Raising Aspirations: Exploring Ancient Egyptian Art

img_5110I was recently contacted by a teacher from Tameside College’s  Aspirations Department (I love that there is such a department exists!) who teaches  a group of young people with learning disabilities (aged 16-20) on an Entry level 2 study programme.  They have been studying a BTEC unit titled Exploring Art,  where they had to plan and produce a piece of art within 15 weeks.

“In order to get some ideas and inspiration we visited Manchester Museum and as a result of that the learners chose Ancient Egypt as their theme. After viewing what the Museum had on display the students came up with some marvellous ideas.  Each learner made a mood board displaying their idea and the tools and equipment they planned on using to create their piece of art work and finally creating their own piece: the results were fantastic.”

Their teacher was really pleased to be able to share these images of the process and final outcomes for the BTEC unit and some comments from the learners who took part.

This is a wonderful example of the achievements that can come from an inspirational Museum visit. The learners should be very proud of their work and we’d be happy to have them revisit the Museum at any time!

Learner Comments from Aspirations, Tameside College

“We chose to make Egyptian masks that showed the make up the ladies wore in Ancient Egypt.  We were inspired by visiting the museum and by taking photographs of the hieroglyphics and we copied the colours and designs.”

“The museum had lots of interesting artefacts which gave me the idea of making a special display.  I made a pyramid, tomb design, and an oasis mirage.   I also wrote my name in hieroglyphics.  My visit to the museum inspired me to design my mood board and create my display.  I love Art and History.”

“When we first arrived at the Manchester Museum, it looked so beautiful that I feel like we should go there again. I enjoyed looking at the dinosaurs, but my favourite was the largest one (The Tyrannosaurus-rex). The other animals looked nice as well. Another thing that inspired me is that the museum tells you exactly what happened all those years ago. I also finished my mood board by finding the correct category for me. The pictures were fantastic and I loved looking at them. The museum had a big giant snake which I was standing behind when I had a picture took. I liked all the Egyptian models as well. I would love to see them all again. It looked absolutely perfect for a full day trip. And that is how Manchester Museum inspired me to work on and complete my artwork.”

“I found the visit to the museum fascinating and interesting because I learnt a lot about Ancient Egypt and Tutankhamun tomb. I was surprised to find out he was only 19 years old when he died in 1324, two years older than me. When I saw the pottery artefacts that  were found and displayed in the museum it inspired me to make my own display”

“When I visited the museum I had a really good time. I enjoyed looking at all the artefacts and I was inspired to design Egyptian clothes. The ancient Egypt exhibition was fun and enjoyable. I would really like to do it again.”


After the Bees: Post-apocolyptic Games Design

We were really proud to work with Preston College again this year, with further development on the brief for the BTEC Level 3 Games Development module. Their tutor, Chris, worked up this fantastic scenario for them (see below) and all the students visited the Museum in November to gather research and preliminary sketches.

Project Brief
A games developer has an idea for a post-apocalyptic game, set 100 years in the future – taking cues from games such as ‘The Last of Us’. The developer is working from a story based around the global extinction of bees and the hugely negative impact this could have on humanity.

Students are required to come up with three designs, which explore different story possibilities:

1) Design for an autonomous machine that pollinates flowers, taking over the job that the bees previously had
Image to be produced as a digital Photoshop painting.

2) Costume/character design – another direction the story may take is that the extinct bee population will be replaced with a much more aggressive species that can withstand mites and changes in climate. Unfortunately, they also kill indiscriminately to claim more territory and multiply at an alarming rate. As the governments are reeling from the financial meltdown caused by the collapse of the farming industry, only the very rich and privileged can afford protection from these killers. You must produce a costume/suit that keeps the bees from doing harm to the wearer, but also acts as a desirable status symbol.
Image to be produced in pen and ink.

3) Design for shady black-market area – As plants and crops cannot be pollinated, many ‘luxuries’ are now a rarity. The developer would like to see an illegal market, with store people selling coffee and fruit, amongst the poor surroundings.
Image to be produced in Pencil/charcoal, with emphasis on atmosphere.

