Leeds Museums and Galleries and Henry Moore Institute archivist: Importance of capturing city’s spirit

In our ever-changing, growing and evolving city we must think about the changes that are being made and the diverse voices which need to be heard. Immy Share speaks to the Leeds Museums and Galleries archivist.

Sunday, 20th June 2021, 4:45 am
Archivist Errin Hussey with objects at Leeds Discovery Centre (photo: Simon Hulme)
Archivist Errin Hussey with objects at Leeds Discovery Centre (photo: Simon Hulme)

Errin Hussey is the archivist for Leeds Museums and Galleries and the Henry Moore Institute - a hub which encourages the appreciation of visual arts, especially sculpture.

She spends her days taking care of all the paper-based material and objects from history and primarily looks after the archive of sculptor's papers at Henry Moore.

It is finding out how things used to be done, how things were put together and how far Leeds has come and that keeps Ms Hussey so dedicated.

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Ms Hussey looks after the archive collections at Leeds Museums and Galleries and the Henry Moore Institute (photo: Simon Hulme)

Though, her focus is not only on the past, and her work on Leeds’ past helps to keep Leeds Museums and Galleries so current and growing.

Ms Hussey works with the life and times of the people of Leeds right now to make sure the museums, galleries and sculpture centres in Leeds are “capturing the spirit” for those in years to come.

The celebration of Leeds City Museum’s 200th anniversary this year has been a prompt for an institutional archive and for two centuries worth of history to be documented.

Ms Hussey told the YEP: “This year we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Leeds City Museum which is very exciting.

“A couple of years ago I started to create the Leeds Museums and Galleries institutional archive which is also housed at Leeds Discovery Centre and has the history for the past 200 years in, including everything the museum has been up to for that duration.

“We’re finding out how things used to be done, what we used to do, how far we’ve come and our story.

“It’s also about how the museum works for the people of Leeds as the collections are theirs.

“We need to know what we’ve done, what we’ve done well, what we’ve collected and then tell a nice story of how important these things are to the people of Leeds.

“We can use the findings to look back and forward to what we can be doing in the future and what we can do to change for the better.

“It’s about capturing the spirit and the diverse range of voices across Leeds.”

Ms Hussey is also working on ensuring more people know that archive material is available to be looked at and explored.

Throughout lockdown she tried to digitise and take photos of as much of the archives as possible - but is keen that this doesn’t take over from actually holding and looking at materials.

Ms Hussey said: “Through the use of social media through lockdown we’ve got more people realising that we are here and what collections we have.

“People really want to get back in and back to seeing things again, which is really nice.

“Although we have digitised things through lockdown and send people references, people still want to see things first hand when they can.

“Sitting with something you know is 100 years old is really important for researchers, especially because Leeds is constantly changing and developing.

“Now we’re just trying to reach more audiences and get more schools, universities and tours.”

Ms Hussey reiterated that it is important for people to realise that archives are not just paper, but objects as well.

She said that although digitising things has become the norm, flyers, protest banners and other objects we constantly use nowadays will still be of huge use for archivists in years to come.

The archives Ms Hussey works with include sculptor’s tools and objects and her favourite pieces so far are part of British sculptor Helen Chadwick’s collection.

She said: “I had never come across Helen Chadwick before but she has great examples of things from the past.

“It’s not just old pictures and drawings but she did installation art pieces in the 1980s and we have her costumes from that time.

“I love to get this stuff out for people - she even had shoes like rocking horses that she would stand on.

“People are always shocked when you get out big things like that as they don’t realise things like that would come out in an archive but her collection is 135 boxes of things from throughout her life and career.

“It’s an example of the things we are really lucky to have in Leeds.”