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!