For some time I’ve been trying to track down a collection of glass lantern slides of the Museum’s Cypriot pottery, taken at some point between 1893 and 1928 by Henry Crowther, then Curator of the Museum. Eleven have now come to light, and they provide a fascinating window on the earlier history of the collection.
Most of the Cypriot artefacts shown are still in the collection today, and it’s great to be able to witness this earlier stage of their history. These images were of course taken before the 1941 bombing, and some of them show artefacts which were later damaged. One of the most interesting is this bull askos, which has the figure of a small dog with long ears and perky tail perched on its handle.
I’m not sure, but I think it’s the same one as this askos currently on display in the gallery; still an appealing and intriguing piece, but much of the humour and liveliness has been lost along with the dog.
One of the most striking things about these slides is that almost all of the images are coloured. The slides were taken in black and white, with each pot (and the background) carefully coloured in appropriate shades by hand. This is more successful at some times than others; the opiate juglet has a slightly strange marbled appearance, which is rather misleading.
This black-and-white slide, showing a bowl and a white shaved juglet which appear to be missing from the current collection, is more in keeping with modern aesthetics of ancient art, although, as we are constantly reminded, ancient Greek temples and statues would have been brightly coloured. The hand-coloured slides bring out the vividness of the Cypriot pots, which is a large part of their identity and appeal. It’s interesting that this colour was felt to be important for Mr Crowther’s late 19th/early 20th century audiences.
Over at the blog for the Leeds University Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Mark Steadman has written about the evocative quality of the magic lantern slides in that Museum’s collection. These images of the Cypriot collection help to put the age of the ceramics in context; the slides seem antiquated in the light of current technology, but in relative terms the images were taken only recently.
Henry Crowther, who took these images, was a hugely significant figure in the development of the Leeds City Museum.
He began work at the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1875, had a stint away at the Royal Institution of Cornwall from 1881 to 1893, then returned and stayed until his eventual retirement in 1928 at the age of eighty. He was hugely enthusiastic and hard-working, constantly seeking and implementing new ways of improving the museum. Most significantly from the point of view of the Cypriot collection, he took the opportunity of buying for the Museum a collection of ancient Cypriot pottery after the close of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.
The innovation for which, above all others, he will be remembered is the development and delivery of Schools Talks and Christmas Lectures on the Museum collections. The figures involved are amazing – over forty years he delivered lectures on a huge range of subjects to hundreds of thousands of children and teachers. His ability to make his subjects come alive was warmly praised:
“The reports from the Supervisors invariably speak in the highest praise of the Lecture, the beautiful slides and the large and varied collection of objects gathered by Mr. Crowther to illustrate the subject.” (Report of Council of LP&LS, 1915).
The Council of the LP&LS ensured that he was remunerated for his efforts, voting that he should receive half, then all of the profits accruing from the Schools Lectures. He himself was proud of their success, as evidenced by his letter of 1902 to Dr Murray at the British Museum, expressing thanks for a donation of Cypriot antiquities:
“We are always thankful for these recognitions by the British Museum and we, I may fearlessly say, do our best to teach the people their value. For eight years I have given Christmas Museum lectures, our average attendance being 250; last year I gave 20 lectures to 7,000 children and 250 teachers; we are to begin in October with another series to 10,000 school children; your kind gift is, therefore, an appreciable one to us.”
The fame of his lectures evidently spread, and he was in some demand as an itinerant lecturer, as this ‘Syllabus of Lectures’ shows.
From this we learn that the colorist of the lantern slides was Miss Violet Crowther, Henry Crowther’s daughter, who was the first Curator of Abbey House Museum and its collection of ‘bygones’. It’s not clear which lecture the Cypriot slides belonged to; possibly the Christmas lecture for 1897, on ‘Pots and Pottery’. In any case, it’s good to know that around the turn of the century the Cypriot ceramics were reaching large audiences in and beyond Leeds, and inspirational to think of the opportunities technology affords to put them before even larger and more widely spread audiences today.