word of the week – ‘gneiss’ (nʌɪs).

On Wednesday, totalcontent tied a few goodies into a polka-dotted hanky and headed off to Oxford. First stop was the Ashmolean Museum where we spent a couple of happy hours among the old stones, ancient jewellery and rarely seen words like canopic and gneiss*.

Above: Museum piece... there's life in the old bag yet

Museum gift shops are almost as interesting as the endless lines of cabinets themselves. In these public funding-starved times, they play an important role in generating cash, so they really need to know their market. First they need plenty of kid-friendly stationery — colourful branded rubbers, rulers and pencils. Printed ephemera next — books, postcards, posters, and the like, featuring the museum’s greatest hits and special exhibitions.After that you’re getting into the slightly dangerous territory of gifting — mugs, plates, scarves, key rings, puzzles and so on. Some can carry off a reproduction of a grizzled statue or detail from an Old Master… others just look contrived and tacky. Water-lily print tie anyone? Baseball cap with King Tut logo? Perhaps not.But there was something that caught my eye in the Ashmolean shop. They’d taken a leaf out of Freitag’s book and produced a small range of up-cycled bags from the huge canvas exhibition banners that once advertised forthcoming shows. I loved the way these feature random fragments of type and imagery, each one unique and slightly weathered. And it seemed somehow appropriate that a museum should be reinterpreting the past.*In case you’re still wondering what gneiss means, it’s a type of metamorphic rock used for ancient Egyptian statuary.

click to download pdf.