Reassessing a hero

Much like parents shouldn’t have a favourite child, I was once told that someone working in a museum shouldn’t have a favourite historical character.

But I do.

Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers, Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID ALB-1-81

 

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was a church minister, social reformer, scientist, philosopher and economist; stubborn as a mule, proud as a peacock, often unwilling to admit his mistakes, visionary and go-get-‘em. He had hair like a bird’s nest and an accent once described as bruisingly barbarous, yet his preaching attracted huge crowds in a Victorian version of Beatlemania.  A stained-glass window dedicated to him will be on display at the Wardlaw Museum; a colourful commemoration of a colourful character.

Memorial window dedicated to Thomas Chalmers, Wardlaw Museum        © University of St Andrews

He studied at St Andrews, then infuriated the University by teaching rival classes in mathematics before returning as professor of Moral Philosophy in 1823, but he’s most famous for leading a third of the ministers of the Church of Scotland out of that denomination to form a new one, the Free Church of Scotland, in 1843.

On the surface, this event, called the “Disruption”, was about the courts overturning a congregation’s choice of minister in favour of the landowner’s candidate. Chalmers and his friends saw it as something deeper, the need for freedom from the secular law that was overreaching into God’s kingdom.

I admire Chalmers’ faith, his hard work in bringing education to the slums of Edinburgh and his efforts, though not always successful, to better support the poor of Glasgow.

But…

In the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer it was brought to my attention that soon after its foundation the Free Church accepted £3000 from US churches frequented by slave owners. Abolitionist Frederick Douglas, himself formerly enslaved, argued that the denomination was benefitting from slavery and campaigned for the Free Church to “send the money back”.

The Free Church refused, and tied itself in knots in justifying its position, arguing that someone who inherited slaves was a not a slave-owner, but a “slave-holder”, and stating that having slaves did not make someone a bad master.

On digging further I found that in 1826, while professor of Moral Philosophy at St Andrews, Chalmers himself wrote a treaty arguing for the abolition of slavery. All well and good, until reading on and finding Chalmers’ unsavoury solution.

In order to achieve abolition, Chalmers argued, slaves should be given a day off each week, during which they should work to earn money to buy their own freedom a day at a time, being fully free within seven or eight years. Then the enslaved person could proceed to buy the freedom of his family. “But,” Chalmers wrote, “the slave who idled away his free time, whether in sleep or amusement, would of course make no further progress towards a state of freedom.”

Chalmers’ suggestion makes us baulk; we see underlying racism, an evident lack of compassion and a failure to recognise both the urgency of freedom and the injustice of continued slavery, even while he argued for abolition. There’s also hypocrisy – quick to champion the church’s freedom from secular law, slow to achieve man’s freedom from slavery.

Reassessing a hero

So what do we do with this?

Do we wholeheartedly condemn Chalmers and the Free Church? Morality doesn’t change; slavery and racism are wrong now and they were wrong then.

Do we excuse them as a product of their age? Chalmers and the Free Church sought abolition, but their own attitudes remained ingrained with the prejudices of the time, when slavery was deeply embedded in wider economies and societies.

This being the nature of that society, do we argue that they were being practical? The Free Church in using money that came from slavery to fund good work that bettered the lives of others, and Chalmers in trying to find a practical, if deeply flawed, way of bringing enslavement to an end.

Do we judge not lest we be judged? Do we hold back from criticism of the past for fear of future generations judging us for our failure to tackle injustices today, be it modern slaves making our cheap clothes or the climate crisis?

Do we let this issue hide the excellent work done by Chalmers and the Free Church elsewhere? The Free Church did much to tackle poverty and inequality; indeed, it was another Free Church minister and St Andrews professor of Moral Philosophy, William Knight, who was key to bringing university-level education to women through St Andrews’ Lady Literate in Arts scheme.

Or do we accept that life is complicated and respond with a mixture of the above?

I continue to wrestle with these questions and don’t know the right answers. Discussions with others, like our regular Critical Conversations series, help us find the right path. But I have learnt that even our heroes have deep faults. My own reaction is to admire the good, speak out against the bad and learn from both.

Written by Matt Sheard, Learning and Access Curator, University of St Andrews Museums

2020 Vision: behind the scenes of making a museum (but not a mouth ornament) digital.

Introduction

The University of St Andrews are the caretakers of collections which span the entire history of the University, from the documents recording its foundation in 1413 up to the acquisition of the Prince Wullie, previously found in St Salvator’s Quad.

Not only important to the documentation of our university’s history, the collection remains a vital resource in teaching.  Additionally, this year we were looking forward to finally opening the doors to the new Wardlaw Museum and to bring a small sample of this collection to the fore, with new objects, new interpretations, and a fresh lick of paint to boot!

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis which has turned all our lives on their heads, people will have to wait a little longer to view the displays. Even more critical, access to the collection for teaching in its current state was limited, and the usual status-quo of hands on learning with collections has been interrupted.

Behind the scenes during this whole crisis, a team of people in IT have been working with the company Mnemoscene to create an online tool, Exhibit, which allows for a narrative-based approach to exploring 2D images and 3D objects. This has presented Museums a new avenue for allowing access to the collection; not only will the collection be available online, people will be able to use the tool to create their own narratives and explore the collection in a way unique to them.

With this great opportunity has come an all new challenge for the team at Museums. How can a small team scan over 100,000 objects and make them available online? The simple answer? We can’t. However, we can make a start, with a commitment to integrate digitisation of the collection into our everyday practise. As this period of 2020 has shown, digital is no longer a nice addition, a complimentary side to the main dish of the museum. Having a high-quality digital offer ensures that, even in unprecedented times, the collection in some form can always be accessible.

Museums secured a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections fund to begin a rapid digitisation project to develop and implement a new tool for storytelling-based engagement with digitised collections. In this blog I am going to take you behind the scenes of the scanning process – taking the physical object and turning it digital.

The Artec Scanning Spider in action. The small white lights flash to ensure the object is well lit while scanning.

The Scanning Process

The two methods we are employing to digitise the objects are Photogrammetry, using a camera to capture images of an object from multiple angles and stitching them together, and using a 3D scanner, an instrument which scans an object and builds 3D models in real time.

The 3D scanner Museums use is called the Artec Space Spider – it looks like a fancy iron, but it has made the introduction into digitisation a lot simpler!

