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May 19, 2008

What an exciting assault on the senses a visit to the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is!  The entire museum exists in the roof of St Thomas' Church in Southwark, near London Bridge.  The church was once part of St Thomas' Hospital, with part of the attic being used as an apothecary and part used as an operating theatre for female patients.  The attic was hidden away for over a hundred years after St Thomas' Hospital moved in the mid-19th century, rediscovered in 1956 and preserved as a museum.

You enter this strange place by climbing thirty-plus tightly wound and very worn, wooden spiral steps, clinging precariously on to a rather slack bannister rope, hopping you don't meet someone coming down as you head up.  I did consider that should a visitor fall they could be administered a potion, have any broken bones reset and be blessed by a minister all in the one place.  After a scrabble through a very tiny and cluttered reception-area-come-bookshop and up more steps you finally arrive in a Hogathian heaven of sloping ceilings, uneven floors, creaking eaves and dust; dust hanging in the air and covering every part of the collection that hasn't been sealed in a glass case.  It is one of the most evocative rooms I think I have ever been in. 

As museum experiences go, I struggled to pick up a thread of a story anywhere as I bumbled around the place.  But the information sheet you were handed on arrival and the room itself were enough for me.  Armed with the bare facts you could just stand in that attic and absorb the history.  You didn't need all the 'stuff'.  And there was a lot of it, randomly arranged around the room trying to emulate the apothecary experience: baskets and bowls of herbs, dried up berries, nuts and roots and ground-up powders spilling all over the place; jars of body parts and cases of grim looking 19th-century surgical equipment.  It all smelt very nice.  But it looked a bit Harry Potter at times.  The mix of hand-written labels and photocopies of photocopies of photographs weren't needed.  Along a corridor you came to the Operating Theatre.  Literally a theatre with raised platforms looking down onto a hard wooden operating table.  A couple of etchings of 18th-century amputations prompted you to remember what this place was all about.

The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret is small museum, obviously run on a tight budget.  But well worth a visit.  Just look beyond the clutter and it's easy to soak up the atmosphere of grimmer days gone by. 

Keywords: apothecary, London, medicine, museum

Posted by Helen Foster @ Museums & Galleries | 1 comment(s)

March 21, 2008

Inspired by Lesley's wonderful description of the Ansel Adams exhibition at the City Arts Centre (see below), the family and I high-tailed it to Market Street last Saturday.  When we got to the venue, however, and realised that it was a paying exhibition (Lesley's review mentioned this but I'd forgotten), we quickly turned on our heels and headed across the road to the Fruitmarket.  Not that we're against paying to see art, far from it.  However, as any parent will confirm, you don't take kids to see paying exhibitions.  You just don't.  Why not?  Because you can guarantee that within five minutes of plunking down your money they'll be mithering you to leave.  So we're saving Ansel for another day.

Gallery picInstead, we saw Print The Legend at the aforementioned Fruitmarket Gallery, a collection of pieces united by the common theme of the American West, and which was free to view.  Just in case the kids didn't like it.  The exhibition is curated by the editor of Art Monthly, Patricia Bickers, who has a long-time fascination with westerns, cowboys etc.  The artists on show included Mike Nelson, Cornelia Parker, Douglas Gordon and Isaac Julien.  Much of the video work is unenlightening; Gillian Wearing's piece features some British weekend cowboy and indian re-enactors to no obvious end.  Another video-maker, Issac Julien, laid bare much of the homo-eroticism at the heart of Westerns, but in a far less subtle and less successful way than Brokeback Mountain (though, to be fair to Julien, this was the piece my kids dug the most).  Douglas Gordon pulls the same stunt as he did in 24-Hour Psycho, slowing down John Ford's The Searchers to one frame every 23 minutes, so that the film would (notionally, at least) play out over the five years in which the action of the film is set.

More successful and engaging, to my mind at least, is a piece by Cornelia Parker which shows a Colt 45 gun in the early stages of production.  It's a vaguely gun-shaped blob of metal in two halves, a bit like a gun in embryo.  And just to show that I'm not totally down on video artists, a piece by Salla Tykka was attention-grabbing too, a filmic meditation on lassoing, slowed down so much that you can see the immense skill of the lassoer.

