Why am I here? Making do with what you’ve got.

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Edvard Munch knows how I feel…

For some reason, known only to my former website hosts, my blog has met an untimely demise. Frustrating, as it was the product of a lot of work and years of Saturday mornings’ writing.  Gone are the posts about Paul the Octopus, ant mercenaries, the Fountain of Youth, carnivorous plants and vampire moths. Gone are the links to my books (you’ll have to find them on Amazon I’m afraid). However, all is not lost. The upside is that the World keeps making interesting things to think about and we haven’t run out of Saturdays.

The one post that I miss, because it keeps coming up in conversation, is about the Massachusetts industrialist Arthur D. Little who in 1921 took up Jonathan Swift’s challenge “you can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s ear”, and created one. It’s at the Smithsonian Institution. From their History Wired Website the abridged description:

A silk purse made from a sow's ear. I don't think it will catch on.
A silk purse made from a sow’s ear. I don’t think it will catch on.

From a meat-packer he obtained a form of glue made from the skin and gristle of sows’ ears. Taking an amount roughly equivalent to one sow’s ear, he had it filtered and forced through a spinneret into a mixture of formaldehyde and acetone. The glue emerged as 16 fine, colorless streams that hardened and then combined to form a single composite fiber. Little soaked the fiber in dyed glycerin. Then he wove the resulting thread into cloth on a handloom-and fashioned the cloth into the elegant purse shown here, the kind of item carried by ladies of the Middle Ages.

Being in the heritage industry, it’s an idea that resonates. There is always a call to think outside the square, to create more that it seems your resources would allow. It’s critical for institutions in our sector to think about our unique offer and work as much as possible to develop existing resources. That is, for instance, why at Whanganui Regional Museum we’ve started developing our outstanding collection of moa sub-fossil material into an open storage and research facility. We anticipate it will be as good for tourism as for the capabilities of the museum. We’ve been fortunate enough to have received a grant the New Zealand Lotteries Commission to fund the development, and part of the argument to do that was the benefit to the community as a whole. The important point behind this, however, is not about the moa itself (although I’ll write about them at some other point) is that this development was the result of strategic thinking about leveraging the resources we had to hand, rather than starting with a completely new concept. That might seem self-evident, but it’s by no means universal.

Low-hanging fruit. Enough said
Low-hanging fruit. Enough said

To some degree, my impetus to write on this topic stems from the fact that the gallery is half built and every day brings a new and exciting chance to view progress (we’re posting intermittent photos of this on our Facebook page). Equally important, however, is the impetus to share a component of what we’ve learned throughout the process.

If this topic is interesting, you might enjoy the Museum Ideas website, a repository of great ideas and portal to many highly creative projects.


2 thoughts on “Why am I here? Making do with what you’ve got.

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