By taking multiple scans of museum objects and stitching them together in Artec Studio, we are able to produce 3D models ready to be uploaded to our database and made available online. It sounds fairly simple (so we thought back in August) and some objects were. If they have good ‘geometry’ (with lots of unique shapes and features for the program to pick up on) and good ‘texture’ (basically anything not shiny) we can make a model ready for upload in an hour or two.

However, we quickly realised many of our objects do not fit this simple criteria. Our collection has shiny things like silverware (not good), scientific instruments which are smooth and have little uniquely shaped features (not good), or are made of glass (really not good).

The object I will discuss today is an object we thought (naively) would scan well. It is relatively small, has lots of colour and unique shapes for the scanner to pick up – the dream!

The Mouth Ornament

The Mouth Ornament was acquired in the 1830’s by a Captain Brown. It was likely made on the west coast of New Ireland, but was acquired by Captain Brown on the Duke of York Islands, a popular trading post in the area at the time.  The mouth ornament is made of boars tusks, dogs teeth, dewarra shells and either glass or resin beads. It is thought it was a war charm, held by clenched teeth by warriors of Papua New Guinea.

Research into the mouth ornament is ongoing, with new information coming to light as recently as April 2020. It was considered a great piece to highlight the potential of the exhibit tool – with a rich history, component parts which each hold significance, and new interpretations which challenge our historic understanding of this object. For this reason, it was an early choice for the scanner!

Scanning the ornament

The mouth ornament after the first scan. The scanner picks up everything, including the surface it is sat on.

We remove the background to leave just the rending of the object. The small flecks around the object is the “noise” caused by reflections off the object.

We came to scan the object, and I personally was very excited as it is one of my favourite objects in the whole collection. We placed it carefully on the table and got to scanning! Early on we thought we were on to a winner, the boar tusks were picked up beautifully by the scanner, and the criss-crossing beads across the tusks, despite being small, were also showing up well!

 

 

However, the beaded tassel then came into view. When we scan, the model can occasionally exhibit what is called ‘noise’, where the light emitted by the scanner reflects off the object’s surface and creates a haze around the objects. The tassel was not just noisy, it was a whole firework. Still we persevered, as we can usually deal with noise in the post-processing stage by erasing unwanted elements.

We thought the beaded part of the tassel was bad, but then we reached the dogs teeth finial. I should mention at this point, the scanner also does not handle sharp points, thin edges or points very well. The dog teeth were all of these, as well as shiny. Needless to say, it was not picked up well at all.

Still we endured with the scans, in the hope we’d be able to salvage it in post-processing. During post-processing, we clean up the model by removing any unwanted elements, such as the table base and the aforementioned ‘noise’, we align the scans as best as we can then run the ‘autopilot’ function which does a lot of clever computer things to stitch it together into a final product.

We tried our best, we really did, but have you ever tried to differentiate one dog tooth from another? Find which green bead on one scan lines up with the green bead on the second, third and fourth scan? Needless to say, despite all our ambition, we were not able to get a complete model of the mouth ornament though our Spider Scanner. The best we could offer by the end of the day was a well modeled top part of a mouth ornament, with the tassel conveniently chopped off by the autopilot.

After approximately four hours of trial and error, we moved it to the Photogrammetry list.

Final thoughts

Our best attempt. While the top of the ornament was picked up well, the further we went down the less able we were to get a good 3D rendering.

The purpose of this blog is not to condemn the Scanning Spider and its abilities, for many objects now it has been a great success. More, it is to shed some light on this process and demonstrate its not always plain sailing – technology is very clever, but sometimes it is boggled by a shiny surface. Whilst not quite an Aladdin’s cave of glittering jewels and gold, we have come to realise our collections is pretty shiny, albeit comprising lacquered wooden boxes filled with metal and glass scientific instruments, or silver spoons from students of the past.

Digitisation on this scale is not a quick fix or an instant remedy for this COVID-sized hole we have been left to deal with. We have been fortunate to have a small team who have been able to dedicate their time fully to get some of the collection available in time for teaching. However, it has become clear for Museums that digitisation is a long-term commitment, it needs time and dedication to get a whole university collection online.

Oronsay Priory

Oronsay Priory by William Marshall Brown (1910) image courtesy of the University of St Andrews

This week we explore one of the more remote locations visited by Recording Scotland artists at the beginning of the 1900s.  Oronsay Priory is located on the island of Oronsay, south of Mull, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island has played host to small settlements from the Mesolithic period, through the Bronze and Iron Ages and Viking encounters in later centuries.  The islands officially came under the Kingdom of Scotland in the 1200s after the Treaty of Perth. The island shares the dynamic histories of early missionary work coupled with the political struggles of kings and nations. That legacy is literally carved in stone that can be seen in the art of the Recording ScotlandCollection, and visited even today.

The Augustinian priory on Oronsay is one of the best-preserved medieval monasteries in Scotland, supposedly founded by St Columba and refounded by John, Lord of the Isles in the 1300s.  The priory includes a High Altar from the 1400s  and the High Cross carved from a single piece of stone. The priory was controlled by different clans over four centuries, finally staying with the MacNeills until the 1900s when it, and Colonsay, was sold to Donald Smith, Baron Strathcona in 1905.

Lord Strathcona was a Scottish-born Canadian businessman who was a principal shareholder in the Hudson Bay Company. He, like Edward Harkness, donated millions of pounds of his wealth to charities and universities in North America and the United Kingdom.  During the era of the Recording Scotland Collection, the island and title passed to Strathcona’s only daughter, Lady Strathcona, and was inherited by her descendants in successive generations. Both islands were offered up for sale beginning in the 1970s, however, only Oronsay passed out of Strathcona hands.  They retained their home on Colonsay and were able to make improvements from the sale.

Oronsay was eventually purchased by Ike and Frances Colburn, wealthy Americans from Chicago, Illinois, in 1984.  Mr Colburn was famed as the architect of the Episcopalian Cathedral of South Michigan.  He had read about the island for sale in Scotland in a magazine and purchased it unseen.  When he arrived on the island, he discovered the wealth of archaeology and architecture and set out to protect and improve the location.  He and his wife took active roles in restoration work.  Later, while retaining ownership, they worked with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to create refuge on the island.  The refuge strives to provide a safe location for resident choughs and breeding corncrakes.  It also protects the European dark bee, a species that is all but extinct in mainland Scotland. The RSPB farms the land using traditional methods that give shelter and feed for migratory birds and protected bees.

