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Maria Chiara Scuderi

History, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

Global Leicester: The Dryad Craftwork Collection at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery

My practical-based PhD illuminates the objects and archives of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery’s Dryad craftwork collection, by exploring its history with a global perspective. This was collected by Harry Hardy Peach between 1907 and 1936, and comprises extraordinary diverse material culture, ranging from fabrics and clothing to basketwork, wooden figures, puppets, toys, gourds, and coconuts. Peach was interested in the Arts & Crafts movement, and sourced his collection from Britain and Europe, as well as British colonies in Australia, Africa, South Asia, the Pacific, and Malaysia. He planned to use it to found a new museum, but this never happened and the collection was donated to New Walk Museum (now Leicester Museum and Art Gallery) in 1969. Since then, it has been curated in a range of ways, most recently as part of the ‘World Galley’.

‘Global Leicester’ seeks to generate substantial new research, to explore what the Dryad collection reveals about the linkages between Leicester and its global and imperial context, and about changing understandings of the Empire over the twentieth century. I explore why and how Peach collected specific objects; investigate their provenance, manufacture, and how they travelled to Leicester; and analyse what their past curation and display (since the 1970s) can reveal about changing post-colonial environments and relationships.

The project contributes to three key areas of historical enquiry:

1- it offers a new material history of the British Empire, through analysis of a little-known but voluminous national collection of imperial objects;

2- it offers a means of changing current meanings and interpretations of the Dryad objects, by foregrounding the history of Empire in their development and interpretation;

3- it builds on and contributes to the dynamic field of global material culture history and histories of imperial collecting and display, by tracking a diverse and understudied collection through its hitherto unused set of archives in UK and abroad.

Within this project, I am currently collaborating with the conservation department of the Museum and the documentation officer, by handling, re-interpreting and re-cataloging the objects at the store; and I am involved in writing a monthly newsletter related to new insights that emerge from my studies on the Dryad collection. I will be working also towards the reinstallation and redisplay of the ‘World Gallery’, the development of an associated digital exhibition, and a project of co-curation by the end of the PhD.

Research Area

  • History