Museum of Marco Polo

Celebrating Museums And Imagination 2020

The Museum of Winter by Rachel Morris

26th November 2019

It is a deep, dark, soon-to-be-mid-winter Solstice morning, and I am dreaming that after twenty years of making museums I’ve won the Lottery and so can make a museum of my own.  And this is the museum that I would make – a Museum of Winter, to open at the beginning of November and to melt away to nothing as the February days turn longer, but with its heyday – its deep, dark, wintry heyday – in December.

And this is how I would make it.  I would commandeer one of the long galleries in the British Museum – I know, bear with me – and ensure that it is always twilight, though also filled with light from candles and prehistoric stone lamps (the kind with lovely, polished scoops in the stone where the oil goes and with wicks made out of juniper) because the story of darkness is also the story of light. And I would display flint knives and a reindeer carved from ivory, and paint pigments in a bone saucer for painting on cave walls – because in my mind Winter and Prehistory are indelibly associated – and a full moon endlessly rising, and the shadows of a animals – elks and bisons and wolves – moving endlessly past.  And I might even add in the sounds of wolves howling, although I expect my colleagues might veto this on grounds of naff-ness.

And all the while the visitor is moving from the edge of the gallery to the middle, where – to their huge delight – they meet the Storyteller. ‘If you think this is cold,’ says the Storyteller, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.  There was once a winter so cold . . . ‘ and there he goes, weaving stories of wolves, ghosts, boggarts, grogachs, grindylows, banshees, bucca-boos, the Seven Whistlers and the Tiddy Man, all of which creatures in my mind go far back into prehistory.  And here I would also display bone needles for sewing furs together, because winter is a time for making, and panpipes and bone flutes to accompany the Storyteller.

And then I would go hunting for Winter Poetry – because poems and things work perfectly together, and in my view we all need more poetry in museums.  I am thinking of Walter de la Mare’s ‘Winter Dusk’ because of its evocation of shadows and ghosts –

‘Dark frost was in the air without, the Dusk was still with cold and gloom, When less than even a shadow came, and stood within the room – ‘

And to end the exhibition?  Definitely a creeping blue dawn and the sounds of bird song and ice breaking and one last epilogue that tells you that with climate change there will be no more winters.

And there you have it, the Museum of Winter, brought to you courtesy of a deep, dark, nearly-midwinter Solstice morning.

The image at the top of the page is from Caspar David Friedrich’s Winter Landscape at the National Gallery.

And if you’re in the mood for ghosts and Solstice darkness try the article below on legends of ghost in the British Museum.