The curator’s choice - Penicillin phial and Sekhmet statuette
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:26 12 August 2020
With museums and art galleries having been closed, curators share what they would have chosen from their collections to take home to study and enjoy during the lockdown.
Phial of wonder
Dr Diana M Leitch, chair of trustees, Catalyst Science Discovery Centre and Museum, Widnes
‘Penicillin, a synthetic wonder drug created during World War II, has saved millions of lives worldwide,’ says Runcorn-born and bred scientist Dr Diana M Leitch.
‘So my favourite item at the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre and Museum in Widnes, symbolic of this revolution in the treatment of patients, is a phial of the yellow powder which was dissolved in water before being administered.’
There are personal reasons for the choice. One of the key members of the penicillin research group was Professor Wilson Baker FRS (1900-2002). ‘Wilson was born in Runcorn at a house called Epworth, on Moughland Lane, which had been built in 1897 by my mother’s relative, William Rowland, who rose from being a River Weaver flatman to becoming a wealthy Liverpool shipowner known as a “Mersey Rover”’.
Wilson’s father, Harry Baker, was the first works chemist at Castner Kellner Works in Runcorn and developed the process for the electrolysis of brine to produce chlorine, still used today. The phial of penicillin, which was made at ICI in Manchester, is in a display case in the gallery together with the story of this Quaker family and Wilson’s foundation of what became Oxfam in 1942.
All hail Sekhmet
Ian Trumble, curator of Egyptian Galleries, Bolton Museum
One of Ian Trumble’s favourite objects in Bolton Museum is this bronze statuette of Sekhmet.
Ian, curator of the museum’s Egypt galleries, said their figure dates from 664-332 BC. ‘Her name partly translates as the word “power” and she is depicted as one of Africa’s most ferocious animals, a lion, but is also associated to protection and healing,’ Ian says.
‘Often named “The Lady of Pestilence”, she can deal out or protect from plagues and pestilence – very appropriate for the current world. According to myth, she was sent to earth by Ra, to punish the Egyptians who weren’t keeping law and order, and if the Egyptians valued one thing above all it was universal balance, which they called Maat.
‘Sekhmet got blood lust and went on a rampage, and Ra tried to get her to stop but she wouldn’t. So to trick her, they used pomegranate juice to dye jars of beer a blood-like red. Sekhmet lapped up the “blood” and fell asleep drunk. When she woke her desire to wreak havoc had dissipated and she returned to Ra.’
Ever so humble
Kate Woodward, Visitor Experience and Operations Co-ordinator, Rochdale Pioneers Museum
The Rochdale Pioneers opened the world’s first successful consumer co-operative in humble conditions on December 21st, 1844. This wood saw recalls the fascinating story at the beginning of their journey.
Kate Woodward, Visitor Experience and Operations Co-ordinator at Rochdale Pioneers Museum, says the saw, is one of the few items remaining that connects visitors directly to the event. It belonged to one of their number, James Manock who loaned it and other tools to make much needed renovations to the original store, such as creating a shop counter and window sills.
Clearly the saw, which dates back to the mid-19th century, was used heavily as several repairs were made to it. The saw was loaned to the society on the understanding it would be returned. It never was, remaining at 31 Toad Lane when the building became a museum in 1931.
‘Items like these have not been displayed in the museum for many years,’ Kate said. ‘We at the Co-operative Heritage Trust are keen to change this. We will continue to develop the museum to focus on the hidden stories of 28 men who changed the world.’
Abi Hudson, Museum Officer, Astley Hall, Museum and Art Gallery, Chorley
Astley Hall boasts three 17th century tester beds, the style evolving from large curtains hung from ceilings to divide rooms to provide warmth and privacy from attendants sleeping close by. Pick of the three, according to Museum Officer Abi Hudson, is the Charnock bed, likely commissioned by the founder of Astley Hall, Robert Charnock (or his immediate family) soon after its construction in 1578.
The Charnock bed left the hall’s possession with one of the last families to reside there, its existence remaining a mystery until 1980. As one of the only items remaining from the founding family at the hall, this bed, which is richly carved with figures, foliate lozenges and guilloche patterns surrounding the family coat of arms and heraldic lapwing, is one of the most important and intriguing items in the collection.
‘So why would I choose the Charnock bed to come home with me?’ Abi says. ‘It’s no surprise that the lockdown is causing us to spend more time in bed overall, but our quality of sleep is suffering. Perhaps upgrading my economy twin bed to this statement piece might help me rest a little better.’