I'm not really sure that Edinburgh was the best place for this show (somehow I can't think of anywhere less reminiscent of the Wild West than Auld Reekie), but it had enough interesting and engaging work to make the trip worthwhile.  And best of all, when the kids started to get bored (after some fifteen minutes), we didn't feel short-changed.


More info here 


Keywords: Cowboys, Ford, indians, John, Liberty, Valance

Posted by Andrew James @ Museums & Galleries | 0 comment(s)

March 03, 2008

The City Art Centre, on Market Street in Edinburgh, is currently showing an exhibition entitled Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius.  We went along on Saturday and I was really impressed.  I've always been a fan of Adams' landscape photography - especially those iconic images of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada - and this exhibition not only features these, but many of his lesser known works, such as close up photography of plants, trees, water and even fenceposts.  It was an extremely comprehensive exhibition, taking up three floors of the gallery, (well worth the £4 admission price) and some of the photographs really are breathtaking.

Scran has a few Ansel Adams works including these ones:

  'Fern Spring, Yosemite National Park, California', gelatin-silver print, Ansel Adams, United States, 1964 (©Victoria & Albert museum. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk)

  'From Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California', gelatin-silver print, Ansel Adams, United States, 1942 (©Victoria & Albert museum. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk)

If you're visiting the exhibition, make sure you give yourself plenty of time as there are so many great imgaes to look at.  Some of them are really amazing, as you have absolutely no idea of scale.  For example, there was one which was of the waves on a beach, but it could either have been taken from a high cliff above the beach, showing a wide section of the beach, or it could just as easily have been an extreme close up of a wave, no bigger than the actual photograph itself.  Quite amazing.  The other notable thing about Adams' work, I think, is the sharpness of the images, both in the outlines of the trees, mountains etc and in the contrast between the black and white - I don't know if it's something to do with how the photographs are developed, but the white seems to be very white and the black seems to be very black.  Difficult to explain, I suppose...

Along with Adams work, some of the work of Lindsay Robertson, a Scottish photographer working now, was on display.  The influence of Adams in Robertson's work was quite obvious - both with the composition and the subject matter.  Many of Robertson's images on display were of Scotland, although a number were of places in Yosemite etc that Adams had photographed from virtually the same spot.  Therefore, you couldn't help but compare.  I have to say that I was less impressed by Robertson's work: some of the prints (including Glen Etive and Rannoch Moor) were enormous, taking up a whole wall, and - perhaps, strangely - these were the ones that left me kind of cold.  I thought that the "sharpness" that I noted in Adams work was missing, and some of the images seemed rather generic / touristy / picture postcard. Not that that, in itself, is a bad thing - it's perhaps just more noticable when placed next to Adams' work.  I was more impressed with Robertson's smaller prints - I thought that these showed more detail, ironically, and were much more interesting to look at. 

I'd really recommend this exhibition.  It's on until the 19th of April.

Oh, and there's also a free exhibtion on at the same venue at the moment, of the political cartoons of Frank Boyle, whose cartoons appear regularly in the Edinburgh Evening News.  It's well worth a look too, as some of the cartoons are really laugh-out-loud and have great typical Edinburgh humour.  One of my favourites included one from the time of the G8 protests, when Midge Ure had encouraged Edinburgh residents to welcome protesters to stay on their houses.  the cartoon shows three protestors camping in one of those large, private, gated gardens in the New Town, with posh Edinburgh folk leaning over the railings saying to them: "You'll have had your Fair Trade tea..."  See lots more here.

Keywords: Ansel Adams, cartoons, City Art Centre, exhibitions, Frank Boyle, Lindsay Robertson, photography

Posted by Lesley @ Museums & Galleries | 0 comment(s)

February 29, 2008

Fac51Manchester's Urbis was for many years, like the Millennium Dome, a building that seemed to be searching for an identity.  When it was constructed as another lottery-funded project it seemed to have no particular purpose.  Which tends to be the wrong way round to do things in architecture; form usually follows function.  Urbis was initially touted as a "Museum Of The City" (not Manchester in particular, just cities in general).  Whatever that means.  It had no collection, and no particular remit save for its rather vague mission to document urban life.

