Putting the Wunder back into Wunderkammer

Wunderkammer, or cabinets of curiosities, were the precursors to the modern museum. These cabinets appeared in mid-sixteenth century Europe as repositories for wondrous and exotic objects. ‘Putting the wunder back into the Wunderkammer’ was a project where museums worked with
arts organisations, secondary school students and artists to rediscover the magic in museum collections.

In 2014/15 Islington Museum joined with the British Postal Museum and Archive, the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, All Change, Cubitt Education and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to develop and deliver the Arts Council funded project ‘Putting the wunder back into the Wunderkammer.’

Highbury School - Final Workshop01jpg (59)
The project piloted methods of connecting museums with leading local arts organisations and local secondary schools to explore how collaborative partnerships between arts and heritage organisations and local secondary schools could:

  1. make museums and collections more accessible and meaningful for younger, diverse audiences
  2. enable young people to access and explore collections, supported by museum curators and artists, learning in ways that are engaging and relevant to them
  3. re-imagine collections using the arts to support learning
  4. help local museums to utilise and strengthen their relationships with local arts  organisations, secondary schools and young people, to create a high quality, relevant and integrated arts education offers for young people

Painting - no faces45

Islington Museum co-ordinated three projects, where secondary students explored objects from the three heritage collections. The students then worked with the artists and heritage professionals to creatively respond to these objects, re-interpreting them for a new generation. Follow the links to find out more about the students projects:

Highbury School - Final Workshop01jpg (37)Mail Art: printing stamps and image transfers

Students at Highbury Grove Secondary School were inspired by the works of historic and contemporary mail artists to create their own mail art envelopes from home-made stamps and image transfers.



Painting - no faces39

Mark making on giant paper

Students from Samuel Rhodes MLD Secondary used  unusual drawing tools including paint, chalk, wheels, extended pencils and the body to explore movement and music in Surrealist art.


Islington Museum37Musical cabinets of curiosities

Students from St Mary Magdalene Academy created sound pieces exploring the diverse histories of objects through body percussion, sound art and composition.


Islington Museum also produced a skills sharing document sharing the partners’ experience and learning  in the form of handy advice and case studies. Hopefully you will find it useful in equipping your school, arts or heritage organisation to work collaboratively to re-interpret other collections.

What our teachers thought of the project:

“The museum provides a brilliant learning resource… a great learning experience in a new place.”

“Opens up the world beyond the classroom. Students engaged with their local area in a new way.”

“Working with the British Postal Museum and Archive was a unique experience for our
students to learn about industry. The experience of handling and gaining access to the archive was a special event and increased students’ knowledge and understanding of process and design. The locality of the project offered a new insight into the students’ knowledge of the local area and the resources the Borough has to offer.”

“The whole project has given the students the opportunity to think about creativity in a new context.”

“I feel the project has many strengths. It approaches history from the angles of locality, the interest of objects which can be seen and touched and interacted with, then put into context. I think the musical aspect encourages deeper thinking and engagement with all of the above, by giving time and space to the imagination. The evidence for this, is the ideas that came out during the composition process.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s