The priory, now and historically, is only reached by walking the tidal causeway which is half a mile from its neighbour Colonsay Island, for a few short hours during low tide.  Visitors can arrive by boat at other times of day.  This limited access makes the island more mysterious as you can imagine as William Marshall Brown lugged his watercolour paints across the sand to Oronsay to capture the intricately carved crosses and priory ruins sometime in the 1910s.

This week we have a video featuring Oronsay Priory by William Marshall Brown.

Special thanks to Marc Calhoun, author and blogger, for his recent photos of Oronsay.  You can learn more from his blog “Exploring the Isles of the West – Journeys to the Western Islands of Scotland.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn in Scotland and the Legacy of the Recording Scotland collection

Autumn in Dunfermline by Alan Ian Ronald (RSW), ©University of St Andrews

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and drawings collected during World War II to permanently capture the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is the final blog in the series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

 

And so this clear October morning light smiles on a young vigorous Alma Mater of a city, whose children gather around her knee.  There is something of fairy-tale about the sudden flash of a red gown in a grey street, then the flash of another, and then a surging of red gowns, where there are good shouting and good laughter, and hope and happiness, as if out of the hill the children had all come back to Hamelin Town.  But the hills from which they come are many and wide spread across all the world.

–J.B. Salmond (pg. 38 Recording Scotland)

In St Andrews the autumn is marked by a subtle changing of colours as wheat ripens in the surrounding fields and trees turn shades.  The annual Lammas market at the beginning of August also heralds the shift from the intensity of summer to the new academic year.  Historically, the Lammas market was one of four annual fairs that brought performers and entertainments to Market Street.  It was a time for games, races, and the buying and selling of livestock and goods.  Students returning to town are the next indicators of autumn, as they settle into their academic homes to begin their studies once again.  Throughout Scotland celebrations of Marymass, Michaelmass Day, highland games, Samhain, and bonfire night all take place in the autumn months leading up to St Andrews day on 30 November.  Each observance has its own traditions and legacies that are rich for exploration.  We can see the same autumnal shift in colours in the painting “Autumn in Dunfermline” by Alan Ian Ronald and can imagine all the same traditions being observed across Scotland over the years.

By the fall of 1952, the Recording Scotland committee had fulfilled its mission.  A book featuring highlights of the collection had been published, the fifth in the series of Recording Britain.  While the book captured the outlines of the Scottish collection, the cutting-edge printing techniques used to reproduce the paintings failed to accurately capture the vibrancy of the real works by today’s standards.

The paintings which had travelled extensively and been reproduced, were now in need of a permanent home.  Realizing that they were out of funds for insurance or other expenses, the pieces could no longer travel to distant parts of the country.  The collection held 145 pieces and posed a challenge for any institution that might take it on.

Red Row by Alan Ian Ronald (RSW), ©University of St Andrews

Luckily, a suggestion was made to donate the paintings to the University of St Andrews in honour of Sir James Irvine, the former committee member and Principal of the university, who had passed away earlier in the year.  The works were originally donated to hang in residence halls to act as inspiration for future generations of students.

Sir James, the great advocate of the collection, died in June and was buried not far from the St Andrews Cathedral in the eastern cemetery near the harbour.  J.B. Salmond, the archivist and poet, lived another six years.  Stephen Edward Harkness, the great benefactor of the university, had passed away in 1940, but his legacy continues through the work of the Pilgrim Trust.  Harkness is commemorated on campus by a stained glass window in St Salvator’s Hall, the building whose construction he also funded in the 1930s.  To learn more about the stained glass on campus, check out https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/about/history/st-salvators/stained-glass/

Today, the Recording Scotland collection remains a challenging reminder of the nation’s past; including visual representations of some of its greatest loves and fears.  Love for the history carved in wood and stone, love for farmers and fishmen (and women) who fed the nation, and fears of losing those places and occupations to the ravages of time and modernization.  Thankfully many of the fears that the Recording Scotland committee held in the 1940s, proved ungrounded, as many of the places survived the war and advancement of time up to today.  For the places that did succumb, the lessons remain clear to cherish what remains, and to honour the memories of those that went before.

Salmond’s poem from the Recording Scotland volume, featured under the image of “The Castle of St. Andrews” captures one last sentiment on the art and ancient history of St Andrews; “Perhaps it likes best to remember that in its heyday, as now in its ruins, it acted and acts as a schoolroom for scholars.”  All of St Andrews continues to be a schoolroom for scholars, and the museums of the university hope to encourage students and tourists alike to visit and learn more about more amazing stories that this place has to share.

 

Recording Scotland – Today!

Driving in the Cairngorms by Luca Downs, ©Luca Downs

Recently we have been lucky enough to be invited to feature some new works by young artists who participated in the University of Edinburgh’s summer workshop “Capturing Lives in Scotland’s Communities-An Arts Award Explore Online Project.”  Students aged 11-18 worked with university museums staff to learn about different themes and media styles.  St Andrews helped during the landscape week with information about the Recording Scotland collection.  While these pieces are not part of our museum collection, they give us a sneak peek at up and coming artists and we could not resist sharing their landscape artworks.  These talented young people are following in the footsteps of the Recording Scotland artists and here is the University of Edinburgh Museum’s Community Outreach Coordinator Laura Beattie’s explanation of the student art.

“During our week on landscape painting, we looked at many different landscape paintings and discussed the different techniques used to make them: some were abstract, like Karen Goode’s Untitled work from Duncan of Jordanstone’s College of Art and Design, which elicited many different responses. Some of us found it scary or threatening while others found it calming. We also looked at work which aimed to be more representational, like those in the University of St Andrews’ ‘Recording Scotland’ collection. We agreed that, given the context of the collection, it was important for the works to be at least somewhat realistic. Our young artists then went on to create their own landscape artworks inspired by the works we had looked at.”

A Walk in the Park by Hani Jawad, ©Hani Jawad

To learn more about the Recording Scotland collection, you can read Recording Scotland, ed. James B. Salmond, 1952. “Recording Britain,” ed. Gill Saunders, 2011. James Colquhoun Irvine: St Andrews’ Second Founder by Julia Melvin, 2011.

