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Worcester Museums: Bringing collections to life

  • Date: 28 May 2014
  • Artform: Combined arts
  • Area: Midlands
Worcester MOTHS Parade

In Worcestershire, Hartlebury Castle, the Commandery and the City Art Gallery & Museum, tell stories about power and greed, romance and death, society and industry. Together, these three museums take visitors on a journey through the county’s heritage, exploring both its natural and social history.

The City Art Gallery & Museum in Worcester is home to some of oldest natural history collections in the region, dating back to 1833. They include rare examples of plants and animals from the local area, including butterflies, moths and birds.

To bring this collection to life Museums Worcester joined forces with National Portfolio Organisation Imagineer Productions as part of the Love Worcester project.

During the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Imagineer Productions were behind the creation of Godiva Awakes, a large scale street art event which wowed audiences across the UK and abroad.

Taking inspiration from collections of moths, birds and butterflies, Imagineer crafted a series of events, street performances and a parade full of colour, music and dance which captured the attention of shoppers on Worcester High Street, encouraging them to step inside the museum and explore the collections.

Winnie Bird and the Worcesterious Giganticus

To tell the story of the museum’s natural history collections, Imagineer created the character of Winnie Bird, an eccentric Victorian time traveller who could conjure up stories of exploring new worlds and discovering new creatures.

Through pop up street performances and events which took place over five months, Winnie weaved a narrative that animated the streets of Worcester and stirred people’s curiosity.

Winnie’s story began with the sudden appearance of a strange wardrobe in Worcester Art Gallery & Museum. Inside, buried amongst the Victorian dresses and coats were two larger than life cocoons, which grew in size over the following days, attracting attention from museum staff, the public and the media.

Having heard about the myth of the illusive Worcesterious Giganticus, Winnie headed for Worcester, arriving amidst the crowded Victorian Christmas Street Fair. She set about telling people about the rarity, fragility and shyness of these mythical moths, explaining how determined she was to capture them.

After enlisting people at the fair to guide her to the museum, Winnie set up camp near the wardrobe with her giant net poised for the moment the cocoons transformed.

Over the coming days Winnie spent time in the gallery and out of the streets of Worcester telling stories of her past explorations. She explained the importance of the rare collections housed at the museum, creating a unique exhibition of her favourite items which were ingeniously concealed in the stitching of her extravagant explorer’s skirt.

Winnie’s search for the mysterious moths came to a close when they burst forth from their cocoons and escaped into the city centre, where an elaborate chase ensued in front of the crowds of shoppers. Finally, the moths were captured for Winnie’s collection by the city’s Elgar statue.

Magnificent Moths Parade

A few months later, Winnie returned to the city aboard her time machine, bringing with her the Worcesterious Giganticus moths and a host of carnivalesque birds, butterflies and moths all based on the natural history collections from the City Art Gallery & Museum and exhibits from The Commandery.  

She was joined by London based Crocodile Street Band, Emergency Exit Arts, Worcester-based VAMOS Theatre and Dance Fest, who helped turn the exhibits into a carnival parade.

To create an exciting atmosphere in the build-up to the procession, Imagineer put on four small theatre performances at Worcester Art Gallery & Museum which were based on the parade and the current exhibitions about the Sea and World War One.

As the carnival set off, people lined the streets to see the strange and magical creatures all inspired by the museum’s collections pass by.

Iain Rutherford, Museums Worcestershire said: "The MOTHS project unfolded to become a beautiful, engaging and successful vehicle for bringing our unique museum collections to the public, and an epitome of resilience for businesses, residents and visitors battling against the floods of 2014. Importantly it demonstrated Museums Worcestershire as a responsive organisation with ambition, passion and relevance."

Following the parade the carnival spirit was kept alive with exhibitions in Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum and The Commandery. The art gallery and museum housed the colourful carnival costumes, whilst at The Commandery a selection of winged costumes bought to life the myth of the butterflies which are said to appear in Minstrels Gallery.

Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England said: “Our country’s museums are full of amazing stories about our history and heritage. It’s really important that we find creative ways to tell these stories and I think Imagineer have done just that. They’ve captured the tales of exploration and adventure attached to the museum’s natural history collections and taken them out on to the street for people to enjoy. It’s great to see how the parade took over the streets of Worcester in such a vibrant and entertaining way. It looks like a lot of fun!”

Find out more

If you're interested in visiting a museum in Worcestershire, click here

To find out more about Imagineer Productions and the creative work they do, visit their website

For information about funding programmes available for museums, click here