Five years on, Urbis seems to have found its raison d'être, curating a series of thought-provoking exhibitions from the obscure to the populist.  And, like all modern museums it has the obligatory "ace caff" and it makes you exit through the gift shop.  By adopting this policy of "build it and then think of why afterwards", Urbis was (unknowingly?) aping the ethos of another Manchester institution, Factory Records, whose late boss Tony Wilson, used to espouse "praxis" as the label's guiding principle.  "Praxis", according to Tony, was "learning why you do something by actually doing it".  So it was entirely appropriate then that Urbis's most recent exhibition was devoted to the Hacienda, Factory's contribution to Manchester night life.

The Hacienda existed for some 15 years before being demolished and turned into flats.  Modelled on the sort of American nightclubs that Factory bands like New Order had seen on their overseas jaunts, it was initially unsuccessful and relied on the profits from the record label to prop it up.  It was only with the advent of the house scene in 1987 and 88 that the club started to become full on a regular basis, though even then, its cultural import exceeded the club's takings, as the punters eschewed alcohol.  With success came attention from gangs, and a spate of well-documented violent incidents led to the Hacienda's closure in 1991.  It was resurrected shortly afterwards and remained open until 1997, but by then the glory years presided over by DJs Mike Pickering and Graeme Park were long gone. 

The exhibition was extremely well curated, comprising music, video, and architecture as well as artefacts under glass.  Bollards, neon lighting, original flyers and posters, photos and models helped to reproduce some of the atmosphere and aesthetic of the club.  A recreated seating area with original tables and chairs brought the club to life for those that might not have actually visited it during its lifetime.  Footage from The Tube of Madonna's first British TV appearance at the club was especially interesting, though my personal favourite artefact was a flyer for a "disco dancing" competition judged by Coronation Street's Percy Sugden.  The latter reminded visitors that its financially moribund years (c. 1982-87) were also its most adventurous, when artists from a pre-fame Culture Club to William Burroughs played to miniscule audiences, art events by David Mach took place during the day, and a hairdressing salon set up shop in the basement.  That the opening night of the Hacienda was presided over by Bernard Manning tells you everything you need to know about its early maverick spirit.  In many ways, this was a far more interesting period than its later years when people queued around the block to dance to American house records.  Though I suspect that it's the latter audience that made up most of the large crowd present on the day I visited the exhibition.

Why, then, does the Hacienda merit an exhibition, while the Pink Toothbrush in Rayleigh, say, does not?  One answer may lie in its design legacy;  the graphics and architecture of the club have been much imitated (from retail design to trainers) in the twenty-five years since it opened.  Another is its financial legacy; whereas nightlife was once seen as a marginal activity, the preserve of unsavoury characters, it is now an accepted and vibrant part of the British economy, a point of civic pride and something to be promoted in tourism brochures; the Hacienda played a large part in encouraging this acceptance (the exhibition's footage of the Mayor of Manchester at the club reinforces this point).

Ultimately, one could also point to the Hacienda's contribution to the development of Manchester in the late 20th century.  While the geography of the city's modern urban landscape may be due in part to the IRA, the pavement cafes, retail spaces and bars that characterise the hedonist's paradise that is modern Manchester owe much to the leisure ethos that the Hacienda (and its sibling Factory-owned bar, Dry) engendered.  By showcasing the club's history, Urbis successfully pointed up the relationship between the Manchester of the past and the city of today, and between leisure and economics.


More here. 





Posted by Andrew James @ Museums & Galleries | 2 comment(s)

February 04, 2008

mimaWhen Middlesbrough came top of Channel 4's "Worst Places To Live" survey, they interviewed locals who, naturally, complained about this ranking and pointed to all the good things that Middlesbrough has to offer.  Curiously, I don't remember any of them mentioning mima, the new(ish) Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.  Which suggests, perhaps, that it's not appreciated by locals.  Despite this, I'd suggest that mima and its surrounding landscaped square is (potentially, at least) a "good thing".

We went to see the Bauhaus 1919-1933 exhibition, and the two associated, smaller exhibitions of contemporary art that accompanied it.  Nothing to do with Gothic rock bands , the Bauhaus was a modern school of art, design, architecture, theatre and craft that had a short but highly influential life, and that was eventually closed down by the Nazis for its subversive influence.  Many of its teachers and students went on to fame and fortune as designers and architects, especially in the US.  The legacy of its style, meanwhile, can be seen in graphics, furniture and architecture to this day.

