Painting reveals a hidden Oldham Story
This painting The Naturalist is by the artist George Henry Wimpenny. It dates from the 1920s and has always been a great favourite with our visitors. Several years ago it inspired our natural history curator, Patricia Francis to look more deeply and investigate, the person, the place and the specimens.
The person is Fredrick J. Stubbs
Fred was born in Liverpool in 1878 and moved with his family to Oldham where he became apprenticed to an upholsterer. He joined the Oldham Natural History Society, his first love being birds. Fred volunteered at the Oldham Municipal Library, Art Gallery and Museum which was long connected with the Natural History Society. When a vacancy arose at Stepney Museum’s Nature Study Centre, he was successful in getting the job and in 1909 left Oldham for London. Completing the booklet, ‘The Birds of Oldham’ in 1910.
Returning to Oldham in April 1919 he became the Deputy Librarian and Curator at the Library and Museum. He became president of the Yorkshire Natural History Society; was a member of the Beautiful Oldham Society and help found the Oldham Society of Artists. He worked at the Library and Museum until his death caused by pneumonia in 1932.
The Place is in the old Library, Museum and Art Gallery
This is the building opened in 1883 which many, many years later was connected to Gallery Oldham by the bridge link from the second floor.
A wander through this splendid old building reveals handsome arched doorways are used throughout. Using the painting I eventually traced the actual doorway and window, which is not in the painting, but light from it bathes Fred’s microscope and specimens.
The Animals depicted – well they are still in the Museum!
The painting depicts Fred at work surrounded by taxidermy specimens. He became an excellent taxidermist and prepared many hundreds of specimens. More detective work in the museum archive shows the Spoonbill on the desk (the tall bird closest to Fred) was prepared in 1924; the Heron (the other tall bird on the desk) was prepared in 1923 and the Glossy Ibis (on the window ledge) was prepared in 1920.
So this fascinating painting depicts a real person, place and objects. It also shows beautifully how our historic collections complement each other. The original 1883 building expected to reopen to visitors as OMA, in 2021.