I had never heard of a Lumber Room until I visited the newly refurbished York Art Gallery last week.
The Lumber Room here is an exhibition curated by artist in residence Mark Hearld using a fantastic array of miscellaneous pictures and objects selected from the stores of York Art Gallery, the Yorkshire Museum and York Castle Museum.
It’s a wonderful concept and a clever use of hidden treasures that may never get to be seen otherwise. Anyone familiar with Hearld’s work will know he is the perfect choice to curate such a room. Much of his own art is made up of fragments and collage on a painted background. His own home in York, which he opens to the public as part of York Open Studios, is an Aladdin’s Cave with wooden dressers adorned with unusual Victorian memorabilia and artwork covering every wall.
Hearld took the idea for The Lumber Room from a short story by Saki (a 19th century British writer whose real name was Hector Hugo Munro). As a boy, he remembered a teacher reading The Lumber Room to him. It was a short story about a young boy who tries to unlock the mysteries held in a room ‘secure from unauthorised intrusion.’
‘It came up to his expectation. In the first place it was large and dimly lit…..in the second place it was a storehouse of unimagined treasures’.
This image is exactly what Hearld has created. The art gallery’s Lumber Room is a cornucopia of finds; dappled horses from a disbanded carousel set out in a line, a collection of English Delft plates propped up on a dresser and Victorian capes and military jackets adorning the walls. There are also glass cabinets of taxidermy and a shoal of river fish juxtaposed amongst Hearld’s own paintings.
The rest of the gallery is impressive with light flooding the entrance to the building. The gallery’s collections have been pulled together mixing art spanning the centuries. For example, one of the rooms has paintings and prints of York, some dating back to the 17th century and others painted in the present day, so many different images yet all of the same city.
The Lycett Green collection has a dedicated room. This impressive collection comprising 136 old masters was bequeathed to York Art Gallery in 1955 by the philanthropist F.D Lycett Green. Its acquisition marked a turning point for the gallery, which now had a collection representing all the major schools of European art history from the renaissance to the 19th century.
The gallery also houses the Centre Of Ceramic Art or CoCA on the first floor. I loved the 17-metre long wall of pots, a collection of more than 1,000 pots dating from Roman times to the present day and grouped by colour co-ordination.
Artist Clare Twomey’s installation of 10,000 bowls is at the centre of this gallery and their purity of colour really shows off the new gallery space’s ceiling. A community of helpers in and around York helped Twomey make the bowls, each one taking an hour to make and representing one of the 10,000 hours it takes to become a master craftsman.
The gallery used to be free to enter and now it’s not. It’s either £7.50 for a single visit or there is an option to buy an annual pass. I ended up buying the annual pass for £22 allowing unlimited entry to York Art Gallery, the Yorkshire Museum and the Castle Museum for a year. Kids go free at all times. As someone living locally, I didn’t think this was a bad deal – and on the positive side it will ensure we make time to visit these wonderful galleries and museums on our doorstep.