The exhibition was smaller than expected, especially considering the huge amount of objects that must have been generated during the course of this German art school's brief existence.  Then again, what was on show was top quality, much of it on loan from the BauhausArchiv; the original frontispiece to the Bauhaus manifesto by Lyonel Feininger, for example.  Also of interest were the many craft pieces on display, the weavings and beaten metal objects that reminded the viewer that the Bauhaus wasn't all right angles, chromed steel and leather.

However, while this show has been rightly praised by many reviewers, I couldn't help thinking that it would be mostly appreciated by those that already knew something of the Bauhaus, its aims, its personalities and its history.  There was little context provided, and the few wall panels that did provide the narrative threads that connected the objects on display were, I'd suggest, quite opaque to the non-expert.  A few devices such as a time-line, for example, or a specially-commissioned documentary (or even a reshowing of an existing documentary) might have helped to give some sort of context, and a look at the Bauhaus legacy might have helped visitors to understand why the Bauhaus is still revered today, and why it's a suitable subject for an exhibition.

I couldn't help contrasting the show with the Basil Spence exhibition at the Dean Gallery (that I and two colleagues saw again on Friday).  That used a lot of different devices to make the topic explicable to the average visitor, such as audio and video, materials to touch, worksheets and activities, and, in my opinion, succeeded in making the topic accessible to a wide audience.  The Bauhaus exhibition, on the other hand, succeeded in talking to art connoisseurs, but failed to make make the subject accessible to the general public.  Which might explain why so few Middlesbrough residents felt compelled to name mima when asked to defend their city to Channel 4.

In other areas, the gallery does make a concerted effort to be a part of the community; it's cafe was busy and vibrant, and it does have a separate education space on the upper floors where, presumably, all the efforts to connect the exhibitions to the wider public take place (I'm guessing this, as it was closed on our visit).  But taking this aspect of a museum's work (i.e. education, reaching out to diverse audiences) and hiving it off into a small space strikes me as the wrong thing to do.  Why can't this activity be integrated into the exhibition itself?  Is the exhibition not educational?  Or is it only educational to those that have a knowledge of art and design already?



* with apologies to Tom Wolfe



Keywords: accessibility, art, Bauhaus, Channel 4, design, gallery, Middlesbrough, museum

Posted by Andrew James @ Museums & Galleries | 0 comment(s)

January 21, 2008

Spence picIf you're a fan of Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd, you may well be disappointed by the exhibition Back To The Future, at Edinburgh's Dean Gallery until mid-February.  If, on the other hand, you wanted to find out about the life and career of Scottish architect Basil Spence, then go by all means. This is a comprehensive overview of the man and his works, with models, drawings, notes, and sketches all loaned from the Basil Spence archive (donated by the Spence family in 2003 to The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments in Scotland). 

The exhibition is very timely.  As the cultural commentator Stephen Bayley points out, "Basil Spence has fallen into a big hole in architectural history", and this showing of his key works serves to rehabilitate his reputation somewhat.  To many, Spence is closely associated with the sixties "brutalism" of architects such as Denys Lasdun and Richard Seifert,  and therefore beyond the pale.  Certainly, the early 90s represented the nadir of his reputation; his pioneering Gorbals housing in Glasgow, initially seen as a post-war concrete palace for working people but latterly as reviled as the slums it replaced, was dynamited.  Fashions change, however.  Erno Goldfinger's Trellick Tower, for example, was at one time as disliked as Spence's Gorbals buildings.  Now, it is a highly desirable London address.  Would Spence's Corbusier-esque construction in Glasgow have enjoyed a similar revival in its fortunes?  Possibly; the photos of the buildings as they once looked when they were first built are very seductive, and in recent years Spence's Coventry Cathedral has been voted the nation's favourite modern building.  

The exhibition brought home the breadth of Spence's oeuvre; as well as modernist concrete, he was able to work with art deco forms (such as that of the Causewayside garage, just down the road from Scran's offices), and in an austere, classical style (his Gribloch house in Stirlingshire).  It also brought a few surprises; despite having lived in London for many years, I was unaware that the infamous Hyde Park barracks was a Spence design.  Nor did I realise that Mortonhall Crematorium here in Edinburgh was one of his firm's designs, though I can now see the resemblances between that building and Coventry Cathedral.

