I was a collecting child which no doubt partially explains my interest in museums. At one point during my many years trying to figure out how to tell Sarah Margru Kinson‘s story, I seriously contemplated doing it as an exhibition complete with a curator and rooms for each part of her life. I especially like the cabinet-of-curiosities-sorts-of-museums, those with cases and rooms filled to the brink with things, say London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum and Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum*. I also adore the idea of museums that are sly and totally unlike anything else, say The Museum of Jurassic Technology or Dennis Severs’ House (both of which I yearn to see). And when it comes to children and museums, the more experiential and hands-on, the better.
Which is why I’m excited about Oxford’s Story Museum. It is truly an original idea — blending art, performance, telling, viewing, and pretty much everything else story-related in imaginative ways. While the physical museum will not be open for a while yet, they’ve been working in schools and doing all sorts of programs featuring their ideas about stories. Some of these include:
- Schools programme ”Since 2005 the Story Museum has been working with teachers to harness the power of stories to inspire and support children’s learning. An important strand of this work is oral storytelling: learning to tell stories from memory.” Some of the schools they work with center their whole curricula around storytelling, Storytelling Schools.
- Alice’s Day. As you might guess given the name of this blog, I wish I could have been at this year’s event, just a few weeks back and am thinking I’ve got to get there next year as it is a very important anniversary for Alice.
- 1001 stories That’s right. “Inspired by this ancient Arabic tale we have set ourselves the challenge of gathering and sharing 1001 stories for everyone to enjoy.” They’ve got a bunch there already.
Yesterday, Philip Pullman who is, unsurprisingly, one of their patrons took me to the museum where we got a fascinating tour with co-director Kim Pickin. The physical space is a remarkable warren of rooms of all sizes with a fascinating history and, if they do even a smidgen of what they dream to do, it will be extraordinary. They’ve got some massive Alice cut-outs peering out of the windows, a dinosaur, some scary vaults (part of the space used to be the post office and there are rumors that gold bullion was stored there at one point), some very old printing presses, and lots of energy . Outside they’ve a few sly touches to intrigue passersby.
The sign says “Rochester’s Story Supplies” and the objects are witty and clever story references. I wasn’t able to get a very good shot of the window so you must just go yourself to see it! Below is another small and even more subversive window with three bowls— for what story, do you think? They’ve got a third in the works being created by Mini Grey that is going to be equally clever.
And then there is this phone box that I noticed as we drove in, wondering about the chain. To give you a feel of their sensibility, they’ve toyed with it being a museum entrance.
* I visited the Pitt Rivers Museum today for the first time and I’m in love — the way they’ve maintained the original sense of the place is fantastic. One of the best museum experience I’ve had in some while. I also enjoyed very much the Oxford University Museum of Natural History which is in front of it — what a gorgeous Victorian space!