Photo gallery: Take a look at the extraordinary items inside this Norfolk caravan

Halloween Horrors at Holkham Hall - Harriet Fink with her Curiovan

Halloween Horrors at Holkham Hall - Harriet Fink with her Curiovan

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice said on happening upon Wonderland - it's the same feeling that Curiovan curator Conrad White hopes to evoke in visitors to his Explorium of Natural Wonderment. STACIA BRIGGS took a trip down the rabbithole.

Halloween Horrors at Holkham Hall - The Curiovan

Halloween Horrors at Holkham Hall - The Curiovan

Skeleton fairies battle an army of wasps, reanimated roadkill dance on an old gramophone, tin birds tweet at the crank of a handle and clockwork ladybirds skitter across glass – enter the curiously captivating world of the Curiovan.

While the 1922 wooden caravan with quaint leaded windows looks like a cosy retreat where one might enjoy a leisurely cup of tea next to a piping hot stove, it is actually a miniature museum packed with fantastical exhibits to delight, challenge and entertain.

There are rocks that hide glittering crystal interiors, pickled beasts in bell jars, spiders captured in resin, ancient fossils, automatons that spring to life, fictitious archaeology that twists history, six-winged butterflies and a host of other curious attractions.

Visitors to the Curiovan are tempted to open countless sets of drawers that hide further treasures and to peer through peepholes into magical dioramas and through magnifying glasses at incredible miniatures.

Halloween Horrors at Holkham Hall - Tin can birds in a cage in the Curiovan.

Halloween Horrors at Holkham Hall - Tin can birds in a cage in the Curiovan.


You may also want to watch:


There are books, toys, scientific models and even an entire collection of 'matchbox microcosms' – a host of art hidden inside the smallest of cabinets, a matchbox.

The Curiovan was the brainchild of College of West Anglia lecturer Conrad White, based at Snettisham, and Harriet Fink, who teaches in London.

Most Read

'We were both very interested in nature and very interested in art and we wanted to set up a project which would combine both those things in a way that people would find entertaining,' said Mr White.

'We didn't really know how we were going to do it until we found the perfect museum for sale – the Curiovan. In itself it has a very interesting history – it was rescued by the Glasgow Transport Museum from a garden where it was being used as a shed.

'The museum restored it, but when it moved, it could no longer house the van and it went up for sale. It was originally bought by a lady who was going to use it as a miniature art gallery, but she found something different to use and so we bought it from her. It's perfect. People can't resist coming inside for a look.

'Because of its age, the van lent itself to becoming a Victorian explorer's study. Once we had that idea, the collection almost put itself together.'

The Curiovan was bought at the beginning of 2013 and has since toured the country showcasing its bizarre and eclectic wares to thousands of curious visitors.

Following Lottery funding from the Arts Council England, Mr White and Ms Fink were able to buy several pieces of fantastical art for the van by established artists, including sculptures and automata.

'We have some amazing exhibits,' said Mr White.

'There are skeleton fairies having a battle with wasps on a fairy ship, some custom-made automatons made of roadkill that dance on a record player and then there's Ralph the Rabbit, who is in formaldehyde and whose insides can be clearly seen.

'We held a competition for artists to respond of 'the beauty, brutality and complexity of nature' in whatever medium they wanted – as long as it fitted inside a matchbox and the results were amazing.

'Richard Wilson, who was nominated for a Turner Prize, chose his favourite 50 matchboxes and they're there for people to see.'

Matchboxes include the swans-down shoes and daisy petal house of Sara Wicks, the Prince Bombas creation of Matt Falvey, the regal gold harlequin ladybird of Sophie Main and the Bug Box mini-computer game by Bev Bush.

'It's a place where you can find out all kinds of new things and see things that you won't see elsewhere. It makes you think, it makes you ask questions, a couple of items might unsettle you a tiny bit but on the whole we find people leave the van absolutely buzzing and desperate to go back in for another look.'

The Curiovan is packed with hundreds of tiny exhibits which are constantly curated and often changed. The van receives donations from well-wishers and artists keen to have their work showcased in such an unusual space.

'I think my favourite piece has to be one by an artist called Fi Henshall – it's a birdcage filled with birds made of old tin cans. You turn a handle and it has little bellows and it sounds as if the birds are tweeting,' said Mr White.

'The birds move, too. It's quite beautiful. We also have a new piece of taxidermy that I'm quite fond of, a piece by artist Nicola Hebson which is a cross between a jackdaw and a rat. We call him Jack Rat.

'There's so much to see that everyone will have a favourite. And hopefully they'll go home and think a little bit more about nature because of what they've seen in the Curiovan.'

The Curiovan often appears at events, schools, community events, libraries, museums and festivals. Contact Conrad@curiovan.org or harriet@curiovan.org for more information.

For details of where the Curiovan will appear next, visit www.curiovan.org

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus