Wednesday 22 February 2023

Latrine slab, Oxfam, 2022

My favourite object from the ‘In a crisis’ case within MoDiP’s current exhibition, Endurance, is the rather plain looking latrine slab. Easily overlooked, it is actually a very important structural design solution to the problem of providing toilet facilities for the humanitarian sector.

AIBDC : 009124
Image credit: MoDiP

Designed by Oxfam's WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) team, circa 2000, in collaboration with manufacturing partner K.K. Nag Pvt. Ltd, in India, this self-supporting latrine slab was considered to be revolutionary at the time and has subsequently been adopted by aid agencies across the world.

2005 image of the latrine slab in use.
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MoDiP’s example is manufactured by Dunster House (Bedford, UK), Oxfam’s current official supplier. It is rotationally moulded in high density polyethylene (HDPE), thin and lightweight to allow for efficient stacking in order to reduce shipping costs and ease user handling. It is also very tough and strong, reinforced so that it can be placed over a trench or pit without the need for additional support from below.

Efficient stacking and lightweight.
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It has a key-hole shaped lid with a small lip that can be opened and closed with the foot, ensuring minimal contact, engraved with a 'Wash your hands' symbol to promote good hygiene.

Moulded detail on the key-hole lid.
Image credit: MoDiP

There are raised, non-slip foot plates to keep the user elevated from draining fluids and the material is less permeable to chemicals and moisture with an easy-clean, low maintenance finish. Ready to use, it is easy to install and can be adapted to incorporate a pour flush if sufficient quantities of local water are available.

Latrine superstructures need to consider both local materials and cultural preferences.
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Intended as a temporary toilet during the first phase of an emergency, to be housed within a superstructure for privacy, security and dignity (refer image above), one slab is recommended per 50 people, gradually reducing to 20 people per latrine over time.
Endurance is on display in the museum until 10th March 2023.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer 

Wednesday 15 February 2023

A pair of celluloid heels, part 1.

We recently acquired this lovely pair of celluloid heels (refer image below).

Image credit: Katherine Pell

They consist of a wooden heel that has been covered by a thin layer of black coloured cellulose nitrate (celluloid), which has then been decorated with paste stones and metal granulation/picotage. The heels are slightly different in height, and both have stones missing but this shows us how they were attached originally, ie. glued into a pre-drilled hole.
Cellulose nitrate had many uses and MoDiP has a great collection of decorative hair combs, billiard balls and table tennis balls (the material is still used today for the latter), smoking accessories, various tokens, ornamental boxes, and lots of other small housewares. British Xylonite Ltd were reportedly manufacturing celluloid covered boot heels in 1896 but surviving examples of the elaborately decorated women’s evening shoe heels seems to originate predominantly in France and the US. The Met Museum reports that ‘plain black celluloid-covered heels appeared in the late 1910s’, with jewelled versions becoming all the rage around 1925.

As hemlines became shorter, attention turned to the feet.

French wooden heel manufacturer Fernand Weil, Emile Petit & Co.was awarded
a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Industrial and Decorative Arts in 1925.
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The advantages of celluloid as a heel covering material were its affordability, consistent quality and availability, water-resistance and non-scuff qualities, as intimated in the advert below. Additionally, it could be produced in a variety of colours and finishes that imitated expensive natural materials such as tortoiseshell, ivory and mother-of-pearl.

Illustration from ‘The Shoe Buyer’s Manual’ 1933.
Image credit: Mustafaev, 2018, p.22.

To make the heels, first the celluloid sheets would be cut to the required size and shape – to demonstrate this, the image below is a 1932 patent for an efficient design to limit waste when covering Louis heels. Next, the individual covers are softened to make the material workable and when ready, a wooden heel blank would be clamped in a jack and the celluloid stretched around it and glued into place. Once cool, the decorative design would be laid out and holes drilled in the appropriate places for the insertion of paste stones etc.

Here are some great contemporary reports, courtesy of Nazim Mustafaev’s 2018 book ‘Celluloid heel’:
“Jewelled heels, which have been a Parisian specialty for some time, will become more and more popular. Nothing can look richer than a black celluloid heel, studded with imitation diamonds. There is infinite scope here for the decorator.” 
(Shoe and Leather Reporter, 1921, cited in Mustafaev, 2018, p.47).

