Art on Campus: Treasures of the Brotherton

If you’ve ever spent a prolonged period in the Brotherton library you will have noticed Special Collections, a double doorway on level 4 leading to the University’s collection of over 200,000 rare books and objects. Arts subjects often like to take their wide-eyed first years up there during induction week to show off the copy of William Shakespeare’s 1623 first folio in an air conditioned room whose temperatures would have you booking in for the next available appointment at Leeds Student Medical Centre with a blocked nose.

Now the pencils-only, gloved, padded and nerve-gnawing experience of handling really old books has been done away. Thanks to a £1.4 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and, a ‘generous donation from the Brotherton-Ratcliffe family’, you can now look (but not touch) at these objects which are attractively displayed and ordered behind glass cases inside the sparkly Treasures of the Brotherton gallery inside Parkinson Building. Treasures of the Brotherton displays around 100 items from the University Library’s collections and delightfully arranges them into key themes that reflect the wider collection. The themes, ‘from hand to print’, ‘imagination and creativity’, and ‘understanding our world’, are designed so that the sensitive objects on display in the permanent exhibition can be regularly replaced and changed to aid with conservation and to present the range and wealth of fascinating objects hidden in the collection stores.

The dimmed lighting and stylish text panels conjure the feeling of walking into a futuristic version of how you’d imagine Baron Brotherton’s parlour

The dimmed lighting and stylish text panels conjure the feeling of walking into a futuristic version of how you’d imagine Baron Brotherton’s parlour. An ethereal Shakespeare’s first folio, with the appearance of floating atop a thin stand, greets you as you enter and meets the expectation of the type of priceless (almost – a similarly aged first folio sold ten years ago for £2.8 million), treasures you will encounter. Each theme is paired with an interactive screen to browse more information about individual objects which, on first glance, is extremely helpful, but through more thorough investigation the text on the screen, especially in the temporary exhibition, is copied and pasted to fit more than one object, making the effort of trawling through looking for new information a little arduous.

The temporary exhibition is the thought-provoking and immensely fascinating On Conscientious Grounds: Objection and Resistance in the First World War. The exhibition offers a look at conscientious objectors who rejected conscription for political, social or religious reasons. The Liddle collection provides the gallery with the letters, photographs and court documents which make up the intriguing narrative of the men who refused to fight and the women who supported their cause. Individual stories link to the wider narrative and create a personal level of understanding the socialists, pacifists, religious conscientious objectors to the war who were so demonised in their time. This temporary exhibition is exactly the provocative and deeply interesting display that was needed to open this new gallery and to introduce us to what promises to be an exciting programme of constant change and movement at the Treasures of the Brotherton.

Hayley Reid

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