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Maria Chiara Scuderi – a PhD student at the University of Leicester – is working with the museums service to find out as much as she can about the 1,800 items in a collection amassed by Harry Peach – the social reformer and businessman who founded the Dryad cane furniture company in Leicester in 1906 and went on to collect objects from around the world for educational purposes over the next 30 years.

Picture: Leicester City Council

After Peach’s death, his collection of handicrafts – The Dryad Collection ­– was presented to the museums service as a school loan collection, with the aim of educating young people with these examples of quality arts and crafts. Staff would take the items into Leicester’s schools and inspire children with objects that were both beautiful to look at – and that did the job they were designed to do.

Maria Chiara (pictured) is now hoping that people will remember seeing these items when they were at school – and that they’ll share their memories with her.

“Harry Peach developed a passion for good design, picking up well-made and beautifully-crafted items on his travels around the world between 1907 and 1936,” she said.

“When his collection of basketwork, fabrics, woodwork and toys was presented to the museums service in 1969, it immediately became an important educational resource.

“Staff from the museums service would take these items into schools, and use them to teach children about the traditions and cultures of people in former British colonies in Australia, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, as well as in Eastern Europe.

“Harry Peach wanted these objects to inspire children to learn new arts and crafts techniques – and his American Indian basketware, Serbian embroidery and painted eggs from the former Czechoslovakia would certainly have encouraged children to learn new skills and create their own designs.

“If you were at school in Leicester or Leicestershire during the 1970s and 1980s, you might remember handling these unusual objects in the classroom. Perhaps you remember the geometric patterns of a hand-crafted basket, or you played with a set of Punch & Judy puppets from Germany.  

“If you have any memories of what you saw or what you were told about the items, and can remember how your imagination was fired by these interesting objects, please get in touch with me.”

Deputy city mayor Cllr Piara Singh Clair, who’s responsible for the city’s museums, said: “This is a collection of crafts that represents the whole world, but was amassed by a man who lived and died in Leicester.

“Maria Chiara’s research will look at how such diverse objects were used for educational purposes in British schools, so her work will make a valuable contribution to the museum’s knowledge and understanding of the collection.”

Maria Chiara’s practice-based PhD, ‘Global Leicester’ will explore what the Dryad Collection reveals about the linkages between Leicester and Empire, and about changing understandings of Empire over the 20th century.

Her work with the collections team at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery will be part of her research into global and colonial collecting at the beginning of the 20th century, and how contemporary exhibitions fostered a European imperial culture.

It will culminate with an exhibition of items from the Dryad Collection at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery – the first time the collection will go on display with this new emphasis on its history.

Anyone who can help Maria Chiara Scuderi with her research can contact her by email at

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