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Queer Objects: William Courtenay Miniature by Richard Cosway

Miniature of William Courtenay by Richard Cosway (1793) (RAMM)

By Kathryn Edwards

In September 2020, I – Jana Funke – was invited to give a talk about the Out and About: Queering the Museum project at beautiful Powderham Castle in the village of Kenton, a 20-minute drive from the Exeter city centre. After the presentation, Charlie Courtenay, the 19th Earl of Devon, drew my attention to a description of a portrait miniature of his ancestor, William “Kitty” Courtenay, the 9th Earl of Devon, on the RAMM website. Charlie pointed out that the framing of the object offered here was misleading. In particular, the insinuation that the 9th Earl of Devon threatened the family inheritance due to his “extravagant lifestyle” that allegedly “left the estate on the verge of bankruptcy” was not supported by the historical evidence. Presenting Kitty as wasteful, excessive and irresponsible plays into queerphobic stereotypes that we want to challenge as part of this project. This narrative did not originate with RAMM, but was perpetuated through the framing of the miniature. To correct this mistake, we have invited Kathryn Edwards, who has carried out extensive research on the life of the 9th Earl of Devon, to offer a different account of Courtenay’s life story, which you can read below. Our goal in doing so is not to erase or distract from the original framing of the object, but to make it visible and correct it at the same time. 

William “Kitty” Courtenay 9th Earl of Devon

History has not always been kind to the 9th Earl of Devon. Family lore passed down for almost 200 years painted him as an uncaring, self-centred and extravagant man. This history claimed that the Earl fled the country due to debt and neglected his duties to his family and estate. This, compounded with an assumed affair with the gothic novelist William Beckford, has maligned his reputation ever since. However, recent archival discoveries reveal that he remained financially and emotionally committed to home and family even after fleeing due to an impending charge of “buggery”.

William Courtenay was born at Powderham Castle on July 30th in 1768, to Lady Frances and Lord William ( 2ndViscount) Courtenay. He was the 5th child born to the family and would be the only son of 14 children. It is believed that the 9th Earl had a relaxed, normal and happy childhood for a boy of his standing of the time. He spent most of his time between Powderham Castle and a home in Grosvenor Square in London. He also attended Westminster School from 1779 to 1784.

In 1811 the Earl found himself involved with rumours of charges against him for “buggery” with another man named William Fryer. Due to these impending charges, it was decided that the Earl should leave England for his safety. News reports of the Earls departure vary from him leaving different ports to leaving on different ships or his private yacht, whatever the case he landed in America.  

Upon reaching America, the Earl set up residence in a place known as the Claremont, located in Manhattan, New York. It is doubtful that when the Earl chose America as the location to travel to that, he could have foreseen The United States declaring war against Great Britain and the beginning of the War of 1812. During this time, the Earl and his household were detained as enemy aliens. Due to the war, the Earl set sail in 1814 from New York to Paris, where he settled in Chateau Draveil, located a short distance outside of Paris. In France in May of 1835, the 9th Earl passed away from natural causes at the age of 66, having never returned to his beloved Powderham Castle.

In 2001, a series of letters were brought to the attention of the archivist at Powderham. Although these letters were found in 1970 located in a coal shed in London, it was not until 2001 when they were brought to the attention of Powderham. These papers later became known as the Wilkinson papers and shed quite a bit of light on the Earl’s life in Paris from 1823 to 1825. The Wilkinson papers are a series of letters written by John Wilkinson, a lawyer of London, while he was in the service of the Earl. 

These letters rewrote the story that had been told about the Earl. He was far from uninterested and inattentive when caring for his family and his Estates. On the contrary, every matter concerning the family and the Estates was brought to the Earls attention, even minor issues. It was clear through these letters that even after 14 years of exile, the Earl exhibited a broad knowledge of his tenants and showed a keen interest in the welfare of his Estates. They also show great love for his family and his home at Powderham Castle.   

Swimming Baths

Magic Lantern Slide: Swimming Bath, Norbreck Hydro (RAMM)

by Fred Spence

‘The waves are running in verses this fine morning.’

