16 February 2015

Installing Loans at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby

Thursday 12 February 2015

Leeds Museum and Galleries are regular lenders to the annual exhibitions on Cook related themes at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby. This years theme is 'Fashion and Fibres: Island Dress in Polynesia' and on Thursday morning Emma Bowron, the conservator at Leeds Museum DiscoveryCentre, and I drove to Whitby in the museum van with a European style Samoan barkcloth dress probably dating from the late 1800s. The drive takes around two hours. Arriving in the attic exhibition space we met long-standing friends, MEG members, and ex-colleagues, Barbara Woroncow and Adrian Norris, who were there helping Sophie Forgan and other Whitby staff with the install. Barbara and Adrian are active trustees of the Captain Cook museum. In the large case where the Samoan dress was to be laid gently on a calico covered plastazote 
slope, a 1970s Fijian barkcloth hung at the back, which was one of the last gifts Barbara’s father hunted down for her in a bargain sale, a while ago now. 

The other item in the case is a beautiful modern reconstruction of the tapa waistcoat that Mrs Cook made for her husband, but never finished.  The partial garment, Cook died before it was finished, survives in Australia. This new waistcoat is by Alison Larkin. It has a linen back which laces up the centre, and fine silk floral embroidery enhanced with tiny silver coloured sequins or spangels. There are real pockets under the flaps.

We stayed to help with the install of a stunning tapa poncho cloth from Kew, and to watch the others installing two Maori flax cloaks on loan from the Great North Museum.  The Leeds Samoan girl’s dress is made from tapa coloured with traditional designs, and tailored with a yoke, collar and sleeves and buttons down the front. It may have been made for an indigenous girl, or perhaps for the child of a European missionary or official. It is rare for such dresses to survive. A good photograph of it can be found on the exhibition page of the Cook museum. The dress was transferred to Leeds Museums in 1964 from Leeds Corporation Works Department. The notes say: Formerly in the house of Mrs Bell, cleared by Corporation Housing Department. Items brought to the museum by Mr Fitzgerald of Housing Dept. The material seems to have been brought home by E.R.G. Bell (husband or father in law?) and includes a sketch map of Samoa and its islands.  I’ve tried to trace ERG Bell, but no success so far.

The exhibition opens this Saturday, 14 February and will run until the Captain Cook Memorial Museum closes for the winter at the end of November.

Antonia Lovelace  
Curator of World Cultures
Leeds Museums and Galleries

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