Learning / Projects / Object Handling in the Gallery

Object Handling in the Gallery

For the last year we have been running an object handling table in the gallery. We have had visitors from several different generations, often within one group, as well as siblings from as young as two up to early twenties. Through a series of objects we were able to explore questions about the geography and ecology of the area they were from, in order to understand what types of materials were used and why different figures and animals were represented.

Our approach was to encourage visitors to look closely at the objects and to consider what questions they could ask about them. The objects are from a handling collection for which we have relatively little information, so the emphasis was on asking questions and attempting to answer them through close observation. Knowing that we didn’t necessarily have a ‘right’ answer enabled visitors to contribute to the discussion without feeling they were going to get it wrong. It also stimulated children’s imagination, offering the opportunity to create stories based on the questions that they had asked about the objects.

In discussion with visitors we were able to deduce some of the techniques and tools used by looking for maker's marks, the different materials and finishes. We discussed with several families aspects of daily life and belief systems in Papua New Guinea where many of the objects were from, as well as the biographies of the objects, and how they came to be in the museum. The multi-disciplinary nature of the exploration appealed to many of the families. One visitor commented that it brought ‘learning together for the children: art, history, geography and science’ and many others mentioned discovering about carving, wildlife, art forms and different people. We also found that people enjoyed taking unfamiliar things and relating them to things from their own experience. This included comparing practical objects such as combs to their own belongings, as well as thinking of fictional characters that they could relate to some of the more mysterious objects.