‘Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore’, Elizabeth Bishop

This photograph, taken in 1935, captures bathers splashing in the water at Norbreck Hydro swimming pool, Blackpool.

Gay painter David Hockney is one of the most influential twentieth-century British artists. His swimming pool paintings of the 1960s and 1970s are some of his most famous. In 2018, his painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) became the most expensive artwork by a living artist sold at auction to that date when it was bought for $90 million (£70 million).

Film Swimming with Lesbians (2009) follows Madeline Davis as she builds an LGBTQ history archive. Davis is an author, songwriter and activist. With Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, Davis wrote Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold (1993). Drawing upon oral histories, the book describes the working-class lesbian community and butch-fem culture of Buffalo, New York from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s. It won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Studies.

Alan Hollinghurst’s novels often depict the lives of gay men as they intersect across traditional class, race and age boundaries. His first novel, The Swimming-Pool Library (1988), follows a privileged and promiscuous gay aristocrat, Will, living in London in the early 1980s, who agrees to write a biography of the elderly Lord Nantwich. Reading Nantwich’s diaries, Will learns about the troubled experiences of gay men in the early twentieth century, in England and the British Empire colonies.

In 2019, footballer Megan Rapinoe was the first openly gay woman to appear in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, wearing a gold bikini. That year, as team captain for the United States, she won the FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as winning the ‘Golden Boot’ award as the top scorer in the tournament and the ‘Golden Ball’ as the best player. She is an outspoken activist on LGBTQ+ issues, equal pay for sportswomen and racial justice. Her partner is acclaimed professional basketball player Sue Bird.

Exploring the Life and Work of Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards (15 July 2021)

Judith Ackland (1892-1971) and Mary Stella Edwards (1898-1989) were two English artists and painters. Edwards was also a poet. The two women first met while studying in London and became life partners, spending decades of their lives together in North Devon. Some of their art works, including a series of landscape paintings, are now part of RAMM’s collections.

On 15 July, members of the Out and About: Queering the Museum project team were joined by other researchers and writers to share their insights and examined different aspects of their life and work. Why were Ackland and Edwards so drawn to the rural landscapes and seascapes of Devon? How did they relate to other artists and writers of their time? What can we know about Ackland’s and Edwards’ relationship based on their writings and archive? What are their cultural legacies, and how have their lives been understood and framed so far?

The event was hosted by the Out and About: Queering the Museum team and introduced by project co-director Ellie Coleman from RAMM. Writer in Residence at RAMM and project co-director Natalie McGrath presented a creative response. Co-Director Professor Jana Funke and project researcher Emma Wallace presented their work on Ackland’s and Edwards’ life and art. We were very excited to be joined by Nicole Hickin (Burton Art Gallery and Museum) and Helen Kent (Southampton University), who have researched Ackland and Edwards for many years and shared fascinating insights with us and the audience. The event concluded with a Q&A session.

Artists’ Platform (27 May 2021)

On 27 May 2021, the Out and About: Queering the Museum project launched three new commissioned digital pieces by artists Rushaa Louise Hamid, Shiri Shah and Sachal Khan in response to the RAMM’s (Royal Albert Memorial Museum) collections. The event was hosted by Sharifa Hashem Al Hashemy (Head of Diversity and Inclusion SWASFT) and featured a first sharing of the new commissioned works. In addition, the three artists shared insights about their work on the Out and About: Queering the Museum project at RAMM and answered questions from the audience. What are the challenges when working on the collections without being able to visit the museum? How can we queer the museum and engage with the collections at a distance? How can we uncover and present alternative narratives about RAMM’s objects? What are the limitations and restraints of museum collections and spaces, and how might we begin to address those?

To find out more about the artists’ work, please have a look at the following brief videos:

Rushaa Louise Hamid
Sachal Khan
Shiri Shah


Press Release: QTIPOC writers, poets and performers to uncover hidden LGBTQ+ heritage among collections at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) & Art Gallery

A new group of writers, poets and performers will produce innovative new digital work to reveal the LGBTQ+ heritage found in the collections at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) as part of the Out and About: Queering the Museum project. 

