World Art Collections Exhibition

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Have fun at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts this February half-term
and celebrate a history of Norfolk

and its place in the world


Visitors in the permanent collection
Photos: Andi Sapey

On Tuesday 16 February 2010 the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich, launches Object of the Holiday, an exciting new series of free activities designed by Sainsbury Centre artists and guides, which features objects from the Centre’s permanent collections. This half-term the Object of the Month is the antler comb from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. The comb is part of A History of the World, a BBC and British Museum partnership project, which uses museum objects to tell local and global stories in new ways with internet, television and radio. Object of the Holiday runs from Tuesday 16 February to Sunday 21 February 2010 and is free of charge. Booking is not required – drop in between 10am and 5pm.

“Object of the Holiday is a new initiative; each holiday we will have free drop-in activities for families linked to our permanent collections. The activities, which are all designed by our artist-consultants and guides, offer chance for families to do things together. They can have fun being creative and exploring the galleries, then relax in the gallery café or head outside to play in the beautiful parkland which surrounds the Centre. Call in to see us and let us take you round the world!” – Veronica Sekules, Head of Education and Research at the Sainsbury Centre.

During February half-term there will be lots to of Object of the Holiday activities to enjoy. Artist Sarah Florence has designed a fabulous new Activity Sketchbook with drawing, facts about the comb, a gallery trail and things to do at home. She has also developed a Make your own 3D caribou head for families to do together at the activity table. There will also be stories about the comb and other objects, developed by Sainsbury Centre guides, in the Living Area gallery (rugs kindly provided by Country and Eastern).

On Tuesday 16 February, to launch the week, there will also be some exciting extra things to do. There will be chance to enjoy a special a collection story in the gallery, narrated by Sainsbury Centre guide Brenda Packman. Another of the guides, Eileen Conway, will be dressed for the occasion and will be giving Captain Vancouver tours of the permanent collection for children.

The antler comb is displayed as part of the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection in the main Living Area gallery at the Sainsbury Centre. The object is one of ten from the BBC’s eastern region selected to tell a history of Norfolk and its place in the world.

Antler comb

“We are delighted to be involved in ‘A History of the World’, which promises to be a really exciting and innovative project, encouraging people to get more involved with our museums. We hope that people will come to see the comb and the hundreds of other objects from all around the world which are on display here. The Sainsbury Centre is a university museum with free admission to its permanent collections and is both a centre of research and learning, and a relaxed and friendly place for local people to enjoy” – Nichola Johnson, Director, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

The antler comb was collected at Cross Sound, southern Alaska, in July 1794 during Captain George Vancouver’s voyage in the Pacific on HMS Discovery (1791-5). The provenance of the comb makes it one of the earliest documented pieces to have been collected among the Tlingit people.

Born in 1757 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, Captain Vancouver sailed on James Cook’s second and fateful third voyage (Cook died on this voyage in Hawaii in 1779). Captain Vancouver’s mapping of the Northwest Coast of America was exceptionally detailed and continued to guide voyagers for generations.

“The sculptors and weavers of the Northwest Coast were inspired by animal forms which they used as clan crests on objects of value. The Sainsbury Collection has a marvellous group of rattles, bowls, headdresses and other ritual objects which take an animal or bird form. They are made from beautiful materials such as ivory, antler or horn, and were used in gift exchanges with outsiders, which is how some of them originally came to Europe” – Professor Steven Hooper, permanent collection expert and Director of the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

The comb is well-preserved and the carving noteworthy. The stylised bird on this comb (typical of the art of the peoples of the Northwest Coast of America) possibly represents the mythical raven, famous throughout the coast, who was capable of transforming himself into many guises and whose exploits are recounted in numerous myths. It is almost certainly made from caribou antler. Caribou do not occur in Tlingit territory and their antler and skins, excellent for clothing, were obtained by trade with the Athapaskan peoples of the interior. Combs like this were used as hair ornaments and were valued as objects for display and exchange.