Women and the Water: Fishing Images from the Recording Scotland Collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during the second world war to permanently capture the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialisation.  This is the eighth blog in the series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland Collection.

West Shore by David Foggie (RSW), ©University of St Andrews

 

Today we would like to introduce a nautical theme from the Recording Scotland Collection, featuring images of both women and men at work in the fishing industry before and between the world wars.

Only a dozen of the Recording Scotland Collection paintings capture such scenes of boats, harbours, and the men and women who made their livelihoods by the ocean.  This is a relatively small number of paintings when we consider that Scotland has a mainland coastline that spans over 6,000 miles and, when you include the islands it reaches over 10,000 miles of shoreline!  That is a magnificent amount of coast, and thousands of stories to tell about the fishing villages and their inhabitants.

David Foggie RSA (1878-1948) is the artist that provides several of the coastal paintings we are featuring today.  He trained in Dundee and furthered his artistic studies in Belgium.  He returned home to Scotland in 1904 and settled in Fife, near Leuchars.  His paintings of Pittenweem help to illustrate the cultural traditions of East Neuk and East Lothian fishing villages, and particularly highlights the role that women played in the fishing industry.

In 1907, 2,500,000 barrels of herring were salted and shipped from Scotland.  This “boom” of herring resulted in thousands of vessels, fishermen and “herring lasses” being employed. Government support and the use of railways for shipping had resulted in a robust industry as long as the fish shoals were healthy. This boom was a high mark for the fishing industry, but it was soon to face the challenges of two world wars and a changing global economy. For centuries, Scotland had been the location best suited for fishing for salmon and herring and had resulted in a thriving trade with European neighbours.

Barking Nets by David Foggie (RSW), ©University of St Andrews

Herring was traditionally caught using a drift net. These nets were stretched out and suspended in the water by corks, where the fish become trapped by their gills when they try to swim into the net.  Drift nets had to be constantly repaired and treated, in a process called “barking and drying.”  We can see the fishermen at work with their nets in the paintings by David Foggie called Barking nets, Pittenweem and West Shore, Pittenweem.  The nets had to be submerged in large pots on shore every few weeks during the fishing season, whereas wealthier and more advanced vessels could treat their nets aboard ship.  The nets were then stretched out on grassy hills, long gardens, alleyways or shores to dry before being used again.  The historic villages still have long and unusually shaped buildings reflecting the need for nets to dry and ropes to be made.

 

Fishing was a family affair.  We can imagine the work performed by the women captured in May Marshall Brown’s Cat Row, Dunbar and we can see the women seated by their homes in West Shore, Pittenweem.   Women would work by cleaning fishing lines, reattaching, and baiting new hooks before each journey to sea.  They could gather with other women while they did the work, while also minding their children and a thousand other tasks.  If the women were busy handling fish guts, you can imagine how many cats came to beg for their dinner.

Scottish women had limited access to occupations at the end of the 1800s, but seasonal work around herring fishing provided a much-needed income.  Women travelled from the islands to the mainland and back, even venturing south to England following the shoals of herring.  Teams of women worked together gutting and packing the herring into barrels for days on end.  Most could gut fish at a rate of 30 to 50 a minute. The work was hard and dangerous, due to the high probability of cuts and infections.  The women were paid at the end of the season based on the number of barrels they were able to pack.  This might result in receiving £10 – £20 for the season if it was a prosperous year.  If it was a poor fishing season, then they might only make enough money to travel home.  The women understood the work to be hard but enjoyed the companionship and extra income that it afforded them.  It also gave them the opportunity to visit new villages and ports, and potentially make romantic matches.  Women’s Work, Pittenweem captures this communal effort as the women work on the shore.

Women’s Work by David Foggie (RSW), ©University of St Andrews

Salted herring was purchased predominately by Germany, the Baltic nations, and Russia in the early part of the 20th century.  All countries that were severely impacted at the outbreak of war and suffered from inflation and economic instability.  In the 1930s, other countries also built up their own domestic fishing fleets and no longer relied on the Scottish trade. During the wars, men went off to military service and women had transitioned into munitions work or nursing.  Technology also advanced for fishermen who could do more with smaller, more efficient boats and packing facilities.  Tastes also changed, and salted herring was no longer as prized as other types of seafood.  Fishermen (and women) continue to adapt in the coastal villages and find new and inventive ways to continue the traditions of their trade.  It was once popular to present friends and neighbours with a string of herring as a gift.  When was the last time you gave someone a herring?

The various roles that women have performed in Scottish maritime history have not only been captured in paint, but also in bronze.  The “herring girls” are commemorated with two statues in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and a statue of a woman and child stand in Pittenweem harbour looking out to sea in remembrance of the 400 people who have lost their lives at sea.

To learn more about the history of fishing in Scotland, make sure to stop in at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witchcraft and mystery, or, the object that never was in our collection

Witchcraft and mystery, or, the object that never was in our collection

Jessica Burdge and Katie Eagleton

 

Every museum has at least one object that people sometimes ask about, but which actually isn’t in their collection.  For the Museums of the University of St Andrews there is an added layer of mystery, because ours is a witch skull, and we can’t illustrate this blog with a photograph of it, because it has disappeared.

Lilias Adie, picture courtesy of Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee

 

More than 300 years ago, Lilias Adie from Torryburn, Fife, was accused of witchcraft. She died in prison in 1704, before the sentence of execution could be carried out, and her remains were buried on the beach weighed down by a large stone, which was said to be to stop her coming back to haunt people. In the 19th century, her remains were exhumed, and accounts you can find online today usually say that the skull was initially in the private collection of a doctor in Dunfermline, then in the University of St Andrews anatomy collection – but went missing sometime in the 20th century. Today, more than 300 years after Adie’s death, there are attempts to find her remains, and to more respectfully remember her and others who were tried for, and convicted of, witchcraft in Scotland.

It’s a story that has all the elements of a mystery story: witchcraft and a disappearing skull. As a result, we receive reasonably regular queries asking where the skull is now, and what records we have of it in our collection in the past?

