Artist draws on First World War archive for inspiration

A unique archive of letters, interviews and diaries relating to the First World War is providing the inspiration for a new artist in residence at the University.


The personal papers, oral testimonies, photos and memorabilia of more than 4,000 veterans and their relatives make up the Liddle Collection, part of the Brotherton Library's Special Collections.

Visual artist Juliet MacDonald has just begun working with material in the collection, as part of a University project funded by the Leverhulme Trust’s Artist in Residence scheme.

Juliet’s thought-provoking and tender drawings have been exhibited internationally. Her recent work explores historical subject matter and the early 20th century, with its rapid technological and social change, is of particular interest.

The contents of the Liddle Collection tell the stories of ordinary people in the trenches and on the home front. Some of its artefacts and possessions were donated many years after the war by ex-servicemen and their families.

Over the next 10 months Juliet, who is based in Leeds and has held solo exhibitions and short term residences in the UK and abroad, will use drawing as a means of exploring the collection and responding to the material she finds there.

“This is an amazing opportunity to work with such material first-hand. I will open up the boxes and spend time reading, looking, listening and drawing,” she said.

“The work I create may encourage others to make contact with these surviving testimonies and I will also talk to archive staff and learn how they look after the collection.  I see the processes of cataloguing, listing, filing and wrapping as ways of caring for the memory of previous generations, and so the staff have an important task.”

Welcoming the residency, Katy Thornton, Head of Special Collections, said: “This is a fascinating opportunity to see the collection used in a different way and we look forward to seeing the results of Juliet’s work.

“The Collection has been inspiring and supporting research for many years – now more than ever before.”

The artist’s work is linked with Legacies of War, the University’s First World War centenary project.

Dr Claudia Sternberg, who leads the project’s Culture and Arts strand, said: “As the Liddle Collection testifies, 100 years ago people frequently used drawings to document or reflect on their wartime experience.

“Juliet and colleagues working on Legacies of War will discuss the ways in which we use the archive for research and inspiration. Since we employ very different methods, she will also help us learn more about how drawing can be a means to engage mindfully with the past.”

The results of the residency will be on display on campus at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery in June 2015 and she will give a public lecture at Leeds Art Gallery on 12 May 2015. There will also be opportunities for members of the public to explore the Liddle Collection at artist-run drawing workshops next spring.

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