Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Temple Newsam House and the Local Community

Placement student Liu Liu shadowed Assistant Community Curator Helen Pratt and learned about the work she does to help groups and the local community make use of Temple Newsam House

My role in Temple Newsam was divided into observation and interviews. The first time I was involved was at an event called Pirate Shell Treasure Hunt, with a family learning group of children and their parents. Helen led the tour and told stories about the house, while the children found the shells. During their visit, children’s interest in the house and its history grew.

Connections with the local community

I suddenly understood what Helen told me about building connection with communities. Although those people were living close to Temple Newsam House, they might not have had the chance to get to know the history of the place. There now are activities that can bring them together and provide them with opportunities to spend time there. 

A creative writing group finds inspiration from the
Visioning the Landscape exhibition 

Becoming 'hosts' as well as visitors

I also attended the visits from creative writing groups to the Visioning the Landscape exhibition. These groups consist of people of a variety of ages, who are interested in arts and writing poems. After this tour, the members write poems about their feelings and thoughts on the house and the exhibition. 

Their poems are displayed in different places of the house for other visitors to read. By creating poems, they become not only visitors but also hosts. This type of co-creation can encourage deeper audience and community engagement. 

What does 'community engagement' mean?

I had always believed that people took part in a group either due to personal interest or because they were being paid. I learned that this is not the case. For a community or interest group, the more important thing is that there is someone they can trust and be familiar with, especially in the areas of arts and heritage. 

Sometimes people think art is far away from their life and they cannot understand it. However, if there are friendly people encouraging them to join in, people are more likely to get involved. This is the way that Assistant Community Curator Helen Pratt has been working in community engagement.

The placement in the Temple Newsam House deepened my understanding of audience and community engagement. I have seen the power of word of mouth and the importance of building connections between community and the sites. People are attracted by the history of Temple Newsam and that history, as well as the chance to work with different people can have a beneficial effect on their lives.

Monday, 18 July 2016

What's in a bottle? Uncovering a Victorian business bust-up

Work placement student Ruth Headlam discovered a rocky business partnership while researching nineteenth century mineral water manufacturers at Abbey House Museum

Harston & Co. glass bottle about 1890.
This photograph was taken by Norman Taylor for
Leeds Museums and Galleries and is licenced under
Creative Commons BY NC SA)

Often research starts from just a few clues on a museum object, such as an inscription and may reveal unexpected links between objects in the collection.

I researched various Victorian companies and individuals during my six week placement at Abbey House Museum. One of the companies I did extensive research on was Harston & Co. Surprisingly, the origins of this company start with the mineral water manufacturer Barrett & Co. 

Barrett & Co. stoneware bottle about 1900. 
This style of stoneware bottle was originally intended for ink,
but Barrett's used them to sell mineral water. (P
hotograph by
Norman Taylor for Leeds Museums and Galleries)

A lucky discovery

When faced with the task of researching Barrett & Co. I came across various obstacles. Trying to find information about this company resembled extracting blood from a stone! 

When I was about to give up and move on to another company to research, I came across a pdf online. It consisted of two pages of the London Gazette from 1873, stating the dissolution of the partnership between George Alfred Harston and John Simpson, the owners of Barrett & Co. This dissolution may have led to the creation of company of Harston & Co.

Extensive research in Leeds Central Library and online, revealed that George Alfred Harston decided to carry on Barrett &Co. alone. He then decided to create his own mineral water manufacturer aptly named Harston & Co. in 1881, and ran it alongside Barrett & Co. Harston & Co. acquired Barrett & Co. in 1899 and continued to be in business until 1955. 

Although I had a rocky start with regards to the research, I was still able to find out more than I would have imagined, which delighted me as a lover of history. 
By Ruth Headlam, work placement from Leeds Trinity University.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Glow in the dark Victorian glass

Plenty of diverse and dangerous objects pass through Conservator Emma's workshop. While working on these glow-in-the-dark Victorian ornaments she had to get out the Geiger counter!

Seated green glass lion paper weight photographed under normal lighting conditions.
Victorian lion glass paperweight made by James Derbyshire & Sons,
(pictured under normal light)
Glowing Glassware

Some of our glassware has a unique property, it glows under UV light. This is due to very small amounts of the element Uranium found in the glass. Uranium was deliberately added to glass from the early 19th Century right through to before the Second World War, with a few instances up until the late 20th Century.

Why was Uranium added to the glass?

Uranium gives a unique type of colour to glass, turning it a green/yellow shade. This effect is described as 'Vaseline Glass', although it can be found in a variety of colours. While Iron is a cheaper alternative to creating green glass, Uranium allows glass to become fluorescent. In the Victorian home, with low lighting levels, this glass would have stood out more in the early evening light, giving it a slight glow - something we would not notice in today’s light saturated homes!

Our Glowing Lion

Seated green glass lion paperweight photographed under Ultra Violet light which gives a black background and a green glowing lion.
Victorian glass paperweight made by Derbyshire & Sons in 1874 (pictured under UV light)
The lion-shaped piece of glassware pictured above was produced by James Derbyshire & Sons, a Manchester firm. The lion is a paperweight, with a registration date of 3rd July 1874 on his base. The lion came into Conservation as he came to us in a number of pieces. 

