The National Leather Collection (which used to be called the Museum of Leathercraft), now safely housed on two upper floors of the Grosvenor Shopping Centre in the middle of Northampton, is leading the charge for the total relocation of all things leather in Northampton back to the town from the periphery. It feels appropriate after all these years.
We have just seen the open day to show anyone interested some of the items and how the place might look in the future. One one floor will be a library and study rooms for leather students as some of the University’s leather books will be added to the extensive historic Museum Collection to create a first rate working environment just a few steps across the Market Square from the new location for the ICLT in the Vulcan Works.
Given the quality of the coffee and cakes on offer at the Open Day – and we are told that the coffee bar is likely to be retained – this could become a distinctive venue. An unusual one also as there will always be a big contingent of industry veterans around more than willing to share their knowledge. So in just a short space of time we saw Michael Pearson, Peter Mommersteeg, Mike Downing, Richard Daniels, Walter Landmann and a host of others. One imagines that as the collection gets more organised and put on display in different and varied groupings we will see increasingly today’s tanners and designers turning up to understand the evolution of design and leathers, and to search for historic concepts that can be given a contemporary feel.
What is already good is the significant number of volunteers who are already helping. There is a major search on for those interested to be patrons, trustees or join the “Friends”. This latter looks like being a major group. Funding is needed as well. Some £250,000 to fit out the two floors which are currently without carpets or fittings and £200,000 a year for running costs. There is an additional plan to find larger long term funds to look after what is an invaluable collection and ensure everything is properly conserved and stored.
But at the same time after well over two decades of living precariously in poor storage to have this collection accessible and safe is outstanding. Given the extensive space the Museum now has for the first time we can start to have a really good look at it. Outstanding collections of saddles, of footwear of luggage, of gloves, of drinking vessels, of military accoutrements, of books, of vegetable tanning extracts…. the list is endless.
The plan is also to make, as far as possible with valuable and sometime fragile artefacts, to make all this as accessible as possible to the public. To touch and to feel rather than just stand back and look and admire. Leather is a material that engages us on many levels and the Museum plans to be true to that.
Hopefully by the time the ICLT is making its physical move down ti the Vulcan Works the installations of the Museum will be long complete and we can plan some great get togethers in their excellent coffee shop. But no handling the leathers with fingers sticky from the cakes!
February 1, 2017