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The UK’s Greatest Museum for Cornish Art and Culture | Free For Under 18s

Our summer exhibition is here!

Adrift: Lost at sea opens on Tuesday 11 July and runs until Saturday 23 September. It’s the latest in a series of temporary exhibitions exploring Cornish culture and seeks to explore the journey of Lego, lighters and other hard plastics from the sea to the seaside.

The exhibition has been inspired by author, Tracey Williams whose book, Adrift: the curious tale of the Lego lost at sea shares Tracey’s personal story of beachcombing for Lego as well as other weird and not so wonderful objects washed in from the ocean.

Artist Rob Arnold also features in the exhibition with his awareness raising works such as a sculpture inspired by the Moai statues on Rapa Nui made from plastics collected from Cornish beaches.

Artistic Director for Royal Cornwall Museum, Bryony Robins was inspired by the story of Lego and the more serious consequences of marine plastic. She says: “The story of the Lego lost at sea is one that many people remember and experienced directly. It has a sense of nostalgia, beachcombing then and now.

“At the same time we wanted to use the exhibition to explore the reality of marine plastics and how artists are raising awareness and activists and organisations are reacting to the problem.”

The story of the Lego lost at sea begins in 1997 when a cargo ship called the Tokio Express lost 62 containers to a freak wave off the coast of Land’s End. One of the containers held nearly five million pieces of Lego which soon began washing up on shores in Cornwall and beyond.

With a complete inventory of exactly what was in the containers, oceanographers are now using the lost Lego to better understand ocean currents.

Some of the pieces of Lego are incredibly small: 88,316 sets of tiny flowers were lost, 54,000 pieces of seagrass, 352,000 pairs of Lego diver fins, 97,500 miniature scuba tanks, 26,400 pieces of ship’s rigging and 26,600 little bright yellow lifejackets for Lego minifigures. There were 33,941 Lego dragons in the shipment, of which 33,427 were black and only 514 green, making them much more desirable to treasure hunters.

The beachcombing for Lego has become a form of archaeology for Tracey with the Lego Lost at Sea project scooping the prestigious Rescue Project of the Year award in the Current Archaeology Awards 2023. She says: “Searching for lost Lego from a cargo spill began as a bit of fun, a treasure hunt with my children. Ultimately it opened my eyes to all the rest of the plastic in the sea and sand – how old some of it is, how far it drifts and what happens to it as it breaks down.”

Alongside the exhibition, the museum will be running free activities for children aged three plus. The programme changes weekly with crafts including plastic printing, model making and fishing for nurdles, the small pellets of plastic that wash up on beaches.

Royal Cornwall Museum is open 10am – 4pm Monday to Saturday in School Holidays and Tuesday to Saturday outside of holidays. Entry is free to under 18s and £7.50 for an annual pass. Plan your visit.

Children’s activities, starting 24 July.

Week 1 – Plastic Printing and Feely Boxes
Week 2 – Flower Stamping and Sieving for nurdles
Week 3 – Protest sand art and Museum plastic run
Week 4 – Bottle Top Mosaics and Odd one out
Week 5 – Jellyfish mobiles and Plastic through time
Week 6 – Lego under the sea and What Floats?

Image credit: Tracey Williams. Images show a yellow lifeboat lost in the spill and beachcombed yellow plastic collage.

Image credit and copyright: Rob Arnold. Image shows a sculpture by Rob Arnold inspired by the Moai statues on Rapa Nui.

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