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Interview: Heather Lane from The Polar Museum

29th July 2014

With the recent launch of the Polar Collection in stores and online, we thought it would be worthwhile to dig deeper into Emma's inspiration behind creating the new designs. It was a trip to the Polar Museum in Cambridge (part of the Scott Polar Research Institute) that proved to be the main inspiration behind the collection. The archives are home to around 10,000 objects and over a million manuscripts and photographs, many of which are available for the public to browse through and discover the fascinating history of Polar explorers and expeditions. The museum is home to the world's largest polar library, all overseen by Heather Lane, the Librarian and Keeper of Collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute. We were lucky enough to be able to chat to Heather - who has spent over ten years working at the SPRI - about everything from how she discovers new items, to her personal travels in the Polar regions.

Heather Lane Polar Museum 4
Heather Lane Polar Museum 5

CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT LED UP TO YOUR CURRENT POSITION AS LIBRARIAN AND KEEPER OF COLLECTIONS AT SPRI?

I read English at Oxford University, where my main areas of study were Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. I trained at the British Library and since then I have worked in a number of academic libraries in Cambridge, always dealing with mixed collections - everything from textbooks for undergraduates and researchers, early printed book and manuscript collections to miscellaneous artefacts, from College silver to skeletons! I’m a Chartered Librarian; I joined the Scott Polar Research Institute as their Librarian in 2004.

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CAN YOU EXPLAIN A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR ROLE, AND WHAT YOU DO DAY-TO-DAY? As Librarian, I administer the world’s leading Polar library, dealing with enquiries and visitors from around the world. We cover both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. We open the Library to the public under the Inspire scheme, so everyone can benefit from the amazing collections which have been assembled since 1920, when SPRI was founded. I’m also Keeper of Collections, which means that I have a strategic overview not only of the Library, but also of the Polar Museum, archives and photographic and sound collections which are housed in the Institute. No two days are the same - in any given week I might be planning an exhibition, writing text for a museum publication or a funding application, answering enquiries from polar researchers around the world, giving a tour for the public or recording an interview for radio or television.

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WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB, AND WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING? I love the variety that my role provides, and particularly the range of people that I meet. You never know who is going to walk through the door - we welcome everybody from polar explorers planning their next expedition to five year olds on a school visit, wide-eyed with excitement at seeing an Emperor penguin for the first time. The challenge is always to find external funding, as we rely heavily on sponsorship and donation to enable the library, museum and archives to continue providing a world-class service. HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD AN INTEREST IN EXPLORATION AND POLAR REGIONS? I didn't start learning about the polar regions in earnest until I joined the Institute, but I find the history of exploration and the ethnography of northern peoples fascinating. I was attracted to the post because the library collections had such a great reputation. It still amazes me how much I've learned in the past ten years, almost entirely through answering other people's questions!

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YOUR CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS INCLUDE BRITISH POLAR ART AND HISTORIC POLAR IMAGES - YOU HAVE ALSO PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED WORK ON INUIT ART. HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK VISUAL ART AND IMAGERY ARE IN AIDING OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THESE REGIONS? The images, both photographs and artworks, that the Scott Polar Research Institute holds are unrivalled as a source for the history of British polar exploration. There is an immediacy about the visual image which makes it a valuable way into the subject for the non-specialist, but with over 100,000 images and nearly 3,000 paintings and drawings in the collection, there are vast resources for researchers still to discover. For example, we recently acquired the negatives of the photographs taken by Captain Scott in 1911 on his final expedition and were immensely excited to find half a dozen images which were previously unknown. Every image tells us something about life and conditions in the field. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE ARTWORK OR IMAGE THAT YOU HAVE DISCOVERED THROUGH YOUR RESEARCH? We were fortunate to be given a Heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Cultures award, which has allowed me to research our Inuit Art holdings and to purchase a number of new pieces of sculpture and print works, so that we now hold the largest public collection in the United Kingdom. I'm particularly drawn to works from the Keewatin region and one of my favourites is George Arluk’s ‘Dream of Flying’ which is a transformation piece from Arviat (formerly Eskimo Point) carved from stone and relic whalebone in 1997.

