Friday, 27 September 2013

Collections through Cake: the Biscuit Weeks!

Never fear, people of Leeds, your museum professionals have not been neglecting our baking! Recent weeks have moved the form along however, and now we are in a biscuit phase.

Today, Kitty Ross our Curator of Social History, brought in these fabulous playing card biscuits:

These were loosely based on some playing cards from our collections that date from 1880.

A couple of weeks ago we also had a biscuit contribution from Laura McCoy who is our Skin Deep Project Officer. She is working on our bird skins collections and blogs regularly here! She went animal-mad and produced these lovelies:

Unfortunately we don't have a diplodocus in our collections, but we do have squirrels, lizards and dragonflies! Some are displayed at the City Museum, whilst the bulk of the collections are kept in store at the Discovery Centre. This example is an Emperor Dragonfly collected at Meadow Lane, Leeds in 1947:

The Emperor is the 'bulkiest' of Britain's dragonflies and Leeds is fairly close to the northern limits of its range. It is very active and even eats its prey in flight. To find out more about dragonflies and their conservation, visit the British Dragonfly Society.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Why have regional collections?

So why is it important to have regional collections? Wouldn't be better if we had a few big, very well equipped super museums, like for instance, The Natural History Museum? 

Well there are a lot of reasons why not having all your eggs in one basket (excuse the pun) is important for collections. Firstly, many local museums focus on housing specimens or objects from their region. There are lots of specimens in the bird collection that have been collected from in and around Leeds and out of all the birds they often have the most detailed data.

Secondly, for education purposes it's great that everyone doesn't have to travel to one, sometimes quite distant, place to see something. If you want to learn about a subject, whether it be history, textiles, natural sciences or ceramics (to name but a few), it's a fantastic resource (not to mention cheaper) to be able to go to your local museum. We have varied groups, from small children to people from historic societies or just curious members of the public coming to look at the collection and everybody can find something that is of interest that they want to know more about or can relate to.  

Thirdly, it spreads risk. What if you had all the paintings by Picasso housed in one building and there was a fire? Everything would be lost. Having things spread out in different locations not only means that more people have access to different resources but that there is more security and safety for things that may be historically or socially valuable.

In terms of the bird skin collection, the detailed data attached to the specimens is useful information for local natural history societies and local biological recording centres, as they can give a historical reference point to where certain species have been found and if they are still there. Have some species become locally extinct, or have we started having occurrences of other animals not usually associated with the area because of climate change? If something has become locally extinct and they want to re-introduce it they can look at the data to see where it was traditionally found and take steps to improve the habitat in that area so that it will once again support that species.

Friday, 20 September 2013

A Chinese contemporary painting in Leeds by the artist Fu Hua

We are reviewing all the Chinese paintings in the Leeds Museums and Galleries collections in preparation for an exhibition that opens at Lotherton Hall on 3 October. The most recent painting is by a living artist, Fu Hua. He presented the painting, entitled 'Prunus Blossom in an Ancient Urn', when he visited Lotherton Hall in 1993, to give demonstrations during a special loan exhibition from China, coordinated by the International Relations department of the City Council.

Many of us are really fond of this painting with the carfree large red urn, and the very personal style of calligraphy. Estelle Wu, a student from Taiwan, is the guest curator for this year's exhibiton and her research has revealed the following about Fu Hua.   

Fu Hua was born in Beijing, China in 1926, and is now a very famous Chinese artist who focuses on 'flower-and-bird paintings'. He helped establish the Chinese Painting School in Shanghai in 1955, which is a multi-functional institution that includes artist studios, an administration office, a meeting room and exhibition space. In 1965 he joined a new project, the Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute.

Fu paints with a keen instinct, and always starts with a thick Chinese brush, simply but quickly drawing the outline of the object, and then dealing with the details in bright colors. His paintings contain an energetic atmosphere and positive spirit that build up the unique Fu style.

With his talent and the strong ambition to share and spread the beauty of Chinese traditional painting, Fu started living in the United Kingdom in 1986. He quickly achieved a good reputation in mainstream art circles and a lot of respect. His paintings are popular among the well-to-do and he has now held more than 30 solo exhibitions over the last 20 years, including shows at the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Manchester City Museum, and at Lotherton Hall in Leeds. Several museums have his paintings in their collections.

According to the worldwide web his most recent UK exhibition was in the Mall Gallery, London, in 2004. In that exhibition, around 100 works were shown, including a very representative work Lotus and Grapes in ink and wash painting. 70% of the pieces exhibited had been painted in the last few years, indicating just how productive the artist is. After the show, Fu moved to Australia. In 2012, he came back to Shanghai to hold a solo show, which showed 200 works.  When his Leeds piece is on show again in October we hope to get in touch with him directly to let him know.

Thanks to for the above image which you can find at

To know more about Fu Hua, please visit his personal blog:

Thursday, 12 September 2013

An Ode to Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey, by Samantha Rose Whitworth
 This poem was written by on of the regular attendees of the Adult Art group who meet monthly at Abbey House. Sam Whitworth wrote this poem inspired by Kirkstall Abbey and also the painting that accompanies it.

