|Source image: Reuters|
(Reuters) - A bewitching array of shrivelled mole feet, glass acorns, and tiny wooden shoes are set to conjure up a secret world of superstition and magic at the Wellcome Collection this month.
Once carried around in the pockets of Londoners, the 400 quirky objects were amassed about a century ago by an Edwardian banker and amateur folklorist, who collected curious objects from sailors, costermongers (fruit sellers), and "mudlarks", children who once scavenged along the muddy banks of the River Thames.
"The objects themselves look ordinary but are actually extraordinary when you look at them carefully. They are a slice of life and there is something wonderful about them," head of public programmes at the Wellcome Collection, Ken Arnold, said.
The amulet collection is joined by a display of miracle paintings from Mexico in an exhibition which aims to explore the extraordinary in the everyday.
"The exhibition makes a link between rural Mexico and downtown London in the early 20th century and shows that two places which seem so different actually have something in common," Arnold said.
The Mexican votives -- usually paintings on roof tiles -- depict disaster scenarios ranging from gunshot wounds and smallpox, to train crashes and diseased livestock.
Each tile is accompanied by a personal message, thanking the saint responsible for delivering the artist from ruin or death.
But the provenance and purpose of many of the amulets remain shrouded in mystery.
Whether carried by soldiers for protection in battle, or worn by sailors venturing into stormy waters to prevent drowning, the charms held great power and meaning for their owners.
"Many people would not consider themselves to be superstitious but when you dig a little deeper, people do invest objects with meaning and power," she said.
In addition to four-leaf clovers and horseshoes for luck, the collection includes some more peculiar charms, inspired by folklore, ancient belief systems and a fear of witchcraft.
Mole feet would prevent cramps, a shrunken sheep's heart pierced with nails would protect cattle from witchcraft, and delicately carved hands from coral and shell were believed to avert the gaze of the evil eye.
"Very little is known about these objects -- they are secretive and covert. They are the unsung and unseen," the display's curator and artist, Felicity Powell, said.
It is the unanswered questions surrounding the amulets that give the collection its charm, according to Powell.
"I think the amulets need a little mystery in order to work -- that's part of their magic," she said.
The exhibition "Miracles and Charms" will run at the Wellcome Collection from October 6, 2011 to February 26, 2012.