The St Andrews connection seems to begin on 30th September 1884, when twelve men of the Fifeshire Medical Association met at St Andrews, in the classroom of Professor Pettigrew, anatomist at the University. The first talk was on the history of the University, and the second talk was on Lilias Adie. Dr William Barrie Dow from Dunfermline showed her skull to the gentlemen present, explained his observations on it, and read extracts from the Kirk-Session records. There was then a third talk on the then-recently-described tuberculosis bacterium, including viewing of specimens through microscopes, before everyone repaired to the Cross Keys Hotel for dinner and speeches to celebrate Dr Dow having been elected President of the Association for the coming year (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 2 October 1884, page 3).

It is not clear who owned the skull in 1884 – or, indeed, whether the group took it to the Cross Keys with them – but in the published version of his talk, Dow named Robert Couston (who had not been present at the meeting) as the former owner of the skull. Sometime around the turn of the century, although it is not known where or by whom, three photographs of the skull were taken, and it is these that have recently allowed a reconstruction of Adie’s face to be created by specialists at the University of Dundee. In 1901 and 1904, Robert Couston published articles about Lilias Adie in the Dunfermline Press in which he said that her skull had come to the St Andrews Museum.

The problem is, we can find no trace of it.

From 1838 onwards, the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, who were responsible for the museum at the University, kept detailed lists of objects acquired for the collection, and in those there is no mention of anything that could be this skull. Nor is it included in a complete list of the museum and its collection that was compiled in 1904 when the Literary and Philosophical Society formally handed both over to the University. These records are detailed, but to be sure that the skull wasn’t somehow in the collection without proper documentation, we took copies of the photographs of Lilias Adie’s skull (which has distinctive and prominent front teeth) and compared it with the skulls in the Anatomy and Pathology collection. None were similar. The trail, at this point, goes cold, and we can only conclude that Lilias Adie’s skull was probably never part of the collections at the University of St Andrews.

However, readers who know the history of the University and the history of its museums may have spotted a coincidence of locations here, that might be the key to unlocking this mystery. That is, Professor Pettigrew’s rooms at the University were in the United College Building, only a few hundred metres from the location of the University Museum, which in 1884 was in Upper College Hall.

Perhaps, then, there is no witchcraft and no mysterious disappearance here at all – if statements that the skull was in the University of St Andrews Museum trace back to newspaper reports by someone who wasn’t there, published 15 years later, of an evening in 1884 when a group of medical gentlemen examined Adie’s skull at the University close to – but not in – the University Museum.

The last time the location of Lilias Adie’s skull was known was in 1938 when it was displayed along with other objects relating to witchcraft as part of the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, in one of the two Scottish pavilions. One contemporary newspaper reported that it “grins from a showcase”, and repeats Couston’s statement that the skull had previously been in the collections of the University of St Andrews but gives no details about who at that point owned it (Falkirk Herald, 16 July 1938, page 7). Records of the Empire Exhibition are now held in the University of Glasgow Archives but the Hunterian Museum has no record of Lilias Adie’s skull being deposited in their collection, so it may be that it is still in a private collection somewhere.

The search continues.

Why St Andrews?

 

The University of St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland, and one of Europe’s most ancient universities. Today, the answer to the question – Why St Andrews? – seems to be rather cliché due to a great importance of St Andrews in the academic world. However, in the first decade of the 15th century it was not that obvious and the subject of consideration of two canon scholars, Bishop Henry Wardlaw in Scotland and Pope Benedict XIII in Avignon, France. Gallery 1, Scotland’s First University, at the Wardlaw Museum presents unique material remnants providing answers to the question Why St Andrews?

Why St Andrews? Bishop Henry Wardlaw’s perspective

While Henry Wardlaw[1] or Henry de Wardlau, who studied canon law at Avignon[2] and was related to the papal court, was granted the bishopric of St Andrews in 1403, this centre of the Scottish medieval Catholic Church was already a burgh with a market town and fairs attracting broad attention. Multiple letters from Benedict XIII to Scotland provide evidence that scholars educated in France were present in St Andrews diocese as early as the late 14th century,[3] however, the local history of studying dates back much further. Scotland’s largest cathedral with a priory was the focal point of the city. [4] For monastic communities, reading was an essential part of spiritual reflection and the library played a significant role in monastic and ecclesiastic life.[5] Books copied from other priories, donated by patrons and benefactors for instance in 1140 and 1150, travelled to St Andrews from other religious houses.[6] This resulted in impressive holdings of works, as described by the authors of the 14th century Registrum Anglie. The St Andrews library was a bedrock of further scholastic community. Two stone book presses,[7] still present in the cloister, are material evidence of what remains from the initial teaching hub. Eight scholars are said to have launched teaching in St Andrews and Bishop Wardlaw describes them in his grant of privileges as ‘venerable men, the doctors, masters, bachelors, and scholars dwelling in the city of St Andrews’.[8] All of these circumstances fuelled the establishment of a studium generale in the years leading up to 1413 when University of St Andrews was founded. [9]

Maquette of Bishop Henry Wardlaw (HC2011.21 ) can be viewed in Gallery 1 at the Wardlaw Museum]

Why St Andrews? Papal perspective

 

Papal bull of Foundation can be viewed in Gallery 1 at the Wardlaw Museum (image courtesy of University of St Andrews Special Collections)

Only the Pope or Emperor could grant both the university status and the licencia ubique docendi; a license to teach anywhere. Bishop Wardlaw and King James I, Wardlaw’s pupil, asked Benedict XIII to authorise the foundation of the university. The papal approval was sent in six bulls granting university status to the institution in St Andrews (1413).

Pope Benedict XIII (1328-1423) was an individual of unique nature in the history of Medieval Europe and the history of the papacy. He was born as Pedro Martínez de Luna y Pérez de Gotor, a son of a noble family in the city of Illueca in Aragon.[10] His Coat of Arms, a crescent moon (luna), along with the diamond shapes of Bishop Wardlaw, and the lion rampant from the Royal Arms of Scotland, formed the Coat of Arms of the University of St Andrews.

 

Banner of the Coat of Arms of the University of St Andrews (HC1160) can be viewed in Gallery 1 at the Wardlaw Museum

 

Benedict XIII did not reign in Rome, but in Avignon. As the Antipope, during the Western Schism (1378-1417), he reminded in opposition not only to subsequent popes in Rome (Boniface IX, Innocent VII, Gregory XII) but also to other antipopes derived from the Council of Pisa (1409; Alexander V and John XXIII), and to Martin V, unanimously elected during the Council of Constance (1417). Eventually, as the result of the Council of Constance, Benedict XIII maintained governmental recognition of Armagnac and Scotland only.

