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Bringing the Hancocks to life


A new exhibition launched today - ‘The Hancocks: Scientists in the Studio’ – will introduce visitors to the names behind the museum’s title.

The stories of John, Albany and Mary Jane Hancock have been brought to life by a group of MA Museum Studies students.

They worked with the Great North Museum:Hancock and the Natural History Society of Northumbria on this project, which will be launched in the Living Planet Gallery today (23 April 2013) and will run for the next four weeks.

Visitors will discover the stories of the ‘father of taxidermy’, John Hancock; one of the founders of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, Albany Hancock; and their sister, the botanist and artist, Mary Jane Hancock.

The students hope it will help visitors to follow the Hancocks’ example to explore the beauty of the natural world and appreciate that the marriage of art and science is still a vital and exciting concept today.

“Growing up in the North East and spending a lot of my childhood in the Great North Museum: Hancock, I never thought about what was behind the name 'Hancock',” said Kay Addison, MA Museum Studies student, who worked on the project. “It has been an interesting revelation to discover the history of the family and how much of an impact they had on the area and their fields of work. I am excited to share the story with other people.”

The exhibition will include rare pieces of taxidermy by John Hancock - including the extinct Huia Bird from New Zealand - in addition to specimens and drawings by Albany Hancock and beautiful watercolours by Mary Jane.

The students are also developing social media platforms to support the physical exhibition and permit wider access to the Hancocks’ history, including Twitter feeds from the ‘Hancocks’ and a Tumblr page offering access to unseen material, such as Albany Hancock’s artworks and correspondence with Charles Darwin.

Dan Gordon, Keeper of Natural Sciences for Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, said: “Understanding the Hancocks is essential to understanding the museum and its collections. It has been fascinating to see how the students have re-interpreted the story of the Hancock family and their work, particularly through the use of digital media.”

This project forms part of a series of collaborative hands-on heritage projects developed by the Museum Studies students of the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, with the support of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and other cultural organisations in the North East. They provided budding museum professionals with the opportunity to develop their skills and expertise and improve their chances of obtaining jobs in the museum, gallery and heritage sector.

Photo credit: Struggle with Quarry is by John Hancock - a pioneering piece of taxidermy that was displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851 © Natural History Society of Northumbria.

published on: 23 April 2013