Our Assistant Conservation Officer, Eugenie Karen, gives an update on plans for our new exhibition. Preparations for the fifth changing exhibition in the Treasures Gallery are well underway. ‘Rights and Romance: Representing Gypsy Lives’ showcases items from our Gypsy, Traveller and Roma collections. It will open on 1 March.
Exhibition planning requires extensive teamwork and cooperation. Given that this is now our fifth outing, our systems are running in a near well-oiled fashion. However similar the processes are though, each show stands alone because the material going on display brings its own challenges.
As a conservator, I am tasked with assessing whether the objects are suitable to be put on display. I am then required to ensure that each item receives what is in effect a care plan. I need to ensure the object is as comfortable as possible for the duration of its exposure. After the initial assessment and the green light is given, I decide what the object needs in terms of light levels, temperature and support.
Supports are not there to be seen. We try to ensure that the object is showcased to its best advantage, but if you ever visit an exhibition and see a person contorting themselves to examine something behind the object, they are probably a visiting conservator getting inspiration. Sometimes we make the supports in house, using polyester film, acrylic supports, foam, box board or simply paper or mount board.
Sometimes an object demands more to show it to its full advantage. Included in the upcoming exhibition are two flowers crafted from wood shavings. They are incredibly delicate and brittle. There are not many objects in this exhibition so we decided that these two items ought to achieve an extra prominence by getting bespoke mounts made.
It was felt that such fragile items ought to ‘float’ and I called upon the expertise of Jon Baxter, a local mount maker. We devised a design whereby a clear Perspex mount would cradle the heavier ‘head’ of the flower counterbalanced by a hole through which the stem would slot which raises the whole thing above the surface of the case.
We won’t know how fully we have achieved our aim until we begin installation in February but I am confident they will look beautiful.
It’s been another bumper year of diverse events and exhibitions in the Galleries.
Over in the Treasures of the Brotherton, our exhibitions have changed from Shakespeare in Yorkshire to the British community in 1917 Russia to cookbooks and their collectors throughout the ages. Such a varied range of themes has inspired fascinating lunchtime talks and innovative interactive events including setting the table for a medieval banquet and Baroque musical concerts.
Perhaps one of the most memorable evenings of 2017 was the annual Museums at Night event in May. We joined forces with The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery on the other side of Parkinson Court and provided a variety of thought-provoking activities based on our Caught in the Russian Revolution: The British Community in Petrograd, 1917 – 1918 exhibition. There were spine-tingling pop-up choir performances of Rachmaninov’s Vespers which were banned in Soviet Russia, following the Russian Revolution. We also had a creative writing workshop; dramatic readings by stage@leeds which drew upon striking eyewitness accounts of the Russian Revolution; drop-in embroidery craft, inspired by a precious piece of embroidery on display in the ‘Saved in the Russian Revolution’ exhibition and Rachmaninov’s stirring music was available to listen to on individual sets of headphones.
The prestigious and pioneering Gregory Fellowship scheme began at the University in 1950 under the patronage of Eric Craven Gregory, Chair of Bradford-based printers Percy Lund Humphries. Fellowships were undertaken in poetry, music, painting and sculpture. Kenneth Armitage: Sculpture and Drawing of the 1950s formed part of a programme of exhibitions and events across Leeds that continue to celebrate the centenary of Kenneth Armitage’s birth in 2016. Visitors engaged with Armitage’s striking figures in an artist-led workshop creating interlinking wire sculptural forms. Austin Wright: Emerging Forms, currently on display, explores the artist’s Fellowship as a key period for his practice through an incredible body of work. Seeing the huge aluminium sculptures hanging from the ceiling is certainly a first for the Gallery!
We celebrated the fantastic paintings by Zoe Carlon (Fine Art), overall judges’ winner of the FUAM Graduate Art Prize. Zoe’s works were displayed alongside finalists Olivia Loker (Fine Art), Lucy Davidson (Art and Design) and Miranda Jones (Art and Design). We were impressed with the quality of all the works!
October saw the Galleries coming together to join the multi-arts and light festival Light Night, celebrated across the city of Leeds. In the Art Gallery we ‘connected the Marshall threads’ with artist Alice Clayden who taught over 100 visitors how to finger-knit and contribute to a unique textile installation. ‘Voices of Light and Dark’ echoed through the Treasures Gallery, treating visitors to a special display of illuminated poetry from the archives of Special Collections and the University of Leeds Poetry Centre. A very moving experience for many.
We’re sure you’ll agree that it has been a fantastic year for the Galleries and we already have lots of exciting events and exhibitions planned for 2018.
On Friday 6th October, Leeds glowed with projections, pop-up performances, installations and illuminations of every kind for the city’s annual Light Night event.
There were no less than 12 Light Night events taking place across campus and Leeds University Library Galleries were delighted to participate.
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery welcomed back artist, Alice Clayden, to teach visitors how to finger knit and French knit. Over a hundred people added their textile creations to a specially built frame. Alice was inspired by the Gallery’s portraits of the Leeds-born Mr and Mrs Marshall who united Leeds communities in the 18th century by employing them in flax-spinning mills and providing education. We wanted to “thread” the different communities of Leeds together! So, we encouraged our Light Night visitors to write what they liked best about the city and trail their knitting to where they lived on a map.
