Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Happy Christmas (and a Victorian moral tale)

I have always been aware in our Christmas card collection that there were a pair of Raphael Tuck cards illustrating a sad tale of wonton vandalism and its aftermath which always seemed to be rather down-beat and against the spirit of the season. However, this morning I have spotted that we have a third card which completes the story.

Monday, 23 November 2009

ear ear

I'm afraid I couldn't resist posting this lovely Bamforth postcard which combines the to last two blog themes (ears and birds!). It features a cartoon by the artist D. Tempest showing a deaf old man with an ear trumpet talking to his parrot: "What do you say?" I said "Why don't you fill the ruddy thing with seed!"
It was posted to an address in Leeds in 1948. Bamforth postcards were of course published nearby in Holmfirth. This is a fairly unusual example as I haven't yet managed to spot any sexual inuendo in the cartoon (maybe I'm just innocent!).

Thursday, 19 November 2009

An archaic earache

This strange terracotta ear may look like it is missing from a statue; however it is likely to have been a practical item rather than being used for decoration. The ear is thought to have been a votive offering, possibly as a medicinal aid.

By depositing the perfect model of an ear, probably in a holy place or on an altar, the owner was probably asking the Gods to help heal the ear in real life – quite literally meaning that they wanted their ear to be just like the perfect model. This practice is known as a form of sympathetic magic and was commonplace in the ancient world.

The ear was unearthed in Lanuvium, Italy during Lord Savile’s excavations carried out in the 1800s and is likely to have been found near a temple complex. It is about the size of an adult human ear.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Barn doors in Barnsley

This magnificent bird was shot in Barnsley on 8th December 1898. It is an immature White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.
Standing at just under a metre tall, and with a wingspan of over two metres, they have sometimes been referred to as 'flying barn doors'.

People are often amazed that we have one from Barnsley but a hundred years ago they would have been a common sight. White-tailed Eagles used to call Yorkshire home but decades of persecution have left them extinct in England. I really hope one day we'll see them back but in the meantime this specimen is living (OK, not quite) proof of these birds' existence in Yorkshire.


Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Mok the Gorilla - unexpected link to Leonora Cohen..

One of the wonders of working in an institution with such diverse collections as we have at Leeds is the way that unexpected links can be made between the unlikeliest parts of our collection. Amongst some papers we recently collected relating to Leeds' famous Suffragette heroine Leonora Cohen was a small newspaper cutting titled: ""MOK" A Vegetarian the Only Male Gorilla left" This is a letter from Frank Wyatt of the London Vegetarian Society about the death of "Mok" the Gorilla in London Zoo from chronic kidney disease after being fed on "a weekly ration of beef steak and chicken" whilst the vegetarian gorilla, Alfred, at Bristol Zoo was still doing well. There is a note on back from Leonora Cohen which notes "My visit to the London Zoo to see Mok and Maria and read the diet sheet on the side of their cage". Leonora was a passionate vegetarian and lived to be 105 (the photograph on the left is from her 100th birthday)! Poor Mok lived to a less ripe age but has achieved imortality of a kind as one of the museum's favourite objects, studied by many generations of Leeds schoolchildren.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Projector Obscura

Not quite a camera obscura, in fact more of a projector, but with an interesting story of its own. its actually a fairly standard Business Kodak compact model with a plastic opaque screen at the back so you can project your 8mm film from within the box. it wasn't accessioned on arrival in the collections but the sticker on the side reveals its story, A Cunard label gives the passenger details as John Alcock, travelling on the Queen Mary to Canada in the 1950s, date unclear.

what we do know of Mr Alcock however is that he was head of the Hunslet Engine Company at the time, and in the 1950s they were trying to break into the American market with their underground diesel locomotives. probably armed with this projector and films we now have in store at Yorkshire Film Archive, John headed for the American Mining Exhibition at the Cleveland Show in May 1953. Sadly he made no sales as the americans were convinced that underground diesel locomotives were not safe, opting instead for battery powered models, but i do wonder if he persuaded the ships purser to show some of his films on the ship......

