Object of the Month – December 2022

Beaded ‘Love Letter’ Panels from South Africa

Chosen by Alice Lodge, Collections Connector (Project Officer), Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook project, EFDM & SWM

Epping Forest District Museum has recently been granted a generous Arts Council England grant to produce a major exhibition of around 300 ethnographic objects connected to the Buxton family. The Buxton collection was donated to Epping Forest District Museum by the family of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 3rd Baronet, grandson of noted abolitionist Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet. We wanted to combine the work of the Buxton family as well as explore the cultures of the countries that they visited.

The museum will be working closely with Saffron Walden Museum to collaborate on our Ethnographic collections. Saffron Walden Museum has one of the largest World Cultures collections in Essex, making their collaboration with this project significant. The objects acquired by the Buxton family include items from New Zealand, Australia, East and West Africa, India and the Pacific Islands. This brilliant opportunity will allow the Museum to work directly with community groups such as the Ethiopian History Society and the Ngati Ranana London Māori Group as well as numerous other community organisations.

The object we have chosen this month from the Saffron Walden Museum collections is this ‘Love Letter’ beadwork panel which contains coded messages. Made by the Zulu people in the late 19th century in South Africa. These were traditionally given to female lovers; each colour represented a different message. Modern love letters of this sort now contain images rather than colours to signify something of importance.





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