Through his claims to the papal throne, Benedict XIII was trying to secure his authority in Europe and the foundation of the university was in his best interest. Bishop Wardlaw even claimed grants of privileges to save the authority of Benedict’s Apostolic See.[11] In the petition to the Pope, Bishop Wardlaw bolsters the case to maintain Scottish loyalty and the threat of heresy by improving local high learning for the clergy.[12] From Benedict’s point of view, the University of St Andrews was to be a lucrative deal strengthening his position against the competitors. Sadly for him, after the Council of Constance, the University of St Andrews decided that support of the council was necessary for a united church and it came out in opposition to Benedict.[13]

A plaster cast of the skull of Benedict XIII and a single hair from his head mounted in a microscope slide[14] remind us that origins of the University are linked with the Great Schism and one of the most influential antipopes.

Cast of skull of Pope Benedict XIII (HC789) can be viewed in Gallery 1 of the Wardlaw Museum [15]

Why St Andrews? Students’ perspective

The answer was explicitly stated in the papal document ‘Because of the dangers and troubles to Scots who, because of the absence of universities in Scotland, have to travel to foreign parts to study’.[16] Another reason was the reduction in the cost of studies. As Norman Reid believes, ‘Scotland needed more clergy who were well educated and the provision of a home university would enable that expansion at a more manageable cost than continuing to send all students abroad (…). Not to stem the flow of Scots to foreign universities – what did not happen – but rather to increase educational provision by offering a home alternative’.[17]

According to Reid, Benedict XIII in his papal bulls acknowledged the education received by Scots at the universities that were not obedient to the antipope. Scottish students returning from universities abroad could continue their studies in St Andrews or pursue their education elsewhere, including universities of schismatic obedience, in this case following the Pope in Rome.[18]

The first students of St Andrews are depicted on the medieval University seal, made between 1414 and 1418, showing scholars learning before a teacher, overseen by Scotland’s patron saint. The University seal was used to authenticate official documents.

Digital reproduction of seal matrix from the Bull of Foundation courtesy of Special Collections of the University of St Andrews Library which can be seen in Gallery 1 of the Wardlaw Museum

Written by Dr Kamila Oles, Visitor Services Facilitator, Museums of the University of St Andrews

[1] See https://museumoftheuniversityofstandrews.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/who-was-henry-wardlaw/

[2] McGurk F., ed., 1976, Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1394-1419, Scottish History Society, vol. 13, Edinburgh; Reg Aven 278, 436x-437v, (20 October 1394), p. 20

[3] Ibid. pp.20-23.

[4] Simpson A. and Stevenson S., 1981, Historic St Andrews: the archaeological implications of development, Scottish burgh survey series, Glasgow.

[5] Leedham-Green E., and Webber T, eds., 2006, The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, vol. 1 , Cambridge; Coates A., 1996, English Medieval Books: The Reading Abbey Collections from Foundation to Dispersal , Oxford.

[6] Duncan A.A.M., The Foundation of St Andrews cathedra Priory, 1140, pp.122-123; Higgitt J., ed., 2006, Scottish Libraries, London 2006, pp. 222-225

[7] Reid N. H., 2017, The Prehistory of the University of St Andrews St. Andrews, in: Brown M., and Stevenson K., eds., Medieval St Andrews. Church, Cult, City, Woodbridge, p. 248.

[8] Ibid. p. 239.

[9] Mason R., 2017, University, City and Society, in: Brown M., and Stevenson K., eds., Medieval St Andrews. Church, Cult, City, Woodbridge, p. 268.

[10] Müller-Schauenburg B., 2019, The lonely antipope – or why we have difficulties classifying Pedro de Luna [Benedict XIII] as a religious individual, in: Fuch M. et al. eds., Religious Individualisation, pp. 1351-1364

[11] The original Wardlaw’s grant of privileges is missing. One of six papal bulls of August 1413, issued for the University of St Andrews, recited Wardlaw’s text; Reid N. H., 2017, The Prehistory of the University of St Andrews St. Andrews, p. 262.

[12] Mason R., 2017, University, City and Society, p. 263.

[13] McGurk F., ed., 1976, Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, p. 13.

[14] Read J., 1973, Pedro de Luna: The Pope from the Sea, History Today, vol. 23, issue 3.

[15] https://museumoftheuniversityofstandrews.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/foundations/

[16] McGurk F., ed., 1976, Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 28 August, 1413, Reg Aven 341, 607v-608v, p. 278.

[17] Reid N. H., 2017, The Prehistory of the University of St Andrews St. Andrews, p. 263.

[18] Ibid. p. 246.

From the Inside Out: Interior images from the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and buildings as well as the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part six of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

Lockdown has led to all of us spending a lot of time contemplating the inside of our homes.  Whether it is debating over new paint colours or curtains, or maybe rearranging furniture, we have spent months looking at our interior world.  Little details, like dust or chipping paint, loom large when you are forced to look at them day in and day out.  Sometimes you get up and dust, sometimes you keep watching Netflix.  We have also longed to see new interiors, another home or building that is not quite so mundane.  We dream of visiting shops, restaurants, churches, and museums, simply for something new and engaging.

However, staying inside has also kept us safe and allowed us the opportunity to reconnect with our families and to appreciate what we do have. Staying inside has been a singular and communal effort to protect everyone from Covid-19.  British citizens did the same thing during the World Wars.  From staying together, and turning out lights, they worked to protect each other by the simple act of seeking shelter.  While not as common as the lovely landscapes that make up most of the Recording Scotland collection, a few pieces focus on the interior of a location, and how people live in relationship to that interior.  The quick glimpses can give us insights into the parts of life that were already changing, and those that stood on the precipice of destruction.

The main images of interiors are from cathedrals and churches.  The paintings show the sweep of high arches and vast empty buildings.  The churches are shadowed.  Colours are muted, and their stained-glass windows are dimmed, if shown at all.  These are reflections on the impact of the war on these places of worship.  Cathedrals were situated in cities, standing tall and imposing, and making clear targets for enemy bombs.  They are shown empty as soldiers perished in distant fields, and families mourned at home.  They can also reflect glimmers of hope.