Heather Lane Polar Museum 2

CAN YOU EXPLAIN A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE VARIETY OF ITEMS YOU HAVE IN THE COLLECTIONS AT THE POLAR MUSEUM? The Institute was originally founded to provide information on polar exploration and science, following Captain Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1912. He and his four companions lost their lives on the return journey, but their shipmates deposited a range of equipment that had been used - sledges, tents, clothing, sleeping bags, food and scientific instruments - in Cambridge, so that others could learn from their experience. Since we moved into the present building in 1934, the collections have continued to grow and we now hold around 10,000 objects and works of art, over a million manuscripts and photographs, the world's largest polar library and a sound and film archive. The range is extraordinary - everything from fossils to a section of the telescope array from the IceCube Neutrino project. HOW DO YOU DISCOVER NEW ITEMS TO BE DISPLAYED IN THE MUSEUM? New material comes to us in a number of ways - mainly by donation, but occasionally through loans or purchases. We don't have an acquisitions budget, so we have to raise funds urgently if something special comes up at auction. It's always exciting when a member of the public offers us an object or a manuscript connected with a polar expedition - many of the descendants of the men on the early voyages have been immensely generous in helping us to build the collections. Often, a new acquisition will be the starting point for a piece of research that will be developed into a temporary exhibition or an addition to the permanent displays.

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Emma J Shipley_Polar Museum_i

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE ITEM AMONGST THE COLLECTIONS? There are so many! I particularly like the plate with a hollow base which can be filled with hot water to keep your food warm - it's such a practical way of dealing with a polar problem. It was made by Doulton especially for Captain Scott’s Discovery Expedition of 1901-04.

 

Heather Lane Polar Museum 1

WHICH PARTICULAR EXPEDITIONS FROM THE HISTORY OF POLAR EXPLORATION DO YOU FIND MOST FASCINATING AND WHY? I'm particularly drawn to Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, mainly because the fate of the two ships, Erebus and Terror, and the 129 men on board is still a mystery. We are working with the underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada, who are doing so much to discover where the ships are. It will be immensely exciting when the wrecks are found - they have the potential to tell us so much about the techniques of 19th century Arctic exploration. HAVE YOU TRAVELLED TO ANY POLAR REGIONS YOURSELF? I've worked in the Arctic, travelling to Alaska, Northern Norway and Finland. The coldest I've ever been was in Tromsø, when it reached minus 30°C - fortunately, working at SPRI I have access to some great polar gear! I'll be going to the Antarctic for the first time this November, following in Sir Ernest Shackleton's footsteps on a voyage which will take me to South Georgia and Elephant Island.

 

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COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR CURRENT EXHIBITION, DELIVERY BY DESIGN: STAMPS IN ANTARCTICA? This is a good example of an exhibition which started with a gift. The Polar Regions Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Crown Agents recently deposited the artwork and proofs for a fantastic range of stamps from the British Antarctic Territories. People may be surprised to learn that we have a stamp collection, but the acquisition of the artwork provided just the excuse we needed to research the history of some of our stamps and of polar philately more generally. YOU HAVE WRITTEN A NUMBER OF PUBLICATIONS; MOST RECENTLY 'UNDERSTANDING EARTH'S POLAR CHALLENGES' (2011). WHAT ARE THE MAJOR CHALLENGES THE POLAR REGIONS ARE FACING IN THE COMING YEARS? I contributed a chapter to this work on the importance of maintaining the archival record after the International Polar Year, which took place in 2007-08. It's a good overview from a range of experts in many different scientific fields. Part of the challenge is public education about the global environment more generally and the vital role that the polar regions play. Maintaining pressure on governments to continue funding cutting-edge polar science is critical.

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DO YOU FEEL OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE POLAR REGIONS? IS THERE ANYTHING THE PUBLIC CAN DO TO HELP? I'm very encouraged by the growth of interest in the Arctic and the development of supranational organisations like the Arctic Council and the University of the Arctic at a point where good international relations are becoming more vital, as the region becomes a focus for shipping, fisheries and the extraction of oil and gas. The public can help by insisting that science remains high on the political agenda and recognising that research is vital to the economy. In the South, the public need to be aware of the role of the Antarctic Treaty in ensuring that the continent, our last truly pristine wilderness, continues to be maintained for peace and science. FINALLY, WHY WOULD YOU RECOMMEND A VISIT TO THE POLAR MUSEUM? Where else can you find out so much about the history of exploration and the current science of the Arctic and Antarctic right on your doorstep? I hope that people will share my excitement in the stories told by some of our most iconic objects - the last letters of Captain Scott and his companions, Captain Oates's sleeping bag, the sextant from Shackleton's small boat journey to South Georgia - and some of the less well known items that we have on display, such as the everyday objects and clothing made by the peoples of northern Greenland and Siberia. We hope that a visit will intrigue you and that you will use the Library and Archives to find out more.

 

Plan your visit to The Polar Museum here and head over to the website to explore the new Polar Collection of scarves.

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Aurora Modal Blend Scarf Black emma j shipley luxury scarf designer

 

 

 

 

 

 

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