Rather than going for the obvious, dry approach of sticking a load of plans, drawings, and sketches on the wall, the curators bring the subject to life by making each of the galleries resemble an architect's studio, complete with tables, anglepoise lamps, models, and building material samples.  This approach, of matching the form of the exhibition to its subject, really pays off and makes the exhibition accessible to all.  In a further attempt at increasing accessibility, the exhibition is accompanied by a terrific website, again featuring lots of material from the Spence archive, where visitors can contribute stories or memories about Spence's buildings.

Dean Gallery info


Posted by Andrew James @ Museums & Galleries | 0 comment(s)

January 07, 2008

This exhibition, held at the Museum of Scotland, has an unusual provenance.  The Jerwood Prize for Applied Arts was established in 1995 by the Crafts Council and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.  The Prize currently runs on a six year cycle, with each year representing a different medium within the Applied Arts field: jewellery, textiles, ceramics, glass, furniture and metal.  Recent funding changes at the Crafts Council mean that that institution has no space in which to showcase the shortlisted candidates for the prize, though it continues to administer the award (the showcase exhibition is now held initially at the Jerwood Foundation's own gallery space in London, before travelling throughout the UK). 

The exhibition itself features examples of the work of the six shortlisted jewellers, Susan Cross, Nora Fok, Adam Paxon, Mah Rana,  Grainne Morton and Yoko Izawa. While little of the jewellery on show would find a home at H Samuel or Ratners, all of it is beautiful and engaging.  Adam Paxon creates chunky acrylic pieces reminiscent of underwater creatures, Susan Cross combines delicate silver with unusual fringing, while Grainne Morton creates unusual narrative pieces that look like illustrations for fairy stories, and which are not necessarily made to be worn. 

Some of the makers explore more "ideas-driven" approaches to jewellery, such as Mah Rana, who is particularly attracted to the stories that people associate with their heirlooms, and the personal connections that jewellery engenders.  Yoko Izawa's jewellery, made of acrylic forms wrapped in nylon and lycra, explores concepts such as ambiguity, while Nora Fok creates delicate nylon pieces that mimic natural forms (in fact, Fok explores this preoccupation as one of the participants in a second exhibition in Edinburgh, Seeing Dragons In The Clouds, currently showing at the City Art Centre; in this latter exhibition she creates imaginary insects out of everyday materials).

The 2007 Jerwood prize (worth £30,000) was jointly awarded to Susan Cross and Adam Paxon, and so it is particularly appropriate that Edinburgh is showing this exhibition, as Cross is a tutor at the Edinburgh College of Art.  The exhibition as a whole raises many interesting questions regarding materials (can any material be considered as jewellery?), adornment (does jewellery need to be worn to have value?) and aesthetics (does jewellery have to be visually pleasing to have merit?  And what is "visually pleasing" anyway?). While the visitors' book in Edinburgh shows that some viewers are antagonistic towards jewellery that doesn't look like the stuff in the Argos catalogue, more open-minded gallery-goers may find much to admire in this fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of contemporary craft.


Profiles of makers


Exhibition Details 




Keywords: crafts, Edinburgh, exhibition, jewellery, Museum, Scotland

Posted by Andrew James @ Museums & Galleries | 1 comment(s)

September 10, 2007

Scran was at Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum in East Lothian as part of its Community Archaeology Project Open Day.

As part of Scottish Archaeology Month, volunteer archaeologists have been excavating at Prestongrange recently, focusing on the 17th century glassworks and the site of a 19th century pottery. The doors were thrown open for the day on this gloriously sunny Saturday inviting visitors to tour the trenches and view an exhibition of the finds.

Scran access was available in the visitor centre and proved to be of great interest. Despite the baking hot weather, people clustered around the computer to look old images of Prestonpans and East Lothian. The conversation flowed. 

