British Museum blog

Teddy time traveller


Faye Ellis, Digital Learning Programmes Manager, British Museum

I’ve liked Grayson Perry’s work for a long time, and was hugely excited when I heard that the British Museum would be staging an exhibition of his work. He’s a bit of a legend in my family – there are lots of Grayson Perry books lying around my parents’ house, and my Mum even dressed up as him once – complete with rosy cheeks and teddy bear. Knowing a bit about his work, I was also very aware that the content of the exhibition might be quite adult, and wasn’t too hopeful that we’d be able to do many Grayson-inspired family activities. However, much to my delight, it turned out that we’d be able to run an activity in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre. If you’ve not been yet, the Samsung Centre is a digital education space for young people in the British Museum. We run free activities for families and 13-18s every weekend, and the Grayson Perry session would make up part of that programme.

A lot of the Museum’s activities for young people based on the exhibition have centred around Alan Measles, Perry’s childhood teddy bear, who is, on the surface, the ‘child-friendly face’ of the exhibition (but look closer and you’ll discover he’s a witty, cynical old bear with a strong tendency to swear). We wanted to stick with the theme of teddy bears, but do something a little different. We decided to run a session called Teddy time traveller, inspired by the idea of taking a childhood toy with you on a journey (as Grayson Perry did when he travelled around Bavaria in 2010) and blogging – something which Alan Measles does himself from time to time.

The session has three stages – firstly, families have their photograph taken in front of a green screen with their teddy bear (or one of our six standby bears, if they don’t have one of their own). I even donated my own childhood bear, the unimaginatively named Brown Ted, to take part:

My very own Brown Ted

Next, they use Photoshop (the children are amazingly quick to pick it up!) to insert themselves into an illustrated scene. Finally, they upload the picture to a WordPress blog, and write a short entry about their travels. It was important to me that the children found a ‘voice’ for their bear, and so I put some of the less adult Alan Measles quotes on the walls to inspire them! Although most children wrote the blogs from their own perspective, we did have a few writing as their toys.

Here’s part of a blog entry I particularly liked – especially because of the enormous handful of toys Dan took to Egypt with him:

I went to Egypt and I had lots of fun and a nosebleed. That’s the thing with time travel: nosebleeds. I liked it at Egypt. It was hot. I did some digging and found lots of beads and necklaces and jewellery and a model of a Pharoah. Monkey enjoyed it lots and Margot and Foofah enjoyed it. It was too hot for Monkey…

I wanted the scenes to be visually exciting, and so I asked the illustrator Rob Flowers to create backgrounds of ancient China, Greece, Rome, Egypt and Mexico. His work is bright, bold and funny, just like Grayson’s. Rob used pictures of objects from the Museum when creating the illustrations, and was very interested in where they came from and what they were used for. He was recently interviewed by Topman.co.uk in which he mentions the project and the Museum. Here’s my favourite of the four backgrounds – ancient Mexico:

The Aztec backdrop created by illustrator Rob Flowers

Grayson often mentions technology when giving talks or writing blogs, whether it’s to discuss his dislike of the way we use mobile phones or to write about his appreciation of the potential of technology in craft and design. He’s used technology in his work, including to create some wonderful digital tapestries. It was therefore interesting to create a workshop that entirely used technology, but to create an illusion – children travelling back in time, teddy bears writing blogs…it’s all part of delving deep inside your imagination (something Grayson does in spades) whether it’s through the use of technology or not.

The thing that pleased me most of all about the activity was the fact that children did actually bring their own teddies along – it meant that a lot of our standby teddies sat unused most of the time, but it was hugely encouraging to us that the children felt their bears were so important. One even brought her ‘second-favourite’ teddy because of the fear of losing her favourite one!

We’ll be running six Teddy time traveller sessions altogether – the last one will be on Saturday 4 February. Bring your children, nieces, nephews and all their friends – and don’t forget your teddies!

See all the families’ blogs at http://teddytimetraveller.wordpress.com, and keep up to date with all our free digital activities for families by checking the family events calendar.

