Linder Sterling and the Society for Psychical Research

Last February Cambridge art gallery Kettle’s Yard contacted the Archives and Modern Manuscripts department with what they thought was a rather bizarre request.  The artist Linder Sterling was visiting Cambridge in preparation for a major show.  She was interested in ectoplasm and would like to see some.  Could we oblige?

To most libraries or archives this might seem a bit of a strange enquiry, but we often get requests to view ectoplasm, spirit photographs and psychic thumbprints, and we’re always ready to help.  We hold the Archive of the Society for Psychical Research and it is a treasure trove of material such as this, including, as it does, objects and papers relating to psychical research from the mid nineteenth century right up to virtually the present day.

Linder Sterling - Partial dematerialisation of the medium
Linder Sterling – Partial dematerialisation of the medium

Linder came to our Manuscripts Reading Room to study examples of spirit photography, automatic drawings and ectoplasm and her keen interest was obvious.  She has had a long held fascination with the spirit world, reflected in collage pieces such as ‘Sonja with Spirit Emanation’ and ‘Partial dematerialisation of the Medium.’ After her visit to the Library Linder created some glass and hair sculptures specifically for Kettle’s Yard partially based on some of the material she studied in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

The show, a retrospective of Linder’s work, together with some interventions placed in the house at Kettle’s Yard, opened in February.  As part of the exhibition a series of talks were arranged on the theme of the six senses.  I was asked to talk about the sixth sense, extra sensory perception, and I prepared an illustrated lecture on the history of the SPR, entitled ‘Is Anybody There?  Séance, Science and the Search for Proof.’

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown, my talk was cancelled.  However, through the wonder of modern technology (not, alas via ESP) I have recorded it and it is now available on the Kettle’s Yard Youtube channel at

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