One man had found an old photograph on Scran of himself as a young man in the Boys’ Brigade. He’s promised to send us a full list of the names of all the others in the photograph that he can remember. One lady, born and bred in East Lothian, now living in England, was revisiting the area and used Scran to find images of old East Linton. She remembered the town clock being called ‘Jessie’. Another lady was trying to locate photographs of her mother who had been a Prestonpans girl and had worked at the local brewery and swum in the harbour at Morison’s Haven. A lady, searching for images of Prestonpans, found Scotsman photographs of the official opening of the ‘experimental housing scheme’ that she’d been one of the first residents in. A former miner relished telling tales of how he’d been sent down the pits as a young lad and how he’d been involved in the miners’ strike. And another lady, whose father had worked in the mine at Prestongrange, related tales of scrubbing the coal dust from her dad’s back when he came home from work. 

The day for me highlighted what a wonderful tool Scran can be for reminiscence and intergenerational learning. And that there is a storyteller in all of us. Hopefully the stories won’t stop there. 

If you live in the East Lothian area, then you can access Scran at your local East Lothian library. 

Posted by Helen Foster @ Museums & Galleries | 1 comment(s)

July 24, 2007

We're quite excited about the new Battlefield Experience due for launch soon at the Culloden Visitor Centre.  It's going to be a 360 degree movie theatre which will place you right in the middle of the battlefield.  They've released a trailer for the film on YouTube.  Here it is:


Keywords: Culloden Visitor Centre

Posted by Kate O'Hara @ Museums & Galleries | 1 comment(s)

July 11, 2007


I love Kelvingrove, and I was delighted when it was recently announced that it had overtaken Edinburgh Castle in visitor numbers.  Now, it seems that last year Kelvingrove had more visitors than Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland and the National Galleries combined!  It's now the 4th most visited museum in the whole of the UK, after the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and the British Museum.

Fantastic news for Glasgow! 

Keywords: Glasgow, Kelvingrove, museum

Posted by Lesley @ Museums & Galleries | 1 comment(s)

May 03, 2007

I'm delighted by this news story:


I've always loved Kelvingrove and was very impressed with the refurbishments unveiled last year.  Scran enjoyed a staff day out there last September.

Not that I have anything against Edinburgh Castle, but it's nice to see that a museum that is FREE to visit was more popular with visitors than one that you have to pay for.  Although it's certainly not surprising that Edinburgh Castle is still the most popular pay-to-visit attraction.

The "top five" pay-to-visit attractions, as reported in the article were:

1. Edinburgh Castle 

2. Edinburgh Zoo

3. Edinburgh Bus Tours

4. Glasgow Science Centre

5. Blairdrummond Safari Park 

Also intersting to see that, thanks to Mr Dan Brown, Rosslyn Chapel saw its visitor numbers double between 2005 and 2006.  I think Rosslyn is a fabby, fabby place (and I did go before The Da Vinci Code!) and Eddie and I had the pleasure of watching a production of A MIdsummer Night's Dream there last festival.

Keywords: Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow, Kelvingrove, Rosslyn chapel, tourism

Posted by Lesley @ Museums & Galleries | 1 comment(s)

April 18, 2007

Shall be settling down in front of the television at 9:00 PM tonight with some toast thickly spread with Marmite, a hot cup of Typhoo Tea and a cheeky bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk.  Best wash all that stodge down with some Perrier Water.  Shall be sitting back to enjoy yet another in the BBC4 Edwardians series, The Edwardian Larder' which focuses on how these brands in particular stocked the shelves of the Edwardian kitchens (of those of a certain class I presume...).  The show looks at the birth of the brand and how the Edwardian grocery business transformed itself by clever marketing and advertising.

Keywords: Pot Noodles too?

Posted by Helen Foster @ Museums & Galleries | 0 comment(s)

April 16, 2007

I am very excited about the Edwardians series of programmes which are being aired on BBC4 from today.  They cover an array of elements from this relatively short period of social change and great frocks - food, shopping, photography, tabloid newspapers and corsets.  They are also showing a televised version of the Edwardian children's tale 'The Phoenix and the Carpet'.  (I'm perhaps most excited about this one in case it is a reshowing of the original series I remember from my childhood which ran on Sunday afternoons a couple of decades or so ago.)




