They have a collection of internationally important art, books, manuscripts and artefacts, but have you ever been to the Leeds University Library Galleries?
You could live your whole life in Leeds without discovering all its hidden treasures, but trust us when we say that you won’t want to miss these two. Treasures of the Brotherton and The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery are two of the city’s best-kept secrets – they’re tucked away in the Parkinson Building on the University of Leeds campus, but if you seek them out, they’re sure to win you over with their ever-changing exhibitions, unusual artefacts and surprising events.
You just never know what you’ll find here
This is a rare treat. Two galleries, each filled with unexpected treasures, each completely different from the other, but both mere metres apart. The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery pulls its exhibitions from the University Art Collection, while Treasures of the Brotherton showcases pieces from their extensive Special Collections. The result? You can see everything from a portrait bust of Albert Einstein to a 15th century travel guide to Rome.
There are over 3,500 works in the University Art Collection
Who knew they were hiding such treasures at the University of Leeds? It’s the very reason that The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery was created, to share their extensive and priceless collection of art with the public – after all, art is meant to be seen.
Now, 10 years on, they’re celebrating with a collaborative exhibition that brings together artist and viewer. Transformation will showcase key works from Stanley Spencer, Jacob Epstein, Terry Frost and Atkinson Grimshaw, to name but a few. And it will also include labels written by the public, giving the gallery’s audience a voice.
You can see a parody of Henry Moore’s Reclining Woman
We all know Henry Moore, but his friend Frederick Edward McWilliam isn’t quite as famous. He was an Irish painter with a wicked imagination and a real mischievous streak, which is why this sculpture might seem familiar. Lying Down Figure is a playful reinterpretation of the great reclining figures of his buddy – and it’s not the only one. In fact, it’s part of an entire series of sculptures that are both suspiciously familiar and totally new.
There are hundreds of thousands of rare books, manuscripts and objects in the Special Collections
The University of Leeds has a treasure trove of weird and wonderful pieces that will give you a unique glimpse into the past – but it wasn’t until quite recently that they started putting them on display.
When Treasures of the Brotherton opened in 2016, they finally had a place to showcase their Special Collections, which include everything from John Gould’s immense bird books to original written material by the Brontë siblings. To protect their objects, the displays are ever-changing, so you can see something different every time you visit.
You can explore the galleries after dark
There’s something magical about going to a museum out of hours and seeing the exhibitions in a whole new light, but the chance doesn’t come around very often, so you have to snap it up while you can. You could go to one of their exhibition launch events, see what they’ve cooked up for Light Night or head over for Museums at Night.
They have a Babylonian clay tablet that’s 4,500 years old
Before there were computers, there were books, and before there were books, there were all kinds of primitive writing tools, one of which was the clay tablet – and Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery has one. It’s the oldest piece in their collection and dates back to c.2500 BC. You can still see the writing on the tablet (it’s a receipt for barley), but you won’t be able to read it because it’s written in an ancient system known as Cuneiform.
You could see a legend in the flesh
It’s not just exhibitions at the Leeds University Library Galleries, they also run a series of must-see events that will bring you face-to-face with famous writers and artists. For example, on Friday 1st June 2018, you can see Tony Harrison acting out excerpts from his plays with Barrie Rutter and Sian Thomas. It’s a rare opportunity to hear from the man himself and see him perform his own work.
This is the history of the world, but not as you know it
One of the most interesting artefacts on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is a 15th-century history roll. When unfurled, it’s 17.5 metres long and documents the history of the world from Adam and Eve to the rule of King Louis XI of France. It’s not just words either – you can see painted illustrations and genealogical trees tracing the bloodline of the monarchy.
You can have a go at life drawing
You usually go to an art gallery to look at the art, but here you can make your own. From 2pm to 4pm on the first Saturday of every month, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery puts on its own life drawing class. It’s led by artist and tutor, Rob Oldfield, a man who has stood on both sides of the easel, and he’ll be on-hand to help you capture the unique shapes and lines of their model of the moment. Sessions are £10.50 and all the materials are provided, so why not give it a go?
You can see a leaf from the first bible ever printed
What if we told you that you could see a leaf from the first book ever produced using the printing technique invented by Johannes Gutenberg? His bible was printed in Mainz no later than 1455 and only 49 copies (or substantial portions of copies) remain today, which is why this is one of the most valuable books in the world.
Right now, they’re showcasing the rich diversity of Gypsy and Traveller culture
Past and present collide in this new exhibition, which has been put together with the help of the Gypsy community. It examines changing perspectives, and representations of, Gypsies and Travellers through a collection of paintings, photos and books collected by Dorothy Una Ratcliffe and donated to the University of Leeds in 1950.
It’s not just a glimpse into the past though – some of the items have been chosen by members of Leeds GATE (Gypsy And Traveller Exchange) and the Gypsyville heritage group, and they’re interpreted using their words, so you can see what the piece means to the community today.
You can get hands-on with their Special Collections
It’s not often that you get to touch the artefacts in a museum, but that’s exactly what’s in store at Tuesday Treasure. Every month, they pick a new theme and showcase a series of rare, unusual and undeniably cool pieces from their Special Collections.
What makes this so exciting is the fact that you can see them up close and even touch them. In the past, they’ve brought out a lock of Mozart’s hair, a letter from Beatrix Potter and the diary of Arthur Ransome. Intrigued? Head over to Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery from 12pm to 2pm on the first Tuesday of the month to see what they’ve pulled out of the archives.
You can see one of the city’s oldest pubs as it once was
Whitelock’s is a Leeds institution. They’ve been serving up quality pints for over 300 years – but how much has it changed in that time? You can find out at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery because Maurice de Sausmarez painted it in the 1950s. He was the first Head of Fine Art at the University of Leeds, which at the time, was one of just three universities in Britain to teach Art History – and his depiction of Whitelock’s is surprisingly similar to the one you’ll see today.
You can draw in a calm, inspiring environment
Every Friday from 12:30pm to 3:30pm, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery holds its own Sketch Club. It’s absolutely free and you can stay for ten minutes or the full three hours. They pick a different ‘Friday Focus’ every week, so it’s a great way to get to know the collection.
Not all of their art is inside the gallery
Step outside and you’ll find even more hidden gems because the University of Leeds has its very own public art trail. Pick up a map at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, then follow the route around campus to seek out fifteen unique sculptures, including Keith Wilson’s squiggly Sign for Art and Simon Fujiwara’s A Spire, a towering totem that brings together past and present.