‘The objects of my affection’ by Megan Dennis

This week’s guest blog is by Megan Dennis, Curator at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse. Here she explains the significance of museum objects and some of the different ways they can be used.

What makes museum objects special? Why are they important? What can we use them for? These questions are at the heart of how museums operate today. In a world where all public services are being cut back why do museums and their collections continue to be of importance? I believe that one of the answers is that museum collections are important because they inspire people. They have the power to change minds and lives. They have the power to improve mood and outlook. They have the power to inspire new creations.

I know because they have inspired me. When studying Iron Age coins I became fascinated by their intricate designs and beautiful art. I dreamt in dots and diadems, spirals and snakes and boards and horses.

Maybe I was just too close to my subject, but I definitely needed a creative outlet.  I needed to set the Iron Age images dancing again. Using techniques I was familiar with I set to creating knitting charts for an intricate intarsia creation.

Picking up my needles I connected with the designs, noticing new details and strange shapes and elements within these miniature masterpieces that I hadn’t seen before. I felt connected to the people who imagined these magical serpents and heroic horses over two thousand years ago.

More recently my fascination for textiles has been re-sparked by some beautiful shepherd’s mittens in the collections at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

Intriguingly simple, their tube construction is created by ”pegging”, a system similar to crochet. My fingers are itching to give it a go and learn a new skill, inspired again by the objects around me.

And I am not the only one…..

Objects have inspired famous artists and writers too. Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is analysed and contextualised by many English Literature students.How many actually get to interact with an urn themselves? It must a comparatively small number. What a shame. How can you analyse a text properly if you have never experienced the objects that inspired that piece of writing.


But it is not only artists who are dead and gone that have been inspired by museums and their objects. Creativity is sometimes sparked by the most unlikely of things. It can’t be predicted or controlled. Lara Cobden has a stuffed crow from the display at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse sitting in her studio. Something about the dark feathers and shiny glass eyes strike me as slightly disturbing.

However, Lara is using the crow to create beautiful and ethereal images. A rather prosaic dead bird is transformed into something meaningful and moody. The powers of a museum object to inspire.

But it is not only “artists” who can access museum objects this way. One thing I love about museums is that they can be a great leveller. There is no one right answer. A three year old has a response that is just as valid as an eighty-three year old. An established artist can share inspiration with someone who is creating for the first time. An academic can be forced to reconsider their long held views by the comments of a school child. Creativity can be shared by one and all creating inter-generational friendships, family links and strengthening communities by bringing them together. Museum objects can help enable all this.

At Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse our Muddy Museum Café for pre-school children and their carers is always fully booked. Children explore the collections, story books and the physical landscape before creating responses in a range of media. Whether they have been looking at pants, pelicans or Peter Rabbit they find something in the museum to inspire them. They take home washing lines of newly designed underwear, colourful clay birds or mini gardens on a plate.

What has all this got to do with the Shine a Light project?

Well over the next few months we will be looking at how we can use the stores more effectively. How can the stored collections be used to inspire? We hope to run a series of master classes looking at different aspects of the collections. Love dragons? Come and see the snaps and be inspired to create your own fiery beast.


Fascinated by fossils? Explore our Ichthyosaur and make your own stone bones.

photograph courtesy of Nigel Larkin

Or simply come and marvel at the store and go where your mind takes you. You never know what you might find and where your creativity might take you.

Even through a digital lens objects can inspire creativity. Take a look at Collections Online and see what grabs you! Although it is presently undergoing development, it will soon be a fascinating resource that will enable you to browse through amazing objects from Norfolk Museums Service not currently on display.

Opening up the store, physically and digitally, and inspiring people with the objects we look after has been a major part of this project and one that I have been keen to encourage. Take a look at the website, book an appointment to see us and be inspired. Just make sure you share your fantastic creations with us on Facebook or Twitter!

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3 Responses to ‘The objects of my affection’ by Megan Dennis

  1. Gill McGrath says:

    What a delightful enthusiastic piece about ‘old stuff’!!!! There must be a long queue to the this museum


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