Keywords: BBC, Edwardians

Posted by Helen Foster @ Museums & Galleries | 2 comment(s)

April 10, 2007

I was recently at a meeting with the members of the Distributed National Burns Collection in a classroom in the Scottish Literature department of the University of Glasgow. There were several portrait hung on the walls and, looking around, I realised that they all looked a bit familiar.

"I know that jacket," I thought, "Isn't that Edwin Morgan?" Then, "Hang on, that's the Cuillin of Skye behind that man...Sorley MacLean?" and, "Well that big squinty face can only be George Mackay Brown!" Also among them were Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Robert Garioch and Iain Crichton Smith.

Now I'm no expert on Scottish poetry, but I've read about most of these chaps and watched videos of them reading their work on Scran. This didn't quite explain it though; there was still something familiar about the look of the sketches.

Poets' Pub

All of a sudden, this painting, "Poets' Pub" popped into my mind and it clicked: I had a closer look at the artist's name on the sketches and there it was - Alexander Moffat.

Our hosts at the University explained that these were in fact some of Moffat's sketches for the finished work, currently on loan to the department from the artist. (They were delighted to have them but told how a portrait of the fiery Hugh MacDiarmid with stylised flames for wild hair right at the back of the room was giving teachers 'the fear'.)

The "Poets' Pub" connection explained all but one piece: a painting of the brilliant author Muriel Spark. She's not in the painting, so why was she included? Apparently to not include a female representative among a collection which informally represents greats of Scottish literature would just be asking for trouble!

Image is © the artist / Scottish National Portrait Gallery, licensor www.scran.ac.uk.  Housed at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, and available to see on Scran at www.scran.ac.uk/000-000-019-463-C.

Keywords: Alexander Moffat, Christopher Murray Grieve, Edwin Morgan, George Mackay Brown, Hugh MacDiarmid, Iain Crichton Smith, Muriel Spark, Norman MacCaig, Poets' Pub, Robert Garioch, Sandy Moffat, Scottish literature, Sorley MacLean, University of Glasgow

Posted by Kate O'Hara @ Museums & Galleries | 3 comment(s)

April 04, 2007

Been putting together some Scran Pathfinder Packs on breweries in Edinburgh as resources to tie in with some 'bits' on Industrial Heritage that I am developing as part of the Lifelong Learning section of the Scran website.  (Woo, long sentence.)  Anyway, weren't there an awful lot of breweries in Edinburgh?  Sadly too few left.  If anyone has any interesting nuggets of info about Edinburgh's declined brewing industry, pass them on.

All this research into breweries on a sunny spring day has given me a thirst... what I'd give for a pint right now.

Keywords: breweries, Edinburgh, industrial heritage

Posted by Helen Foster @ Museums & Galleries | 2 comment(s)

February 27, 2007

I read a book by Magnus Magnusson last year about the island of Rum. In the late nineteenth century the entire island was bought by John Bullough (pronounced Buller), the son of a working class handloom weaver, James Bullough, from the industrial north of England. James made his riches through developing a good idea, which was a system for keeping cloth in the loom straight at the edges. Up until that time, it had a tendency to grow and shrink in width according to the tension applied by the weaver. James got rich on his good idea and eventually owned swathes of the  textile industry in the north of England, including the world's largest factory producer of ring-spinning frames at Accrington. John, the son, was of a similar enterprising temperament.

 Presumably in an attempt to reach equilibrium in his work-life balance, John bought the island in 1888, though he didn't have very long to enjoy his riches, dying 3 years later at the age of 53 of congestion of the lungs. John's son George inherited the island along with the rest of John's massive pile of estates and factories and, at the age of 27, was a very wealthy man.

Spending that much money must have been a minor challenge so George decided to blow a few million (in modern money)  on building Kinloch Castle on Rum - a sporting estate which George and his pals would inhabit for about 3 weeks a year, blasting to bits the local wildlife: deer, birds, goats, basically everything that moved. Archie Cameron, at the other end of the social ladder, wrote a fascinating book called 'Bare feet and tackety boots', which described life on Rum at this time - life as a servant on the estate.

So Kinloch Castle was bedecked with impossible and outrageous finery and furniture. Among the most valuable of these items were a pair of eagles: one in bronze of a giant Japanese monkey-eating eagle on a tree stump, hunting monkeys; the other carved in ivory. The bronze one is still there at Kinloch Castle. The ivory one is now in the Ivy Wu Gallery on the top floor of the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.

