Friday, 23 May 2014

Collections through Cake: The Ding Propeller

Collections through Cake usually lives and is consumed at the Discovery Centre – quite rightly as there are over one million objects in store there. However, the majority of Leeds Museums & Galleries site have smaller stores, including Armley Mills. The time was ripe recently, for Collections through Cake to go on tour and so Lucy, First World War Curator, headed over there to create her current favourite industrial item from cake.

In store (but soon to be re-displayed), we have a First World War propeller with a fascinating history. This propeller was a memorial to the Leeds aviator Rowland Ding, who died in a crash at Roundhay Park in 1917 testing a new naval bomber. This one was installed as a memorial in the 1920s, but was stolen in the 1930s. In 1975 it turned up on the wall of the Nag’s Head pub on Vicar Lane and was donated to Leeds Museums

Check out the aerodynamics on that cake! Look at those slanted blades!

By First World War Projects Curator Lucy Moore

Monday, 19 May 2014

Collections through Cake: A Juvenile Giant Squid

Whenever I give a tour of the Discovery Centre, I always let visitors know that there is ONLY ONE object in our collections that isn’t the realest of real deals. In this case, I think we might be forgiven as it is a model of a juvenile giant squid. 

He was built for a temporary exhibition called ‘Slime’ which was in the Central Library in 2002 and now provides some jaw-dropping awe-factor to the Discovery Centre.

He is also delicious made out of cake:

Here are some #SquidFacts that I’ve come across:
  • The study of squid is called teuthology.
  • The earliest known ancestor of today's squid is Kimberella, a tiny mollusc that looked like a jellyfish and lived about 555 million years ago.
  • Yes, squid are molluscs, just like more familiar shelled sea creatures. Snails are also molluscs. Mollusca is a huge taxonomic family.
  • Giant squid have tentacles with suckers lined with teeth. These teeth chew prey so that it can then be swallowed.

  • Squid have beaks, rather than mouths.
  • Sperm whales prey on giant squid and often bear scars from the be​-toothed tentacles.
  • Some neuroscientists practice their surgery skills on the nerves of squid, as they are thicker than human nerves and easier to practice with.
  • Squid have an internal mineralised mass called a statolith which helps them to balance (like a counterweight I suspect).
  • Statoliths have growth rings (like trees) and can be used to measure age. They suggest that giant squid only live for up to five years.
  • Giant squid (along with colossal squid) have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom – up to 27 cm in diameter.

Interestingly, the squid probably has several brothers and sisters at natural history museums all over the world because it would cost manufacturers so much to make the cast, that they would make several models from it.

If you’d like to say hello in person, drop us an email, or telephone and we can show you around!

By Projects Curator Lucy Moore

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Tale of a Bill Gibb Dress

‘Be a latter day Infanta, in charted gold satin… be a frill…’ British Vogue, October 1st 1971
I have spent the past few months rifling through hundreds of beautiful clothes held in the Leeds Discovery Centre (and all under the watchful eye of a taxidermy chimpanzee!) From 17th Century undergarments to Burberry trench-coats it is a treasure trove of textiles that contains three centuries worth of classic pieces.

After sorting around 300 garments into chronological order I came across one of the most bizarre dresses I have ever seen. Dated 1976, full length, gold, black, red, and covered in print, applique and embroidery I thought had been labelled wrongly as its style was at odds with the low cut, puffy sleeved, brown and yellow dresses that made up the rest of the cupboard.

Dress designed by Bill Gibb for his 1976/1977 Winter collection

The dress was labelled Bill Gibb and I had to find out more about it.It is in fact, not a dress, but an ensemble made up of a skirt, tabard, and kaftan. The eclectic and contrasting layers make it a completely unique piece, and almost like a Sari. The kaftan has a large bee printed on it, as the bee was a marker of Gibb’s work, and often appeared on the buttons of his dresses. 

Alongside the bee are multi-coloured pansies printed underneath a layer of sheer sequins. The dress was created for Bill Gibb’s 1976/1977 Winter collection and was first shown in the spring on that year. It was previously displayed at Lotherton Hall (which is currently developing an exciting new area dedicated to its fashion and textile collection) and is stained with lipstick and makeup from its debut catwalk show, which I believe adds more character.

Who was Bill Gibb?

Bill Gibb was from Fraserburgh, Scotland. At an early age he showed a great aptitude for art and was encouraged to study it by his teachers. He later moved to London, where he studied at Saint Martins and finished first in his class, and after graduating he was taught by Janey Ironside at the Royal College of Art. 

