Volunteers reveal untold stories behind Leeds’ hidden treasures

Published : 19/07/2012 00:00

Volunteers reveal untold stories behind Leeds’ hidden treasures

The untold stories behind a unique collection of artefacts some of which have never been on public display before will be told in a new exhibition which begins at Leeds City Museum this week.

The exhibition entitled ‘Treasured! Smuggled? Stolen? Saved?’ which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund opens on Thursday 19 July at the museum off Millennium Square.

The display has been created by a group of young local volunteers as part of Precious Cargo, a series of exhibitions and events led by young people and inspired by Yorkshire’s world collections as part of the Cultural Olympiad Stories of the World project to bring fresh perspectives and new ideas into museums’ collections up and down the country.

Stories of the World is part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic movements, designed to give everyone in the UK a chance to be part of London 2012 and inspire creativity across all forms of culture, especially among young people.

The exhibition has been put together by seventeen volunteers aged 14-24 years old with support from the museum’s curators, giving the young team valuable new skills and exclusive insight into rarely seen elements of the museum collection.

The volunteers researched and selected a variety of objects from the collection - which have travelled across the world to Leeds - sharing the unique stories behind why and how they have ended up in the city.

Visitors are invited to take a journey through time and share their own views on whether the objects have been smuggled, stolen or saved. It includes pieces which haven’t been on display before, including many from the customs collection which are on loan term loan from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), having been illegally smuggled into the UK.

The four themes devised by the volunteers include treasure hunting, collecting the exotic, war, and tomb raiding & death. Highlights include Mok the gorilla from the French Congo, a bejeweled Buddhist ritual Tibetan skull cup and thigh bone trumpet, rare 18th-century rare Swedish plate money and a North African shrunken head.

Leeds City Museum’s Precious Cargo project officer Esther Amis-Hughes said:

“It is great to see local young people getting involved in projects like this and to showcase their talents at Leeds City Museum for everyone to see. We have been very much looking forward to seeing the exhibition open and we know visitors to will enjoy seeing the amazing items which will be on display so we thank the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and the Cultural Olympiad for helping to make it happen.”

Fiona Spiers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorkshire and the Humber, said:

“This project really highlights how committed and enthusiastic young people are about the heritage around them.  We are delighted that this award has provided young people with the opportunity to learn new skills and really bring the museum’s collections to life for everyone to explore and enjoy.”

The exhibition will be supported with a range of special events throughout the summer. More information can be found on the project blog www.mostlyolderthanmygran.org via twitter @treasured2012 and on www.leeds.gov.uk/treasured2012.

There are also Facebook apps to vote whether these items are smuggled, stolen or saved at www.facebook.com/LeedsMuseumsandGalleries#!/LeedsMuseumsandGalleries/app_400276333363338

A treasure dash to find £100 worth of gig tickets is also available for those who can find ‘hidden’ treasures in Leeds -  www.treasured2012.co.uk/

Treasured! Smuggled? Stolen? Saved? Runs until 13 January 2013 at Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square, Leeds LS2 8BH. Admission is free.

For more information on Leeds City Museum visit www.leeds.gov.uk and search for Leeds City Museum.

Notes to editors:

Treasured! Smuggled? Stolen? Saved? has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Precious Cargo is part of the Stories of the World Cultural Olympiad programme and is supported by Arts Council England. 

Stories of the World is a series of exhibitions and events that brings together over 60 museums across the country. 2,000 young people have explored the museums’ collections and helped develop and shape the exhibitions and their presentation, bringing fresh new approaches and insights. The project is supported by Arts Council England in partnership with London 2012.

