Henry Swan

Henry Swan was curator of the St George's Museum between 1875 and 1890. He was the first curator of the Museum, and the only curator who served at the Walkley site.

Ruskin gave an account of his arrangement with Swan in Letter 62 (February 1876) of Fors Claverigera:

'I have appointed a curator to the Sheffield Museum, namely, Mr. Henry Swan, an old pupil of mine in the Working Men's College in London; and known to me since as an estimable and trustworthy person, with a salary of forty pounds a year, and residence. He is obliged at present to live in the lower rooms of the little house which is to be the nucleus of the museum:-- as soon as we can afford it, a curator's house must be built outside of it' (Works, 28, p. 529).

Cook and Wedderburn provide a colourful description of Swan's character and qualifications:

'Henry Swan, the first curator, was very much a character, and it was impossible to visit the little Museum at Walkley without carrying away a vivid remembrance of him. He had been apprenticed to a copper-plate engraver in London, and was [...] a pupil under Ruskin at the Working Men's College. He became an adept at manuscript illumination [...] and Ruskin entrusted to him the engraving of a plate in Modern Painters. He was a convert to Quakerism [...] Quakerism seemed to him spiritually akin to the mediaeval art which he chiefly loved. "It was difficult to imagine that he whom one saw at Sheffield trudging up the steep hills, Scotch cap on head, and coat-tails flying, whilst carrying home over his shoulder a sack of potatoes or apples (for there was "no nonsense" about him, and he was always a very active man) could at one time have been a fashionable photographer in Regent Street. Yet he had invented what was considered at the time an important improvement in photography. He was also the parent of a method of musical notation, and had perfected a system of phonetic spelling. He was one of the first to introduce the bicycle into this country, and at another time made an attempt to popularise the throwing of the boomerang as an athletic exercise.

An ardent vegetarian since 1850, he attributed much of his wiriness to that ascetic regimen, and well do I remember the "Master's" playful postscript to a note written during a trifling illness of his disciple: "Tell Henry I should be glad to hear he had eaten a mutton chop" [...] He was an unworldly man; and, with congenial work, held himself passing rich, as St. George's Curator, on a salary of forty pounds a year. He took great pains to make visitors to the Museum derive some real instruction from the examples there collected; and he also sought to interest working men in Ruskin's wider schemes. [...] On occasions when Ruskin visited Sheffield he would arrange gatherings of working men to meet the Master; the curator's homely little room, half kitchen, half parlour, was the scene of more than one conference between them and Ruskin. He had a way of putting them very much at their ease.' (Works, 30, pp. xliv-xlv).

Swan died of a haemorrhage on 29 March 1889, just before the transfer of the collection to Meersbrook.

William White

White became curator of the new Ruskin Museum at Meersbrook in February 1890. He oversaw the transfer of objects from Walkley to Meersbrook. Unlike Swan, White was trained as a professional curator.

The new museum was divided into rooms defined by a category of art work or by a function. The orderly displays contrasted with the rooms of mixed objects that were common at Walkley.

Gill Parker

Gill Parker took over from White in 1899, and remained the curator of the Ruskin Museum until 1931.

Genevieve Pilley

Genevieve Pilley served as Parker's assistant (and White's before that), before taking over as acting curator in 1931. Her long career at the museum ended in 1949.

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