He designed clothes for Baccarat, and in 1970 one of his designs for Baccarat was named dress of the year by British Vogue. There was even a room dedicated solely to his work in Harrods department store. After establishing his own brand Bill Gibb Ltd in 1972 alongside his partner Kaffe Fassett and business partner Kate Franklin his work became eponymous with the British Boutique Movement, which also included designers such as Ossie Clark and Jean Muir. 

Although the Pre-Raphaelite and Bohemian styles were popular with other designers of the seventies his work stood out due to his Eastern and Celtic influences, and outlandish prints. In 1971 he dressed Twiggy for the premiere of Ken Russell’s film The Boyfriend, which soared him to fame. His designs were also very popular with Bianca Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1974 he launched a knitwear collection, and in 1975 opened up a shop.

Unfortunately his company was in financial ruin and he is now one of the less referenced designers of the time due to his untimely death in 1988. Only three retrospectives have been held of his work. The first was ‘The Golden Boy of British Fashion’ at the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum (which holds the largest collection of his work in the world) in 2003, and the second and third in 2009 at ‘Bill Gibb- A Personal Journey’ at the Costume Museum in Bath and ‘Billy: Bill Gibb’s Moment in Time’ at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. 

However, his legacy lives on as his clothes have inspired the works of contemporary designers such as John Galliano and Giles Deacon.

By Billie McKenzie, Dress and Textiles Intern

Friday, 9 May 2014

#EdibleMasterpieces - Rockingham Poodle

In another Collections through Cake installment, this time we are joing up with The Art Fund's national fund-raising endeavour #EdibleMasterpieces.

One of the amazing roles that the Art Fund has is to help museums and galleries buy art. Recent Leeds Museums & Galleries aquisitions that have been supported by the Art Fund can be found here. They include the West Yorkshire Hoard, 'A Dead Linnet' by John Atkinson Grimshaw and many other wonderful artworks.

Here in Leeds, we have a collection of Decorative Art that has been designated as a collection of national importance. To highlight it and the collections that are held at Temple Newsam and Lotherton Hall, we put together a Facebook album from which people could vote for an Art Fund donated Masterpiece to become Edible from! Choices included the Queen Anne State Bed, a Chippendale desk, but the winner was a Rockingham Pottery Poodle.

The Rockingham Pottery produced this ceramic in about 1830 - this was close to the end of what was called the 'red-mark' period of Rockingham ceramic production. (The other is the 'puce-mark period' from 1831-42.) These names reflect the colour of the stamp on the piece.  

Projects Curator Lucy got to make the bake!

Our lovely poodle (and puppies) is made out of raspberry buttermilk sponge, with coconut buttercream sandwiching the layers. The shaggy coat is made from marshmallow, with glittery sprinkles and a bit more coconut. A hand-sculpted face completes the masterpiece. Expressions are all the poodle’s own.

Interestingly, Rockingham got the effect for the poodle's coat by attaching very small pieces of ceramic one at a time to create a ruffled effect. Lucy used marshmallow and dessicated coconut to achieve the same ends.

Lucy says: I made the bake the evening before, then this morning sandwiched the layers and ‘iced’ the cake. I had a surprise as marshmallow is not perhaps the best medium to create a poodle’s ceramic coat from - it's sticky – there were a few moments where I thought “this isn’t working”!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Collections through Cake: The Hedgehog

At Leeds Museums & Galleries, there is a great collection of taxidermy. One of our Site Development Officer Gemma’s favourite objects is this lovely hedgehog.

As it happens, this week is National Hedgehog Awareness Week. To honour hedgehogginess in general, Gemma caked (pun intended) ours in chocolate and buttons for spines.

Hedgehogs have been decline across the British Isles, due to a number of factors, including road deaths and death by invertebrates that have consumed slug pellets. 

Other things to note about hedgehogs:
- They are lactose intolerant – so don’t give them any saucers of milk.
- The spines are in fact modified hairs and grow to be 2.5 cm long.
- Hedgehogs have around 5000 spines, but each individual spine only lasts about a year.
- A baby hedgehog is called a hoglet, but they have also been called pups, kits and piglets!
- Adder venom has no effect on hedgehogs.
- Hedgehogs were ‘domesticated’ by Romans, who used them for quills and for meat.

The collective noun for hedgehogs is an ‘array’. At Leeds Museums & Galleries we have an array of nine European hedgehogs in our collections, including two skulls and one mounted in a 'defensive ball' position. 

By Curator Lucy Moore