Celebrating Li Yuan-chia at the Henry Moore Institute Library


, , ,

Henry Moore Institute

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

Dr Janette Martin writes:

On a very rainy Monday in May I spent a fascinating morning at the Henry Moore Institute (HMI) in Leeds, installing a library display on Li Yuan-chia, a leading twentieth-century artist.  For those who have not been, the HMI Research Library and Archives is one of Leeds’s hidden gems. Located on the bustling Headrow, next to Leeds City Art Gallery and above the HMI’s galleries, its collections tell the story of British Sculpture from the Victorian period until the present day.

As avid followers of this blog might recall, Li Yuan-chia (1929–94), was one of the most important Chinese artists of the twentieth century. He was a great innovator whose repertoire ranged from ink painting, sculpture, performances and participatory works to concrete poetry, film and photography.  Li also established the LYC Museum and Art Gallery, an experimental venture in participatory art and an exhibition space at Banks, Cumbria, near Hadrian’s Wall. The University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections hold the archives of Li Yuan-chia.

Diana Yeh

Dr Diana Yeh.

Prior to starting work at the University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections, I worked briefly as the HMI archivist and I was struck by the overlaps between artistic collections held at both institutions. Last year I did a similar HMI library display on Jeff Nuttall. The Li Yuan-chia display arose from a conversation with the HMI librarian, Ann Sproat, and Dr Diana Yeh, a trustee of the LYC Foundation. Diana has written extensively about Li and her academic research focuses on diaspora and identity among Chinese migrant artists, so I was delighted when she agreed to co-curate this display with me.

A library display at the HMI is appropriate as Li Yuan-chia experimented with sculpture and installations (notably toy art) and he also supported the careers of emerging sculptors such as Andy Goldsworthy, by offering exhibition space at the LYC Museum.  The HMI library collection includes artists’ books or catalogues published by LYC Museum.  These have been recently augmented by a donation of duplicate material from the University of Manchester Library collections, by kind permission of the LYC Foundation Trustees. It is this collection which forms the basis of the current exhibition.

LYC books at HMI

Installing artist books at the Henry Moore Institute, May 2017.

Li Yuan-chia’s artistic trajectory crossed many national boundaries, from rural China, via Taiwan, to Milan, Bologna and London before settling down to life in rural Cumbria. Here he renovated a dilapidated farmhouse at Banks near Hadrian’s Wall. In 1972, this building opened to the public as the innovative LYC Museum and Art Gallery, at its peak reputedly attracting around 300,000 visitors per year. Over three hundred artists exhibited there.

Items on display are drawn from the Henry Moore Institute Research Library collection and comprise loose components from the exhibition catalogue of Li Yuan-chia’s first show at the Lisson Gallery, London Cosmic Point (1967), which have been mounted and framed in sets of four and a range of LYC Museum and Art Gallery artists’ books and catalogues. The display can be viewed until the end of July 2017.  Anyone can visit the Henry Moore Institute and its library is open 7 days a week (Monday to Friday 10am – 5.30pm, extended to 8pm on Wednesday; Sundays 1pm – 5pm).

For further information on the Li Yuan-Chia archive held at the University of Manchester Library please contact  uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk. For more information on Li Yuan-chia’s artistic legacy see http://www.lycfoundation.org/.

LYC Display

The finished display of LYC works at the Henry Moore Institute Library, May 2017.

Discovering old treasures: Wesley College Bristol library


, , ,

Work has begun on cataloguing the library of Wesley College Bristol which contains more than 3,500 early printed books and periodicals, thanks to funding from the Methodist Church in Britain.

An image of the front pastedown of a book from the collection, with 'William Knight His Books 1764' noted above a Didsbury College Library bookplate which has been stamped 'cancelled'.

Some of the books in this collection are rich in provenance information.

Cataloguers Anna Hughes and Joe Devlin are working through the wide ranging collection which includes texts on biblical scholarship, classical texts, philosophy and literature and works on travel and history. An outstanding feature of this collection is the number of rare volumes, from the early sixteenth century onwards, which show evidence of provenance through annotations, notes of dedications and armorial bookplates. Amongst these is John Goodwin’s Eirenomachia (1671), which is heavily annotated in John Wesley’s hand.

