‘Dying Matters’ exhibition 17 December 2016 to 30 July 2017 Leeds Gallery, Leeds City Museum
Death is perhaps the one experience that unites people the world over. But even though every person experiences death and dying, we can often shy away from talking about it. The curators and community team at Leeds Museums and Galleries have linked up with the Leeds steering group of the national Dying Matters initiative to bring this topic to the fore for a seven month display in the Leeds Gallery at Leeds City Museum. The topic of death and dying is a very sensitive one, so we are working hard to deal with it appropriately, and promote positive debate. The Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery will already be aware of many of the issues.
The five cases at the contemporary end of the Leeds Gallery will look at funerals, preparation, sorting the deceased’s effects, memorials and the afterlife. The museum’s collections host a huge variety of material, from Anglo Saxon funeral urns to 19th century bier carts (left photo below), wills and funeral tea adverts, Chinese ancestor tablets, Chinese dolls wearing straw and white funeral clothes (right photo below), African memorial figures, winged angels and Mexican Day of the Dead paper cuts. The curators have also collected new items, and borrowed a contemporary basketry wicker coffin, to modernise the selection.
We reviewed our Leeds photographic holdings and made a special trip to Lawnswood cemetery in August this year to take new photographs to contrast with some early 20th century Lawnswood postcards. One of the older postcards, showing sightseers at the Ethel Preston monument (circa 1911) is reproduced above, together with one or our 2016 photographs of this monument. A photograph of the newer green burial area of the cemetery is below, and of the car park, funeral business and florists opposite the main cemetery entrance.
Kate Vernon of The Friends of Lawnswood has kindly digitised photographs in the 1950 and 1960 booklets on Lawnswood Crematorium, and a set of pictures of the Columbarium c. 1945, so that we will have ample options for selecting images for a slide show that will provide a strong visual background for the Dying Matters displays. We also took new photographs of Penny Pocket Park opposite Leeds Minster, and The Green at Horsforth. Two new Leeds films have also been commissioned, one with interviews taken at St Gemma’s and Wheatfield’s hospices, the other showing five Leeds people talking about Death and the Afterlife, which includes interviews with Xina Gooding of Hugh Gooding Funerals, and with the humanist bereavement counsellor and funeral officiant Bob Bury.
Do come and see this exhibition from 17 December, and then take a look at the web pages we are developing at www.leeds.gov.uk/DyingMatters.
Curator of World Cultures
Leeds City Museum