From Little to Large

Working on the very small has its delights and difficulties – dealing with the large paintings is another country entirely. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a museum in possession of a large collection never has enough room to put it away. There is not enough space in the art store for some very large canvases and so they have to be rolled on great big rollers every time they come off display.
The photo shows the business of cleaning the reverse of the canvas before restretching it. The stretcher can just be seen in the background. The painting by is by John Walker titled Lesson II. To make matters a little more challenging the artist had used a trapezoid shaped stretcher. The painting is now up on the wall in the Silver gallery and I’m in no hurry to get it down again!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Time of Sitting one Minute

Artists have used mechanical means to ease the difficulties of accurate drawing long before the invention of photography. Eleven miniature silhouettes are just about to go on display at Temple Newsam, all painted by John Miers (1758-1821), one the most famous profilists of the 18th century. They are painted in watercolour on plaster and each one has a pasted advert on the back which reads:
Perfect Likenesses in miniature Profile taken by J.Miers LEEDS and reduced on a plan entirely new which preserves the most exact Symetry and animated expression of the Features much Superior to any other method. Time of sitting one Minute. NB He keeps the original Shades, and can supply those he has once taken with any number of Copies. Those who have shades by them may have them reduced to any size and dressed in the present Taste.
Orders at any Time addressed to him at Leeds in Yorkshire will be punctually dispatched.
Miers must have used some type of a camera obscura, which is basically a room sized pinhole camera: The sitter would sit in front of a strong light, the image projecting through a lens into a darkened room where the artist could trace the profile probably on paper against a movable screen of ground glass. This drawing would then be transferred to the plaster support. Under the microscope an indented line can actually be seen around each miniature profile head.
It would be great fun to try and reproduce his method, build a camera obscura and get people to have a go: Any volunteers ? Time of sitting only one minute!

Friday, 25 September 2009

The beast with five fingers

Dummy boards were painted images meant to be propped up in a room to make the occupants feel they were not alone. This one is probably of a female servant and came to us with the Roger Warner bequest. At some time before she was acquired for Temple Newsam she had lost a hand and it was replaced with this hideous attempt. We all know hands are tricky to draw, but you would have thought whoever did it might have made a bit more effort. The fingernails were very crudely drawn in pencil. Options for treatment were discussed with curatorial staff – it was felt that the sheer ugliness of the old retouching was obtrusive and should be removed and re-done. It is rare that this amount of anatomical reconstruction is required in the treatment of an oil painting – most inpainting is carried out on very tiny losses. I had been attending a evening class in life drawing which honed some skills in observational drawing which proved very useful. After careful cleaning, a more anatomically correct hand was painted in acrylic, and varnished. She is now on display in the House in one of the new refurbished rooms.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sketch of Mok the gorilla

Inspired by Kitty's pencil drawing I've decided to post the one and only pencil sketch I know of in the natural science collection. This is an illustration of Mok - a gorilla who lived at London Zoo in the 1930s. His skeleton is in store at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and his skin (mounted by a taxidermist) is on display at Leeds City Museum.

I like the connection this sketch gives us to Mok while he was alive: it's unusual to have an image of a living specimen from the collection. This particular drawing makes me wonder about his life in the zoo - is he bored, dreaming of Africa or just watching the world go by?

This was sketched by Stuart Tresilian, a regular visitor to London Zoo. He used its inhabitants as references for his drawings illustrating Rudyard Kipling's 'Animal Stories' and 'All the Mowgli Stories'.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Bonfire night special

Well, someone has to start this off! While researching for Abbey House Museum's next exhibition ("Park Life" - opening January 2010), I came across the following wonderful drawing from our collection of advertising designs from Dickinson Display Ltd., Leeds. Dating from 1954 and advertising Youngman's Fish Restaurant, the image it shows of a boy lighting a firework behind a park bench would not be allowed by modern advertising standards! No regard for health and safety!!