Written by Victoria Green.
Last week was extraordinary for the National Leather Collection! Having been closed to the public for almost forty years, the museum welcomed the public this week for lectures, workshops and a celebration of the humanities for the Being Human Festival. The festival celebrates arts and humanities research by hosting events around the country to showcase new ideas, provoke discussion and engage the public.
For the uninitiated, the National Leather Collection is the world’s largest repository of leather artefacts, with 6,000 items that tell the world story of leather from prehistory to the present day. Amongst the collections are fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, samples from Tutankhamun’s tomb, Queen Victoria’s saddle and Charles V’s casket. It is a globally significant collection, representing a lifetime of dedication to leather craft by founder, John Waterer. Now homed in Northampton, the museum is hoping to be able to open to the public on a more permanent basis.
For hundred of years, Northampton has been at the centre of leather and shoe manufacture in the UK. To this day the town has an imperishable relationship with leather. It was important, therefore, for the museum get involved in the Being Human Festival and provide an opportunity for visitors to explore the history of leather. To bring to life some of the objects in our collection, and to think about them in new ways; as personal belongings, and more than just functional objects.
Northampton’s 2017 Being Human Festival was run in partnership with the University of Northampton. For three days, the National Leather Collection ran the “Leather at Lunchtime” lecture series (live-tweeted by @PJW_MoL under the hashtag #beinghumanfest if you fancy catching up). The week kicked off with history lecturer Matthew McCormack, giving a talk on the history and symbolism of Georgian boots. Tom Rusbridge, a University of Birmingham PhD student followed with the history of leather vessels and beer drinking. Contemporary designer Bill Amberg wrapped up the week with a look to future of leather in design. Lectures aside, there were workshops and society stalls to entertain and engage visitors with the wonderful world of leather. Most importantly (for the students in attendance), there were free sandwiches.
The “Leather at Lunchtime” lectures were more than just talks. Visitors could see the objects, and not just on a PowerPoint. They could touch them, engage with them, and even drink beer from them (well, replicas). History had become tangible, making these lectures far more interesting than most of the ones I’d attended at university. For those who have worked tirelessly for the past year to bring the National Leather Collection from storage to spotlight, there was nothing more poignant and rewarding than seeing the museum living and breathing. The workshops were the exhibition hall’s beating heart; the sounds of visitors hammering and stamping as they tried their hand at leathercrafting. The museum was not just a museum, but a workshop, a community space. It is the National Leather Collection’s ambition to preserve the past as much as energizing the present and future generations of leatherworkers and hobbyists. Those three days were just the first step.
Thank you to the Being Human Festival, to our speakers, to Matthew McCormack and the University of Northampton and to all our trustees and volunteers for their continued support. Last, but not least, thank you to everyone that was able to attend and make our event a huge success.
If you missed “Leather at Lunchtime”, you can catch up here …
Tuesday 21st November: Matthew McCormack from the University of Northampton explores the history of boots.
Matthew McCormack’s lecture was based on the paper ‘Boots, Material Culture and Masculinities’.
Wednesday 22nd November: Tom Rusbridge from the University of Birmingham introduces leather drinking vessels.
If you would like to visit the National Leather Collection, please note that we are now open every Wednesday, from 10am – 4pm. Please check our visit us page for details on how to find the museum, and our Christmas opening hours.
Our next event is a free offer for National Lottery players, to say #ThanksToYou for our HLF funding. This will be running on the 12th and 13th of December, and ticket holders can claim a free cuppa and a mince pie. More information can be found here.