A Kendal artist acclaimed for recreating the cover of the classic novel “The Color Purple” was chosen to work on a project that tells the stories of enslaved people living in Lancaster.
Lela Harris will work on the Facing the Past project which will trace the history of the famous furniture company Gillows of Lancaster and address the troubled history of the city with slavery.
Lancaster’s Judges’ Lodgings Museum has collaborated with Lela to create four new portraits of black Lancaster historians.
The portraits will be displayed alongside the Judges ‘Lodgings’ existing art collections, which include works by George Romney, Thomas Lawrence and Joseph Wright of Derby.
The museum also houses the largest collection of Gillows furniture currently on display to the public in the world.
The new commission is part of a collaborative project to uncover the stories of enslaved people who have come to or through Lancaster and will involve workshops and a youth exhibition at the museum.
In 18th century Lancaster was the fourth largest slave trading port in the country.
Facing the Past is a partnership project between Judges’ Lodgings, Lancaster Black History Group, Lancaster University and University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), and will explore the legacy of the city’s involvement in the slave trade and the West Indies.
Lela said: “I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to work on such an important project in partnership with Judges’ Lodgings, Lancaster Black History Group, Lancaster University and University of Central Lancashire.
“It will be such an honor to shed light on the lives of black Lancastrian historians who, for too long, have been hidden from history.”
Lela was personally selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alice Walker to produce illustrations for the new illustrated edition of her classic novel, The Color Purple.
The cover of her book for The Color Purple was recently selected for the prestigious V&A Illustration Awards. Her selected portraits have also been successfully exhibited at the annual Pastel Society Exhibition 2022 and selected for the Derwent Art Prize 2022.
Lynda Jackson, museum manager at Judges’ Lodgings, said, “We are thrilled to work with Lela Harris, who has managed to stand out from a number of very high quality propositions.
“The panel was extremely impressed with both Lela’s artistry and her ability to create portraits based on archival material.
“We can’t wait to see what it will create for visitors to the judges’ quarters.”
County Councilor Peter Buckley, a member of the Lancashire County Council Cabinet for Community and Cultural Services, said, “Facing the Past is a culturally significant project that will reflect on Lancaster’s role in the transatlantic slave trade and of the enslaved people who came to the city.
“It is important to choose the right artists to work with to tell the story of the black Lancastrians forgotten from the history books.
“We were really impressed with Lela Harris’ previous work and we believe this project will provide her with the platform to produce some of her best work.
“We are thrilled to partner with Lela and can’t wait to see her work on this project.”
Beyond Radio recently visited the Judges’ Lodgings Museum for a tour of the museum’s exhibits and to learn about the Facing the Past project.
You can listen to our interview with Lynda Jackson, manager of the museum, here. Lynda is pictured below.
Located beneath Lancaster Castle, Judges’ Lodgings dates back nearly 400 years to a site that has been at the center of Lancaster’s history for nearly 2,000 years.
The present house was built around 1625 by Thomas Covell, keeper of the castle and famous for having locked up the Pendle witches during the infamous Lancashire witch trials.
From 1826 the house became the accommodation of the itinerant ‘Red Judges’ of the Courts of Assizes.
Dressed in their scarlet robes, the judges decided the fate of murderers, counterfeiters and bandits at Lancaster Castle.
Today the house houses beautiful Georgian furniture from Gillows of Lancaster, elegant period rooms and the famous Museum of Childhood.