Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Asian Elephant Skull

I spent my summer as an intern at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre helping to catalogue their vast herbarium collection. Each day I would enter the store to collect my herbarium samples, passing hundreds of thousands of fascinating objects on my way. One object that repeatedly caught my eye was the skull of an Elephas maximus, the Asian elephant.

To think that this skull is an impressive 1.04m high it is clear to see why I found this object to be so captivating. It is no wonder elephants are the largest extant land mammals. With its large ivory tusks, I can only imagine how daunting it must be to stand next to a live one.

Elephas maximus is the only remaining species of the genus Elephas and has itself been listed as an endangered species. Currently there are an estimated 25,600 to 32,750 individuals in existence. This may seem like a lot; however, it’s put into perspective on learning that only three generations ago there was a population size double that of today. This is worryingly fast and unless serious conservation action is taken quickly it shows reason to be greatly concerned for the future of such a remarkable species.

Posted by Clare but written and researched by Steven Laird who worked diligently on the fantastic natural science collections at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre in 2011.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A woman of substance

Having read that West Yorkshire Archives and Huddersfield University have been busy digitising 80,000 records about the lives of women in Yorkshire and the North from the last few hundred years through their historytoherstory project, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about a collection we hold here at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

We are very lucky to hold a large collection of material relating to votes for women, the suffragettes and other issues such as trade unions and vegetarianism that were all donated to the museum by Leonora Cohen and her associates. For those of you unfamiliar with suffragette history, Leonora Cohen was a formidable Leeds based campaigner in the movement to secure voting rights for women. Perhaps her best known act of defiance was smashing the case containing the crown jewels in the Tower of London. We are lucky enough to have the label attached to the iron bar she used. It states:

"Jewel House, Tower of London. My Protest to the Government for its refusal to Enfranchise Women, but continues to torture women prisoners - Deeds Not Words. Leonora Cohen"; on the reverse "Votes for Women. 100 Years of Constitutional Petition, Resolutions, Meetings & Processions have Failed"

My favourite item in the collection has to be a scrapbook put together by Leonora Cohen. It contains a variety of newspaper cuttings and photographs. Many of the items are annotated by the lady herself (in green or purple ink where possible) and she identifies herself and friends in pictures and cuttings. It is quite exciting to get your hands on something so personal on an issue as important as voting rights for women.

Even in her later years she kept up her interest in political issues, was active as a Magistrate in Leeds for a number of years (even though she had herself been a prisoner on more than one occasion), awarded an OBE in 1928, and lived to the ripe old age of 105.

Other items in the collection range from pamphlets and leaflets about votes for women, to a dress that she made to wear at the Arts Society Ball in 1914 and a feeding tube that was used in Armley Prison. An exhibition was put on here at Abbey House in the 1966 (with the help of Leonora herself) which was how we came to acquire such a collection of material that is still relevant today.

If you are interested in the collection, we have a number of items (including the dress and feeding tube) on display in the Leeds Gallery at Leeds City Museum. Most of the archival and paper material is kept in storage at Abbey House Museum – but if you would like to see some of it you can contact the museum in advance and we will try to set up an appointment for you to come and view it.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain..

300 years ago in 1711, John 1st Earl Poulett comissioned the Queen Anne State Bed and then named his son Anne.
30 Years ago in 1981 the bed was purchased for Leeds.
5 Years ago extensive research began into the restoration of the bed.
18 Months ago I started writing about it.
2 weeks ago the upholsters arrived and littered the Picture Gallery with all of the vast acres of finished curtains, cornices and valences.

Up went the new cornices, across went the curtains and all I could do was watch.

Now was the moment when my zillions of phonecalls and hundreds of panic stricken and slightly officious emails finally made sense. It's coming together, it's almost the end. I think I speak for all the upholsterers, weavers, engineers, designers, artists, carvers, curators and conservators, when I say, "Yes! We did it our way".

Even yesterday the mattress platform went in. In a few days time, three mattresses, four velvet feet, and one bed cover arrive. A final bit of tweaking and we will have put the bed, to bed, so to speak. So now, until it is finished, no more will be said about the bed. No more photos. No more blog updates on our progress. I don't want to spoil it for you. If you do get desperate @CuratorPolly on twitter might mumble something. Dearest readers, I am afraid that if you want to see the finished bed you will need to wait until December 8th when our Bedtime Stories exhibiton begins.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Secret Lives of Contemporary Collectors

Since the Leeds City Museum re-opened in 2008, the Community History department has been committed to inviting local collectors to display some of their contemporary collections in our Collectors Cabinet Gallery.

So far we have hosted ten collectors displays that have included; Disney, teddy bears, Star Trek, soap powder boxes, half-dolls, Lord of the Rings, Black History, Snow Globes & Cocktail Sticks, Spice Girls and our current Cher display, see image below.

The objects are only half of the exhibition as each display is accompanied by a short film of the collector being interviewed. These are generally recorded at peoples homes so we can capture the way their houses can act as mini museums themselves!

Here are a couple of behind the scenes photos of us filming our next two collectors, Maria and Mary.

If you have a collection you would like to display at the City Museum in the future, please contact Marek Romaniszyn (Assistant Curator of Community History) at the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.