Carmichael’s lithograph of St. Paul’s Cathedral Church in Dundee has those hallmarks of vast space and curved arches, but it also features a woman and child walking down the aisle.  They are some of the largest human figures featured in the collection paintings.  They are in the foreground, close to the artist.  There is hope conveyed by their presence.  They appear unhurried as they walk along.  This early piece was drawn around 1913 and captures a view of Scotland before the impact of two wars.  Its inclusion in the collection speaks more about the committee that chose it, that they wanted to preserve this view of a Dundee church with its vast hopefulness and light.

“Interior of St Paul’s Cathedral” by Stuart Carmichael (1867-1950), ©University of St Andrews

The watercolour of Iona Cathedral is also another study of a church interior.  This work is soft with muted tones.  The light streams into the building and you see just a hint of colour in the corner of a cloth cover.  No people give movement to the interior.  The empty chairs sit in silent vigil, waiting for people to arrive to listen and reflect.  As J. B. Salmond put it, “perhaps in the revolutions of the world, Iona may be some time again the instructress of the Western regions.”  The image of Iona reveals a location waiting to be populated, like so many church buildings today.

“Interior of Iona Cathedral” by Stewart Orr, RSW (1872 – 1944), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The third interior featured this week is very different from the first two images.  “A Byre in Benderloch” by George Pirie is no cathedral.  It is a simple barn, full of straw and fluffy chickens.  It is haphazard and crooked in construction.  It lacks sharp details but seems to reflect a refuge for the farm animals.  There is light streaming into the dim space, illuminating the birds within.  The barn would not be a target for enemy aircraft, but this byre could eventually make way for a new barn or fall into disuse as people moved away from their farms.  This was a humble and admiring view of a farm, and the safety it provides through shelter and sustenance.

“A Byre in Benderloch” by Sir George Pirie (1863–1946), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Three interiors only make up a small part of the collection, but their views give us pause as we reflect on both the majestic and the mundane. We do not know if the byre in Benderloch still exists, but luckily both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Iona Cathedral have survived the decades, and now their greatest threats are the ravages of weather and time.  Hopefully this week you take another look at your own interior views, maybe take a picture or draw something that can remind you about right now, and then sit back and try to see what it reflects about you.

Roots and Branches at St Andrews

Figure 1. Student at the University of St Andrews studying outdoors (image: University of St Andrews : www.st-andrews.ac.uk/photo-gallery)

As autumn arrives in Scotland, with the beginning of September tomorrow, so the University’s leafy estate transforms and we crunch, kick and squelch through the deciduous fall.

For the University, September also marks new beginnings. The latest cohort of students start their academic life and energies everywhere are focussed on what’s ahead. And from projects focussed on creating green corridors to investment in biomass-fuelled district heating, trees are set to play an important role in the University’s future.

But trees can also tell us about our past – and St Andrews has a unique arboreal heritage, with roots and branches in all sorts of places.

Heading way back to the Carboniferous period, this blog previously introduced the Stigmaria, a fossilised tree root specimen dating from around 340 million year ago. Originally found by an academic on St Andrews East Sands beach, the specimen will be exhibited in the Wardlaw Museum’s “Enquiring Minds” gallery. Carboniferous plant fossils and Stigmaria in particular are common in the coastal area surround St Andrews, indicating a period of history defined by dense forest coverage and tropical climate. The specimen will give visitors to the museum insight as to the long evolution of plant life in our environment, shaping the local coastline (and less tropical conditions) that we experience today.

Figure 2. ‘Future Library, Certificate’, Katie Paterson, 2014, http://boswellartcollection.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/hc2018-22b/

Elsewhere in our collections we see examples of how trees and forests provide inspiration – and indeed raw materials – to the arts. The Museum recently shared a snapshot of Fife-based visual artist Katie Paterson’s work, including this piece held in our Boswell Collection which playfully captures this dynamic. The certificate artwork is part of Paterson’s “Future Library” project, which she describes below:

“A forest has been planted in Norway, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the year 2114.”

The limited-edition certificate artwork – featuring concentric tree-like rings to mark the time passing from tree sprout to book – entitles the holder to a complete set of the printed anthology when it is set to be produced in 2114.

Also marking the passing of time in a very visual way, the University estate is itself home to two of Scotland’s most notable “Heritage Trees”. Just across from the Bell Pettigrew Museum is the ancient St Mary’s Quadrangle, a site well-known for its old and imposing perennials. The Quad is home to a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) which is said to have been planted in 1563 by Mary, Queen of Scots during one of her visits to St Andrews.This year, Queen Mary’s Thorn is up for Scottish Tree of the Year 2020 run by the Woodland Trust, which is a great honour. Please take a moment to have a look and place a vote!

Nearby is the Holm oak (Quercus ilex), planted around 1740. Pictured below, this imposing Holm oak is the largest in Scotland with a tree girth measurement of some 12ft.

Figure 3. Students gathered near the Holm Oak in St Mary’s Quadrangle (image: University of St Andrews : www.st-andrews.ac.uk/photo-gallery)

In 2004 the University was honoured for its custodianship of these two trees by Forestry Commission Scotland (now Forestry and Land Scotland). At the ceremony, Professor Thomas Christopher Smout CBE, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of St Andrews and Scotland’s Historiographer Royal, described the trees as ‘a special link to the past’.

Professor Smout is particularly well-qualified to mark such an occasion, as the foremost expert on the history of Scottish woodlands. His defining contributions include Scottish Woodland History (1997) and People and Woods in Scotland: A History (2002); as well as 2007’s A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920, co-authored with Alan R. MacDonald and Fiona Watson. For historian Watson, herself a graduate of St Andrews, woodlands represented ‘an astute choice of subject with which to kickstart environmental history’. It is here that Smout ‘led the way’, establishing in 1992 the University of St Andrews’ Institute of Environmental History – which today offers a postgraduate MLitt in Environmental History alongside research opportunities within the School of History.

