Friday, 27 April 2012

Amulets on Flickr

One of the planned outcomes of the Small Blessings project is a dedicated website showcasing around 50 highlights of the several thousand amulets we are cataloguing.

The website won't be launched for a few months yet and there is still lots of research to do. However, we wanted to share with you some of the ones already chosen to feature, so you can now find them in the Museum's 'Amulet' set on Flickr.

Some are beautiful, some are curious, some are a little macabre. Which is your favourite?

Death's head amulet, Naples (PRM: 1985.52, 43)

Friday, 20 April 2012

Green Russian

This leather purse is from Kazan in Russia. It contains two nuts and according to our records, once also held two old Russian coins. It was carried to ensure that the bearer always had money. 

Before treatment (PRM: 1985.52.968)

Detail of corrosion (PRM: 1985.52.968)
The purse was passed to me for conservation treatment due to there being green-blue evidence of copper corrosion around the eyelets.

We always assess an artefact throughly before carrying out any treatment, as a sweep of our brush could mean life or death for a little piece of history.

On first inspection it looked a little like there had been copper wire stitching around the eyelets and that this had corroded. If this was the case, I would need to record it carefully before continuing treatment, so I took a look at it under the microscope. I took the photo by attaching a Canon EOS 60D camera to a microscope set at x40 magnification. The image was then sharpened using Helicon Focus Software.

After treatment (PRM: 1985.52.968)

This revealed that it was just products of copper corrosion growing away from the eyelets, giving the illusion of stitching. As a result I could simply brush away the corrosion and vacuum up the debris with our Museum vacuum. 


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Small Blessings on display

Over the last few weeks the team has been busy preparing 23 of the ‘Small Blessings’ amulets for display in the Museum. After selecting a handful of amulets from the thousands in the collection, I set about the task of writing display labels for them. The labels tell visitors a little bit about where each amulet is from and what it was used for – a first glimpse of the stories that will be available on the final project website, which we will be launching this summer.

Each of the objects was catalogued by Alice and Rosanna, photographed by Malcolm, and checked for display by Jenny. Alice and Rosanna ensured that each object had been numbered and that its location had been updated on the database, and Jenny whisked one of the snails away to the freezer as it was showing signs of pest damage that might have endangered the other objects.

Ady, one of the Museum technicians, made a mock-up of the display so that we could decide where to place all of the objects and labels and see how the case would look. All this advanced planning meant that when everything was finally ready we could install the display with minimal disruption to the Museum.

Although the ‘Small Blessings’ display is only a small, temporary installation, preparing it involved a whole team of people. We hope you will be able to come to the Museum and take a look at these intriguing objects – you can find them in the Upper Gallery.

On display are: a policeman’s amulet, an ex-voto, a wolf’s tooth, a faith, hope and charity charm, two reliquaries, two Loreto bells, three horned hands, three Eiffel Tower mascots, four snails in linen bags, and five death’s head amulets.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Easter Amulets

According to de Mortillet’s original catalogue, these textile heart amulets contain pieces of Easter bread and were worn around the neck. They are listed as coming from St. Michael’s Convent in Kiev, Ukraine, and were collected sometime by 1931 (the year of de Mortillet's death). 

PRM 1985.52.206-.208

Bread-making is an important aspect of Ukrainian Easter traditions; paska and babka are two round shaped sweet breads served at Easter. Babka is either iced or left plain, whereas paska is elaborately decorated with symbolic motifs made of dough, such as crosses, flowers and solar signs, or other religious symbols.

Paska baked by Lubow Wolynetz © The Ukrainian Museum (New York)

Paska is traditionally made by women, and whilst it is being baked various ‘magical gestures’ and ‘incantations’ are used to ensure that the bread is a success. For example, as the dough is being prepared the person making it must maintain ‘pure thoughts’, and while it is in the oven no one is allowed to sit down or make loud noises out of fear that the bread might collapse.

After the bread is baked it is wrapped in rushnyk, a ritual cloth, or placed in a basket with a newly embroidered cloth. Other Easter foods, such as eggs, salt, butter, cheese, and horseradish, are also added to the basket. Then on Easter Sunday the basket is taken to church to be blessed by the priest, after which it is taken home to be eaten. 

Easter basket © The Ukrainian Museum (New York)

However, pieces of the consecrated Easter bread also become amulets, for example, to protect fields against hail, or to ward off ‘evil influences’. And, colourfully decorated Easter eggs (pysanky and krashanky), another important part of Ukrainian tradition, were supposed to cure a person of illness when hung on a piece of string around the neck. So, perhaps these textile heart amulets from St. Michael’s Convent were worn to protect the wearer from evil or sickness, or just as a reminder of the meaning of Easter.

1911.40.5-.13 (Romania) and 1965.3.209 (Galicia) are on display in the Lower Gallery
and were decorated using a 'resist-dye' (batik) process.

It’s amazing how three small amulets can lead you into an exploration of a different Easter tradition. Hopefully you will all be inspired to try making your own Easter bread or having a go at painting some eggs this Easter weekend.

The Small Blessings team wish you a very Happy Easter!