Tag Archives: world cultures

Object of the Month – February 2023

A picture of a taxidermy common eider duck. It has a black cap to its head, a yellow beak, white head, neck and back and a black underside, with yellow legs and feet. Against a painted backdrop of a rocky mountain and hazy clouds.

This month we’re celebrating the Lost Language of Nature project, putting the finishing touches to this common eider. James and Charlotte have cleaned its plumage, repainted its beak and feet, and refreshed its base to help preserve it for future exhibitions.

A picture of a taxidermy common eider duck. It has a black cap to its head, a yellow beak, white head, neck and back and a black underside, with yellow legs and feet. Against a painted backdrop of a rocky mountain and hazy clouds.

Common eider mounted skin

Eider ducks are famous for their soft downy feathers which help keep them warm in freezing conditions. ‘Down’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘dúnn’, the word for the fluffy feathers of young birds and the same feathers which insulate adult birds. In adults, the down is hidden beneath the larger contour feathers which give birds their colour, patterns and shape.

A fluffy white feather on a black bacground

Down feather © Wouter Hagens, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These wild ducks can be ‘farmed’ sustainably for their down feathers, which are taken from the nests once chicks have fledged. This down is used to make traditional eiderdown pillows and quilts. In the UK, eider ducks are sometime called St Cuthbert’s duck or Cuddy duck, according to the belief that St Cuthbert’s holiness protected Farne island and its population of eider ducks.

Grassy and muddy ground wiht a grey nest of fluffy eider down. Three eggs are in the middle of the nest.

Eider nest © Paul Gierszewski (Gierszep), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Saffron Walden Museum wants to hear your stories about wildlife and nature in your life, or that you know from parents and grandparents, to help create more interesting, relevant and diverse displays in the future. Fill in a postcard in the Museum to join in or search online for ‘Lost Language Saffron Walden Museum’.

Learn more about this Object of the Month in the Museum throughout February.

Various English dialect words and non-English translations for 'eider'.

Object of the Month – December 2022

Beaded ‘Love Letter’ Panels from South Africa

Chosen by Alice Lodge, Collections Connector (Project Officer), Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook project, EFDM & SWM

Epping Forest District Museum has recently been granted a generous Arts Council England grant to produce a major exhibition of around 300 ethnographic objects connected to the Buxton family. The Buxton collection was donated to Epping Forest District Museum by the family of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 3rd Baronet, grandson of noted abolitionist Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet. We wanted to combine the work of the Buxton family as well as explore the cultures of the countries that they visited.

The museum will be working closely with Saffron Walden Museum to collaborate on our Ethnographic collections. Saffron Walden Museum has one of the largest World Cultures collections in Essex, making their collaboration with this project significant. The objects acquired by the Buxton family include items from New Zealand, Australia, East and West Africa, India and the Pacific Islands. This brilliant opportunity will allow the Museum to work directly with community groups such as the Ethiopian History Society and the Ngati Ranana London Māori Group as well as numerous other community organisations.

The object we have chosen this month from the Saffron Walden Museum collections is this ‘Love Letter’ beadwork panel which contains coded messages. Made by the Zulu people in the late 19th century in South Africa. These were traditionally given to female lovers; each colour represented a different message. Modern love letters of this sort now contain images rather than colours to signify something of importance.





Object of the Month – August 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores.

August’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a collection of weights and boxes from the museum’s world cultures collections.

This section of the museum’s collections is not as well-known and we are trying to research and document these collections more fully and improve their interpretation.

These gold weights were used as a measuring system by the Akan people of West Africa, particularly for weighing out gold dust which was the currency until it was replaced by paper money and coins. They are referred to locally as “mrammou”.

Many of the gold weights look like miniature models of everyday objects. Based on the Islamic weight system, each weight had a known measurement. This provided merchants with secure and fair-trade arrangements with one another.

The status of a man increased significantly if he owned a complete set of weights. Geometric weights were used from around the 15th century and figurative weights were introduced around the 17th century and used up until the beginning of the 20th century.

Chiefs and notables stored gold dust in these delicate cast-brass containers, which were modelled after prototypes from North Africa, which had been brought to Ghana during its early involvement with the trans-Saharan gold trade.

Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook

Hot off the press is the news that Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey and Saffron Walden Museum have received an Arts Council National Lottery project grant of £100,000 to work in partnership on their world culture collections.

The aim of the project is to ensure the museums and their collections reflect their diverse communities by working directly with cultural groups to research different objects and tell their stories.

The project’s title, ‘Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook’ is inspired by Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Museum staff will work with relevant community groups including the Ethiopian History Society, to explore, explain and exhibit the collection leading to a new permanent display at Epping Forest District Museum, due to be completed in 2022.

A spokesperson from Ethiopian History Society UK said: We are delighted to partner with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums for this vital project.”

Other cultures represented in the collections include West and East Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Both museums are looking to work with relevant community and cultural groups linked to these collections which will lead to a major temporary exhibition in 2023.

Hazel Edwards, Area Director (South East) for Arts Council England, said:

We’re delighted to be able to support a project that will see source communities for these exciting collections given the important opportunity to work with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums to research, reinterpret and redisplay the material for audiences to engage with, explore and enjoy.

I look forward to the resulting exhibitions and seeing how it might inspire other museums to work with cultural organisations to deliver similar projects.”

Join the team

Funding for the project is being used to support 2 new part-time positions.

  1. Community Connector Collections
  2. Community Connector Audiences

Deadline for applications is Friday 22 April 2022.

To find out more about the roles or to apply visit https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/jobs-and-careers/jobs/

For more about the project: https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum-world-culture-collections-project/

Object of the Month : April 2021

April’s Object of the Month has been chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) and is not strictly one object but a collection, in this case, items made from barkcloth, which form part of the museum’s world cultures collections.

The museum holds around 80 barkcloth items, originating from all around the world, but largely from the Pacific region. Over the last year the museum has been involved in an international project: “A Living Tradition: Expanding engagement with Pacific barkcloth” being led by Glasgow University, which has provided us a great opportunity to shed more light on the cultural traditions surrounding their production, design and use. 

Barkcloth is made from the inner bark of paper mulberry, breadfruit or banyan trees, which is soaked and stretched, then naturally dyed and hand-painted, printed or stencilled, to create often highly decorative barkcloths (sometimes referred to as Tapa).  It is believed there are over 90 different pattern variations in existence.  The barkcloths are used for utilitarian items as well as for ceremonial purposes. 

In addition to large textile rolls and flat sections of barkcloth, the museum also holds clothing made from barkcloth. Notable examples include a barkcloth poncho believed to have originated from Samoa, as well as a lace-bark dress and matching bonnet from Jamaica, which were donated to the museum in 1833 by the Marchioness Cornwallis.