Spotlight On …

the modern museum!

Written by Philip Warner

Say hello to the modern museum!

John Waterer posing for an advert of his ‘Fliteweight’ case, circa. 1954

“The visual arts are one of the manifestations of quality by which a nation is judged, and no society can afford to dispense with their humanising influence.”

A bold opener from John Waterer, writing in 1948 for the Design and Industry Association on the topic of ‘design in the museum’. Nonetheless, his statement is still as relevant nearly seventy years later, as we embark on the next stages of our journey.

It has been two years since the National Leather Collection became tenants in a new home in the centre of Northampton. We continue to offer free, public access to the museum here in the spiritual home of the UK leather industry.

In order to come to this point, we have all experienced a sharp learning curve and answered questions like; what are the ingredients of a modern museum?; what purpose must the National Leather Collection serve?; and how will it serve, more to the point?

In his 1948 writings, John Waterer was keen to highlight what he felt was a disconnect between the educators and the educated. Simply put, those planning and managing museums had forgotten who their target audience were. Curators were too close to their subjects to offer a broadness of vision with which to engage everyone who wished to visit. Worse still, Waterer postulated that a national urge for education had been ‘sopped up with the pink blotting paper of bureaucracy!’

How then to encourage those responsible toward the principals which underline all good museums? Not one to mince words, Waterers’ advice rings as loud and true for us today as it surely did back then.


“A new kind of establishment needs to be made, one with a popular appeal, concerned primarily with industrial art but not excluding the whole field of the visual arts, and although concerned with contemporary work, not neglecting that of other days. The sort of place where Everyman with his wife and family will be irresistibly drawn as to “Britain can make it”, knowing that there will constantly be something fresh and stimulating to see”.

“Flexibility and enlightened enthusiasm should inform the whole policy”.

“It should be a ‘live’ thing free from Civil Service procedure and departmental exclusiveness.”

The NLC has been open on a regular basis since January 2018. We have over 1000 followers across our social media platforms. We entertain group visits, hold drop in crafting sessions, and have already played host to various cultural events such as Heritage Open Days, Being Human Festival and the recent BBC Civilisations Festival. In September, we will be unveiling a pop-up exhibition in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum Centenary Partnership. Thereafter, we have plans afoot to bring you a range of exciting exhibitions ranging from ‘Leather in Fashion and Performance’ and ‘Shakespeare and Leather’, to ‘Balls’ (the working title for leather in sport!). At the same time we develop plans to house designers, conservators and craftspeople in a forward-looking centre for creativity and artistic development. Yes, we’ve been rather busy.

© National Leather Collection 2018

The exhibition space during BBC Civilisations Festival, March 2018

© National Leather Collection 2018

The museum’s new leather-crafting area, sponsored by Tandy Leather

Design and creativity are part of what makes us human. The desire to make use of our talents for the greater good. Or, as Waterer puts it; “Even the most hard-bitten can scarcely be satisfied with the present unhappy condition of mankind, and unless we recognise as a prime cause of this state the suppression of the human element, and perceive this failure as due, in part at least, to the divorcement of man from satisfying and creative work, we are heading for disaster”.

In the next six months it is my confident hope that the museum can continue to move in the right direction, to further develop itself and its associated crafts. The museum team and trustees have created a cultural/heritage space that is free for entry, and continues to remind and inspire people to engage with history, crafting and the community.

A Leather at Lunchtime lecture for Being Human Festival, November 2017

An article in the Chronicle & Echo, January 2018

The National Leather Collection is your museum, full of treasure for you to view and react to. Full of opportunities to try new things and learn new skills. Most of all, it is a space where ‘we’ who manage it, know our place. Ours is the honour to welcome, talk to and inspire all who make contact. To share these wonders and the knowledge that has been diligently accumulated by industry professionals over the past 70 years.

In conclusion, I will once again side with John Waterer who believed faithfully in the artists’ creed so eloquently put by George Bernard Shaw. ‘I believe in Michelangelo, Velasquez and Rembrandt, in the might of design, the mystery of colour, the redemption of all things by beauty everlasting and the message of art that has made these hands blessed’.

We look forward to welcoming you soon.

We are now open every Wednesday from 10am – 4pm! Information on how to find us can be found here.

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