Friday, 30 November 2012

Golden Balls from Zermansky's pawnbrokers

Having decided to create a pawnbroker's shop within the Victorian streets when the museum was refurbished in 2001, we did not at the time have a genuine pawnbroker sign within the collections and the iconic golden balls emblem was recreated by the designers.  We were delighted then this year to be offered the real thing by Stewart and Michael Manning, sons of the last owner of Zermansky's pawnbrokers on North Street.  These were officially unveiled in their new position at Abbey House museum on Sunday 25th November, together with a plaque acknowledging the donation in memory of Pearl and Cyril Manning.

Finding the most appropriate wording for the plaque and our press release has been a very careful exercise in trying to avoid innuendo, with many references to balls and pawn shops!

As a museum it is always our aim to display genuine objects and it was interesting to find that the replica ones we have just replaced turned out to have been made from plastic toilet ballcocks. 
Zermansky's pawnbrokers business was set up by the donor's grandfather, Mark Zermansky in about 1920 and was a fixture on North Street for most of the last century.  The 1974 Consumer Credit Act put an end to the pawnbroking side of the business (it involved too much extra paperwork), but they continued as jewellers until 1981.  Both Stewart and Michael Manning remember helping out in the shop.

The museum has decided not to change the name of the pawnbroker's shop display at Abbey House to Zermansky's because the streets are displayed to represent the 1890s, and Zermansky's only opened in the 1920s.  T.A. Sowry & Son was a pawnbroking business with branches in Holbeck, New Wortley and Armley in the late 19th century.  Pawnbrokers offered short-term loans against the value of any object and this helped many Victorians get through the week until pay day.  Some were reputed to be in the habit of pawning their Sunday suit on Monday and redeeming it on Friday when the wages came in.  There has been a recent resurgence in the pawnbrokers on the high street which reflects the current economic climate.

The symbolism of the pawnbroker's three golden balls is shrouded in mystery and speculation.  It seems to have originally been based on a heraldic emblem of three money bags which was used by the Medici banking family in Florence.  There is also an unproven seasonal link to Christmas!  St Nicholas (who has mutated into Santa Claus) is said in one legend to have persuaded a family not to sell their three daughters into prostitution by posting three bags of gold down their chimney. Because of this, St Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers. This is also the suggested origin to the notion that Santa Claus brings gifts down the chimney at Christmas.
Shop on North Street, 1980

 Kitty Ross, 30th November 2012

Monday, 26 November 2012

Festive Frocks

As the holiday season is drawing near, it is the perfect time to take a look at some of the stunning party dresses in the museum’s collection. Especially nowadays, when vintage and retro styles are in vogue, it is very inspiring to gaze the fashions of the past decades.

The 1920s was of course the epitome of chic sparkly dresses, and the museum has quite a vast collection of these beaded beauties. The first dress here is a black silk chiffon evening dress with clear glass beading and a band of marabou feathers at the hem.

However, elaborate beadwork is not the only way of achieving the festive look, as is evident from this fire red devore velvet dress from second half of the 1920s. It is probably home-sewn and the cut is very simple, but the real eyecatcher here is the fabric. Caustic solution is used to dissolve parts of the velvet pile and to create an intrigue pattern resulting in a dress which is simple, but impressive.

The 1930s saw the return of the natural form emphasizing the waist and bust as well as comeback of long evening dresses. The dress below is an excellent example of the dramatic but simple style that took influence specifically from American film industry.

The striking mauve colour is combined with simple lines, low v-shaped back and huge balloon sleeves, that are supported from the inside with tulle.

The dress is decorated with sewn-on dress clips which are fitted with rhinestones set in star shapes. Dress clips were widely used to add an extra sparkle to eveningwear, and they were easy to change from one dress to another.

Another lovely example of elegant eveningwear is this green velvet dress donated by Mrs. Joyce Tetley, who had bought the dress from Madame Arthur, a dressmaker from Leeds, and worn it at receptions and other formal parties at Leeds University, during the pro-chancellorship of Brigadier J. Noel Tetley from 1956-1964.

The dress has a gorgeous embroidered bodice and open back, as well as a panel at back lined with champagne satin.

