The Whitaker is Rossendale’s Museum and Art Gallery. It was given by Richard Whitaker, along with its surrounding park, to the people of Rossendale in 1902. In 2019 it was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant and from then until July 2021 I’ve worked on a commission to transform the 19th century Drawing Room into a Cabinet of Curiosities Room, using rarely seen items from the museum’s collection, plus objects from my own collection..
Cabinets of Curiosity, or wunderkammer, became popular in the Victorian period as a way to show off private collections. It was a time when museums were thriving, as collectors gathered items from all over the British Empire and beyond, and wanted to show off their collections of antiques, weapons, taxidermic specimens, and other items to the public. As a result Cabinets of Curiosity were often as much about show business as serious collecting.
These rooms can be fascinating places to visit, and in the Whitaker room the idea has been to bring together items from The Whitaker’s collection with artist-made objects. These explore the fascinating overlap and mash-up of collectors, the wealth created in the textile industry by exploiting enslaved African people, taxidermy, child labour and Empire. There are regular showings of Kain Leo’s short animated film ‘Requiem for Stuffed Animals’.
In this project I’ve been supported by animator Kain Leo, light and sound technician Phil Milston, composer Chris Davies, alternative taxidermist Nicola Hebson, textile plants created by Kay Kennedy, and the staff and volunteers of The Whitaker.
The Whitaker is now open to the public Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 4pm with a late night of Thursday (until 8pm). Entrance is free, and it also has 4 galleries, a local history section, a restaurant, bar and shop.