By Hannah Eastwood
Last Friday evening saw many of Oxford’s cultural venues, including the University museums, hosting late-night events to celebrate the city’s annual Christmas Light Festival. One of the standout contributions to the evening was work completed by local primary school children along with the museums’ six HLF Skills for the Future trainees.
The aim of the project was to build six lanterns, one to represent each of the Oxford museums and collections – the Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers Museum, Museum of Natural History, Museum of the History of Science, Museum of Oxford, and the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum. The finished lanterns were to go on display as part of the Light Festival on Friday 21 November.
As one of the HLF trainees working on this project, I wanted to share our experience of conceiving, developing and building these wonderful lanterns. A group of six children from each school came to visit the museums to select their favourite object from a set prepared by each HLF trainee. The selected object would be the inspiration for the final lantern. For the Museum of the History of Science the chosen object was the beautifully striking dragon fire clock above.
The real hard work began when we visited the schools to start the construction of the lanterns. We all had very limited experience working with willow, but our lead artist Nikki Gunson thankfully has a lot more experience creating fantastic willow lanterns. Nikki was able to draw up plans for our museums’ selected objects and it was our task to devise a session plan from these designs and to divide up the work for each child.
In my group, we worked with around 15 children at a time, swapping groups so that each child could create a section of the dragon that they would be able to identify as their own once it was finished. The children loved working with the willow and especially enjoyed the more complicated tasks such as sawing the bamboo and creating complex shapes from the design.
Due to the complexity of the design we didn’t manage to cover the willow structure with the paper and glue; this work was completed by a team later where finishing touches and messy glue was applied. It’s a difficult process, where pieces of paper are covered in waterproof PVA glue and then laid on to the willow. The paper needed to be kept taut so not to lose the shape of the dragon underneath.
Nikki Gunson then worked her magic on the completed lanterns: a fancy lick of paint and they were ready for public display on the lawn outside the Museum of Natural History!
The six schools taking part in the lantern project were Bayard’s Hill (Museum of Natural History), Wood Farm (Museum of the History of Science), John Henry Newman (Botanic Garden), Rose Hill (Museum of Oxford), Blackbird Academy Trust (Pitt Rivers Museum), and Cutteslowe (Ashmolean).