RAMM’s collections will inspire new digital performances, poetry and artworks; interpretations which will, through a queer and trans lens, re-write the stories of objects within the collections and give a different perspective on their history. 

This is the second group of artists to be commissioned as part of a two year project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The artists in this round have all chosen to focus on one of the project themes ’Home, belonging and exile’, each selecting one object from the museum’s collections to unpick and explore this theme.

Museum staff are working together with Professor Jana Funke from the University of Exeter and socially engaged artist and writer Natalie McGrath to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in the South West to uncover, create and share existing and new LGBTQ+ heritage. 

The artists and writers will work closely with McGrath, the project’s Writer in Residence and Creative Heritage Producer, and Prof. Funke, lead researcher on the project. They will also be supported by RAMM’s Engagement Officer Ellie Coleman, as well as colleagues from the Collections team at RAMM.

Natalie McGrath (artist and writer) said: “We are really pleased to be offering these commissions to three exciting QTIPOC artists as part of our ongoing work to queer the museum at RAMM. Their perspectives on the collections are timely; sharing urgent and necessary new narratives and stories with us. Bringing to light objects in the collections through their own unique creativity and voices.” 

Prof Jana Funke (University of Exeter) said: “Working with artists to explore objects through creative lenses is a crucial component of our project. It allows us to reframe the museum’s collections and reveal new queer and trans perspectives in engaging and thought-provoking ways. We are so excited to build on our existing work and commission three brilliant artists to produce new digital responses, focusing specifically on the themes of home and belonging.” 

Ellie Coleman (RAMM) said: “We are looking forward to working with these fantastic artists to uncover hidden LGBTQ+ stories and heritage behind objects from RAMM’s collections. RAMM is striving to make its collections more accessible and relevant to all audiences, as well as beginning to democratise its spaces. We are so lucky to be working with artists to discover and highlight alternative narratives, in order to move towards this vision together.”

The pieces will be released in a digital format, and will be shown and discussed at an online event on 27th May as part of Exeter Pride celebrations.

The artists who have been commissioned for this important project are as follows. For more information please see the Out and About: Queering the Museum project website outandabout.exeter.ac.uk/meet-the-artists

Rushaa Louise Hamid is a socio-political researcher, writer, and poet living in East London. Her work centres on identity tensions in the modern world, and draws from her Sudanese and British heritage and upbringing straddled between the two countries. In particular she enjoys taking a multi-disciplinary approach to exploring issues of race, culture, queerness, and disability using digital formats alongside more traditional mediums. Her writing has appeared in places such as Buzzfeedthe IndependentDazed, and Rooted in Rightsamongst others and she maintains an online dashboard project, visually exploring the cliché question “but where are you really from?” which plagues people coded as other. Currently she works as the Research Manager at a national institution, guiding people on how to study and find solutions to problems that have an impact on their communities and – on top of her work for Out and About – is also developing an interactive digital project about disability. She can be found on her website or over on Twitter @thesecondrussia.

Sachal Khan is an emerging writer based in Exeter using poetry and manipulated sound to explore history embedded within memory. By picking apart separate sounds, memories, and moments before stitching them together, they hope to explore the disruptive experiences within migration and transness. In 2020, under the mentorship of Rikki Beadle-Blair, Sachal wrote a monologue that will be published in Blair’s upcoming anthology LIT! alongside other emerging writers of colour. They are also working with a small group of programmers, artists, and musicians on a narrative video game exploring loneliness, failure, and online friendship.

Shiri Shah is a poet and lyrical essayist, born and raised in London. She dedicates her artistic practice to unearthing mythical histories, and abstracting the distinction between the non/human and the un/natural. After receiving her Masters in Comparative Literature and Philosophy at Goldsmiths in 2019, she began to write creatively after a surreal experience at a wedding. Shiri is also an experienced makeup artist, performer, and host. She was recently long listed for Spread The Word’s Life Writing Prize in 2020, and is currently writing her debut novel on the luxury retail dystopia. Her most recent project dives into the fractured and contradictory process of translation and documentation within family and poetry. 

Queer Quizzing, or Queerzzing

Quizzing Glass, ca. 1800-1830 (RAMM)

by Ren Lloyd

The RAMM’s quizzing glass, also known as a quizzer or monocle, is a singular eyeglass set with a round magnifying lens. This type of quizzing glass was a fashionable accessory among upper-class English gentlemen in the nineteenth century. Its name comes from the practice of ‘quizzing’ people by looking them up and down through the ominous glass clenched firmly between the cheek and brow. As you can imagine, the feeling of being quizzed, studied, or judged by a man wearing a quizzing glass could be highly intimidating, if not unsettling. 

Fortunately, this post is not about the quizzing glasses popularised by haughty nineteenth century English gentlemen and their wandering eyes. It has a much more exciting history to tell us about the evolving fashions of queer communities in interwar Paris. In the 1920s and 1930s, Paris gained a reputation for its relative tolerance towards queer life. Word spread abroad that it was a city peopled with like minds and hearts. American and British queers were among those who flocked eagerly to the French capital to start new lives. Within this growing queer climate, many queer establishments and communities emerged in the lively Parisian districts of Montmartre, Montparnasse and Pigalle. Though there were queer bars and clubs all over the city, it was number 60 Boulevard Edgar Quinet in Montparnasse that offered the premier, and predominantly lesbian, nightclub of the era suitably named Le Monocle

If you were queer, or lesbian, in 1920s and 1930s Paris, looking for love, a short-term fling, or friends, your go-to club would probably be Le Monocle. Those who frequented the club could hustle in through its custom-made monocle-shaped doorway to partake in night-time queer sociability. Aside from alcohol, distinct queer and lesbian looks were also served at Le Monocle, with staff and guests modelling the latest, or a-la-mode, queer fashions. Reading, or ‘quizzing’, someone’s sartorial aesthetic through the filter of thick cigar smoke was a fundamental skill for pursuing hook-ups and potential friends. At Le Monocle, you were free to signal your queer interests simply by locking eyes with your chosen amours or amies.

Georges Brassai, Le Monocle, ca. 1930

Though some queer and lesbian guests wore flowing frocks, many embraced the opportunity to follow the club’s loosely-prescribed masculine dress-code set by its owner, Lulu de Montparnasse. In part, dressing in masculine attire signalled increased female autonomy and the so-called ‘new woman’. But wearing handsome tuxes, high collars, bowties, and trousers was also emblematic of diverse gender and sexual identities and expressions emerging in the capital. Other clues to a person’s queerness included a white carnation or sprig of violets pinned to the suit-jacket lapel, a ring on the smallest finger or ‘pinkie’, a cigar in hand, and brilliantined, cropped hair. Of course, at Le Monocle, visitors also wore their very own monocles to mark themselves as part of the queer community. This can be seen in the photograph of a night out at the club above. To wear a monocle in public was one way to state your sexual preference for women and be recognisable within the queer community. 

If the Hungarian photographer, Georges Brassai, had not been invited to Le Monocle in 1932 to photograph its patrons, our knowledge of the club, its people, its fashions, and its intimacy would be left to our imaginations. 

“Take another look at the central person in the photograph above: do you feel the intensity of being quizzedthrough the lens of their monocle?”

Whether butch or femme, besuited or befrocked, bemonocled or not, or situated somewhere in-between, personal style was a useful marker for identifying, and being identified by, fellow queers at Le Monocle. Beyond the club, however, few queer and lesbian Parisians wore monocles out and about in the city. So few, in fact, that Djuna Barnes’ 1928 satire of Lesbian Paris, the Ladies Almanack, enabled readers to identify the inspiration behind the character Lady Buck-and-Balk from a bare description. This hallmark accessory allowed queers who were ‘in the know’ to identify the character who “sported a Monocle and believed in Spirits” as Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge. 