The Institute positioned the University at the forefront of developing Environmental History within the UK and Europe and – later working in partnership with the University of Stirling’s Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy (CEHP), launched in 1999 – meant that Environmental History firmly took root in Scotland. With an interest in environment-society relations, Environmental History invites us to consider what is natural about our “natural environment”. As Fiona Watson puts it, it’s about ‘seeing the wood and the trees’. This critical approach is reflected in the title of Smout’s environmental history of Scotland/ northern England: Nature Contested (2000). With analysis covering everything from the supposed ‘Great Wood of Caledon’ to conflicts over contemporary deforestation, afforestation and woodland management, Smout (2002: 63) summarises: ‘if the woods of imagination were the stuff of patriotism and Romantic contemplation, the woods of reality have been contested ground’.

This contested history of the environment remains the focus of many “Enquiring Minds” throughout the University of St Andrews. The Centre for Landscape Studies, for example, is based in the School of Classics but works in partnership across disciplines with an interest in the ‘the importance of the past in understanding present human-environment interactions’. In the multidisciplinary Centre for Archaeology, Technology and Cultural Heritage (CATCH), researchers collaborate on work such as the The Scottish Pine Project, which recently attracted media coverage for new research on semi-natural woodland decline based on tree-ring data – or dendrochronology – collected from submerged pine trees preserved in Scottish peatbogs. As well as modelling future woodland responses to climate change, the team has undertaken innovative cultural heritage research using dendrochronology to date native pine timbers from old buildings and archaeological sites, as discussed by Dr Coralie Mills in the video below

Figure 5. From the Museum Collections, metal sundial manufactured 1660 – 1680 by Hilkiah Bedford

So with trees having something to say about everything from environmental pasts to climate futures, what might they tell us about the present? One former rector (1865 to 1865) – the philosopher John Stuart Mill – invoked the imagery of ‘a tree’ when in his landmark text On Liberty he described human nature as ‘[requiring] to grow and develop itself on all sides’. But to turn tables on a metaphor: we know now that trees function within wider ecosystems (e.g. the mycorrhizal network where fungi link the roots of different plants providing nutrients to those unable to reach sunlight for photosynthesis).

This community plant ecology has even been characterised in relation to the human tradition of mutual aid – under whose auspices emerged support groups like Community Aid St Andrews (CASA) during the COVID-19 crisis. Another active network was an offshoot of the University’s Transition group – aptly-named student-run food cooperative The Tree – which has been supporting the move to more sustainable lifestyles during the crisis by supplying the town’s community with affordable locally-sourced produce. By working together during a difficult spring and summer – even as the trees shed their leaves and the nights draw in, there’s sunnier days ahead.

The closing date for voting for Scottish Tree of the Year is noon on 24th September 2020. The annual Scottish Tree Festival organised by Discover Scottish Gardens runs soon after from 28th September to 1st December 2020. The UK Tree Council’s National Tree Week follows, from 28th November to 6th December 2020.

Figure 6. Trees in St Mary’s Quadrangle, University of St Andrews (image: University of St Andrews : www.st-andrews.ac.uk/photo-gallery)

Meeting the Men of the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and the  “feeling” of the nation.  The aspiration was to select artworks that captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part five of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

The Recording Scotland collection provides a window into Scotland during the Second World War, and the experiences of artists in that period.  All the artists were touched by the war, whether it was their own military service or that of loved ones, and the landscapes that they passionately documented were altered. Today, we are featuring just a few biographic excerpts from some of the male artists.

Samuel Peploe (1871-1935) is one of the more famous Scottish artists to contribute to the collection.  He died prior to the Recording Scotland scheme but his painting “Ceres” was purchased from a dealer in Edinburgh for the vast sum of £120.  Today, his paintings go to auction for hundreds of thousands of pounds.  Peploe was one of four Scottish Colourists, known for combining French training with Scottish artistic traditions. Their works were vibrant and bold.  His painting of Ceres clearly illustrates his mastery of bold brushstrokes and colour.

“Ceres” by Samuel John Peploe (1871 – 1935), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Aleksander Zyw (1905-1995) was a European artist, born in Lida, Belarus.  He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and travelled throughout Europe as a student.  He developed an affinity for landscapes of the Mediterranean.  When World War II broke out, he was in Paris, and quickly enlisted with the Polish Army.  He saw action and later escaped to Scotland where the Polish Army was regrouping.  He was appointed a war artist for the Polish Army and documented everyday life for soldiers in simple sketches and paintings.  When the war ended, he married a local woman and moved to Edinburgh where he continued to paint.  His works were greatly impacted by his wartime experiences, and he explored various styles throughout his lifetime. In the 1970s he moved to an olive farm in Italy where he remained until his death.

“Holyrood Palace” by Aleksander Zyw (1905-1995), image courtesy of University of St Andrews Museums

Stewart Carmichael (1867-1950) is considered a leading artist of Dundee. He was a muralist and explored Celtic mythology and Scottish history in his works.  He was a major proponent for art education and an advocate for Gaelic culture in Dundee. As one admirer put it, “If I was asked, ‘What is a Scotsman?’ I could scarcely do better than show my interrogator one of [Carmichael’s] compositions.”

“Dunfermline Abbey” by Stewart Carmichael (1867-1950), ©University of St Andrews

Sir John Stirling Maxwell (1866-1956) contributed a painting of Edinburgh, and in addition to being an artist was also a Conservative MP and founding member and President of the National Trust for Scotland. His works explored the natural landscapes that he worked to preserve through his philanthropic efforts.

John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880-1951) was born in Perth, and due to an attack of scarlet fever lost both his sense of hearing and speech as a child.  He studied art in Dundee and Edinburgh, and eventually, accompanied by his mother, travelled internationally in 1911.  His art was mainly focused on Perthshire, Fife, Angus, and the Lothians.  He proceeded to have an active artistic life, gathering similarly minded friends around him in Edinburgh.

“Taynuilt Church” by John Guthrie Spence Smith (1880-1951), ©University of St Andrews

When the Committee was making initial offers for artwork, they sent out requests to known artists, both male and female. A total of 63 artists were approached with many expressing interest in the project.  In the end it would be 47 artists portraying 23 Scottish counties that entered the collection.  The paintings span Scotland, but there were still hundreds of little scenes in the lowlands, highlands, and islands that could have been added to the collection.

While dozens of other artists contributed to the collection, these few biographical sketches show the breadth and width of experiences that lay behind the artworks.  Their main unifying characteristic was their long-time residency and their commitment to better understanding what it means to be Scottish.