If Kirkstall Abbey inspires you, please vote for the site as it has been shortlisted in the 'Britain’s favourite heritage site' category in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2013. Full details can be found on BBC Countryfile Magazine’s website at, or you can email your votes to Voting closes on 30 September 2013.


I am a thousand year old abbey
I was born and raised in a town called Leeds
I have housed ancient monks who worked and served God
And ploughed the land and grazed their sheep
Now I am worn and torn with age
I have seen so many changes
Seen so many different people
With different styles and dresses
That have been and gone before me
I am a symbolof my everlasting age

A magnificent building
That was created.

The monks carefully put me together
Stone by stone and tiles by tiles
Wooden beams for the roof
And glass painted windows
I was a very beautiful building
Now I am left worn and tattered as an old ruin
People still come to see me from all over the world to marvel at my age.

I have seen the seasons change
From spring to summer
From autumn to winter
Many animals have took refuge in me
From squirrels that run up my trees
To pigeons that perch high on my worn window sills
Around the fields are foxes and the lake where I stand are ducks and a swan.

I see many visitors come through me
Some children, grandparents, mums and dads
They would all stop and say Hello.

A thousand year old building
That has seen so many changes
As I stand so bold and proud
My name will be known throughout my life
And the passing of time itself know as the
House of God
Eternally AMEN

Poem written by Samantha Rose Whitworth

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Why do you have so many Blue Tits?

(Selection of Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Great Tits (Parus major) )
If you ever have a look at a Natural History collection and wonder why they might have a large number of a specific species, it's because each specimen is like a snap-shot in time and will have individual differences. For some of the specimens we have data about the exact place that they where they were collected and this is very useful for research purposes. If you have a specimen that was collected in the 1850's from, for example - Amsterdam, and in later years a survey is done and the species is no longer found there then this can give you an indication that there has been a change or disturbance of some kind, such as a change in habitat due to deforestation or an increase in water/flooding due to climate change. This is why, having more than one example of a particular species is useful, as the information attached to them has scientific value. You can also compare colour and size, as some species can vary quite a bit in appearance and this allows you to identify animals by being familiar in how they may look. Part of the Skin Deep project will be data basing each and every specimen and logging all of the information that is attached with each one. This will allow us to see how many species we actually have and where these are from.

(Selection of Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)

Monday, 9 September 2013

A Day in the Life (I fixed a door today, oh boy)

My work can be highly varied, something for which I am always grateful and one evening last week, reflecting on the day's work and the number of diverse tasks I had undertaken that day, I thought "Do a blog, a snapshot of the day!"
Repair of damaged and broken Georgian door furniture, and installation, to the door between the Gothick Room and its dressing room, at Temple Newsam House.

Working with Temple Newsam site staff to determine water ingress problems over the South Wing and the Darnley Room, for reporting back to property management for attention. I lecture on the subject of conservation of historic houses, interiors and collections to students from the universities of Leeds, York and Hull, so I also updated the lecture with some more examples of what can go wrong and why. Additionally, conservation of historic buildings falls within conservation policy, an official policy document written by Head of Collections, Registrar and LMG conservators. Friday, last week, it was chucking it down, so that is the best time to look for leaks, and also spotted an overflowing downspout, indicating a blockage. The day before had been lovely, however, and I had the company of a heck of a lot of swallows on the roof of Temple Newsam House.

Picture by Jeff Darken

Ensuring that all the facets of the display development at Leeds City Museum, centred on the John "Longitude" Harrison precision pendulum clock, keep going forward, audio visuals, graphic treatment, showcase, other display accessories, and the objects themselves. Applying the size coat in preparation for gilding these finials for the hood of the John "Longitude" Harrison precision pendulum clock. The making of the finials was donated by craftsman Barry Horton, link to his website at the bottom of this blog.

Continuing with structural repairs to some fine chairs by Thomas Chippendale the Younger prior to their being reupholstered.

Some minor repairs to objects coming back to Temple Newsam from a loan to Sewerby Hall, East Yorkshire.

Posted by Ian Fraser (with gratitude to John Lennon for blog title inspiration, and for all the music)

Friday, 6 September 2013

Collections through Cake: Kirkstall Abbey's Chocolate Floor Tiles

The most recent Collections through Cake was brought to you by Kat, Curator of Archaeology. One of Leeds Museums nine sites is the beautiful ruin of Kirkstall Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery. Incidentally, Kirstall Abbey has been shortlisted in the 'Britain’s favourite heritage site' category in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2013. Full details can be found on BBC Countryfile Magazine’s website at, or you can email your votes to

But back to cake ... Apart from the Abbey itself we have amazing collections from excavations that have taken place. Some of the most charming objects are these beautiful floor tiles: And what would make a medieval floor tile even more exciting? If its made of brownie and decorated in gold and silver!