Portrait of Una, Lady Troubridge, by Romaine Brookes, 1924, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Lady Una Troubridge was an upper-class British sculptor, translator of French and Italian literature, and the lover of Radclyffe Hall (author of the 1928 lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness). Both Troubridge and Hall were among the few queers who visited Paris and donned the monocle as a regular accoutrement – and it did not go unnoticed. In her 1924 portrait of Troubridge pictured above, the Paris-based artist, Romaine Brooks, captured her friend as a powerful self-assured queer. In this painting, Lady Troubridge dominates the scene: her impeccably tailored androgynous clothing conceals her feminine figure, while her short hair, cravat, and our now-familiar friend, the monocle, all signal queer energy. 

Once again, it is difficult not to feel the intensity of being caught in the monocle’s intimidating gaze …

Out and About + Exeter Pride 2021 Celebration

In order to maintain safety, the Exeter Pride Committee decided to keep Pride online in May 2021, and we were excited to join forces to celebrate Exeter Pride Month with them. RAMM usually has a stall in Rougemont Gardens for Exeter Pride, so we thought that creating a programme of events would remind us all of what Pride means to us and allow us to spend some time together online! You can find the full programme of events and catch up with some of the recorded sessions below.

Welcome – What Does Pride Mean to You? 

1:30 pm to 2:30 pm

Join Natalie McGrath, Prof Jana Funke, and Ellie Coleman to launch our collaboration with Exeter Pride. Hear from the Exeter Pride Committee about what Pride means to the queer, trans and non-binary community in Exeter and beyond, and what else they have in store for us as part of this year’s celebration.   

We will also be joined by Sharifa Hashem Al Hashemy (Head of Diversity and Inclusion, SWASFT) to honour the contributions of NHS workers during this time of global pandemic.

Finally, we will introduce our three new commissioned artists, Shiri Shah, Sachal Khan and Rushaa Louise Hamid, who will be presenting their new artistic responses to RAMM’s collection at an event on the 27th May 2021.

Don’t forget to also visit our YouTube Channel for another opportunity to watch the work by Oren Shoesmith, Caleb Parkin, Charice Bhardwaj and Carina Miles.

You can also learn how to make a Pride inspired cocktail by Exeter Phoenix’s amazing Adam. More details will be announced soon!

Please register here!

Queer & Still Here: Writing for Performance Workshop (£3 + booking fee) 

2 pm – 3:30 pm

Join poet and performer Chris White, and spoken-word artists Jasmine Gardosi & Charice Bhardwaj for a fun, dynamic online session exploring writing for performance. We’ll talk about how to write and prepare for different types of performance as well as how to bring our own words to life, with a particular focus on LGBTQ+ artists and how we amplify our unique queer voices. A chance to share work and learn new performance techniques.

Open to all LGBTQ+ artists, poets, writers and anybody who speaks their words out loud, of any experience or ability. 

This is an externally hosted event.  Please follow the link to book for more info and to book your tickets.

Queering the RAMM

3:30 pm – 5 pm

What can the RAMM collections tell us about LGBTQ+ history and heritage?

The brilliant team of Out and About researchers will share some of their discoveries from RAMM’s collections to explore LGBTQ+ history and heritage. Join us to find out how objects and artefacts can resonate with LGBTQ+ people today and offer insights into our histories. One particular focus of this session will be queer and trans perspectives on the natural world! There will also be time to ask questions and discuss what queering the museum might mean to you. 

The event will be introduced by Prof Jana Funke (University of Exeter). 

Please register here!

The Great Queer Book-Off

5 pm – 6 pm

Instead of icing cakes, our four contestants will be sugar-spinning wonderful words to convince you, the audience, that their book review is the best, thereby winning them the title of ‘British Queer Bookoff Champion’ and a copy of Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo. There will also be a book-related prize for best question from an audience member! This event will be hosted by Exeter Pride’s Katie Moudry. 

Interested in being one of the contestants? Email Katie at k.moudry@exeterpride.co.uk. 

Please register here!