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Published: 30 March 2019

By Andy Ross

Sir Henry Wellcome and the wooden statuette

The pharmacist cum collector, philanthropist and entrepreneur, Sir Henry Wellcome, had an extensive collection of objects which spanned cultures across the globe. One piece is especially interesting.

A small statuette in a collection may often be overlooked but for Penelope Dransart at the University of Wales Trinity St David, the piece, given in 1951 by the Trustees of Henry Wellcome's estate to a Liverpool Museum, was unsettling enough for a detailed study. There was something that was not quite right in the matching of the figure and the cloth it was covered with. They had both been identified as South American but the former had been designated as Chancay (c. AD1200 – 1470) and the clothes as Wari (c. AD 550 – 900). Why were they different ages and what was the story behind them?

Without giving too much away and spoiling the story, the tale that Penelope Dransart tells in an article that was published in 2017 in PreColumbian Textile Conference VII by the University of Copenhagen's Centre for Textile Research takes in cultural identity, the techniques of tie-dyeing, woven cloth, amulets and talismen... even the influence that collectors and their individual sensibilities have on articles like this little figure and its clothes. You can download the article here. It is a riveting read!