Tunnicliffe

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The official opening date is this coming weekend but the exhibition is now more or less in place. Here is a little background to the selection of just a handful of objects that we chose to use.

In the course of planning this exhibition, my co-curator Neil Cocks and I decided it would be useful to undertake a brief review of some of the hunting-related content housed at MERL such that we could select suitable items for display. This process threw up some interesting gaps in the holdings of this (ordinarily very comprehensive) rural collection and led to the discovery of some rather unexpected connections.

We were surprised to learn, for example, that the Museum had no hunting pinks (or pinques) in its possession, this being the type of red coat traditionally worn by many in the hunting fraternity. Luckily, this did not prove a major stumbling block as I knew that my parents had in their possession a coat of this kind that was made in the nineteenth century for my Great Great Great Grandfather Charles Garfit and, as such, I decided to borrow this item for the exhibition. Thanks to Tim and Jane Douglas (a.k.a. mum and dad) for the generous loan of this coat.

Hunting pinks made for Charles Garfit

The red coat made in circa 1832 for MERL curator Ollie Douglas’ ancestor Charles Garfit.

Some months prior to this I had already managed to secure a hunting whip for the collection, which I purchased at auction as part of the Museum’s ongoing project Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures. As I waited to bid for this item I chatted at length to Mary Riall, Chief Executive of Ufton Court Educational Trust, who was there seeking artefacts for use in hands-on learning contexts. She revealed her own familial connections to hunting and the fact that, much like my parents, she too had some unused hunting paraphernalia at home. Again, this connection proved rather timely and Mary has kindly lent some boots and a riding cap for use in the exhibition. I would like to also extend my thanks to her for agreeing to this loan.

Hunting whip acquired at auction through Collecting Cultures funding

This hunting whip was acquired at an auction in Reading through Collecting Cultures funding (MERL 2011/7).

Just before Neil and I met to look over the MERL objects and to examine the coat that I had borrowed from my parents I spent some time looking at each item more carefully and reading through the related documentation. Prior to this moment I knew very little about the branch of my family to which the pinks were connected. I was therefore surprised and pleased to learn that the first owner of this coat had himself been based at Tabley House, Cheshire, a large property situated in the very county where Charles Tunnicliffe himself was to be born decades later. Ideal I thought, a Cheshire hunting artefact to help elucidate and interpret an image of a huntsman that itself almost certainly harked back to the artist’s own Cheshire roots.

Label found in the box in whcih the hunting coat had long been stored.

This handwritten label was in the box in which the hunting coat had long been stored. It revealed the provenance of the artefact, which had previously been unknown to me.

However, this was not the end of the surprises that I had in store. As I proceeded to revisit and re-examine the hunting whip, then still quite recently purchased, I was amazed to discover that the silver ferrule on this stylised accessory was inscribed as follows:

‘J. L–W // Tabley House // Cheshire // 1928’

In a remarkable coincidence I had purchased an object for inclusion in the MERL collection that was linked by its own object biography to a house that had earlier connections to my own familial heritage. Neil and I agreed that the Cheshire connections alone were sufficient to justify incorporating these intriguing objects and that the link between them, which was also centred on the importance of  ‘place’ in interpreting material culture, simply served to enhance the valuable part they could play in the exhibition. Plus, of course, the hunting pinks looked visually striking!

The importance of A Sense of Place in understanding the history of these objects, as well as the impetus and inspiration behind Tunnicliffe’s huntsman image, is clear. This area oif exploration is the subject of another project currently underway at the Museum, and about which my colleagues and I have also been blogging. If you are interested then why not check out this ongoing discussion or pay a visit to the exhibition and take a look at the whip and jacket on display.

The engraved ferrule on the hunting whip.

The engraved ferrule on the hunting whip, which reveals a link to Tabley House, Cheshire.

Objects on display in the exhibition, including the red coat.

Objects on display in the exhibition, including the red coat, as used to provide an artefactual understanding of the huntsman image.

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The appeal of Ladybird books as collectible items is well known, with specialist websites and blogs such as The Wee Web and Vintage Ladybird Books offering a growing wealth of online and detailed information on the volumes available and on the history of this rich strand of children’s literature and publishing history. In terms of the biographies of individual copies of Ladybird books many of these will find themselves in the hands of collectors at some point in their lifetimes. The copies we have borrowed for the exhibition are no exception.

The Tunnicliffe collector's book shelves

This photo shows the book shelves of Tunnicliffe collector Lionel Kelly, whose personal holdings include earlye ditions of many works illustrated by the artist.

We have on display a copy of the first edition of the Autumn volume that has been kindly lent by Lionel Kelly, a former academic who worked for many years in the Department of English here at the University of Reading. Like numerous other scholars of literature, Lionel was an enthusiastic book collector for many years. When he retired he became especially keen on the work of Charles Tunnicliffe and began collecting early editions of books that had been illustrated by him. This, of course, included copies from the What to Look For series.

