A spellbinding exhibition

Magic Exhibition at Weston Park, Sheffield 'Teresa Whitaker with the Harry Potter broom
Magic Exhibition at Weston Park, Sheffield 'Teresa Whitaker with the Harry Potter broom

THE spellbinding world of magic and illusion has continued to appeal throughout the centuries from the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm to today’s worldwide phenomenon of Harry Potter.

An exhibition opening at Weston Park Museum on Saturday, Magic Worlds, invites visitors to explore the fantastical realms of witches, wizards and fairies and also enjoy the conjuring feats of the finest stage magicians.

Brought to Sheffield from the V&A Museum of Childhood, Magic Worlds presents more than 200 objects demonstrating the origins and history of magic.

Designed around the themes of fantasy, illusion and enchantment, the exhibition has a huge range of costumes, tricks, vintage toys, paintings, ceramics, illustrations, posters, puppets and games.

”It’s an experiential exhibition,” says Teresa Whittaker, Senior Exhibition Curator at Museums Sheffield. “Rather than everything being in glass cases younger children can crawl through portals, dress up and sit at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party table. Families can step into a Narnia ‘wardrobe’ and find a nook where they can enjoy reading.”

As well as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland, there are displays based on other popular fantasy tales, including Snow White and Peter Pan.

Objects range from vintage Cinderella and Prince Charming mechanical dancing dolls and puppets of characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream dating from the 1940s to replicas from contemporary movies such as replicas of Harry Potter’s broomstick and the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings.

In the real world, audiences have always been in awe of magicians, delighting in their conjuring skills and grand scale illusions. A host of stage magic paraphernalia includes a Zig Zag Girl, used to seemingly divide a magician’s assistant into thirds, children’s conjuring sets, and posters alongside a variety of optical toys and tricks.

A place is found for Sooty and his wand and Tommy Cooper’s card-picking Educated Duck the the stage costume and Magic Circle badges belonging to Harold Taylor.

Augmenting the exhibits that have come from V&A Museum of Childhood in London are a number of pieces sourced locally.

“To counter the idea that women’s role in magic is just as conjurors’ glamorous assistants we have an exhibit from the National Fairground Archive about Marisa Carnesky,” says Whitaker. “It’s to show an empowered female performance artist and an example of the popularity of burlesque today.

“Also locally we have some hand-made objects from the magic collection of Patricia and Harry Crowther and items from the Sheffield Magic Shop which we visited. It’s great to see it has its own community preserving the tradition.

“The widow of Sheffield magician Hamilton Kaye has lent us a display of his silk flags and his book of patter.”

The stage name of Ronald Kaye, he saw his first magician at the Hippodrome in Sheffield when he was very young, and performed for family and friends from an early age. During the Second World War he helped organise and perform in comic variety and magic shows for his fellow servicemen in the RAF in India. Later he appeared in many local venues and shows, including the Attercliffe Palace, Sheffield City Hall, fetes and charity events.

His family remember him making his own ribbons, flowers, confetti and flash paper at home for the act he performed in his spare time. He had a lifelong passion for magic, sold magic items and had many magician friends. Nominated President of the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in 1982-3, he died in 2006.

The exhibition will also explore the fantastical world of fairies and magical creatures. The displays will include examples of the Cottingley Fairy photographs from West Yorkshire which confounded the public in the early 20th century, a 1920s fairy costume and a host of paintings, illustrations and ceramics drawn from the V&A collections.

Magic Worlds comes to Sheffield in the ongoing partnership between the V&A and Museums Sheffield to extend access to the V&A’s collections outside London. The arrangement is two-way and the V&A Museum of Childhood is currently showing Sports Lab (renamed Beautiful Games), the exhibition about the science behind sport which originated at Weston Park.

Magic Worlds, which is likely to be the last touring exhibition on this scale as a consequence of Museum Sheffield’s loss of major funding from Arts Council, will stay on view until January 6, 2013.

There will be a grand launch day at Weston Park on Saturday with appearances from ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Hagrid’, comedy and magic from Sheffield’s Steve Faulkner, along with other activities.