Monday, 28 July 2014

Sunny Sand Martins

I often see nice bits of urban wildlife on my walk to the Discovery Centre from the train station. Lately I’ve been cheered by the sight of Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) flying around over the River Aire by Leeds Bridge.

These are amazing birds, related to the more familiar Swallow and House Martin. They are called Sand Martins because they usually nest in holes in sandy banks, but these ones have been nesting in holes eroded in the sandstone walls of the buildings by the river. They were feeding on small insects flying above the river. Sand Martins are only in the UK over summer, and will migrate to Africa for the winter.

Here’s one of the Sand Martins in our collection (pictured above) at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre. It was an immature Sand Martin, collected in Arthington near Leeds in 1888 by F. W. Branson.

My colleague Kirsty Garrod and her team of volunteers and interns have been improving the condition of and access to our bird skin collection through the Skin Deep project, funded by the Designation Development Fund, part of Arts Council England. Our bird skins and other collections can be used to help conserve biodiversity, as well as being fascinating in their own right.

By Natural Sciences Curator Rebecca Machin

Friday, 25 July 2014

Collections through cake: Sowing Seeds

The weekend many people will be sowing poppy seeds as an act of remembrance. The poppy has become irrevocably linked to the First World War. We’ve posted before about poppies and their significance across time. 

In this post, Lucy our First World War Projects Curator wanted to think about what seeds the commemorations will sow for the future. Through cake, of course.

To get down to the Mary Berry-ness, Lucy made a simple sponge, but added two tablespoons of poppyseeds and two very ripe chopped pears. The very same poppyseeds which were used as an ingredient were also available for staff at Discovery Centre to plant and grow.

As we sow these seeds, as we plan our exhibitions and as we engage people all across Leeds with the First World War, very careful thought is given about what legacy of understanding we are creating. As a museum service, we will be using our collections and our sites as lenses through which we can encourage understanding of the war and the effect of it across the last century.

Through the sowing of these metaphorical seeds, we want people to question the past, to discover their own First World War histories and to look forward with a clearer understanding of our pasts and how they shape our futures.  

By First World War Projects Curator Lucy Moore

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Collections through Cake: The Outreach Box

At Leeds Museums & Galleries we adore it when people visit any (or indeed all) of our nine sites, but we do also take the museum off-site and out to schools, community groups, hospices and a whole host of other places!

This all about talking to people about the exhiblariting objects in our collections that tell stories about our city and our world. Recently, one of our much-beloved Outreachers moved on to pastures new and in true #MuseumCake style, we put together an outreach box to mark her departure.

To learn more about outreach possibilities for you and your group, please get in touch with Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, our Community Curators or with the start of the centenary of the First World War in mind, our Projects Curator.

Here's a couple more views of this awesome box:


What can you spot in our outreach box? Answer in the comments below ...

NB: The sides were made of thin fudge in cake form - our usual boxes are much, much sturdier!

By First World War Projects Curator Lucy Moore

Monday, 7 July 2014

Leeds helps in the fight for the endangered Tasmanian Devil

Leeds Museums and Galleries has three Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) in its natural science collections. Their DNA has been taken and looked at by a team in Australia who are researching ‘devil facial tumour disease’ in the hope of finding a cure for this terrible condition.

One of the brilliantly stuffed Tasmanian Devils at
Leeds Museums and Galleries
Leeds, a large, rich, Victorian industrial city, spent most of the 19th century collecting scientific material from around the world. We had a ‘purveyor of Australian wildlife’ and acquired, amongst other things, two Devil mounts and a skeleton.

The study, also using specimens from Oxford, looked at genetic diversity in a group of molecules in cell membrane proteins called the ‘major histocompatibility complex’. Low diversity in this complex has been linked to the emergence and spread of devil facial tumour disease. The team needed samples of historical and ancient Devil DNA to see how diverse the populations were before European settlement and after. (Link to the article,published in Biology Letters

This is a great example of how museum natural science specimens can contribute to scientific research at the forefront of species conservation.

By Natural Sciences Curator Clare Brown

Friday, 4 July 2014

Jewish textiles in Leeds

Hannah Bloom kindly showed me several textile artworks at the Sinai Synagogue yesterday. They include pieces on Sukkot and Jerusalem done several years ago under the direction of artist Gillian Holding, in the main Prayer Hall, and more recent pieces on the history of the synagogue, including one made this year for this Reform synagogue’s 70th birthday.

In the stairway down to the children’s area there is also a multi-panel embroidery of the Hebrew alphabet. Many people have come together to work on these embroideries and their quality and vibrancy make them ideal as possible loans for any future Jewish exhibition.

Hannah  made the figure of the young girl in this family standing under the Sukkot temporary roof canopy, a feature of this harvest festival celebration.

Embroidery  by Hannah Bloom

It’s interesting to compare these modern embroideries, such as this Hebrew letter (also by Hannah) done on a patchwork background from fabric fragments saved from the making of Joseph’s coat  worn in a production of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, to the older embroidered details on Torah mantles, and prayer shawl bags that we have in the museum collections. These are mainly from the United Hebrew Congregation in Leeds, and came to us via the Manchester Jewish Museum in 1990.

Some of the older embroideries were done by professional firms, probably based in London, such as the green Torah mantle above), but others look more home-made, such as the red velvet Torah mantle (above) with its many sequins and the Star of David.

By World Cultures Curator Antonia Lovelace

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Hindu Bronze Inscriptions

 Small Indian lamp inscribed 'Guru Nanja Veru'

This morning dance teacher Devika Rao visited Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and was able to read and translate for us an inscription on a small lamp we have on display.

The lamp (pictured above) has five cups or dishes  for lighting oil, held up by a figure with a five-headed naga or serpant behind. The inscription reads: 'Guru Nanja Veru' in Kannada-Telugu script, a script used in southern India, particularly in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

In front of the five cups (pictured left) is a Makara guardian demon, seated with forelegs in centre and hind legs to the side. The name Guru Nanja Veru in this position on the lamp indicates that this lamp was reserved or particularly used for the aarti ceremony of this local Guru figure.

Objects used in worship:

In a small domestic shrine there is often only one lamp for performing aarti for all the deities represented, but in a temple particular lamps may be reserved for particular deities. 

This small lamp, pictured right, (11.6cms tall and 10.4 cms long) is on display at Leeds Discovery Centre in a case promoting the larger Hinduism faith case in Voices of Asia at Leeds City Museum.  There you can see a much larger lamp, in the shape of a shikara or Hindu temple dome, collected by Sir Stuart Mitford-Fraser around 1890-1914. The hanging leaves and Ganesha figures are typical of Nepalese Hindu craftsmanship.

Another bronze (pictured below) in the Hinduism display has an inscription we would love to have translated. A large ladle with a bell attached.  This was also collected by Sir Stuart Mitford Fraser. The inscription is on the side of the bell

 Can you help us translate the inscription on this bronze bell (above right)?

Bells usually hang in front of each deity in a temple, and devotees approaching chime the bell before and during their prayers. The ladle handle is decorated with the raised figures of a fish (the Matsya incarnation of Vishnu), the bull Nandi, a Shivling and a naga serpent.  Finding which Indian language this inscription is in will suggest where the ladle and bell were made.

By World Cultures Curator Antonia Lovelace