Museum Week 2019 is all about celebrating women in culture. It is thanks to some incredibly generous and progressive women collectors that we have such unique and diverse material in Special Collections. We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to them…
Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (1887 – 1967)
Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (or D.U.R. as she was known) was the niece-in-law of Lord Brotherton. In 1950 she donated what she called her “Gypsy library” to the University, along with funds to make further additions to the collection, now known as the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Collections.
She married Charles Frederick Ratcliffe in 1909, forming a close relationship with his uncle, Lord Edward Brotherton. Without D.U.R the Brotherton Collection would look very different. In 1922 she encouraged Lord Brotherton to prevent a medieval manuscript, the ‘Towneley Mysteries’, from being exported to the United States. He lost out at auction, but so began his bibliographic interests.
D.U.R became acquainted with Gypsy and Traveller communities in the Yorkshire Dales. Her collection reflects an outsider’s admiration for Gypsy and Traveller culture, and she was often vocal in her support for the rights of Travelling communities. She published letters in local newspapers, wrote to the National Council for Civil Liberties, and even wrote poems on the subject for the journal Notes and Queries in support of Traveller’s rights.
Today, the collections represents what Romani academic Ken Lee has called an opportunity for “salvage”, meaning that contemporary users of the collection can return to these historical documents with new perspectives.
Blanche Legat Leigh (1870 – 1945)
Blanche Legat Leigh presented her collection of over 1500 historic cookery books to the University Library in 1939. The Cookery Collection was designated as nationally and internationally important by Arts Council England in 2005.
Born in Sheffield in 1870, Mrs Leigh moved to London in around 1888 and studied singing and piano at the Royal College of Music. She married Percival Tookey Leigh in 1898 and they set up home in Leeds, and were appointed Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress in 1936.
Mrs Leigh’s collection mainly comprised works in English, French and Italian. She kept detailed records of her dealings with booksellers which reveal her to be a skilled negotiator. She was in touch with booksellers and dealers from all across the country, from London to Edinburgh, as well as more locally in Harrogate.
One of the gems in the collection is Platina’s ‘De honesta voluptate ac valitudine’, which is the first ever printed Latin cookery book, dating to 1475.
Marie Walker Last (1917-2017)
Marie Walker Last was born in Scholes in Kirklees and worked in London throughout the 1950s, before returning to her Yorkshire roots and settling in Ilkley where she lived and worked until her recent death in 2017. Having enjoyed a close relationship with The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, Marie left a number of works to the University Art Collection in her will.
After working with the Land Army and a YMCA during the War, she went on to study at the Chelsea School of Art in London. In London she trained under Barbara Hepworth’s former studio assistant, Terry Frost. Her paintings often depicted her native Yorkshire landscape in an abstract, colourful style. In 1986 the University Gallery (as it was then known) held a solo exhibition of Marie’s work titled “Quintessence of Landscape and Bronze Age Moor”. Her work returned to the Gallery in the later exhibition “Gifts from Eric Taylor and Marie Walker Last”, 1997-98.
Her exceptional talent was fondly remembered by Hilary Diaper, Keeper of the University Art Collection and Gallery: “Marie’s determination to paint and create was tempered by a deep humanity and rare humility. That, put together with a sharp perception and enviable dexterity, made her an outstanding gem in the rich vein of Yorkshire artists able to feel and express the natural world in all its moods.”
Included in her bequest to the Gallery is Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Drawing for Sculpture’ (1941), currently on display in ‘Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950’ in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.