The students had two months to develop their Project pieces and then, on 23rd January they returned to the Museum to present their final work. Listening to their presentations were Megan Powell – Artist behind Manchester Museum’s After the Bees exhibition; Cat Lumb – Secondary and Post-16 Humanities & Arts Co-ordinator; Leila Nicholson – bee expert from Manchester Metropolitan Univeristy; and Eve Bokor – a placement student with the Learning Team from Manchester Metropolitan University.

Here’s what Megan had to say about the students’ work:

“The students from Preston College presented an impressive project about bees, each created a world that was both imaginative and practically considered. It was evident that each student had extensively researched the bees and I was particularly inspired by the highly creative ‘pollinating machine’ designs.”

We were all really impressed by the thought that went into the game elements and how confidently the students presented their ideas on the day. It was fantastic to see the brief come to life in their work and every student demonstrated a creative angle of their own.

Take a look at the work they produced below:

Pollination Machines


Costume/Character Design

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Black Market Area

Telford Art College Promoting Siberia: At the Edge of the World

Before Christmas we hosted a visit from some students on the Fine Art course at Telford College of Arts & Technology. They had been set a brief by us in partnership with their tutor to develop a piece of work that would help promote our current temporary exhibition Siberia: At the Edge of the World. This multi-disciplinary exhibition explores the natural history and culture of this immense territory that is one and a half times bigger than Europe. Combining stunning photographic images of its vast landscapes and diverse people with a selection of natural history specimens and cultural objects, we look beyond the stereotypical view of Siberia.

During their visit students were given the chance to explore the exhibition, seeing how it altered their existing perception of Siberia and took part in a print workshop inspired by Siberia to test out some techniques and develop their ideas. The final pieces have now been created, using either paint or print methods, and we will be sharing them via social media (Twitter and Facebook) over the course of the half term holiday (16-20th February 2015).

However, you can have a sneaky peek below at the fantastic range of artwork produced by these hardworking students. Telford College’s Head of Department will be choosing a top prize for one deserving student and our Curator, David Gelsthorpe, will be choosing his pick; for which another prize will be awarded.

Keep a look out on our Twitter feed over half term to Retweet your favourite and let the students know what you think of their great work!

Siberia: At the Edge of the World will be at the Manchester Museum until Sunday 1st March.

Opportunity for Creative Practitioner

What do these portraits tell us about ancient people?

One of the Greco-Roman Portraits

We are pleased to announce that we are recruiting for three Creative Practitioners in order to continue with our successful Art of Identity Project.

This fantastic opportunity is thanks to funding from  The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts who have recently agreed to fund Manchester Museum for a second year as part of their Start programme.

We are searching for three Creative Practitioners to help us deliver our project outcome of a physical or digital piece of artwork from each partner school on the topic of Identity. Project work will be taking place in either the Spring or Summer Terms and there will be a celebration event at the Museum to showcase the work.

If you would like to apply, take a look at our Creative Practitioner Brief, which will provide more details on how to apply.  Closing date for applications is Wednesday 3rd September at 5pm.

Any queries or inquiries please contact Cat Lumb.

If you are interested in seeing some of the work produced from our first year you can visit the Museum to see the students’ work which is displayed in our reception area until September 5th.

The Art of Identity 2014 Display of this year's student work

The Art of Identity 2014
Display of this year’s student work


Contemporary Arts & Museums

I am hoping to explore over the next few terms how contemporary art practice can be integrated further into our thinking within the Primary Arts Programme. In my other role as a practicing artist I often come across exhibitions which make me reflect on how the Museum’s special ability to cross over many disciplines is a particularly exciting dynamic in context of thinking about challenging work we might do within Learning.

I came across the most amazing show a couple of weeks ago in London.  I have been waiting to see Ana Mendieta – a  little known artist for many many years. Cuban-born Mendieta (1948-85) made interventions in the landscape based around her own silhouette, such as pressing her hand into grass or arranging stones around her outline, and then took photographs. She also made videos of herself, lying underneath stones, hardly visible, in what looks like a quarry, or submerged in a Mexican creek.

Image, Ana Mendieta Untitled (Silueta Series), c. 1980 Lifetime color photograph 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm)

Image, Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series), c. 1980 Lifetime color photograph 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm)

She drew on traditions of the spirituality of the land… Her photos and videos, which need patience to watch, are slow, quiet examinations of the relationship of woman and nature. She alters nature without doing so in an obvious, permanent or destructive way…This was a haunting show which unfortunately was only on for a few weeks. Watch out for future exhibitions though, as suddenly her work has become more popular. A particularly interesting link for me is when I think about the Museum’s mission to  ‘provoke debate and reflection about the past, present and future of the earth and its inhabitants.’ This certainly did!

Where no (wo)man has gone before…

Image, The Planets above The Manchester Museum Mineralogy Gallery

Image, The Planets above The Manchester Museum Mineralogy Gallery

As previous posts have explained, myself and Neil have been working with a group of Year 5 pupils from Old Hall Drive, in collaboration with Cedar Mount High, on a multidisciplinary (science-art-drama-design-type affair) space project. The overall aim has been to get the pupils to create their own planet, to design some form of life to inhabit their ‘strange new worlds’ and to create a habitat for their extra terrestrials to inhabit.

Therefore, we were not only looking at creating new planets, we were also looking to populate their strange new worlds with some form of highly adapted extra terrestrial, and to devise suitable habitats for their life forms to occupy.

Quite a lot to ask of a group of Year 5 pupils, I hear you say. Perhaps not…
Having spent some time thinking about our own planet, and the array of bizarre critters that have adapted to survive in some of the most unbelievably hostile conditions, we went on to explore extreme environments further a field (not literally, but with Neil’s visualization techniques, it was hard to believe that we were actually sat in a classroom in Gorton!).

By the end of the two workshops at Cedar Mount, small groups of pupils had decided upon the following details for their own planet: Name, size, composition, gravity, distance from its sun, brightness of its sun, thickness of atmostphere, temperature, day length, surface features (landscape, ground, weather and water), and information about any moons or rings.


On 8th May, it was our turn to host the group; arriving at the museum with their planet stats, a packed lunch and plenty of energy, we embarked on our day-long adventure (boldly going where no (wo)man had gone before)…

MISSION: To design an extraterrestrial that could survive on a new planet

TASK 1: To design the skeleton of an extraterrestrial
Groups were given the task of identifying the key planetary features that would impact on the design of their ET’s skeleton. This allowed groups to revisit their planets, and to familiarise themselves with the types of skeletal adaptations they would need to be bearing in mind (also giving me the opportunity to ensure that they understood the first part of their mission!).

The next task (adapted from an activity that we use in our Bones and Skeletons session in which pupils have to design a superhero skeleton) took us up to the Animal Life gallery, where pupils ventured into the world of ‘functional morphology’ – of course they had no idea that they were doing this (which is part of the fun)!

Each pupil was given a picture of a human skeleton (missing various limbs etc.), with a task attached, for example, ‘Make this person a fast runner / a carnivore’ or ‘Help this person to fly / look scary / swim / climb’ etc. Using the skeletons on display in the gallery, pupils had to 1. find creatures with specific skills / characteristics / lifestyles and 2. draw the appropriate part of the skeleton onto the diagram. After initial uncertainty, the class threw themselves into the task, creating some very strange, but highly specialized ‘superhuman’ skeletons!

IMAGE, skeleton activity

IMAGE, skeleton activity

To build on the concept of skeletal adaptations, we carried out more detailed investigation of bones and skeletons back in the Discovery Centre, where groups had the opportunity to handle and explore some of the museum specimens. Again, this was based on our Bones session (a slightly tweeked), comprising four different ‘stations’ (tables) at which groups could investigate; skulls and teeEdit Post ‹ The Learning Team, The Manchester Museum — WordPressth, arms and legs, skeletons, and defence mechanisms, through handling and observing specimens.

Image, The Pre-Historic Life Gallery at The Manchester Museum

This prepared the class for the task of designing their skeleton.

TASK 2: To use the skeleton as the basis for designing the external features of an extra terrestrial that is adapted to survive on your planet.