Wesley College, Bristol, was a training college for Methodist ministers and its library provided texts for all candidates for ministry, who came from very different educational backgrounds. This is shown in the diversity of subjects covered in the library, such as geography and travel.

A single page pamphlet depicting Oliver Cromwell and his council in league with the Devil as tehy consider the execution of Charles I.

One unusual item in the collection is this single page housed in ‘The indictment, arraignment…of twenty-nine regicides…’ (London, 1724), depicting Oliver Cromwell and his council in league with the Devil.

Wesley College Bristol was the successor of the Methodist training college in Didsbury, the ‘Northern Branch’ of the Wesleyan Theological Institution, which closed in 1944. Didsbury College library was transferred to Bristol at this date, and was later enhanced by the addition of collections from Wesley Collge Headingley, Leeds (when it closed in 1966) and some volumes from Hartley College Victoria, Manchester (which closed in 1972). Before coming to John Rylands, this collection was held at Oxfrod Brookes University.

The libraries of both Hartley College Victoria and Richmond College, Surrey (the ‘Southern Branch’) are also held at John Rylands Library, so the return of the Wesley College Bristol books to Manchester marks a reunion and a homecoming for many of these volumes.

The Wesley College Bristol Collection is part of the Methodist Archives and Research Centre which has been housed at John Rylands since 1972 in agreement with the Methodist Church in Britain.

Delia Derbyshire Archive on film


, , , ,

Dr Janette Martin writes:

The compositions of Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), a pioneer of British electronic music, continue to inspire and delight audiences today.

As regular readers of this blog will know, 2017 marks what would have been Delia’s eightieth birthday year. To commemorate this milestone lots of activities are taking place across the country.  As part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project, the Delia Derbyshire Day charity commissioned a film exploring the contents of the Delia Derbyshire Archive, which is held by the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library. The film explains how the collection is available for anyone to use and gives a tantalising glimpse into its contents.  If you would like to register as a reader or find out more about this archive please contact uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk.

Breaking the Sound Barrier: Delia Derbyshire’s legacy to women in experimental music.

Delia fans are invited to a free sound performance at the John Rylands Library on Thursday 18 May 2017.  An event which is part of the Manchester After Hours festival, which is taking place across the city.

The evening features unpredictable, evocative and extraordinary performances by two female artists whose sound and method echo that of Delia Derbyshire’s pioneering work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Listen as Vicky Clarke creates one of her trademark ‘sound sculptures’ using electronic, digital and analogue techniques, and watch Naomi Kashiwagi craft unexpected melodies using a wind-up gramophone in ‘The Gramophonica Mode’, her creative response to Delia Derbyshire’s archive.

Two performances will be held during the evening, starting at 7pm and 8.30pm. We highly recommend arriving on time for the performances as space is limited in the building. Free entry. No need to book.

Digitisation of a letterbook of John Nelson Darby


, ,

I am pleased to announce a new addition to the digitised material for the Christian Brethren Archive, a letterbook of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).

Darby was one of the founder members of what later became known as the Plymouth Brethren. When the latter split in 1848, he went on to become the first leader of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’. He was a noted biblical scholar whose doctrinal system was adopted well beyond the confines of the Brethren.

Darby produced popular synopses of the Bible and voluminous polemical writings on biblical subjects. As well as his distinctive eschatological views, he developed a dispensational interpretation of the Bible. This interpretation was adopted and developed further in the early twentieth century by C.S. Scofield, who produced a highly popular and influential series of reference and study Bibles. Through this medium, Darby became one of the most influential forces shaping the character and form of modern day American fundamentalist Christianity.

The letterbook contains handwritten transcriptions of 51 letters, 160 pages in total, which were written between 1862 and 1863 whilst Darby was on the first of several missionary journeys in Ontario, Canada. A great deal of the correspondence relates to discussion of Darby’s visit, and his activities during his time there, and it is our belief that much of this material will provide a source of new information on Darby’s time in North America.

