun.
I really enjoyed the temporary exhibition Storms, War and Shipwrecks. It was an almost full sensory experience. I think the only sense it didn’t engage was taste which would have been very strange to have in an exhibition anyway. The exhibition displays objects from discovered shipwrecks off the coast of Sicily. This allowed for quite an eclectic mix ranging from pots to mirrors and even helmets. Each display case showcased objects from one particular shipwreck site. I loved the quick fact labels which provided an overview of the shipwreck name, location, and reason for sinking. If you wanted to find out more information you could, but, I was happy to just see the snapshot.
In total the exhibition had three thematic spaces that were divided by wall colour and even sound. The first rooms served as an introduction explaining water archaeology amongst other topics. The second room was more on the objects discovered. There was a beautiful central feature of objects arranged in the shape of a boat with cardboard pieces to replicate the skeleton of the hull. The activities for children were well integrated into the space. My favourite was a smell and guess game. As the Ancient Sicilians were traders, the game taught adults and kids what the contents of the ship may have smelt like. There was wine, fish, and oil. The middle was most unpleasant.
On exiting the exhibition we had a brief look around the other floors. I enjoyed seeing the clothing of Lawrence of Arabia and the textiles hall. The rest of the museum was quite overwhelming and I would definitely need to return if I felt there was more to see.
A hop, skip, and a jump away was the Pitt Rivers Museum. To get to this space you must walk through the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately we had to communicate with a very rude member of staff in the Natural History Museum so we did not wish to stay too long in this space. We are still a little confused as to why a non-formal small group of friends would be told that they had to book in advance. Anyway, we walked straight through to the Pitt Rivers and it was just wow.
Think of hundreds of display cases filled to the brim with objects with little interpretation. There were some object labels, but, I just couldn’t see myself reading them all. It was just an overwhelming mix of pretty much everything. It was definitely an experience to see and I am so glad to have visited. I will now understand why it is used constantly as an example when talking about private collections and how they are displayed today. It was intense – really really intense. I left a little disorientated and not wanting to read another object label for a while.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the university and eating at the Eagle and Child where Tolkien and C S Lewis once had their Inklings meetings. It was a lovely afternoon and now back to our country estate.