Founded and built by the industrialist and philanthropist William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme, in 1922, The Lady Lever Art Gallery is situated in Port Sunlight and is home to an internationally renowned collection of fine & decorative art including Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Wedgwood jasperware, Chinese ceramics, sculpture and 18th-century furniture. We chatted with Jenni, the shop’s manager, about the fascinating origins of this unique gallery and its vibrant bookselling space.
1. According to your website, the Lady Lever Art Gallery was as formally opened by Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, on 16 December 1922. This means that December 2022 would mark your formal centenary. Are you planning on celebrating this landmark anniversary? If so, how?
Yes, it’s a big year, our centenary year! We are having a display called “Inspired by Lady Lever”, which will feature Lady Lever’s court dress from 1913, her shoes, stockings, and feathers from her headdress, also a small number of objects from private lenders. We will be showing some archival images, of the gallery, along with newer images depicting just how busy the gallery is today. There will also be film clips from the British Film Institute, one from 1910, showing a tour of Port Sunlight Village as Lady Lever would have known it, and another short clip showing the gallery in the distance being built in 1919. Our shop will also have some exciting products to reflect our exhibitions in our centenary year!
2. What is the history of the Lady Lever Art Gallery? How do the exhibitions and collections displayed at the gallery inform your buying?
The gallery was founded and built by William Hesketh Lever, founder of Lever Brothers, to house his collection of art, and he dedicated it to the memory of his late wife. It’s home to one of the UK’s finest collections of fine and decorative art.
As well as this wonderful permanent collection, we host temporary exhibitions throughout the year, from “The Last Bohemian: Augustus John” to “Kunichicka: Japanese Prints” which is on now.
Our merchandising team attend the planning for exhibitions so they can source a wide variety of books and gifts to reflect the exhibition, then the shop team will merchandise the products in our wonderful shop!
3. What do you want the shop to bring to the gallery experience as a whole?
The gift shop is usually always part of your experience when visiting a museum or gallery, whether you buy or not, as they are always cleverly positioned near an entrance or exit! Luckily we are, and it’s one of the most important parts of your experience as ‘it’s the bit of the museum you can take home with you!’ We try to create a warm and friendly atmosphere in our shop, with background ambient music playing, the tempting sounds and smells of our wonderful café next door drifting through! Our long-standing retail team are always on hand for a chat, or bit of advice for that gift or book, that you may need, or just want to buy because once you’re in our shop, you can’t resist temptation! Our gifts and books are influenced by the gallery and the collection, but we also stock a broader range of books and gifts as we are a perfectly located gift shop within a village setting. We have a large loyal customer base who choose us for their gift purchases – we’re very lucky!
4. What sort of books do you find your customers are most interested in? Do they generally correlate with the galley’s collections?
Our customers love our book selection. Their expectations are for us to stock books relating to the collections and the gallery, & local history books, but we stock such a vast selection also. We have local history, art history, history, children’s, Japanese culture, and even cats! The staff here also make suggestions for books to sell, which we think helps, as we have a diverse collection here. We’re very proud of our book section, and our bookshop has a great reputation.
The free tote bag with a Yale book purchase has proven very popular, – I made a “free tote bag with this book” bookmarks for the Yale books.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
As part of the centenary, we will have an exhibition called Pure Brilliance: The Boodles Story, this will showcase exquisite jewellery spanning the local brands 200-year history. Costume and fashion exhibitions are always extremely popular with our visitors and I’m sure this will be no different. We are looking forward to reflecting the exhibits in our shop merchandise with unique, inspired jewellery and gifts and some lovely gift books covering the world’s great Jewellery collections.
Of course, us retailers know that Christmas is just around the corner! The village and the gallery really are a special place to be over the festive period. The planning of our Christmas merchandise has been in full swing for a while now, we promise to have lots of beautiful decorations and gifts for all your family and friends. Why shop anywhere else!