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National Maritime Museum in London Opens New £35 Million Sammy Ofer Wing
Image of the museum's first temporary show, High Arctic from United Visual Artists. ®John Adrian.

LONDON.- This July the National Maritime Museum opens the Sammy Ofer Wing, a transformative £35m capital project which sets a new strategic direction for the Museum.

Opening 14 July 2011, the £35m wing is the largest development in the National Maritime Museum’s history and a catalyst for the organisation to change completely the way it presents its galleries, exhibitions and events. This major new project has been made possible through a generous donation of £20m from international shipping magnate and philanthropist Sammy Ofer and an award of £5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The project includes a special exhibitions gallery, allowing the Museum to stage a full programme of temporary shows; a permanent gallery, Voyagers, introducing the story of Britain and the sea; a restaurant and café with views over Greenwich Park; and a state-of-the-art library and archive bringing much of the Museum’s world-renowned archive on site for the first time.

The building gives the Museum a new main entrance from Greenwich Park, enhancing its connections with the park, the Royal Observatory, and the rest of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

The new wing gives the Museum an opportunity to focus on the stories of adventure, discovery, tragedy, courage and disaster that make it distinctive, leaving visitors with a richer understanding of Britain’s maritime heritage.

Symbolic of this new approach, the Sammy Ofer Wing’s Voyagers gallery acts as an introduction to the extraordinary depth and range of the Museum’s collections. It combines over two hundred objects, many of which have never been on display before, alongside cutting edge audio-visual installations.

A 30-metre-long object wall tells stories of Britain and the sea from the sixteenth century to the twentieth. Sir Francis Drake’s sun jewel sits alongside the diary of a nineteenth-century whaler; the two hundred-year old love token of an engraved ship’s biscuit is displayed beside Nelson’s last letter to his daughter; and Margaret Maskelyne’s orrery takes its place with the toy pig that survived the sinking of RMS Titanic.

Illustrating the contemporary significance of Britain’s maritime histories and highlighting key themes from across the Museum, Voyagers is dominated by a dynamic, wave-like structure featuring bespoke video projections and a specially-designed soundscape. Intensely coloured patterns of images and text wash over its multi-faceted surface, creating a constant sense of movement. The personal stories of this island nation are featured in a series of video ‘portraits’ - first person accounts from ordinary and extraordinary people from all over the world - coastguards, émigrés, naval officers, the descendents of pirates - each telling their own story of the sea.

Different elements of the Sammy Ofer Wing interact to create new connections, and the collections displayed in Voyagers lead visitors towards the expanded archive and digital lounge. Here they can unlock the rich treasures of the Museum and discover the stories behind the great events of the maritime past. Iconic material from the archive and library collections includes Captain Cook’s handwritten journals and the log book of Robert Maynard, the man who killed Blackbeard. Shackleton’s personal copy of Browning’s poems, which he carried with him to the Arctic, is also held by the Museum, as is the log book of the slave ship captain, John Newton - writer of Amazing Grace.

The Museum has the world’s most important maritime archive, containing 100,000 books and nearly two miles of shelved manuscripts. Professional researchers, students, community groups and those exploring their family history will have unprecedented access to a vast range of journals, letters, records, charts, prints and drawings as the new wing enables key archives to be stored on the Greenwich site for the first time.

The new wing is the first step in the Museum’s plan to create a more coherent narrative for visitors which will enhance their understanding and enjoyment of the organisation’s unique cluster of historic venues. A series of redeveloped permanent galleries will refresh the Museum’s key themes, appealing to a wider and more diverse audience, complemented by a schedule of major charging exhibitions and supported by an integrated learning and events programme.

This autumn the first of these, Traders: the East India Company and Asia, explores the history and continuing relevance of Britain’s trade with Asia, looking at this complex story through the lens of the East India Company and the commodities it traded. Over the next few years the Museum will open a redeveloped Royal Navy gallery, a new Maritime London gallery, and a new children’s gallery.

Lord Sterling, Chairman of the National Maritime Museum said: “Our maritime story is Britain’s national story. And understanding the way the past has shaped the present never been more important in enriching our understanding of the world and providing inspiration for the future. In the Sammy Ofer Wing, our new exhibition space will introduce new generations of visitors to the many rich narratives bound up in our maritime story. This visionary transformation would not have been possible without the support of Sammy Ofer and the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

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