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
is supported by AlixPartners, with Louis Vuitton.
Book tickets now

Filed under: Exhibitions, Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

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In the @ImperialWarMuseums exhibition ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s street style’ we can see how men and women found new ways to dress while clothing was rationed. Displays of original clothes from the era, from military uniforms to utility underwear, reveal what life was really like on the home front in wartime Britain.

Despite the limitations imposed by rationing, clothing retailers sought to retain and even expand their customer base during the Second World War. Britain's high street adapted in response to wartime conditions, and this was reflected in their retail ranges. The government intervened in the mass manufacture of high street fashions with the arrival of the Utility clothing scheme in 1942. Shoppers carefully spent their precious clothing coupons and money on new clothes to make sure their purchases would be suitable across spring, summer and autumn and winter. Despite the restrictions, the war and civilian austerity did not put an end to creative design, commercial opportunism or fashionable trends on the British home front.

#FashionontheRation exhibition runs @imperialwarmuseums until 31 August.

Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap. For our final day of #MuseumInstaSwap we’re learning about the Second World War @ImperialWarMuseums, and discovering the impact of the war on ordinary people. 
Clothes were rationed in Britain from 1 June 1941. This limited the amount of new garments people could buy until 1949, four years after the war's end. The British government needed to reduce production and consumption of civilian clothes to safeguard raw materials and release workers and factory space for war production. As with food rationing, which had been in place since 1940, one of the reasons for introducing civilian clothes rationing was to ensure fairness. Rationing sought to ensure a more equal distribution of clothing and improve the availability of garments in the shops.

As this poster shows, the rationing scheme worked by allocating each type of clothing item a 'points' value which varied according to how much material and labour went into its manufacture. Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man's shirt or a pair of trousers. Women's shoes meant relinquishing five coupons, and men's footwear cost seven coupons. When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a 'points' value as well as money. Every adult was initially given an allocation of 66 points to last one year, but this allocation shrank as the war progressed. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 8293) This week on @instagram we’ve joined up with other London museums to highlight our shared stories. Our partner is @imperialwarmuseums, whose incredible collection brings people’s experiences of modern war and conflict to life. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap to discover some of the intriguing historical connections we have found, as well as insights into everyday life during wartime. As part of our #MuseumInstaSwap with @ImperialWarMuseums, we’ve been given special access to the Churchill War Rooms – located deep below the streets of Westminster.
This is Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s bedroom, which includes his private desk, briefcase and papers, his bed and chamber pot and even an original cigar! The bedroom is located close to the Map Room, keeping Churchill as close as possible to the epicentre of Cabinet War Rooms.
Following the surrender of the Japanese Forces the doors to the War Rooms were locked on 16 August 1945 and the complex was left undisturbed until Parliament ensured its preservation as a historic site in 1948. Knowledge of the site and access to it remained highly restricted until the late 1970s when @ImperialWarMuseums began the task of preserving the site and its contents, making them accessible to as wide an audience as possible and opening them to the public in 1984.
Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap We’re exploring the Churchill War Rooms – the secret underground headquarters of the British government during the Second World War – in partnership with @ImperialWarMuseums for #MuseumInstaSwap.
The fear that London would be the target of aerial bombardment had troubled the government since the First World War and in 1938 the basement of a Whitehall building was chosen as the site for the Cabinet War Rooms. From 1940 to 1945 hundreds of men and women would spend thousands of vital hours here and it soon became the inner sanctum of British government.
Here you can see the wall of the Map Room, detailing the positions of British convoys across the world, which has not changed since 1945! Today in #MuseumInstaSwap we’re beneath the streets of Westminster to discover the hidden secrets of the #WW2 Cabinet War Rooms, which is part of @ImperialWarMuseums.
This is the underground bunker that protected the heart of Britain’s government during the Second World War as Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his inner circle plotted the route to Allied victory. It’s an amazing experience to step back in time and walk in the footsteps of Churchill, glimpsing what life would have been like during the tense days and nights of the Second World War. This archive photo shows Churchill at his desk in the Map Room at the Cabinet War Rooms. Beside him, Captain Pym of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) takes a telephone call. To this day, the Map Room has remained exactly as it was left on the day the lights were switched off in 1945.
© IWM (HU 44788)
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