The blog post for this week has been written by Dr Dulcie Engel, a regular contributor. Dulcie is a former lecturer in French and linguistics and has been volunteering at the Egypt Centre for the last six years. She is a gallery supervisor and associate editor of the Volunteer Newsletter. Dulcie has a particular interest in collectors and the history of museums.
On three afternoons in mid-September (finishing on the actual anniversary, September 17th), the Egypt Centre hosted a Zoom conference to celebrate the transfer of approximately 4,500 objects, part of Henry Wellcome’s vast Egyptian and Sudanese collection, to Swansea in 1971 (fig. 1). This loan forms the bulk of the c. 6 000 objects, which the Egypt Centre now holds.
|Fig. 1: Conference logo|
The conference was a great success, superbly organised by Ken Griffin and Sam Powell. Twenty-three speakers took part; 361 tickets were issued to attendees from around the world, and total attendees for the three days amounted to 500. There were presentations by academics, curators, and postgraduates (including former Egypt Centre volunteers) from a range of institutions: the Wellcome Collection, the Egypt Exploration Society, the Petrie Museum (who organised the Egyptian dispersal), and museums that benefited from the dispersal: Swansea (now the Egypt Centre), Liverpool (World Museum), Durham (Oriental Museum), Manchester, Bolton, Cambridge (Fitzwilliam Museum), London (Science Museum); from researchers interested in Wellcome (collecting agents, Sudan excavations, plaster casts), and other collectors from whom Wellcome bought objects at auction. The sessions were recorded and most of the videos are now available via the Egypt Centre’s YouTube channel.
The PowerPoint presentations showcased archival documentation and photos, which were wonderful to see. Indeed, a common theme running through the conference was the importance of collaboration on the Wellcome collection. In fact, one of the positive aspects of the COVID-19 Pandemic has been the rise in virtual placements for postgraduates, and virtual collaboration between institutions: the sharing of documents, and work on transcription (a project very much promoted by Ken at the Egypt Centre, and embraced by the Wellcome Collection with its Transcribathon). Indeed, more than one speaker referred to ‘detective work’ and made pleas for help with information. Another type of collaboration was the virtual matching up of pieces of objects in different museums: such as a pottery vase whose body is in Cambridge and whose handle is in Bolton (fig. 2). And it was sad to learn about lost or missing records and objects, in particular, the ‘ghosts’ in the Liverpool collection (objects destroyed in the Blitz, which linger on through surviving records and pictures). A strong theme was the recognition of the colonial context during the heyday of collecting, and the implications for modern displays and museums. We also heard about many strong and inspiring women in the history of collecting, museum patronage and curating: it was not just Amelia Edwards! To mention a few who stood out: Wellcome’s collecting agent Winifred Blackman, Bolton’s patron Annie Barlow, and inspiring curators Barbara Adams (Petrie), Elaine Tankard (Liverpool), and Kate Bosse-Griffiths (Swansea).
|Fig. 2: Virtually reunited objects in Bolton and Cambridge|
But it was not just talks: we heard memories of taking part in the 1971 dispersal at Durham and Swansea; we watched a wonderful film made for the public opening of the Swansea Wellcome Museum in 1976, which was only recently deposited at the University’s Richard Burton Archives. We had tours of stores and galleries at Manchester, Bolton and the Egypt Centre. There was also the launch of the Egypt Centre’s new ‘Egypt and its Neighbours’ case (fig. 3) and two very special announcements were made on the final day.
|Fig. 3: New Egypt and its Neighbours case|
Firstly, Anna Garnett of the Petrie Museum announced that the plaster cast of the Djedhor the Saviour statue (whose original is in Cairo) will be transferred to Swansea to be reunited with the cast of the base (fig. 4). It is possibly the first time any of Wellcome’s Egyptian material has been reunited following the dispersal of the collection, and is a project first discussed twenty years ago by our curator Carolyn Graves-Brown, and Stephen Quirke at the Petrie. Several months ago, Anna and Ken put a proposal together for the UCL museums committee to consider transferring the statue to Swansea, and learnt just two weeks before the conference that they had been successful. The Egypt Centre is very grateful to Anna and all those involved at UCL in making this happen and we look forward to receiving the statue in due course.
|Fig. 4: Plaster cast of the Djedhor base (W302)|
Secondly, Ken Griffin, Tom Hardwick, and Sam Powell launched the Virtual Collection of Hilton Price, a project started in June 2021. The catalogue, while still a work in progress, presents over 5,200 objects, which were dispersed widely following the sale of the collection in 1911 (fig. 5). Over 600 objects were purchased by Wellcome at this time, with many others in subsequent years; indeed several are in the Egypt Centre collection. An appeal was made to museums, researchers, and others to get in touch if they are aware of the current location of any Hilton Price objects. The Virtual Collection Hilton Price is available via the following link: https://hiltonprice.abasetcollections.com/
|Fig. 5: Virtual Collection of Hilton Price homepage|
So, all in all, a wonderfully successful
conference, with the promise of many more collaborations on a number of fronts.