Highlighted objects:

Mok the gorilla
Mok is originally from the French Congo, but was captured and taken to Paris where he lived in a cage in a hotel lobby for the entertainment of guests. In 1932 he was transferred from the Parisian hotel lobby to London zoo, at the same time as his future girlfriend Moena, where they subsequently fell in love. During his time in the zoo, Cecil Tresilian, the illustrator for the Jungle Book studied Mok and some of the other primemates there as inspiration for the character King Louie from The Jungle Book. After six years Mok and Moena’s relationship came to an abrupt end when Mok died. Moena was so upset that she began scratching at her feet in grief; the cuts became infected and sadly she died.

Tibetan Skull Cup
The Tibetan skull cup is made from the skull of a highly respected priest or saint. In Buddhist rituals, the cup was used to hold offerings to the Gods, usually flowers or jewels. It is not clear how the donor, Mr Lyham, came to have the skull cup. He presented it to the museum in 1950 but it could have left Tibet decades before. The removal of the cup from Tibet probably saved it. In the 1950s and 1960s, the communist regime in China tried to remove all aspects of Tibetan culture. They particularly targeted religion, and Buddhist artefacts like the skull cup were destroyed in their thousands.

Tibetan Thigh Bone Trumpet
In Tibetan, the thigh bone trumpet is known as a ‘Kangling’, which literally translates as ‘leg flute’. These trumpets have spiritual and cultural value. They are still used in Himalayan Buddhist rituals and funerals today. This object came to the museum from The Red House Museum in Dorset, when all of its world culture items were loaned and later transferred to Leeds from 1985 onwards. It is not known how the trumpet found its way to Dorset. Like the skull cup, if the trumpet had remained in Tibet, it would probably have been destroyed by Chinese communists during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

Swedish Plate money
By 1776 Swedish plate money was no longer in circulation, so the heavy currency was used in ships to help them to balance whilst at sea. This meant that its value lowered as it became little more than scrap metal. For this reason, not much plate money is left, which means that this sample is rare. It only survived because it was found in the wreck of the ‘Nicobar’, a ship travelling to the Far East that sunk off the coast of South Africa in the 1780s.

Jivaro Shrunken Head
Shrunken heads are trophies of the wars fought between four Jivaro tribes. Decapitated heads of enemy warriors were shrunken to prevent the rebirth of their vengeful souls. They became popular souvenirs during the Victorian period. This lead to the production of fakes. The genuine Jivaro human head was bought by Leeds Museum at an auction in 1947 at a house near Tadcaster previously owned by the Maxwell Stuart family. An expert from Leeds University estimated that the warrior was aged between 35-45 when he was killed. This was determined by looking at the nasal hair and long earlobes.

Precious Cargo
Precious Cargo is Yorkshire’s contribution to Stories of the World. It is a series of exhibitions and events led by young people, inspired by Yorkshire’s world collections. Find out how objects, ideas and customs found their way across the world and became precious items of Yorkshire’s heritage in the process. For a full list of participating museums visit www.preciouscargo.org.uk

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported over 33,000 projects, allocating £4.9billion across the UK including £380m to 2,845 projects in Yorkshire & the Humber alone. Website: www.hlf.org.uk.

Arts Council England
Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2011 and 2015, we will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country

About the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival
The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Movements. Spread over four years, it is designed to give everyone in the UK a chance to be part of London 2012 and inspire creativity across all forms of culture, especially among young people.

The culmination of the Cultural Olympiad is the London 2012 Festival, the spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK, running from Midsummers Day on 21 June until the final day of the Paralympic Games on 9 September 2012.The London 2012 Festival celebrates the huge range, quality and accessibility of the UK’s world-class culture including dance, music, theatre, the visual arts, fashion, film, comedy and digital innovation, giving the opportunity for people across the UK to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Principal funders of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival are Arts Council England, Legacy Trust UK and the Olympic Lottery Distributor. BP and BT are Premier Partners of the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival.

For more details on the programme, to download the London 2012 Festival official guide and to sign up for information visit www.london2012.com/festival


For media enquiries please contact:
Roger Boyde, Senior communications officer,
Leeds City Council, Tel 0113 247 5472
Email: roger.boyde@leeds.gov.uk