The colour of the glass tipped us off that he may be very slightly radioactive and that under UV light he would glow in the dark! A sweep of the Geiger counter confirmed this, although the levels detected were very low. After careful conservation we tried photographing the lion in the dark under a UV light source, not an easy thing to do! The lion is now carefully stored behind Perspex™ in a ventilated store with other examples of this types of glass and ceramic.

Other 'glowing' objects in our collections

A piece of mineral with black and orange colouration.
A piece of Uraninite
Some minerals in our geology collection also fluoresce under UV light.  Some like our radioactive minerals are due to Uranium being present; others glow due to an activator such as minute levels of lead or manganese. You do not need to be radio-active to glow in the dark!

By Emma Bowron, Conservator

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Roundhay blacksmith's stone

Leeds History Curator Kitty reveals a newly identified object in the collections!

One of the main challenges of curating a large museum collection is the haphazard documentation left behind by one's predecessors. When I have a spare moment, I try and match up information from old donor correspondence with our collections database.

Often this is frustrating and impossible (letters may refer to vague donations of "various toys" or an "old chair"), but occasionally you stumble across something so accurately described that there can be no doubt and suddenly an unidentified object in store has a story and provenance that justifies its place in the collection. It can also shed new light on an object that you have passed many times in the store and wondered how on earth you might be able to research its history.

Keystone with blacksmith emblems in store at Leeds Discovery Centre
(This photograph was taken by Kitty Ross for Leeds Museums and Galleries and is licenced under Creative Commons BY NC SA.)

In a letter to the museum dated August 1968, Miss Eleanor G. Lupton wrote: 'Our chauffeur here (Frank Buck by name) living in one of our cottages, has a piece of Roundhay antiquity, in which I think you may be interested - It is a keystone of the arched doorway to the blacksmith's forge which stood at Oakwood till nearly the end of the last century, & from which the present "Oakwood Lane" took its name of "Horseshoe Lane" by which it was still known in my childhood.

'The stone is carved with blacksmith's emblems - hammer, tongs, horseshoe - & was presumably the work of the local stone mason of the Nettleton family, a member of which removed it to his home at Ash Bank, Wetherby Road, when the forge was demolished.  Mrs Frank Buck is a member of this family, & she and her husband would willingly present it to the old blacksmith's forge at the Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall if you would care to accept it and fit it in there.'

The keystone was definitely collected but never seems to have been properly accessioned, catalogued or even displayed at Abbey House as was clearly intended.  However, it is now catalogued with its full story and can be seen as part of store tours at the Leeds Discovery Centre.

Find out more about our store tours on the Leeds Discovery Centre website.

Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds History

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Creating a new sculpture for Leeds City Museum Window Frame Project

Artist Jenni Danson reveals the work behind making The Curve, her new sculpture specially designed for Leeds City Museum

I am particularly  interested in  empty and ignored spaces. We tend to take notice of a space when it has an object in it. We look at the object but usually ignore the space containing it. If we see nothing there we pass on to the next object. I want to look at the space and its boundaries.

'The Curve' - image courtesy of Jenni Danson

Adapting a concept to a space

My first thoughts for the piece The Curve was to make the curves within the entire window space. As always with an installation the practicalities of the space and the physical requirements of the piece  start to take over. This means that in the end the work arises almost organically from the process that produces it.

Inserting the curves into the entire window space proved physically impossible in the time available : it was not possible to attach uprights to the wall, the work would interfere with the motion sensors, and the lighting was a fixture.

Experiments and construction

Further thought lead to the idea of a third scale model of the window space. Various materials were considered and Perspex was chosen because of its transparency, which would allow the curves  to dominate,

The biggest problem with making the Perspex frame was finding corner pieces. I  tried out various commercial corner pieces and eventually cut Perspex corner pieces. This involved a full scale drawing of the base and making a pattern for each corner.

The frame was constructed  at home, thankfully it held together and stood up in the way I intended. It then had to be pulled apart, transported to Leeds City Museum and reassembled in a corner of the special exhibitions gallery.

I  had originally intended to use coloured fishing line but could not get this delivered in time. So the threads  used were a combination of cotton, polyester and linen.

Inspiration from stained glass

'The Curve' - image courtesy
of Jenni Danson
The colour choice was to a certain extent instinctive, I usually have a vision of what colour I want a piece to be. In the case of the Curve  I wanted to echo the colours in a stained glass window which uses a lot of strong red and blue. There are many possible curves within the frame work. Any two sides as long as they are at an angle will produce a curve, and I chose several of these to show. Each curve was made using a continuous  thread, with the ends glued to the frame.

The curves occur because  a straight line is a tangent to a curve, repeated straight lines in close proximity will allow the curve to appear (the reason the old toy Spirograph worked).

Once the piece was finished it was carefully lifted into place by the museum’s technicians.

The success of the piece for me is that it does what I envisioned at the beginning despite the changes along the way.

I hope that The Curve will make the viewer think about the shape if the window and the other curves that exist within the space.

By Jenni Danson

You can see The Curve on display in the entrance to Leeds City Museum until October. It will be followed by work from other artists.