Whilst examining the Collingwood Archive at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Richard Skelton discovered two sewn signatures excised from the 1898 edition of the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. The manuscripts contained a number of annotations written in pen and ink which, among other things, referenced ‘ritual overkill’ in bog bodies, the fox as a psychopomp, the horned deities Cernunnos and Belatucadrus, animal worship among late-Medieval ‘plague cults’, and an esoteric St. Bega tradition in which her armilla is reimagined as an animal collar, and her cult aligned with that of the Irish saint, Ciarán mac Luaigne. These historic, mythic and folkloric vignettes are presented alongside examples of the customary persecution of animal life in old Cumberland and Westmorland, with particular reference to fox-hunting and bull-baiting.
During 2014 the NRGCA undertook an examination of the manuscripts, conducting extensive research with a view to identifying the many references contained therein. Their findings are presented in Unindex Volume One, published by Lakeland Arts – the charity which manages Abbot Hall Art Gallery.
In collaboration with the NRGCA, Richard Skelton created a temporary ‘Museum of Feræ Naturæ’ that was displayed at Abbot Hall Art Gallery from January 16th to March 14th, 2015. The exhibit took as its starting point a line from one of the manuscripts, ‘the double life of banal objects’, which alludes to temporary ritual assemblages contrived from everyday objects: a plumb-bob becomes the face of a hare; a wool-comb, the horns of a bull-deity; a pair of wool-shears becomes the ears of a wolf-fox, and another, intersecting it, becomes its open jaws. Artefacts for the museum were sourced from Lakeland Arts’ own Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, as well as Kendal Museum.