Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Photographing the Wellcome Amulet Collection

Just before the Easter break we had a visit from staff from the Wellcome Collection and freelance photographer Jon Stokes. Stokes was employed by Wellcome to photograph objects from the Pitt Rivers collection, which will feature in their new Reading Room exhibition, opening in autumn 2014.

Spurred on by the success of other collaborative amulet projects with Wellcome in 2012 - namely selected amulets loaned from the Edward Lovett collection for the exhibition 'Charmed Life', curated by the artist Felicity Powell, and the project 'Small Blessings', cataloguing and exploring amulets collected by Adrien de Mortillet - more amulets housed at the Pitt Rivers Museum have been catalogued and selected for display in the newly revamped Reading Room. 

The Reading Room display will include a selection of 120 amulets collected by both Lovett and de Mortillet, but also Walter Leo Hildburgh  - all three prolific amulet collectors and folklorists. Just as the previous amulets projects gave the Museum the opportunity to catalogue, research and improve the long term storage of the Lovett and de Mortillet amulets, so this Reading Room collaboration has enabled us to start to do the same with the Hildburgh collection. The display will include amulets from Europe, North Africa, South America and Japan. Hildburgh spent significant time in Asia, whereas the de Mortillet collection and Lovett collection are almost exclusively European with a few exceptions. One of the major themes to be explored in the display is that of faith - faith in a god or belief in an object; ideas in this instance epitomised in the form of amulets encompassing different cultures and religious beliefs. 

The amulets are mostly small, delicate things, which makes display a challenge. It is unlikely that there will be room in the display case in accommodate interpretive labels as well as the amulets themselves, so Wellcome are working on producing an illustrated guide book for the display.

Jon with a temporary photography station set up to photograph amulets © Pitt Rivers Museum

Jon was with us for three days to photograph the amulets so that there are high quality images of all of them to use for interpretation. We had to work long days to get all of the photography complete. Jon had an array of impressive equipment and cameras to produce good shots of all the amulets. 

Some of the amulets which will be displayed in the new Reading room, including Carapace of a crab, 
painted with a demon face and inscribed on the inside; 1985.53.649 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Our conservator Jenny Mitchell will now work on condition reporting and packing the amulets so that they are ready to be loaned later this year. 

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator

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