Hello. I’m Claire, the Retail Officer for Colchester + Ipswich Museums.
It’s not all spreadsheets and stocktakes (as you can see below). One of the most enjoyable things about running the museum shops is that we get to find beautiful gifts for our visitors.
Commissioning an artistic interpretation of a museum object can be an exciting process and it gives visitors a chance to take away a fantastic reminder of the collections.
Having found our beautiful range of reproduction Fenwick jewellery in Colchester Castle to be so successful, we were naturally encouraged to recreate further artefacts into products. Help was at hand from a local company. They specialise in handcrafted mosaics based on Roman designs, which have already proved popular with our visitors. Lee, our supplier, agreed to make exclusive, affordable copies for us of parts of the Middleborough Mosaic.
The Middleborough Mosaic is on display in Colchester Castle and was one of several laid in a large villa built just outside the town walls of Roman Colchester. It’s an outstanding example of mosaic art in Roman Britain, made up of around 250,000 tesserae (tiny cubes of stone, pottery and tile) and dating from the second half of the 2nd century. The design of wrestling cupids and sea-beasts would probably have been chosen from a catalogue of patterns, just as we choose our flooring today. Parts of the mosaic are damaged. Best preserved are two of the sea beasts; the Hippocampus, a half horse/ half fish and the Capricornus, a half goat/ half fish. Both of these mythical creatures feature in both Greek and Roman mythology and were popular subjects for mosaics. These were chosen to be our two new products.
Creating a new product can involve working with many different people across the service and beyond e.g. a curator to find out more about the history and significance of the object, a conservator to find out how the object may have been constructed and what it was originally made from, a photographer so that the artist creating the reproduction is able to study all the fine details. After much painstaking work, we are happy to say that we are now exclusively selling these two reproductions in our Colchester castle gift shop.
The craftsmanship, mythos and skill found in the Middleborough Mosaic makes it one of the true treasures of our collection and now the public can not only enjoy its beauty in the museum, but also at home.
Each of our gift shops are unique, like the museums themselves, so we are looking forward to telling you more about them soon. Everything we do is geared to the support and promote the museum service and collections. We are delighted to have done so here in such an enjoyable way.