Kendal artist Lela Harris commissioned to paint four portraits of enslaved Black Lancastrians for Judges' Lodgings museum in Lancaster
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The intention is to reveal the stories of enslaved people who came to or through Lancaster in the 18th century when it was the fourth largest slave trading port in the country.
Kendal artist Lela Harris has been commissioned for the Facing The Past project and her portraits will be displayed alongside the existing fine art collection at the Judges' Lodgings musuem in Lancaster.
It means Lela’s work will be seen with works by George Romney, Thomas Lawrence and Joseph Wright of Derby.
A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council, which runs the museum, said: “Lela's new works will depict real Black individuals from history using research resources such as the descriptions on contemporary adverts for runaways escaping slavery that feature in the University of Glasgow's Runaway Slaves in Britain database.”
Lynda Jackson, Judges' Lodgings museum manager, said: "We're excited to work with Lela Harris, who managed to stand out from a number of very high-quality submissions. The panel was hugely impressed both with Lela's artistic skill and her ability to create portraits based on historical archival material. We cannot wait to see what she will create for visitors at Judges' Lodgings."
Facing the Past is a partnership project between Judges' Lodgings, Lancaster Black History Group, Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), and will explore the legacy of the city's involvement in the slave trade and trading with the West Indies.
Lela, who was previously commissioned by The Folio Society and personally selected by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Alice Walker, to produce illustrations for the new illustrated edition of her classic novel, The Color Purple, said: "I’m absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to work on such an important project ... It will be such an honour to shine a light on the lives of historic Black Lancastrians who have, for too long, been hidden by history.”
Facing the Past is part of a £75,000 project which the council says will “redisplay the story of Lancaster's famous furniture making firm of Gillows and engage with the city's troubled history with slavery.”
The museum holds the largest collection Gillows’ furniture currently on public display in the world.
County Coun Peter Buckley, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: "Facing the Past is a culturally significant project that will reflect on the role Lancaster played in the transatlantic slave trade and of the enslaved people who came to the city. It is important that we choose the right artists to work with in order to tell the story of Black Lancastrians forgotten by the history books. We were really impressed with Lela Harris' previous work, and we feel like this project will provide her the platform to produce some of her best work yet."
The new commission forms part of a collaborative project, supported by Art Fund UK and the Association of Independent Museums, which will also include workshops and an exhibition by young people.
The Judges’ Lodgings is one of the first recipients of the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) New Stories New Audiences funding, part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, for its Facing the Past project.
Lela's book cover for The Colour Purple was recently shortlisted for the prestigious V&A Illustration Awards. Her portraits have been exhibited at the Pastel Society Exhibition 2022 and short-listed for the Derwent Art Prize 2022.