Lionel Kelly's copy of 'What to Look For in Autumn'

Lionel Kelly’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Autumn’ is a frist edition but is lacking the standard dust jacket that came with the original volume. This lack of dust jacket reveals the monochrome Tunnicliffe image that graces the cover beneath.

Lionel has also lent his first edition copy of What to Look For in Winter, which features one of the most entertaining (not to mention worrying!) errata slips I have ever seen, and one with which other Ladybird enthusiasts are already familiar. This is shown in the picture below.

Errata slip from Lionel Kelly's first edition copy of the 'Winter' volume.

Errata slip from Lionel Kelly’s first edition copy of ‘What to Look For in Winter’.

The slip reads as follows:

ERRATA page 16 // “The red and purple berries that look like tiny jam tarts are not poisonous.”// should read // “The red and purple berries that look like tiny jam tarts are ALSO poisonous.”

One young owner of this particular copy of the book has tken it iupon themselves to write ‘are poisonous’ alongside the wording of the errata slip. Someone – perhaps the same previous owner – has also made the correction on page 16, as shown in the following image.

Correction made in pen to page 16 of Lionel Kelly's copy of the 'Winter' book.

A correction has been made to the text on page 16 of Lionel Kelly’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Winter’.

We are enormously grateful to Lionel for lending these two books and for lending a handful of other gems from his wider Tunnicliffe collection. These include two books illustrated by Tunnicliffe and, like the What to Look For series, also authored by Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson. He has also lent us a copy of Tunnicliffe’s How to Draw Farm Animals, an original pencil sketch from which we have borrowed from Oriel Ynys Môn. Why not drop in to see the exhibition and take a look at this original pencil sketch on display.

Lionel Kelly's copy of 'How to Draw Farm Animals'

One of Lionel Kelly’s two different editions of ‘How to Draw Farm Animals’.

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As discussed above, the exhibition on Ladybird and Tunnicliffe at MERL will feature work by a number of academics from the University of Reading discussing what they look for in a single image from What to Look For in Autumn. The approaches range from Art History to Biology, Typography to Critical Theory. Each response is displayed on a banner or panel, that works through some key ideas. Many of these have now been printed.

1) Looking at the Artist introduces some biographical information about the artist Tunnicliffe, placing the image from What to Look for in Autumn in the context of his life and work.

2) Looking at Art and Style relates the image to the work of artists that influenced Tunnicliffe.

3) Looking at How to Look asks a range of questions about the framing of the image.

4) Looking at Artefacts explores the various objects depicted in the images, and from this discusses the representation the natural and the human

5) Looking at Childhood places the image in the context of changing C20th attitudes to childhood.

6) Looking at Letterforms relates the word forms in What to Look For in Autumn to typographical innovations within the wider series of Ladybird publications.

7) Looking at Book Design describes the printing and design process, and the influence technical considerations had on the image and the book from which it is taken .

8) Looking at Names uses the mushrooms depicted in the image as a starting point for a discussion of the relationship between names and things.

9) Looking at Absence is interested in things outside of the image’s frame and how they contribute to the image within.

10) Looking at the Hunt relates the image to some of Tunnicliffe’s other depictions of hunting

11) Looking at Science engages with the work of Grant-Watson, the biologist and writer who supplied the text that accompanies the image.

12) Looking at Learning relates the image to contemporary ideas of education and literacy.

13) Looking at Rural History approaches the image through changing ideas of the rural and nature.

14) Looking at Images is a photographic response to the What to Look For books by Wig Sayell, a contemporary artist.

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Oriel Ynys Môn

Neil Cocks from The University of Reading visited Oriel Ynys Môn last week in preparation for the opening of the Tunnicliffe/Ladybird exhibition he is co-curating at MERL. Oriel Ynys Môn has a world class collection of Tunnicliffe material, and a track record of utilising it within innovative exhibitions. Museum Officer Ian Jones showed Neil around the current exhibitions, as well as introducing him to a wealth of archive material. Hopefully, a number of significant loan items will appear in the MERL exhibition – we will keep you posted!

Neil says of his trip:

“The Tunnicliffe work at Oriel Ynys Môn is breathtaking, especially the notebooks. These are filled with such an array of styles. Tunnicliffe was clearly interested in constantly pushing his art. Ian Jones is an expert in the field, and his knowledge of Tunnicliffe’s work – from his use of field glasses, to his choices of location – really helped me develop my own understanding.

I should also mention the current Kyffin Williams exhibition at Oriel Ynys Môn. Recently, some Williams work was exhibited alongside paintings by Tunnicliffe, helping to bring to light connections between these two island artists. Williams’s canvases are all illuminated dusks, great spread-squares of grey, yellow, black and white. The paint is frequently applied in thick palate knife strokes, but has an odd, insubstantial quality for all that. Haunting and beautiful images…”

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