Interesting detail here are the two light pink tulle rosettes inside the dress that work as an extra padding for the bust. It is alluring to think that even the details that no-one ever saw were conducted in such meticulous and beautiful way.

This is only a small sample of all the lovely dresses in the collection so look out for more blog posts about eveningwear!

Piia LempiƤinen

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Lotherton Hall’s Oriental Gallery is being de-installed to make way for new interpretation on the history of the house.

The gallery opened on October 14 1975, as a conversion of the servant’s quarters (which included a housekeeper’s room, servants hall and gun room) in the north wing. Now, 37 years later, the plan is to reinstate these rooms, or at least an impression of them, and provide more space for informal education and a more detailed history of the house. In 1975 Lady Gascoigne, and the then director of Leeds Art Galleries, Robert Rowe, were keen to display the Frank Savery bequest of early Chinese ceramics, given to Temple Newsam in 1966, as well as the Gascoigne’s own Oriental treasures. The latter were few in number, but quite stunning to view.

The best known is the Tang period Chinese camel which “commanded the entrance” to the new gallery, and the pair of Japanese screens. The foyer before the gallery included a shop, which in early 2012 moved out of Lotherton Hall itself to the stable yard, as part of the development of a single entrance fee and more integrated offer for the whole estate.

Robert Rowe described the 1975 Oriental Gallery plans thus: ‘A great deal of thought has gone into the display units and lighting systems with the result, we hope, that the objects will be seen under conditions worthy of them. Flexibility has been a major consideration as well: to show off the beauties of a Neolithic pot, for example, it should be possible to show it in different lights and against a variety of backgrounds’ (Leeds Art Calendar 1974). A gallery view in the 1975 guide book shows a mainly cream and beige colour scheme, with contemporary low tables set against a deep red carpet, whose red was picked up by the plinths of two large island cases. The case surrounds were of polished steel or aluminium.

Two black and white photographs of the Oriental Gallery from 1975 survive, one of the same view as the colour image in the brochure, and this second one, giving a view looking back to the entrance way.

In the 1990s the colour scheme was changed by Daru Rooke, to be more sympathetic to the period interiors of the house, and to an ‘antique’ Chinese feel, using green, red and blue paint on the walls. Gilt framed paintings of boats on rivers and lovers beside lakes, by European influenced Chinese painters, were hung against the blue, and mahogany toned wood facings covered over the white metallic case edgings. Lighter grained wooden bases inside the cases improved the ambience of the chronological Chinese ceramics display.

In the last 37 years the Oriental Gallery has also hosted some major exhibitions. In the early 1980s there was an exhibition on Armorial porcelains, in the 1990s the Legacy of William Morris’ Art Pottery, in 2001 Tales from Japan, and in 2008 Chinese Treasures. 

In 1998, after several years of preparation and a donation of her own funds as seed-money, Hanna Sutcliffe wrote her booklet ‘Chinese Ceramics at Lotherton Hall, Leeds’, which was published by Leeds Museums and Galleries and has been on sale ever since. On Friday 2 November 2012 we invited her to revisit the Oriental Gallery to be filmed for our records, just before the de-install. She remains as enthusiastic in her appreciation of the collection, and talked on film about the Central or South Asian dancing boy tomb figure, the green lead glazed Han dynasty jars, a celadon tripod offering bowl and water vessel, and the cizhou ware painted pillow with the scene of the three scholars and the inscribed stele. We hope to edit this film over the next few months and publish extracts from it on the web next year.

Meanwhile a new intern with Leeds Museums and Galleries, Rane Qiaoqian (now Rane Pike), will be reviewing the Frank Savery collection, and helping us to select a range of early pieces, Sancai wares, Song tea bowls, celadons, and other stunning technical virtuosities, from his 300 plus donation for show in the Collector’s gallery at Leeds City Museum in 2013. The study alcove at the far end of what is now the Lotherton Hall Oriental Gallery will remain dedicated to Chinese ceramics, when the gallery space re-opens in its new guise later the same year.

By Antonia Lovelace, Curator (World Cultures) November 2012