Over in the Treasures of the Brotherton, we played recordings from the University of Leeds Poetry Centre. We used touch-sensitive LED lamps to illuminate archives belonging to famous poets who are or were related to Leeds in some way. Tony Harrison, Geoffrey Hill, Helen Mort and the University’s first Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, could be heard reading their own work while each of their manuscripts were illuminated. The combination of a dark room with poems glowing in white proved to be an atmospheric, sensory experience. In fact, one visitor was so inspired by seeing some of Tony Harrison’s archive on display that she is considering applying to study a Masters here at the University!
Light Night wasn’t the only attraction. Visitors to the Treasures of the Brotherton, many of them first-timers, were bowled over by the beauty, depth and breadth of the collections on display. The Travelling Library stopped many people in their tracks. One lady, whose children and grandchildren had attended the University, completely fell in love with our exhibitions.
Everything is packed away now but we’re already looking ahead to 2018!
The University of Leeds Cookery Collection was established in 1939 by a donation from Blanche Legat Leigh. The exhibition explores how recipes have been compiled and collected and how attitudes to food have changed over time. In books spanning an incredible seven centuries you can see a first edition of Beeton’s Book of Household Management, wonderfully illustrated Renaissance texts, and warnings on the ‘Spontaneous Combustion of Drunkards’.
Professor Viv Jones, Head of the University of Leeds Cultural Institute opened the evening. We found out about the fantastic events and opportunities facilitated by the Institute who work with staff, students and cultural partners. Eileen White, a co-curator of the exhibition, delighted the audience with some snippets of strange and usual recipes. Flamingo tongue anyone?
University House Chefs Phil Tostevin and Robert Hargreaves prepared a mini banquet inspired by some of the recipes on display. A French onion soup, hearty beef stew and lemon posset were all enjoyed by our hungry guests. Guests then crowded around the display cases eager to find their own inspiration!
The month of May saw many changes in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery.
Some of our items had been on display since 1 February 2016 so they have now been retired to the cool, dark conditions of our stacks in order to give their pages, spines and print time to recuperate. Thanks to the vastness and variety of the diverse collections within Special Collections, picking alternative items was akin to being children in a sweet shop for our curators!
Several objects have been replaced with material by the same author, for example, we have a new Branwell Brontë letter and a French notebook by Charlotte, however, with other items, we have opted for something completely different.
We welcome material by Tolkien, William Hey, Persian poet Sa’di and artist Fred Lawson, not to mention an adorable World War One mascot, a spectacular Ovid and the literal, literary treasure chest that is the Schatzbehalter. We also have two new Artists’ Books colourfully displayed alongside a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible.
Arguably the change that has made the biggest impact is the departure of Shakespeare’s First Folio. After 15 months on show in the huge case that greets visitors as soon as they enter the Treasures Gallery, it’s time for the Bard to take a break. We needed an item that was equally jaw-dropping so we’ve brought out our glorious Jacobean Travelling Library, one of only four of its kind in the world. See our video to discover how and why Shakespeare’s Folio was replaced.
There are only two weeks to go until the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery celebrates its first birthday!
Since we opened our doors on 1 February 2016 we have welcomed nearly 20,000 visitors to the Treasures Gallery to see highlights from Leeds University Library’s Special Collections. We have received some wonderful feedback on our displays of rare books and manuscripts, and hope that we can continue to inspire and engage audiences with stories from the collections.
During the first week of February this year we will be de-installing our Shakespeare exhibition and getting ready to showcase another of our Designated Collections, the Leeds Russian Archive. At the moment we are putting the finishing touches to our next special exhibition, Caught in the Russian Revolution: the British Community in Petrograd, 1917-1918. This exhibition will draw on eyewitness accounts in the form of diaries, letters and photographs to explore a pivotal moment in world history.
There will also be objects from the Leeds Russian Archive, including textiles and jewellery, on display in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery from 11 February – 10 June 2017. These will be on show alongside a new exhibition called Future Legacies: Collections, Collecting and Artists’ Books. A selection of works will explore thematic, visual and other formal relationships between books produced centuries ago and contemporary artists’ books. These juxtapositions will illustrate how artists and writers over the years have employed the book in their quest to record and present their experiences, connecting subject areas through format, image and text.
These exhibitions display a tiny sample from the extraordinary books and archives looked after by Special Collections at Leeds.
The Treasures Gallery has received thousands of visitors since February and greeted some VIPs.
The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery has welcomed nearly 17,000 visitors since opening in February this year. At the end of October we were honoured to receive a visit from The Most Venerable Phraprommasith, Abbot of the Golden Mount Temple (Wat Saket) in Bangkok. Wat Saket is the parent temple of the Wat Buddharam Temple here in Leeds, so we were delighted when the Abbot’s visit to the University incorporated a trip to the Treasures Gallery. The Abbot was accompanied by other dignitaries from Thailand as well as several monks and lay people.
Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis, Special Collections and Engagement Manager, conducted a tour for the visitors and said the monks were particularly impressed by “For All Time”, the special Shakespeare exhibition currently on display. The Abbot also enjoyed looking at the 15th century manuscript history roll and the 17th century playing cards depicting the counties of England and Wales.
Special Collections is renowned for the diversity of its material. In our BC 19c Clodd archive we discovered a fitting book to show our international visitors, The Buddhist praying-wheel: a collection of material bearing upon the symbolism of the wheel and circular movements in custom and religious ritual. This interesting 19th century item contains inserted letters from the author to Edward Clodd that provide a snapshot of how times and world views have changed over the centuries.
An enjoyable and culturally enriching experience was had by all. We look forward to welcoming our next VIP guests . . . and the next 17,000 visitors!