{England} My Wellcome Detour

June 23, 2016

England

100 Museums Challenge: Museum No.75

Wellcome Collection Wellcome Detour

When I arrived in London on Thursday afternoon last week, I did a good deal of shopping (the usual long list of British food, magazine and toiletries we miss in Berlin), geeked out with the Tudors at the National Portrait Gallery, then was ready to call it a night. Two days of the Blogtacular conference, which I have written about on my other blog, lay ahead of me, and I thought it would be a good idea to get an early night and save my energy. Except then I found out that the Wellcome Collection is open until 10pm on Thursdays. And I had never been before. Well, to cut a long story short, you probably know what I ended up doing!

Wellcome Collection spiral stairs

Before I go in to any further details, can I just say: how come I had never been to the Wellcome Collection before?!?? I had been to London numerous times in the past, I had heard of the Wellcome Collection, but somehow our paths had never crossed. Well, it’s awesome. I glad I stayed up late to pay a visit. Here’s some more info about it…

Wellcome Collection Detourium

Wellcome Collection Henry Wellcome portrait

Branding itself as the ” free visitor destination for the incurably curious” (oh yeah, did I not mention that, free entry!), the Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. Alongside cutting edge, contemporary special exhibitions, it is home to the amazing collection of Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936): pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector. His collection relates to medicine and health through the ages, and ranges from masks and paintings, surgical instruments and prosthetics, to interesting world cultures objects such as a wooden figure from the Bay of Bengal to ward of malevolent spirits, or a Japanese acupuncture figure, as well as a few ‘celebrity’ items included Florence Nightingale’s moccasins, Darwin’s walking stick and Napoleon’s toothbrush! There’s bound to be something in this eclectic collection – presented in the permanent exhibition Medicine Man – to catch your interest.

Wellcome Collection acupuncture doll

Wellcome Collection paintings

Wellcome Collection MuseumFeels

Wellcome Collection Florence Nightingale moccasins

Something I thought was really neat, was the short self-guided tour leaflet you could pick up at the ‘Detourium’ in the entrance hall (see photo above), inviting you to take a WellcomeDetour (as did a big banner outside). Since my visit was planned, it wasn’t really a detour for me, but I grabbed a leaflet anyway. There are two 20-minute detours to chose from, but as I had plenty of time I did both of them. The first takes you around the Medicine Man exhibition (see above), and the second invites you to explore the Reading Room. I wrote a while ago about my biggest museum ‘wow moment’ this year, and stepping in to the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room comes a close second. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but if ‘reading room’ conjures up images of a dusty old library to you, you could not be more wrong!

Wellcome Collection Reading Room 01

Wellcome Collection Reading Room look touch read collect talk

Wellcome Collection Reading Room books

Wellcome Collection Reading Room imaginative potential

Wellcome Collection Reading Room photo fit

It’s less of a traditional reading room and more of a hybrid of library, gallery and events space. There are objects on display to discover, hundreds of books to read, games to play, sofas, armchairs and cushions to make yourself comfortable, and lots of drawing and writing activities to get involved with and get you thinking about “what it means to be human” e.g. creating imaginative drawings out of ink spots, analysing the wrinkles on your forehead with your own paper ‘forehead reader’, drawing your self portrait whilst sitting in front of a mirror, or just sharing a personal story. There are reproductions from old recipe books that you can take away with you, or bookmarks where you can share a comment and leave it in a book. My favourite activity was the postcards: you could choose from a selection of postcards with various map reproductions – such as an 18th century Islamic map of the world, or a Black Death map from around 1900 – and send it to anyone in the world. No stamps required. Pencils were provided, and all you had to do was pop it in the iconic red letter box in the corner. I asked on Twitter (free WiFi, by the way, for those of us with foreign phones and no data) if anyone would like a postcard, and ended up sending out five, some to people I knew and some to followers I had not connected with before. What a fun activity – thanks, Wellcome Collection!

Wellcome Collection Reading Room wish you were here

Wellcome Collection Reading Room postcards

Wellcome Collection Reading Room stairs

The Wellcome Collection is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am until 6pm, with late night opening until 10pm on Thursdays. Admission is free. All further details on the museum website. Go visit! You won’t regret it.

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