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 Exceptional artefacts go on show – College of Psychic Studies celebrates 90 years at Queensberry Place

A SPECTACULAR display of precious works of art and rare relics of Spiritualism’s early history – some representing forms of mediumship that have since virtually disappeared – went on display in London at the College of Psychic Studies in January.

The event, open free of charge to the public, was staged to celebrate two important events in the College’s history 90 years ago: an exhibition in 1925 titled, simply, “Objects of Psychic Interest”, and a move by the organisation (founded in 1884) in the same year from Queen Square to an impressive new home at 16 Queensberry Place in South Kensington.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was its president when the move took place and that fact was also commemorated by the unveiling of a blue plaque on the building, on the first day of the 2016 weekend exhibition, by its current president, Stephen Chapman.

Vivienne Roberts, curator, examines artwork as she prepares for the exhibition.
   Vivienne Roberts, curator, examines artwork
as she prepares for the exhibition.

The anniversary began with an illustrated Friday night lecture, “Celebrating the College Archives” by Leslie Price, College archivist. He revealed some of the gems that are preserved in the depths, away from damaging elements or careless handling, and the famous Spiritualists, mediums and researchers associated with them.

They included fragile examples of early Spiritualist publications, as well as books, long playing records, automatic writing scripts, photographs of pioneers and letters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other leading College members during its early history.

When the first visitors arrived for the exhibition on Saturday, they found many of the items Leslie Price had mentioned had been put on display, for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feast their eyes on items of great historical importance.

Art, in various forms, played a significant part, and the expertise, passion and knowledge of College curator Vivienne Roberts ensured that all the exhibits were displayed in a way that could be appreciated by every visitor, regardless of their knowledge of the mediums involved or the techniques they used.

Highlights were original artworks from Georgiana Houghton, which anticipate modern abstract art by half a century, as well as the visionary art of Ethel Le Rossignol (PN April 2014) and psychic art pioneer Anna Howitt Watts.

The exhibition was spread across five floors, from the basement, containing items associated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as newspapers and ephemera, to the fourth floor, which recorded the building’s association with psychical research and particularly the involvement of Harry Price.

Other levels were each dedicated to particular subjects, including portraits of the many mediums who have served the College, spirit photographs and a séance room whose display cabinets contained various methods of communication with the next world, including trumpets, ouija boards and writing slates, which had not been on public display before.

For now, these items have been carefully packed away, but for those who missed the weekend or would like longer to really appreciate the exhibits, Gill Matini, College principal, is planning with curator Vivienne Roberts to repeat the show for two weeks in August 2016. The new show will display even more treasures from the archives and include an exhibition of artworks for sale from psychic artists working today.

Georgiana Houghton watercolour (1814-1884) Anna Howitt Watts pencil drawing (1856)
IMAGES: (clockwise from above) Georgiana Houghton watercolour (1814-1884); Anna Howitt Watts pencil drawing (1856); 16 Queensberry Place, home of the College of Psychic Studies since 1925; blue plaque that now adorns the building, commemorating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s association with the College; one of a series of paintings by spiritual medium Ethel Le Rossignol (1873-1970); display of direct writing slates.
display of direct writing slates
one of a series of paintings by spiritual medium Ethel Le Rossignol (1873-1970) 16 Queensberry Place, home of the College of Psychic Studies since 1925
blue plaque that now adorns the building, commemorating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s association with the College

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