Artist draws on First World War archive for inspiration


A unique archive of letters, interviews and diaries relating to the First World War is providing the inspiration for a new artist in residence at the University of Leeds.

The personal papers, oral testimonies, photos and memorabilia of more than 4,000 veterans and their relatives make up the Liddle Collection, part of the University’s Special Collections housed in its Brotherton Library.

Visual artist Juliet MacDonald has just begun working with material in the collection, as part of a University project funded by the Leverhulme Trust’s Artist in Residence scheme.

Juliet’s thought-provoking and tender drawings have been exhibited internationally. Her recent work explores historical subject matter and the early 20th century, with its rapid technological and social change, is of particular interest. 

The contents of the Liddle Collection tell the stories of ordinary people in the trenches and on the home front. Some of its artefacts and possessions were donated many years after the war by ex-servicemen and their families.

Over the next 10 months Juliet, who is based in Leeds and has held solo exhibitions and short term residences in the UK and abroad, will use drawing as a means of exploring the collection and responding to the material she finds there.

“This is an amazing opportunity to work with such material first-hand. I will open up the boxes and spend time reading, looking, listening and drawing,” she said.

“The work I create may encourage others to make contact with these surviving testimonies and I will also talk to archive staff and learn how they look after the collection.

“I see the processes of cataloguing, listing, filing and wrapping as ways of caring for the memory of previous generations, and so the staff have an important task.”

Welcoming the residency, Katy Thornton, Head of Special Collections, said: “This is a fascinating opportunity to see the collection used in a different way and we look forward to seeing the results of Juliet’s work.

“The Collection has been inspiring and supporting research for many years – now more than ever before.”

The artist’s work is linked with Legacies of War, the University’s First World War centenary project.

Dr Claudia Sternberg, who leads the project’s Culture and Arts strand, said: “As the Liddle Collection testifies, 100 years ago people frequently used drawings to document or reflect on their wartime experience.

“Juliet and colleagues working on Legacies of War will discuss the ways in which we use the archive for research and inspiration. Since we employ very different methods, she will also help us learn more about how drawing can be a means to engage mindfully with the past.”

The results of the residency will be on display on campus at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery in June 2015 and she will give a public lecture at Leeds Art Gallery on 12 May 2015. There will also be opportunities for members of the public to explore the Liddle Collection at artist-run drawing workshops next spring.

  • The University has teamed up with the BBC to offer a free online course (MOOC) next month ¬– World War One: Changing Faces of Heroism – which looks at how the war changed traditional views of heroism and includes a look at how heroism is depicted in paintings. For more details, see

Further information 

Juliet MacDonald is Research Fellow in Art at the University of Huddersfield. For more information about her work, see

Images of Dr MacDonald and examples of her work are available. For these, and to arrange interviews with the artist or Dr Claudia Sternberg, contact Gareth Dant, Press Officer, on 0113 3433996 or email

Legacies of War

Legacies of War was established four years ago as a research and public engagement venture in anticipation of the 1914-18 war’s centenary. The project team includes researchers from several Schools within the University’s Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts & Communications: Languages, Cultures and Societies; History; Classics; Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies and Philosophy, Religion & the History of Science. 

The Leverhulme Trust

The Trust was established by the will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 the trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education. Today it is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing more than £60m a year. For more information, visit

University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.