Monday, 16 May 2011

Muntaka Musa comments on Leeds Hausa Hats

Muntaka Musa is a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, who is studying for an MSc in Design at the University of Leeds this year. Following a conversation during an Islamic display at Parkinson Court he kindly agreed to comment on Leeds Museums' Hausa collections. The Hausa people live in northern Nigeria. Muntaka Musa is himself from Katsina, capital of Katsina state. These photographs show Muntaka with his own hat, a hat with geometric hand embroidery of high quality, the sort of hat which is known by a local name that translates as 'See You at the Bank'. The textile design with sharks is his own work.

Amongst the museum's Hausa collection is one hat similar to Muntaka's, with blue on yellow hand embroidery, and another of even finer more detailed stitching of three bands of geometric design topped by a cream silk thread bound knob.

The rest of the Leeds Hausa hats are of lesser quality. The knitted hat, with bright mauve diamonds and triangles on a green ground, would have been made with a circular needle and a smaller hooked needle. Tha Hausa name for this type of knitting is Kwarashi. The museum's hat is made of cotton, but they are often made from wool, and are popular urban wear for poorer people, being very cheap to buy. A machine embroidered one, with a design of elephants and camels, would definitely have had the design pencil sketched onto the fabric first. The plain cream cotton stitched hat, with several different stitching patterns, would be made without a preparatory sketch, and the design is known by a Hausa phrase which translates as a 'thousand punches'. A very new looking hat, unworn, made from deep blue silk velvet with rows of elephants, is probably an experiment with a left over piece of fabric, an experiment which went wrong, as the elephants are all upside down.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Just as dead as a Dodo...

In 2008, I was rummaging through a box of Dodo bones when I came across something I hadn't expected. I was looking for material to use in an articulated Dodo skeleton for the displays at Leeds City Museum.

The box was marked 'Dodo bones' but half its contents clearly wasn't Dodo - the bones were slimmer and of a different colour. I was very disappointed, it appeared that we didn't have quite as large a collection of Dodo material as we'd thought. What I'd come across however, was something just as special: an unknown cache of Great Auk bones.

Great Auks are extinct seabirds that lived across the north Atlantic - for more information see . Their skins, eggs and bones have been popular with collectors for centuries but Leeds - up until now - did not have any Great Auk material in its collections (we did have a mount at the end of the 19th century but sadly that was only a loan and so finally ended up being sold to Edinburgh).

Great Auk bones are relatively common in museums but what was surprising in this case was that no one knew Leeds had any. A photograph of a display in Leeds c.1930, clearly shows Great Auk bones lying behind a 'Bones of the extinct DODO' label. The chunky Dodo bones lie behind the slender Auks at the front:

So there we are - a new species to add to the record books in Leeds. If you would like to visit the bones then please make an appointment to see them (for free) at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.

Great Auk Pinguinus impennis

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The biggest objects in the collections

The historic buildings under Leeds Museums and Galleries care are the biggest objects in the collections. They are an assemblage of an almost countless number of separate objects of course, but their care needs to be looked at in the round. Listed Buildings, like Temple Newsam House, Grade One listing, are protected by legislation and their care, repair, modification etc. need to be done in prescribed ways. Reactive maintenance, planned programmed maintenance, periodic surveys by building experts, housekeeping inside and out are all typical actions. William Morris advocated a drip, drip "little and often" approach to the care of old buildings, an approach which the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) also advocates. Our visitor assistants contribute to this cycle in a quiet way that is perhaps not appreciated enough, and they take a lot of pride in helping to look after what they know to be a very special building.

Here Les is renewing the oil finish that protects the oak North Hall door. First he has rubbed down, with an abrasive pad, the previous year's coat, which also cleans the door and prepares it for the oil. After a thorough rub down and dusting off Les applied diluted tung oil, a drying oil that is highly effective in protecting wood outdoors, and dries to a matt finish. The wood is protected, the colour is saturated, and the whole appearance of the door is given a lift.

Here Lynne and Louise are weeding and clearing up leaves in the coal cellar area, just outside the north cellars. Exposed to the elements, and sheltered, makes it an area that is prone to plant growth. Unsightly, but also potentially damaging to pointing, and possible harbourages for rodents. These might all seem like minor tasks but someone has got to do them and, taken in the round, these sorts of tasks make a huge difference to care, presentation, and service delivery.

Even seemingly minor details are important to get right in the context of a Listed building, down to the correct repair of the exterior door handle of North Hall door. After decades of wear the pin, holding the wonderful Victorian handle, had worn close to the point where it would fall out, with the consequential loss of the handle. An effective repair was specified to a suitably skilled metalworker, who has a long-standing working relationship with Temple Newsam's metalworking needs. Continuity of care is of paramount importance when looking after heritage assets.

Posted by Ian Fraser

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Yippeee!!! Hinton House state bed tester is installed!

The steel bracket installed and bolted to a joist and RSJ in the ceiling void for the suspension hook, being fitted in this picture.

The suspension hook.

The tester about to be raised to height on Genie lifts.

On its way up.

Connected to the ceiling with the "angel rods".

The tester is supported also by a substantial wall bracket.

The stunning damask and ribbon within the tester.

A big thank you to Tim Martin of Context Engineering for the manufacture of the suspension metalwork and curtain rail and help with the installation.

The bed frame has been assembled under the tester. Decisions need to be made about the next stages of the project, such as specifics as the height of the headboard. I think we had better get on with fitting a mattress and support so that Adrian here can have a proper kip. Helping to assemble the frame must have left him a bit cream crackered.

Posted by Ian Fraser