Preserving your family history
In the next few lessons we will create a miniature museum – your family history museum.
It will take time, and involve lots of work – but should be both fascinating and fun. In the process you will learn numerous techniques, and – even more importantly – you should discover much about your own family and its history!
What will you be doing?
There are several parts to this activity:
We have said that you will be creating your own family history museum. How will you go about doing this?
First, some research. You will research your own family history: find out about your own heritage by interviewing the older generations of your families.
Ask (for instance) what certain old objects were used for, why they were special, who the people in the old family photographs were, and what their stories were.
Ask about those very “ordinary” things like clothes, food, entertainment and household amenities that give everyday life its particular texture. And also try and find out about stories of the big events that shaped people’s lives: big journeys or relocations, political oppressions, wars, opportunities they made the most of.
This task will be to write down the texts and family stories that will accompany these carefully hand-made replicas.
3. Re-creating (making)
Then you will re-create (making small models or replicas of) important family objects. We will talk further about making replicas later.
This process will involve making sculpture: you will make the small replicas, in a range of materials and sculptural techniques – such as papier-maché, wirework, cardboard model-building, soft sculpture (sewn and stuffed fabric).
And it will involve painting and drawing, replicating your treasured family photographs, paintings, or precious documents.
The museum/container itself and its inside walls will also need to be painted or collaged or “wallpapered”.
All these will be positioned in a box which will form your own miniature family museum. This will entail designing and creating a 3-dimensional interior space for a
“museum” or exhibition; and positioning and arranging the objects, images, and texts, inside it.
To the Teacher
Look at the “you will need” section of this chapter, and start collecting the materials for creating your sculptures, well in advance.
This project will require lots of space, both for temporary storage and for the display afterwards.
Important: Schedule regular feedback sessions, to see if everyone is making good progress, to give support, and to share ideas.
Making the replicas
You will need:
All or some of the following (or similar items)
Notebooks and pens for taking notes, conducting interviews and keeping journals; wood glue; masking tape; string, gut, wire; paper clips; needles and thread; fabric; paper; newspaper, magazines; Wallpaper-glue or flour Cardboard; Small boxes; old tins; plastic cups and polystyrene trays; paint; paint-brushes; containers for mixing glue and paint and for holding water; scissors; pliers; cutting knives; staples and a stapler; tape (masking tape, wide sellotape); medium to large boxes for displaying objects.
Rules for the replicas
Choose at least four or five objects of different kinds that represent aspects of your family history. (The originals may be very precious to the family, so they should be left at home. Take photographs of them or make detailed drawings from which to work.)
You will make replicas of these for
Every replica made for the museum must be based on an actual existing object.
Your replica should be smaller than life-size. Each replica should show evidence of careful observation and attention to detail.
How will you make your replicas?
This project requires creativity, problem-solving and imagination. Look very carefully at details and work carefully and sensitively to create replicas that are well-made and strong. If you are stuck, talk to others about how to proceed. Ask for help, if you need it, in the construction or in the interpretation of objects you have chosen.
How you will make it will depend upon what the original object is. For example:
- Two-dimensional treasures (framed family portraits, pictures or photographs, letters, passbooks, matric certificates, marriage certificates) can be copied and coloured. For instance, you could make small copies with pencil, pencil-crayon or water-colour paints. Paper dipped in strong tea will look old and yellowed when dry.
- Clothes – such as baby clothes, or a wedding dress, for example – can be replicated using paper doilies, paper, tissue paper, pots or furniture can be formed using papier-mâché (see page 55 for how to do this)
- Objects such as a jewellery box, old suitcase, or book, could be re-created using cardboard, glue and paint.
- Wire could be used to re-create a pair of spectacles, or a bicycle;
- You can cut and bend tin to create furniture.
The museum itself: A home for your objects
Your museum needs to be housed: this could be in a box, with its walls, floor and ceiling, or a series of joined boxes.
You can make extra shelves inside the box if you need to, or you might want to find ways to suspend objects from the top of
The sides, top and bottom of the box must be considered and transformed in such a way that the space provides a context for, and adds to, the displayed objects.
Here are some ideas on how to transform the space inside
You could paste copied family photographs or letters on the sides of the box.
You could wallpaper the inner “walls”, or paint the inside of the box.
Perhaps you could draw pictures of one or more of the objects you have selected to cover some of the
You could take actual photographs of family members, and print them out to stick onto the box.
You could write out a copy of an interview with a family member to cover the box.
You could use fabric to paste on the inside of the box – perhaps fabric that is reminiscent of the kitchen curtains in your grandparent’s house, for example.
Curating the objects
You are the curator of this exhibition. Carefully arrange your replicas in the museum. What elements go together? This determines how your visitor or viewer sees them, and how they understand that the story the exhibits tell.
Finally, the display
The final exhibition and display of the museums is an important moment in this process. At last you can present your family museum – its history and traditions – to your community
You could present your museum in any number of ways. Discuss this with the class (or let your teacher decide). For example, you could organise an event in which each museum is presented along with any songs, dances and stories that you researched in your family. You could invite parents and grandparents, or other classes and teachers. The museums could be exhibited in the school library for a week or more. It could be part of a bigger event at the school – an open day or prize-giving.
Papier mâché : A useful technique for making replicas
There are two ways to make papier mâché. Choose whichever method will work best for the object you
Tear up strips of newspaper, and tear those again into smaller pieces. Mix wallpaper glue according to instructions on the packet (or you can mix flour and water together to make a paste).
Start with an armature (a skeletal or supporting structure, like wire or rolled-up newspaper, boxes, plastic cups) to make the shape you need. Layer the torn pieces of newspaper dipped in paste over your structure. When your object dries it will be strong and light and ready to be painted or decorated. You can also stick patterns or pictures onto the surface of your object.
Method 2: (Illustrated here)
This method is more like modelling clay. Tear a pile of newspaper into tiny pieces. Pour water over the newspaper bits.
Let the newspaper soak in the water for a while, then pulp it with your hands, breaking it down into smaller and smaller bits.
Mix the wallpaper paste and add it to the newspaper pulp (or add the dry powder to the paper pulp). Knead it until it turns into a smoothish, thick, clay-like paste. This makes a smooth substance to model with.
(Note: If you are using flour and water paste, put the object in the sun to dry so that it doesn’t go mouldy!)