Again, we started by thinking about the planetary features that would affect the external appearance of an ET inhabitant. The class found this much easier, and came up with some fantastic suggestions for overcoming some of the more hostile features of their planets!

In order to help pupils to think about different ways in which creatures adapt (externally) to their habitats, I set out four stations (based on our old ‘fur, feathers, scales’ session) at which groups could investigate fur, feathers, scales, and spikes/shells (protection) through object handling.  We then went off into the museum, visiting Prehistoric life, Animal life (mammals and birds) and the Vivarium, in search of inspiration.

Brimming with ideas, we returned to the Discovery Centre, where groups worked on completing their skeleton designs, and started work on creating the outside of their ET.

This extremely long and exhausting day (for all concerned!) was fascinating for me to develop, observe and take part in! The amount of creativity and imagination that the children were able to generate, as a result of exploring some ‘dusty old bones and dead animals’ (during a particularly long and intensive day), leaves me feeling inspired (by the group’s endless enthusiasm and creativity), proud (to be involved in such projects) and a little smug (because it just confirms that I am right to believe wholeheartedly in the value and effectiveness of our work in the museum!).

To explore strange new worlds…

Image, The Whitworth Art Gallery

Our Space project reached a very satisfying end recently when, after creating their alien beings (and adding to their designs back in school), the group of children from Old Hall Drive primary school arrived at the Whitworth Art Gallery (our ‘sister’ university gallery and, coincidentally, my other place of work).

We had a fun-packed day and I was delighted to see how engaged the children were throughout.

We started with a recap, using drama, of how you might move on an alien planet with different gravity or atmosphere or landscape to our own, before creating statues of our alien creatures which then came to life!

The first job we had was to gather clues about what a habitat needs to include – we began by discovering birds and animals hiding within the textiles collection. This led into a discussion of some the key elements we would need in a habitat. We decided on:

  • shelter
  • availability of food and drink
  • feeling safe
  • camouflage potential

The class then explored what it would be like to live and move in imaginary environments within some of the Gallery’s artworks, before taking a trip outside.

Our main idea was to really study the shape of trees in detail (to adapt them to suit our alien environment), but we were very quickly distracted by a very playful pair of squirrels enjoying games in and around the trees near to the Gallery. Getting back to the job in hand, we took the opportunity to investigate how trees feel to the touch and how they’re not just ‘green blobs on a stick’.

The best bit of the morning was yet to come: back inside, we slowly used every member of the class to build up a ‘working model’ of a tree, starting with the heartwood and roots, and then adding on the sapwood, cambium and bark. Each part of the tree ended up lying on the floor in different positions to represent their part in building the tree – and yes, each part of the tree had a phrase or sound connected with their role:

  • heartwood – “tall and strong”
  • roots – great slurping noises as they sucked up water
  • sapwood – ‘whee’ noises as they carried the water up into the tree
  • cambium – “we grow outwards”
  • bark – “we protect”

You can imagine that the gallery was far from quiet as the ‘tree’ came to life – proving how much fun can be had doing science in a gallery. This activity also gave us chance to investigate how harmful it is to a tree to have its barked stripped off, as well as giving us food for thought about how a tree might develop differently in high or low gravity.

(The activity was adapted from this – thanks to Michael Carpenter of the Groundwork Trust / Trafford Ecology Park for bringing this activity to my attention)

Image, The parts of a tree

Image, The parts of a tree

After a well-earned lunch, the children were very imaginative in selecting individual elements from artworks which inspired them to create features for their alien habitat. The final job of the day was to use all the clues and ideas they had gathered to create ideas of what their habitat might look like – on enormous strips of paper. The freedom to spread out over the paper and the engagement and imagination the children had shown throughout the day meant that the resulting masterpieces were a fantastic record at the end of their project – and certainly some great spaces for their alien creatures to live in.

Thank you to Asha Khalique at Cedar Mount High School for approaching us and instigating this project and thank you to the children, staff and parents at Old Hall Drive school for getting so involved. I know both Hannah and I really enjoyed this project – and we’re hoping that elements of the project will find their way into our schools’ programme next year.