Kinloch Castle is now gently rotting on the shores of Loch Scresort on the east facing side of the island. George is still there - buried alongside his father in the Mausoleum he built for the purpose in Harris on the west side. Kinloch Castle is still stuffed full of treasures and the orchestrion still plays the William Tell overture and other sprightly and popular tunes from the Edwardian era.

The items below are: the bronze eagle; the ivory eagle; a sound file of the Orchestrion

The Bronze Eagle  Ivory eagle in Royal Museum of Scotland 


Posted by sprice @ Museums & Galleries | 11 comment(s)

February 16, 2007

Last year I was down south in Englandshire (pause while I stand and hum Jerusalem) and stopped by the Back-to-Backs in Birmingham. What a cracking heritage site. A row of 19th century terraces in the centre of the chrome and concrete of Brum Central, snapped up and saved by The National Trust.


Each house has been 'restored' to a different period within its history, but the restoration is sympathetic, conserving much of what remains from its full two hundred year history and not polishing up to make it look new. It gives an insight into the raw and basic lives of the working classes of that time and that place. Its history is interpreted right up to date, including a section which was the shop of a West Indian tailor in the 1970s. 

I get a buzz visiting sites where you can connect with people who lived there and things that happened.  Especially sites which have been interpreted with care and thought and simplicity and which leave something to the imagination of the visitor. There is a place for all singing  all dancing interactives in heritage, but sometimes it's best to just let a place speak for itself. You can't always get that sense of place and history from artefacts displayed in glass cases. 

This is also the sense you get from The Workhouse, near Nottingham, again, saved for future generations by The National Trust.  Visitors wander the empty rooms of this 18th century building with hand-held audio guides which tell the building's story and recreate sounds of life as it would have been.  I visited here with my young niece and nephew.  They loved it.  So did I.


Posted by Helen Foster @ Museums & Galleries | 3 comment(s)

There's a great exhibition on at the City Arts Centre on Market Street at the moment, of Peter Howson's "Crucifixion of St Andrew".  The finished work is displayed, as are lots of studies of the various characters and settings and so on.  I was really impressed.  I love Howson's work - so distinctive and quite disturbing, but brilliantly put together.

The exhibition is on until the 4th of March and it's completely free.  There are also two or three other exhibitions on at the same venue.  And I can recommend the cafe in the City Arts Centre too Smile

There are quite a few records featuring Peter Howson's work on Scran. Just do a search for him to view them. 

Keywords: art, cafe, City Art Centre, Peter Howson

Posted by Lesley @ Museums & Galleries | 1 comment(s)

February 13, 2007

Having grown up in the Glasgow area, I am naturally drawn to the museums of that city.There's something about Glasgow Museums - my Grandfather took my sister and me to the museums like the Transport when it was in the Tramway and, of course, to Kelvingrove.  Over the years, I've been a visitor to the Museum of Religious Life and the Gallery of Modern Art but Kelvingrove always has remained a draw. 


So, it was with some delight that I renewed my acqaintance last year when it re-opened. Some of the old favourites are there but better such as Rennie Macintosh and a great display of the Tea Rooms...and they've even kept the George Bennie monorail item from Milngavie which fascinated me as a child.  Scran users - see a film here:

Technical film (video clip)

The mixing of Art with Objects on the ground floor works pretty well and certainly solves the problem of "knowing there is artwork in the building". I was fascinated with the kid centric stuff like the shoes where you can see displays and then try on some from a big pile.  A guy and his wife just started talking spontaneously to me about the doggie made out of wellies and we agreed we wanted "a go".  I loved the armour and swords all mounted on metal fretwork shaped liked bodies and the hanging plane and heads give it a dynamic, exciting feel.

Kelvingrove Heads

There are bits which I don't think work - principally upstairs in the exhibition areas but perhaps that is just me. Go on a Sunday when they play the big organ, have a coffee, get some lunch, have a wander in the park and then go in for some more.

Keywords: Art, Kelvingrove, Museum, Objects, Sunday

Posted by Graham Turnbull @ Museums & Galleries | 0 comment(s)