One of my most memorable trips abroad in the last ten years was a three week wander around Egypt, I visited Cairo, Luxor and Aswan using local transport. Some chance now. I was thoroughly captivated by the culture, the people and the food. I was able to visit most of the major sights at my leisure and uncluttered by any mass tourism. Amidst all the ruins, graves pyramids and museums I was particularly impressed by many of the beautiful sculptures. The modern museum in Luxor stood out for their display. I became immersed in the world of past gods and their significances. Cats were revered 4 – 5 thousand years ago and given god like status. I came home with several reproduction stone and pottery feline figures. My cat, aged ten, had recently died from feline leukaemia and I therefore on my return took up the offer of a couple of delightful kittens from a local farm. The female I named Bastet [Egyptian cat goddess] and the male Seth [Egyptian animal god] good and bad, noble and dark, ying and yang. They have been constant companions and live up to their names.
This week I visited the Atkinson Arts Centre in Southport once again, this time to view the recently opened Egyptian Gallery. Seth and Bastet were well represented, much to my delight.
This exhibition has a colourful background. A Mrs Anne Goodison from Liverpool collected Egyptian artefacts on her travels at the end of the 19th century, before the tomb of Tutankhamen was even discovered, and displayed them in her home. One can now wonder and debate about the ‘ethics’ of this style of Victorian collecting. She was the wife of George Goodison a well respected local civil engineer who had installed a sewerage system to the Everton area of Liverpool. When the Everton Football stadium was built in 1892 his name was immortalised in sport.
Anne died in 1906 and George having no interest in her collection sold it on for £400 pounds!! and it ended up in Bootle Museum. This gallery closed in 1974 and the collection of over a 1000 artefacts has been in storage ever since. With lottery funding and some obvious passionate effort they are now to be viewed in a permanent gallery at the Atkinson. Brilliant.
The exhibition is in a small intimate area and highlights some beautiful pieces. OK so you get the mummy but the main objects to relish are the small pieces – jewellery, beads, ceramics, shabtis [servant figures for the next life] rare ‘paddle dolls’ [fertility symbols] sandals etc.
There is a colourful and informative video presentation of two young children talking, in Lancashire accents!, about their life in the time of the Pharaohs in an attempt at reality. One a boy hoping to be a scribe, a very important person, and the other a humble peasant girl.
The exhibition is fascinating and enthralling partly because of its small scale and everyday objects but yet it displays the magnificent art work the Egyptians had achieved up to 5000 years ago. This has to be an important addition to Egyptology study in this country. Its origins make me wonder how much more may be hidden in long forgotten or neglected private collections.
I highly recommend a visit to The Atkinson if you are in the area to view this collection. Remember ‘small is beautiful’.