A large proportion of the letters in the letterbook are written by Darby, but there are also letters by other individuals, sent from cities and towns in Canada including Toronto, Quebec, Hamilton, Guelph, and Montreal, and also from New York, Detroit, Massachusetts and Missouri in North America.

Inside the front cover are the following names, presumably the names of the owners of the letterbook at different dates:

  • John Pollock 1863
  • Algernon J. Pollock 1892
  • for J. Alfred Trench, Belfast
  • To Seton Pollock 1934
  • To William Bell – April 1957
  • G. Ross Holmes, Winder (about 1970-1998) Canada

This would suggest that the transcriptions were created and collated only a short period of time after the letters were written.

The handwriting is not that of Darby, however the transcriber has made a convincing attempt to imitate the signature of Darby on the letters attributed to him. There are also annotations, made at some later date by an owner of the book, recording their queries and comments.

The letterbook was donated to the Christian Brethren Archive by Thomas and Susan Holmes in 2017. The book had been part of a collection of Brethren books and other Reformation/Church of England books that belonged to George Ross Holmes, who was born in Bruce County, Ontario and died in Windsor, Ontario.

These letters are an excellent supplement to the John Nelson Darby papers, which include a series of Darby’s notebooks, scrapbooks, annotated bibles, notes on lectures and sermons by Brethren activists, and correspondence. The collection contains considerable information on the early history of the Brethren movement.

The digitised letterbook can be viewed here: John Nelson Darby Letterbook

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series

Philosophical Transactions, no. 149

Antiquarian Writing on Roman Architecture

Dr Matthew Walker

University of Oxford


Thursday 11th May, 5.30pm

Samuel Alexander Building, Room A112

All welcome. For more information, email: anne.kirkham@manchester.ac.uk

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series


Joseph Grünpeck, Tractatus de pestilentiali Scorra siue mala de Franzos ([Leipzig: Gregorius Böttiger (Werman), after 18 October 1496]), detail from leaf B5 recto. JRL 17409

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series

Responding with Urgency:

Early Printing on Epidemic Diseases in the Rylands Collections

Dr Elma Brenner, Wellcome Collection London

Tuesday 2nd May, 5.30pm
Samuel Alexander Lecture Theatre

For info, email: anne.kirkham@manchester.ac.uk

Visit from the International Map Collectors’ Society


, , , , , ,

Donna Sherman, our Map Curator, writes: 

The maps and atlases in our Special Collections contain a wealth of cartographic treasures just waiting to be explored. There are maps painted on vellum, drawn by hand and printed on paper.  They can be large single sheets stored in plan chests or they can be buried in books, atlases and archives.  There are grandiose city plans spread over numerous sheets and mass-produced pieces of ephemera which have miraculously survived the vicissitudes of time. The collection is a source of fascination for students, researchers and library staff alike and recently they have also attracted the attention of the International Map Collectors’ Society (IMCoS).

IMCoS (59)

Members of the International Map Collectors’ Society visiting the Collection Care Studio. In the foreground is Desceliers’s world map of 1546.

IMCoS is a world-leading map society, recognised for its unique contribution to map collecting.  Its members include collectors, dealers, librarians, academics and map enthusiasts.  The Society also supports the study of cartographic history and contributes to lecture programmes and research projects, as well as organising an annual international symposium.

I was contacted by the Society’s Secretary about arranging a visit at the end of March and I immediately set to work selecting a number of items which I wanted to display.   These included an extremely rare early edition of Ptolemy’s ‘Cosmographia’ published in Bologna in 1477, Christopher Saxton’s county maps of England and Wales published in 1579, and a manuscript map of Lancashire created in 1604. I also wanted to show them some maps from our Japanese collections and to explain how the Library had worked in partnership with the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, the Japan Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation to digitise a number of these and make them more accessible for teaching and research.  Finally, the display would not be complete without some local material and some recent acquisitions, so I also included the Drink Map of Manchester (1889), and a large limited-edition print, ‘Nova Utopia’, by Stephen Walter (2013).


Tokaido bungen no zu (Atlas of Tokaido), c.1690, Japanese 211.


William Smith’s Map of Lancashire, c.1602-1604, Latin MS 509.


Drink Map of Manchester, 1889,

The visit was also an opportunity to find out more about some of the items in the collection which we knew less about. Amongst these was an early printed map of the world, purchased by Enriqueta Rylands around 1892. An article by a well-respected map collector, A.E. Nordenskiold, suggests that the Rylands copy could have been created as early as 1430 during the preparation of a metal map produced in the 15th century, and later purchased by Cardinal Borgia in 1774.  The map was removed from its frame in time for the visit so that it could be examined more closely by IMCoS members in the hope that any clues may become evident.  The map certainly caused a stir and sparked some lively discussions.  Ljiljana Ortolja-Baird (editor of the IMCoS journal) had recently located an 18thcentury copy of the printed map at the American Museum in Britain.  Both maps can now be compared and, hopefully, some light may be shed upon the original’s history.

As well as viewing a range of items from our collections, the IMCoS group were also given a tour of the library and a visit to the conservation studio where they were able to observe our Collection Care team at work.  Here, they were also given the opportunity to examine a large manuscript map of the world created by French chart-maker Pierre Desceliers in 1546.  This unique map measures an impressive 128cm x 254cm and was made for Henry II when he was Dauphin of France.  Due to the size of the map and its fragile state, it is very rarely made accessible for consultation.  The group were delighted to see the map; however they also appeared equally as impressed by the bespoke case made for it by the Library’s Collection Care team!

IMCoS (32)

Pierre Desceliers’s world map, 1546, French MS 1*.

The event received good feedback and appeared to be enjoyed by everyone who took part, including both the IMCoS members and the Library staff involved.  It was a valuable learning experience and an enjoyable way to share knowledge about the world of maps, as well as forming new connections and discovering new avenues to explore.


Sherman, D., 2017. ‘A Northern Powerhouse: maps and atlases in the University of Manchester Special Collections’, Journal of the International Map Collector’s Society, Spring 2017 (148), pp. 11-16.

IMCoS web site: http://www.imcos.org/

Japanese maps web site: http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/using-the-library/staff/teaching/services/digitisation-services/projects/japanese-maps/

Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition – Here at Last!


, , ,

We thought the most difficult part for us was to narrow down our list of objects: equally difficult was deciding how to display the objects.  Fortunately for us we had expert advice from Stella, the curator of the exhibition. Our colleagues Elaine & Laura from Collection care were on hand to ensure the conditions in the cases were suitable for the objects being displayed.  Humidity is constantly monitored and the lux meter was deployed to record the levels of light.  We had to be careful that the objects weren’t over exposed to light, that the shadows didn’t obscure the display and that the cases were aesthetically pleasing.

Elaine and Life of Object cases

Elaine and Life of Object cases

We felt a huge sense of relief, and pride, that the objects we’d chosen worked well with the themes and looked good in the cases.  We realised how important working together was and how the various components within the working group had their part to play in bringing the proposal to life.  It was very much a team project and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Stella and Wesley Case: Life of Objects

Stella and the Wesley Case: Life of Objects

The exhibition opened on the 16th March, and we took the opportunity to wander around observing visitors and trying to gauge their reactions.  We were delighted to see people sharing their thoughts, enjoying the space and taking time out in the Reflection Area.  We hope that many more visitors and staff will be moved to share their experiences with us.

In keeping with the ‘Reflection Space’ created for the exhibition we wanted to get the thoughts and responses to the items from some of the exhibition team.  Stella, the Main Curator, maintains that she couldn’t possibly have a favourite item as she cares for all the objects equally in her role as Visual Collections Manager.  However, twisting Stella’s arm for a favourite item she revealed that she had soft spot for the Isabella Banks case.

Comments from the Relection Space

Comments from the Reflection Space

Harry, from the Engagement Team, particularly likes the cameras in Li’s case.  He’s fascinated by the knowledge that one of the cameras contains a film, and part of that fascination is that we, the audience, have no idea which one it is.  He’s let his imagination wander and was pondering whether one of these cameras could suddenly flash and take his photograph.

Julie, another of our Engagement Team colleagues, expressed an interest in dsh’s glasses and the fact that they were such a personal item. She imagined him wearing them and wondered what he would have seen and how it influenced and impacted on his work.

We hope that you will be able to join us for Collections Encounters and other activities that the Engagement team have planned linked to this exhibition. Details of all the events accompanying Life of Objects are to be found here:  What’s On Guide. Or why not share your thoughts on the exhibition #jrlobjects @TheJohnRylands

Comments from the Reflection Space

Comments from the Reflection Space




Visual Medical Collections


, , , ,

Watercolour painting produced for Platt of patient with neurofibromatosis of the left leg, 1943.

Work has recently begun to catalogue the work of medical artist Dorothy Davison (1890-1984). The collection contains approximately 400 items created by Davison and her students between the 1930s and the 1950s in addition to many more files of rough sketches and working drawings. Davison trained at the Manchester School of Art before going to the Manchester Museum where she produced a number of drawings related to Egyptology, a particular interest of hers. She is however most famous for her medical illustrations which she began after Professor of Anatomy Sir Grafton Elliot Smith saw some of her other work. Davison worked with a great number of different specialities and practitioners producing items for orthopaedic surgeon Sir Harry Platt, Professor of Anatomy G.A.G Mitchell, and obstetrician Daniel Dougal. She worked particularly closely with neurosurgeon Sir Geoffrey Jefferson who was a great exponent of the value of medical illustrations and it is this working relationship which is reflected most in her surviving works. The library also holds a significant collection of Jefferson’s patient case files, a number of which relate directly to Davison’s drawings and the links between the two will be made clear in the completed catalogues.

Davison would observe Jefferson in the operating theatre where she would produce preliminary sketches. From these she would create much more detailed works fit for teaching and publication. A number of her surviving works still bear comments made by Jefferson offering suggestions and critiquing her drawings to ensure they were anatomically correct and bore an accurate representation of the procedure undertaken.  Davison was always keen to stress the importance of a strong relationship between artist and surgeon and her gratitude to them in the assistance they provided, however a cartoon produced by Davison relating to her work with Jefferson suggests that she found his demands and criticisms to be somewhat vexatious at times.

Ross board drawing of an operation to clip a cerebral aneurysm, 1952.

Analysis of Davison’s works shows her to have used a range of techniques but she was particularly known for being one of the pioneers of the use of the Ross board technique in the UK. The technique, also known as the carbon dust technique, was developed in America by Max Brödel and involves drawing the subject with a carbon pencil onto a white coated stippled board (Ross board) and then building up its three-dimensional form via the application of carbon dust. White paint was often used to create highlights. Colour was very rarely used but the detail and depth an artist was able to produce using this technique made it particularly suited to medical illustration.

A number of operative and pathological photographs in both the Davison collection and the Jefferson patient files allow a clear comparison to be made between the quality and suitability of the two modes during this period. Davison herself can be quoted as saying that a “medical artist can be particularly useful in elucidating obscure and difficult points, for she never draws the obvious: that is photographed.” (Davison, 1953) The photograph and drawing seen below are of exactly the same procedure performed on a patient in 1949 for the removal of a cholesteatomatous cyst. It is quite likely that Davison used the photograph when producing her final drawing but it is quite clear to see that the drawing allowed for the highlighting of specific details and ultimately a clearer and less confused image.



Davison, ‘Medical Art and the Student’, Manchester Medical Student Gazette, 1953, 32, pp.33-6

Hodges (ed), The Guild Handbook of Scientific Illustration (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989)

Perry, ‘Forty years of medical art a biography of Dorothy Davison’, Medical & Biological Illustration, 1971, 21(1), pp.27-32.