Friday, 29 August 2014

Collections through Cake: Feeling Bird-iful

Collections through Cake has been busy across the Summer, and in this post I'd like to bring to you egg-tention some fascinating objects from our oological collections ... Eggy, Steady - Go!*

Another question could be what comes first, the egg or the nest?

Kirsty, our Bird Skins Curator, previously #MusCake-d about a Barn Swallow's nest​ in the collection

*Puns will only get poorer from this point on

Friday, 22 August 2014

Choosing Leeds objects for ‘Roman Empire: Power and People’

As part of the British Museum touring exhibition ‘Roman Empire: Power and People’, which is at Leeds City Museum 20th Sept – 4th Jan, we decided to highlight some of our own Roman collections. 

 Many of our fantastic Roman objects are already on display in Leeds City Museum, both in the Ancient Worlds and the Story of Leeds galleries, but we have collected many more objects since these galleries opened and we want to tell different stories in ‘Roman Empire’.

Marble head of a satyr, 100-50 BC, collected in 1896
from Lord Savile’s excavations at Lanuvium, Italy
Firstly we integrated local objects into the existing themes of the exhibition, and objects from Yorkshire are highlighted throughout so visitors can easily spot them. A beautiful fantail brooch from Wattle Syke sits alongside several brooches from the British Museum’s collection. 

 Altars from Adel and Chapel Allerton fit into the wider theme of religious beliefs, as does a silver ring depicting Fortuna found by a metal detector user in Micklefield. These displays are also complemented by objects from The Yorkshire Museum’s collection, which root these larger ideas about the empire to Yorkshire objects.

Fantail brooch, AD 70-130, from recent excavations
at Wattle Syke, West Yorkshire
In the introductory area of the gallery there is also a display about the how Leeds Museums and Galleries collected all of this Roman stuff in the first place. It looks at 19th century collecting by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and at what Roman material we collect today.

We hope that by highlighting our local Roman heritage, visitors will engage more with the wonderful objects on display from across the Roman Empire, and embrace the Roman period as part of our shared history.

By Archaeology Curator Katherine Baxter

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Well Suited: The First Male Models

George Rutland riding a penny farthing on the street
in 1964 
(Hepworth Mercury Archive)

Do models care about what they wear? According to George Rutland, one of Britain’s first top male models, they absolutely do! 

From penny farthing-riding plus fours to groovy wide-leg flares with high-heeled boots to a canary yellow-coloured suit, Rutland had the opportunity to wear a wonderful array of fashionable clothing during his modelling career in the 1960s and ‘70s. 

In a recent interview, conducted as part of a research project exploring the fashion industry in Leeds during the post-war period, the Bermuda-native confirmed that models do indeed take an active interest in the pieces they showcase on the runway. Rutland reminisces how he swelled with pride when walking down the catwalk in a meticulously-tailored suit and firmly believes that a man never looks or feels better than when he is wearing a classic suit.

Group of models (Hepworth Mercury Archive)

Although he initially came to England from Bermuda as an aspiring actor, Rutland began modelling for Hepworths, a Leeds-based clothing manufacturer, shortly before the company’s centenary in 1962. As part of their fee, professional models received the suits they had worn the previous season when they attended their annual fittings, so Rutland amassed quite a sizeable wardrobe, including many bespoke suits created by Savile Row designer Hardy Amies. 

Rutland was so pleased with the quality of these suits that he wore them every day, not just on the runway. He was happily ‘plugging Hepworths the whole time’. This commitment to maintaining an impeccable, suited appearance proved highly beneficial for Rutland, as his Hardy Amies Hepworth’s suit won him a film role and earned the approval of esteemed photographer Sir Cecil Beaton. Rutland tells the story in his own words here.

A very stylish man: Tony Armstrong-Barnes

Tony Armstrong-Barnes, Rutland’s fellow model and close friend, received similar attention when wearing Hardy Amies’ suits. Upon encountering photographers and tailoring company executives around town, Barnes was often recognised and complimented for his stylish apparel. He fondly recalls the time that television producer Monty Berman saw him at the opera and complimented the young model’s ability to wear a suit. Listen to Barnes recount this moment here.

Unlike Rutland, who later became a fashion show director, Barnes devoted himself to professional modelling and worked for a number of companies, including Hepworths, Burtons, Alexandre and Marks & Spencer. Originally an aspiring dancer, who compares his childhood dreams to those of Billy Elliot, Barnes unexpectedly began modelling in the late 1950s after standing in for an ill friend at a photo shoot for a knitting pattern cover. 

Tony Armstrong-Barnes, 1965
(Hepworth Mercury Archive)
Due to the lack of young male models during this period, as well as his good looks and charm, Barnes quickly became sought-after by prominent London photographic studios and developed a large portfolio. Some of his most significant jobs included a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box advertisement with Patty Boyd (a famous model who later married both George Harrison and Eric Clapton) and Burton’s 1964 photo ad (the first colour advertisement in an English newspaper). 

Since models of the era were responsible for providing their own accessories and styling themselves at photo shoots, Barnes acquired a vast wardrobe consisting chiefly of suits, which he wore in his leisure time as well as to work. Indeed, he was so accustomed to donning formalwear on a daily basis that he even wore a pinstripe suit for his first meeting with photographer David Bailey, who is best known for capturing casual images. Barnes briefly describes this meeting here.

Due to changing fashions throughout his career, Barnes had the opportunity to wear a diverse variety of styles, ranging from the velvet suits of the Teddy Boys to the narrow trousers of Mods. Perhaps since he was expected to appear in contemporary fashions on the runway, Barnes preferred to imitate the classic, tailored style of actors like Cary Grant and George Pepard when selecting his private wardrobe. In contrast, his friend Rutland always embraced the latest trends and relished wearing flares and platforms in the 1970s. Rutland still laughs when he recalls tripping in a particularly expensive pair of trendy, high-heeled boots. Listen to this amusing anecdote here.

After more than 50 years in the fashion industry, both Rutland and Barnes continue to maintain substantial wardrobes that include starched cuffs, neckties, and waistcoats and, of course, high-quality suits. After all, as Rutland confirms, ‘You can’t get away from a classic man’s suit.’ Leeds Museums are fortunate to have several such fine suits in their collections, some of which will be on display in the newly re-developed tailoring gallery at Armley Mills.

By Curatorial Intern Katherine Young

(Images: Hepworth Mercury Archive)

Monday, 11 August 2014

A slug on a night out

I saw this lovely Leopard Slug on my path early this morning on my way to work. Leopard Slugs look rather like normal slugs on a night out, wearing fetching leopard-skin outfits. This one looked like it was on its way home after a big one.

One of the weird things about Leopard Slugs is the way they mate. Once paired up, they hang on a thick mucus thread, curled up together in a load of slime. I once saw a pair of them hanging from the corner of my bird table – it was quite a sight!

One of our previous curators here, Adrian Norris, is an expert on slugs, and he added many to our museum collection while he worked here. The best way to preserve slugs is to put them in jars of ethanol, as they are soft-bodied and can’t be taxidermied like vertebrates (animals with backbones, for example birds and mammals). We have several jars of leopard slugs, as well as other species, in our collection.  

By Natural Sciences Curator Rebecca Machin