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VM Inspiration: Cotton to Gold Exhibition at 2 Temple Place

Last week we looked at the wonderful building that is Two Temple Place, the former Astor family estate offices close to Temple tube station. This week we are considering the current temporary exhibition.

Until 19 April the exhibition ‘Cotton to Gold: extraordinary collections of the Industrial North West,’ shows a collection of items which have been borrowed from small museums in England’s North West region. All were originallly donated by successful entrepreneurs who made their fortunes from cotton manufacture, the classic wealth creator in England’s 19th century Industrial Revolution.

These relatively little known collections reflect both the concerns and passions of their founders, and to some extent the age in which they were created - all perfect for visual merchandisers seeking inspiration.

Trays of neatly pinned beetles, many with beautifully coloured exoskeletons, lend themselves to visual merchandising - as does any object pinned in order and, in this case, labeled with a country of origin. That ‘compare and contrast’ task that the human brain loves to perform is at work here, as it is with any series of similar objects that might vary in colour or scale be they beetles, glass marbles or variously stripy socks.

As a small reminder of the labour and working conditions of the people that these collections enabled, a weaving loom is included at the entrance to the collections, as are samples of rope. The clogs, borrowed from Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, are iron soled, and the accompanying text asks us to image the noise they made on the cobbled streets as mill workers walked to their place of employment in the morning and then home again at the end of the day.

Most fascinating from a VM point of view is the presumably accidental juxtaposition in a glass taxidermy cabinet containing stuffed robins. The back of the glass cabinet has been replaced at some point by a piece of card, from the late 1950s or early 1960s, depicting a romantic couple. The irony implied by imagined human courtship in the background and that of the long dead birds in the foreground catches the attention and raises a smile.

The pose of the figures turned towards the bird suggests the beginning of a story and, as all VM practitioners will know, the most effective windows are stories. The fact that the birds are under glass links them directly to VM display, so often seen through store windows. George A. Booth (d.1924) an iron founder from Preston, amassed this collection of more than 150 birds, with a particular interest in leucistic ones - which lack melanin pigment and develop white feathers – may have been surprised to learn his collection would one day be displayed in central London.

From the Haworth Gallery comes a collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work. Lancastrian Joseph Briggs (1873 – 1938), left his home in Accrington to make a new life in America. His UK training as a calico fabric designer enabled him to gain a job in the Tiffany studio, where he became Louis Comfort Tiffany’s chief assistant and confidant. Tiffany’s work fell from favour in the 1920s and by 1933 the company was bankrupt. Briggs arranged for more than 140 pieces of the glass to be shipped to Accrington. These glass panels, both perfect inspiration for VM backdrops, flooring, and decorative panels, are part of the largest collection of Tiffany’s work in Europe.

A variation on this panel would be perfect on a wall, in a window, or on the floor of a retail store.

The exhibition includes Turner paintings, Landseer’s sketches, coins, carved ivory and bone (scrimshaw) and Mesopotamian clay tablets from 2,200 BC, all accompanied by a short biography of the collector. Zoom along now to see this almost mini-V&A exhibition and to enjoy the excellent teashop too.