To see previous Museum Cakes, go to Twitter and follow #MusCake, or have a browse through our posts below!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Where our bird skin collection comes from.

The bird skin collection is made up of specimens collected from all over the world, covering every continent. To name a smattering of examples we have: Eskimo Curlews from North America (now extinct), Toucans from South America, Sand Grouse from Africa, Great Crested Grebes from Europe, Mandarin Ducks from Asia, Kiwis from Australasia and Emperor Penguins from Antarctica. As our collection is used a lot for education it is great to be able to show such a variety of bird life, as it can highlight how diverse and interesting it can be.  We have examples of many of the species found on the British Isles, but a large part of our collection contains such exotics as Birds of Paradise from Papua New Guinea, or Kookaburras from Australia.

Collectors would travel all over the world and collect examples of the wildlife that they could see. Some of them were experts on specific collecting trips but others were enthusiasts that had maybe been stationed in a remote trading post and would go out into the wilds seeing what they could find. Some collectors would have a connection with Leeds so when they came back they would donate the specimens to Leeds Museum to provide access to other researchers and fellow collectors. When available the collectors’ names are kept with the skins and mounts; it is important to keep the provenance of the specimens as it can provide a historical background and context to the collection.

Jack in the Green - a chimney sweep's tale

Coming to the end of my internship here at Leeds Discovery Centre I was asked to think about an object from the Ernestine Henry Collection which had impacted on me in some way. The item that first came to mind was a nineteenth century theatre poster for the play ‘Jack in the Green’. Dr Sidney Henry the original collector of the archive had a fascination with everything relating to chimney sweeps and I feel this object best sums up some of the folklore relating to them.

Printed in London this brightly coloured poster clearly shows the May Day celebrations in their full glory, something which is core to the play's storyline. The play focuses on Bob Bryanstone a 22 year old foundling who was raised by Mr Brown, a kindly chimney sweep. As the May Day celebrations draw closer, Bob refuses any part in it except that of Jack in the Green as for this part he can be incognito. This is because Bob is convinced, not knowing his real parents, that he is actually a lost nobleman and he does not wish to ruin his reputation by being seen celebrating the first of May.

We then meet Mr Durham, a gentleman who was saved from a frozen pond by Bob a year or so ago. Determined to rid his friend of these notions he sets about a plan to show Bob to be happy with his lot. After pretending to have found Bob's real father, the Earl of Eaglesdown, Mr Durham sets about training Bob in the correct etiquette befitting his new status. After being chastised for his fashion in clothes, the manner in which he eats, the games he plays and the songs he sings Bob starts to feel very disheartened and heads home. Here he decided that he wants nothing to do with a father who would not love him for the way he is when Mr Durham enters with news. In the hope of drawing his clever plan to an end Mr Durham exclaims that another has been found to be the heir of the Eaglesdown name. Seeing Bob’s excitement at this news he exclaims “Be content with your station in life, whatever it may be; make the most of the little you have and never envy those who have more: think kindly of those below you – for a warm heart and good intentions may be found in a ‘Jack in the Green’.” Ending a play with a moral was popular during this period, as was the use of chimney sweeps in the plays and dramas.

The Jack in the Green became strongly associated with the chimney sweep profession but it was not always so. The tradition dates from the 16th and 17th centuries when people would create garlands of flowers and greenery to wear during the May Day celebrations. Competition between different working guilds meant that over the years they became larger and more elaborate until they covered the entire man. This is why they became known as Jack in the Green. No one is exactly sure why they became best associated with sweeps rather than the other guilds.

Accompanying the Jack in the Green would be the Lord and Lady (most often played by two men in costume) and later a clown was added to the procession. The Lord and Lady often played tricks on those watching whilst the clown's job was to walk on his hands and dance around at the front of the procession. It has been suggested that the dancing performed by the sweeps was the precursor to modern Morris dancing. The purpose of these celebrations was to collect alms and generally have a good party, one which would often last for four days.

Popularity for this kind of event waned during the Victorian period as public displays of drunkenness and bawdry behaviour was frowned upon. It would instead be replaced by the young, pretty May Queen and a more tranquil procession.

However in recent years there has been a revival in the figure of Jack in the Green. He can regularly be seen during May Day festivals in London, Bristol, Hastings, Oxford, Whitstable, Rochester and Llfrancombe in North Devon. The modern take on this tradition varies slightly. More associated with ‘the green man’, spring, rebirth and renewal than the traditional whimsy character played by sweeps. For example in Rochester the Jack in the Green is awoken by sweeps and Morris dancers before being paraded through the town, to show his awakening symbolises the waking up of plants and animals after winter. Again in Bristol the Jack in the Green leads the procession through the streets before ending the day on Horfield Common where he is ripped apart by onlookers to ‘release the spirit of summer.’ Although we have chosen to revive an old and lost tradition by altering it to fit with an alternative modern outlook we can hopefully ensure that it will not be lost again.

Written by Lucy Lilliman, intern helping to catalogue the Ernestine Henry collection.