“One great objection there was to the forerunners in celluloid heels; the possibility of them catching fire when the fair wearers happened to be toasting their feet, on a winter evening, before an open grate. This danger did indeed exist in some countries, although not in France, where we use stoves and central heating, nor in any part of the United States. Conservative England was the market where the danger was rife. However, British ladies may now choose celluloid heels without the slightest fear, for the substance is not inflammable, and dress materials will blaze up much more speedily than these new celluloid covered heels from our Parisian manufacturer, who … has his eye on the British and Colonial markets.” 
(Shoe and Leather Reporter, 1921, cited in Mustafaev, 2018, p.49).

“Black celluloid covered heels are also in large demand… They are so hard that a person can strike them with a hammer and they won’t chip or peel. Nor will they burn as will a celluloid collar.” 
(Boot and Shoe Recorder, 1912, cited in Mustafaev, 2018, p.50).

There are some amazing examples of these beautiful heels and we would love to acquire a more colourful pair but, sadly, these are rare to come by and very expensive. For now, we will have to stare longingly at those belonging to other museums and in personal collections.

Image credit: Mustafaev, 2018, p.86.

Image credit: Mustafaev, 2018, p.97.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

MoDiP would like to extend our thanks to Nazim Mustafaev for sending us a copy of his book and for allowing us permission to reproduce images in this blog.

Cruse, J. (2007). The comb: its history and development. London: Robert Hale.

Kaufman, M. (1963). The first century of plastics. London: Council of the Plastics Institute.

Mustafaev, N. (2018). Celluloid heel. Moscow: Shoe Icons.

Wednesday 8 February 2023

WaterWheel, Wello, 2022

Water is an essential requirement for all life, but it is estimated that over two billion people live in areas where there is no access to clean water. Across the world many women and children travel long distances each day to collect water for drinking, hygiene and crop irrigation, affecting life chances for themselves and their families.

AIBDC : 009138
Image credit: MoDiP

MoDiP’s current exhibition, Endurance, looks at the ways in which plastics materials have been used in a variety of situations and environments to support life, including in areas of drought. It explores how plastics have been used to ease the burden of carrying clean water long distances, showcasing the Wello WaterWheel (refer image above), the brainchild of Cynthia Koenig. She was inspired to develop something to help alleviate the difficulties of collecting and carrying water which she had observed when living and working, for almost two decades, with communities throughout Central America, Southern Africa and South and Southeast Asia. She is a ‘firm believer in the potential for business to alleviate poverty in the developing world’ and has helped launch a range of ventures, of which the development, manufacture and distribution of the Wello WaterWheel is one.
It was the result of a series of pilot projects across India by a team who engaged with thousands of potential users, its shape inspired by the matka, an earthenware pot traditionally used in India for water storage in the home (refer image below).

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The drum, made from high density polyethylene (HDPE), is rolled on its side, with the help of a metal handlebar, rather than carried. It has reinforced axels that protect the outer skin of the WaterWheel from wear and tear and handholds on either side provide better handling. The balanced shape is designed to increase performance over rough terrain, and it can be managed easily by a child. Its 45 litre capacity enables more water to be transported at once, meaning fewer trips, resulting in more time to spend on childcare, school work or employment. Produced and distributed within India, it retails for an affordable price. 

Image credit:

The Wello WaterWheel is on display in MoDiP until 10th March 2023, and here it is on the left, below, drawn by one of our talented MA Fine Art students who was sketching the museum back in November.

Image credit: Sourabh Sharma, November 2022.

Pam Langdown
Documentation Officer 

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Bee Saviour Behaviour card

Just before Christmas, MoDiP acquired a Bee Saviour Behaviour card (refer image below).

The Bee Saviour Behaviour card shown front (top, left) and
back (bottom, left) alongside packaging (right).
Image credit: Katherine Pell

It is an easy-to-carry bee rescue kit that contains a sugar solution which can help revive exhausted bees. Consisting of a credit card shaped piece of plastic with three hexagon shaped depressions moulded into the reverse side, these are filled with the solution which is then sealed in place with a sticker that can be peeled back when needed. Placed on the ground beside the bee, the insect will crawl onto the card and feed.

Image credit: Dan Harper

Injection moulded in recycled polypropylene, the source material is recovered from used DVD cases collected by the maker, Precious Plastic East, from local charity shops. The video below demonstrates the whole manufacturing process.

The company built their machinery to clean, shred and manufacture plastics based on blueprints from Dutch company, One Army, part of the international Precious Plastic global movement.

Image credit: Dan Harper

The Bee Saviour Behaviour card comes with full instructions for use on the reverse and is accompanied by an information booklet and badge. It is a lovely way of helping bees and reducing plastics waste, and once the sugar solution has been all used up, you can return the card to the company for refilling in order to use it again. 

This fabulous object will feature in our upcoming exhibition, Reuse, opening 17th March 2023.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer