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Curious objects

Leicester arts and museums staff and volunteers look after thousands of objects in our collections. Here they show you some of their favourite pieces which are not always on display.

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Portrait of Mary Bussell, 1926, bronze by Frank Dobson. Purchased from the Gillian Jason Gallery with assistance from the MGC/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

Tessa Mackintosh, a museum volunteer, tells us why she likes this piece.

“The moment I saw this sculpture, I was instantly captivated. It is particularly her gaze that transfixes my gaze upon her. What is she looking at? What is she thinking? Created in the 1920s, many women at the time were exercising their freedoms and pushing barriers, often sporting a radical short haircut for their day, like she is here. She is made from bronze, a strong and durable material which suits her independent contemporary personality.

“It’s objects like this one that lead me to question and think from a variety of angles. This is the very reason I am so in love with art and the silent power it holds.”

Find out more about this sculpture and view more of Frank Dobson’s artworks on the Art UK website.

 

Rat Netsuke, boxwood and ivory, made circa 1835-65 in Japan by Itsumin.

Netsuke were used like a toggle to attach a pouch or tobacco box to a man’s obi (sash) in traditional Japanese clothing from the period. This is a Katabori or ‘sculpture’ Netsuke of a rat sitting on a persimmon with a smaller rat poking his head out from inside the fruit and an ivory maggot in a hole. The main carving is made of boxwood and the maggot is made from ivory. The rat's eyes are inlaid with glass.

Shani Collis, collections access officer, tells us why she likes this piece.

“This is probably one of my favourite objects in the collection. It is beautifully carved and whimsical, and if you tilt it, the little maggot and nose of the little rat below pop out. I think rats are very under-rated little creatures, I really like them.

“In the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, the rat is the first animal to appear. 2020 is the Year of the Rat.”

 

Verecunda graffito

Verecunda graffito, red ware ceramic from Bath Lane. Gift of the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society.

This fragment of Samian ware is inscribed ‘Verecunda ludia Lucius gladiator’. ‘Ludia’ can be interpreted to mean actress. Samian ware was a type of fine glossy red-brown pottery made widely across the Roman Empire.

Liz Baliol-Key, collections store assistant, tells us why she likes this piece.

“When this object was on display at Jewry Wall Museum, we affectionately called it the ‘love token’. It always inspired thought and discussion owing to the two names and, what we believe to be, their occupations.

“It has been pierced, therefore it may have been worn or nailed in a public place to communicate a statement of love.”

 

Goldfish Bowl, 1977, raku earthenware by Jill Crowley. Purchased from the artist for Leicester Arts & Museums.

Heather Southorn, our collections manager, tells us why she likes this piece.

“I love everything about this ceramic bowl, which is both sculptural and useful – the colour, the texture, the form. Clay is a wonderful material – tactile, versatile, and can be made to depict anything and everything including this ‘glass’ bowl with goldfish (and yellow spectacles) in!

“The 3D fish reaching out are both realistic and a bit creepy as they look out at us as we look in at them. The glasses represent a self-portrait of the sculptor as she looks in the bowl – a fun play on the more usual self-portraits that can be seen in art galleries.”

Find out more about this piece and see another image of it on the Art UK website.