Antler comb from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection
Photo: James Austin

Dates, Times and Information
The Sainsbury Centre is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm and until 8pm on Wednesdays (closed Mondays including Bank Holiday Mondays)
Tel 01603 593199

Admission to the permanent collections is free
Entry to special exhibitions is charged

The comb was acquired in 1983 by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury following an auction at Sotheby’s, London, when an export licence was withheld. Its collection history was not known, but subsequent research by Steven Hooper led to the discovery by a relative of the vendor of a hand-written list of ethnographic material bearing the name Captain Dobson.

On this list, under the heading ‘Cross Sound’ is the entry ‘1 Bone Carved Comb’. The items on this list were grouped under places which correspond precisely to those visited by Captain George Vancouver during his voyage in the Pacific in HMS Discovery (1791–5). Thomas James Dobson was serving on the Discovery at the time and comparison of the list with Dobson’s log at the Public Records Office shows it was written in his own hand. The association between Dobson’s list and the comb is confirmed by the fact that companion pieces sold at auction can also be readily identified on the list.

Later the comb passed from Dobson in to the possession of a collector John Gent (died c. 1815) of Devizes, Wiltshire, and thence by descent to the vendor in 1983.

The Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection
The antler comb is part of the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection which is primarily show in a gallery known as the Living Area, where modern European art is interspersed with objects from across the globe. The objects you find here span 5,000 years of human creativity.

Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury were passionate collectors. Their collection reflects their friendships with artists such as Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon. It also includes works by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas and Amedeo Modigliani. Many of these artists drew their inspiration from world art, a fascination for which they shared with the Sainsburys.

Other works reflect the Sainsbury’s instinctive response to sculptural form, an interest in contemporary painting and enthusiasm for studio ceramics.

Other Information
The Sainsbury Centre is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and The Gatsby Charitable Foundation

Other Norfolk Top 10 Objects

For more information about the objects below please contact:
John Davies, Norfolk Museums Service
[email protected]
01603 493 630

The Happisburgh hand-axe
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
An object of world significance, this beautiful ovate hand-axe dating from early pre-history was found on a Norfolk beach in 2000. It showed that humans had been present in Britain some 200,000 years earlier than had previously been known.

Seahenge reconstruction
The Lynn Museum, King’s Lynn
This unique find of international significance was discovered on Holme beach on the north Norfolk coast and excavated in 1999. The timber circle has been reconstructed in the Lynn Museum.

The Crownthorpe Hoard
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
In 1982 a metal-detector user discovered a hoard of Iron Age and Roman drinking vessels that had been buried near a Romano-British settlement at Crownthorpe in central Norfolk. This important group of objects comprises seven bronze vessels, representing a drinking set, in the Roman fashion.

Personal seal matrix of Queen Balthild
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
This gold seal matrix was discovered in 1999 by a metal-detector user in a field a few miles east of Norwich. The seal was originally part of a swivelling finger ring and the style of its engravings suggests an early Anglo-Saxon date.

The Paston Treasure
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
This oil painting of exotic collections is one of the most important depictions of a schatzkammer (cabinet of treasures – Wunderkammer – wonders) in the history of British collecting. It is a record of the magnificent collections once held at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk, home of the Paston family and hails from the Dutch School, painted between 1666-69.

Thomas Paine’s death mask
Ancient House Museum, Thetford
Thomas Paine is one of Norfolk’s most famous and internationally influential sons. Born at Thetford in 1737, he was an author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual and revolutionary.

Snettisham Gold tubular torc
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
This rare and magnificent tubular gold torc was part of the first discovery made at Snettisham in November 1948 and becoming known as the Snettisham Treasure. Subsequent discoveries of gold, silver and bronze items at the site have made this the biggest collection of Iron Age Celtic metalwork ever discovered in the British Isles and the Treasure is unique in Western Europe.

Self-Portrait photograph of Olive Edis
Cromer Museum
Olive Edis was an outstanding photographer who pioneered new photographic techniques in the early decades of the 20th century. Edis photographed a wide variety of British society from royalty and famous people of her day, to Norfolk fishermen’s wives.

Jacket worn by the pilot of B17 ‘Fever Beaver’
100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, Thorpe Abbotts
This jacket was worn by the pilot of the B17 ‘Fever Beaver’ on its 100th mission. This plane completed a record 125 missions and represents an important episode in 20th century history when Norfolk became a massive airbase for American bomber crews who helped swing the tide towards allied victory in WWII.