SMF Pop-Up: Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Our first Scottish Museums Federation Pop-Up took place last week in Aberdeen at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum. Fiona Carmichael, Head of Learning and Interpretation, The Tall Ship at Riverside writes our first pop-up related blog of the year. 

It was a snowy day when we left Glasgow heading for SMF’s Pop-Up at Aberdeen Maritime Museum on Thursday 29th January. The Tall Ship’s Learning Assistants Nicola and Vera and I made the journey to Aberdeen to join in and find out more about Aberdeen Maritime Museum’s exhibits and collections. We were welcomed to the museum by Maritime History Curator, Jason Finch and shown to the museum’s education room to wait for other SMF members to arrive.

© Victoria Adams
© Victoria Adams

Once everyone had arrived, Jason delivered a short introduction to the museum, funding and staff. We found out that Aberdeen Maritime Museum is part of a group of local authority museums which also includes Aberdeen Art Gallery, Provost Skene’s House and the Tolbooth Museum. It is open free of charge to the public six days a week and has a team of staff based there including curators and a full time historian. They also have a learning team and visitor services staff that sometimes interchange between the 4 museums. Jason explained that Aberdeen is a particularly well-funded local authority due to the oil and gas industry and that local people really love to visit their museums. It is estimated that each local resident visits the museum around 3 times per year and visitor figures are rising annually.

© Victoria Adams
© Victoria Adams

Following our introduction, Jason took us out into the museum to begin our tour. Aberdeen Maritime Museum tells the story of the city’s relationship with the sea from the Stone Age right up to the present day. We started by looking at their introductory case filled with lots of interesting objects including ship models, harpoons, a binnacle and a Norwegian rotary foghorn. We also looked at the Duthie Deckhouse, which inside has a small play area of activities for children, before heading through to the central section of the museum. Aberdeen Maritime Museum consists of three separate buildings that have been joined together, each section having its own interesting history. The central glass and steel Link building joins the old Provost Ross’ House on Shiprow dating back to 1593, to the old Trinity Congregational Church which was built in 1877. This well-funded expansion and refurbishment increased exhibition space and has allowed the museum to tell the story of the North Sea’s offshore oil and gas industry. The highlights of the museum’s first level include, a central atrium filled with an impressive model of Murchison Oil Platform that is so tall, it reaches right up to the third floor!

© Victoria Adams
© Victoria Adams

Next to this model there were interactive exhibits allowing visitors to pilot a real Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and find out about marine biodiversity.

© Fiona Carmichael
© Fiona Carmichael

On level two, Jason showed us a beautiful model of the ship, Thermopylae and a digital timeline telling the history of the oil and gas industry. Level two also has a 3D cinema screening – The Offshore Experience. Here we found out that only 15% of rig workers are women and only 4% of these actually do oil/rig related work with the rest working in the catering and cleaning sectors.

© Victoria Adams
© Victoria Adams

Moving on from here we were shown the museum’s temporary exhibition space which is currently hosting an exhibition of Gansey’s which are hardwearing woollen jumpers often worn by sailors and particularly fishermen. I really liked the way the jumper’s were displayed- very eye-catching!

© Fiona Carmichael
© Fiona Carmichael

We gradually made our way to the top floor of the museum, passing by lovely views down over Aberdeen Harbour.

© Victoria Adams
© Victoria Adams

From this floor we could also see the top of the oil platform model and displays about life working on the rigs including a full scale reconstruction of the sleeping areas for rig workers. It was interesting to find out more about this industry as I didn’t know much about it before visiting, and I think the museum presents a lot of information in an appealing way, particularly through interactive displays.

© Victoria Adams
© Victoria Adams

There was still a lot of the museum that we didn’t have time to cover in our tour, so my colleagues and I returned to view their great art collection and objects on display in the section within Provost Ross’ House after our group discussion back in the education room.

© Fiona Carmichael
© Fiona Carmichael

The group discussion included topics including their schools programme, public events and corporate hires. This led on to chat about how the museum noticeably focuses a lot on the oil and gas industry and whether this is because of any pressures from industry funders. We spoke about the ethics surrounding this industry and how museums present this information, but overall it was agreed that the funding had been put to good use and the exhibits within the museum are relevant to the area and the local residents. The industry is part of the lives of many local people and the museum reflects this in an informative way.

© Fiona Carmichael
© Fiona Carmichael

Overall it was a great afternoon and I certainly learned a lot as I’m sure the other attendees did also. The others continued on to take part in an international afternoon of #drinkingaboutmuseums along with New York and Moscow- we hope you all had a great time!

Thanks to Jason for such a warm welcome and for taking the time to show us around.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Images are copyright of Victoria Adams (National Museums Scotland) and Fiona Carmichael (The Tall Ship)

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