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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Featuring Fife: Then and Now Images of the Kingdom of Fife

“Ceres” by Samuel John Peploe (RSA), oil painting depicting the historic village of Ceres in Fife, © University of St Andrews

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and 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 four of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

Numerous images from the Recording Scotland collection highlight the beautiful scenery of Fife.  Whether it was due to the committee head, Sir James Irvine, being based at St Andrews or just simply the excess of lovely images, Fife was a focus for many artists then as it remains today.

“The Forth Bridge” by Robert C. Robertson (1890 – 1942), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

One of the great fears of the time was that German bombs would destroy the precious parts of Scotland. Early in October of 1939, German Luftwaffe flew up the River Forth to attack the battlecruiser HMS Hood.  Bombers made successful hits on several naval vessels nearby while passengers looked on in horror from the train traveling over the bridge.  Luckily, British aircraft were able to bring down several German planes at Port Seton and Crail, even capturing a pair of German prisoners of war after fishing them out of the water. The prisoners were taken and held at Edinburgh Castle.  The raid also marked the first time that Spitfires battled in the skies. As a result of the Forth Bridge Raid, barrage balloons and early air raid sirens were introduced, creating a frightening but necessary soundtrack to the era.

Even the famous golf courses of St Andrews had to be altered to ensure that enemy forces could not land or come ashore on the long fairways.  Poles, humps, and trenches were strategically placed around the courses to help protect the countryside.  Some amused golfers consider the changes improvements to the course as it increased the challenge.

“St Monance Kirk” by John Guthrie Spence Smith, Oil painting featuring the historic 13th century church in the village of St Monans, Fife, ©University of St Andrews

A year later a bombing raid also damaged university buildings and St Mary’s Quad. The University Museums collections hold pieces of the shrapnel which resulted from the damage.  The threat to Fife was real, even as Polish soldiers took refuge in the community.  The displaced army became a curious part of the St Andrews landscape as they enrolled in classes and sang on their way to church.

The fears of invasion and destruction preyed upon the minds of citizens, which influenced the Committee to find views of Scotland that preserved, inspired, and recalled those places worth protecting.  Today, the work of capturing images has evolved to include the digital renderings of the very same landscapes.

Kilconquhar Church, photography by ©John Murray Jr, images courtesy of Welcome to Fife

 

(Left) St Monance Kirk & (right) view of Ceres,  photography by ©John Murray Jr, images ©courtesy of Welcome to Fife

On Instagram, @WelcometoFife is the page curated and filled by photographer John Murray Jr.  These beautiful images give us a modern-day insight into many of the the very same places that were shown in the Recording Scotland collection in the 1940s.

Bridges on the Forth by Ellianna Morton, ©Ellianna Morton

Recently we have been lucky enough to be invited to feature some artworks from a new generation of artists who have been recording Scotland!  These 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.  The St Andrews University Museums 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.

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.”

 

Over the next few Recording Scotland blogs we will feature the art from four of the students who participated in the program.  They have all captured views from their own lives and communities and represent a new generation of artists who are recording their Scotland.

 

 

 

From Girls to Immortals: Meet the Women Artists of Recording Scotland

Photograph of “The Immortals”, Katherine Cameron is pictured second from left in the middle row alongside other notable “Glasgow Girls” artists such as Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (back row), Image from WikiCommons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Immortals!.jpg
Riddell’s Court, Lawnmarket by Katherine Kay Cameron, ©Ewan Cameron Watt, image reproduced by University of St Andrews with permission by E. Cameron Watt

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.  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 three of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

The Recording Scotland scheme provided an opportunity for male and female artists from across Scotland.  Here we feature just a few of the female artists who contributed to the collection.

Katherine Cameron (1874-1965) came from a large, artistic family in Glasgow.  Following her brother, D. Y. Cameron, she studied in Glasgow and later Paris, perfecting her techniques in etching, watercolour, and oils.  She is most known for her work in capturing landscapes and flowers. She was a member of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, which provided a supportive network for meeting and exhibiting work. The group known as the “Glasgow Girls” were female artists trained in the 1890s and socialised with popular figures like Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The group of artists playfully called themselves “The Immortals,” referencing their love of Celtic mythology or possibly the immortality bestowed by creating artwork.  Cameron married wealthy art collector, Arthur Kay in 1927. Two of her pieces purchased for the scheme were originally printed as illustrations in “Haunted Edinburgh” in 1928.  Hundreds of her works are held by major institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Cross Wynd, Falkland by Anna Dixon, Watercolour (1920-1942), courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Anna Dixon (1873-1959) was another prolific artist of birds, flowers, and figures in landscapes. Dixon enjoyed painting in France and the west coast of Scotland.  Her artwork was known to feature crofts, donkeys, horses, and children.  Of the pieces chosen for the Recording Scotland collection, her painting of Cross Wynd in Falkland highlights the domestic lives of the citizens.

May Marshall Brown (1887-1968), born May Mary Robertson, was the daughter of an Edinburgh wine merchant.  She studied at Edinburgh College of Art and later married the artist, William Marshall Brown, who was 24 years her senior. His influence is witnessed in her style of work. May Marshall Brown is best known for her watercolours of fishing villages and boats.  As she explained to the committee, “I mainly paint boats, sea and fishermen working, since the war I have not had a chance to continue the work, as one is so much disturbed by military at the shore, even when one has a permit to paint.” She was able to sell three paintings, and her late husband posthumously contributed four to the Committee. Brown was the artist who contributed last week’s piece, “Cat Row, Dunbar.”  We will also learn more about one of William Marshall Brown’s paintings of the Oronsay Priory in a future post.

Ann Spence Black (1861-1947) provided seven paintings to Recording Scotland collection. Born in Dysart, Fife she was seemingly self-taught. She lived in Edinburgh and spent time painting the east coast of Scotland, and the areas around Culross. Black is one of the oldest contributors to the collection, being well into her 80s at the time of the Second World War.

“Crail Harbour” (1920 – 1942), by Ann Spence Black, Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The artwork contributed by women makes up about twenty percent of the collection which leaves the lion’s share to male artists and their representation of Scotland.  It is also interesting to note that the female artists tended to be in the later decades of their lives. Many of the women were in their late 50s, 60s, and 70s when they were submitting works.  Some of them, like May Marshall Brown, were also carrying on the legacies of others by sending works for consideration from departed family and friends.

The decades had been hard for these women artists who witnessed not only one war but two, but they persevered in their art and interests.  For them and other women artists of this period in particular for Katherine Cameron and the rest of the Glasgow Girls It is not impossible to imagine they remembered fondly their “immortal” days before the turn of the century and hoped to secure a place in history by submitting these tender pieces to posterity.

Castles, Crofts, Cathedrals and Cats: The themes of the Recording Scotland collection

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of paintings and sketches collected during World War II to permanently capture the “feeling” of the nation. Each piece of artwork was chosen because it was an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialisation. This is part two of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

In the late 1940s, James Bell Salmond (1891-1958), a St Andrews alumnus and World War I veteran, was asked by Principal Sir James Irvine to write text to go along with a series of watercolour paintings from the Recording Scotland collection publication.

Salmond had been an active student at St Andrews and graduated with a degree in Political Economy in 1913. He began his professional life as a journalist and editor. Not long after, he enlisted in the First World War and saw action on the Western Front and was wounded. At the time he was known for writing poems about his wartime experiences in the Scots dialect and editing the hospital newsletter from his bed. He returned to Dundee to continue editing newspapers and magazines, ultimately establishing himself as a prominent citizen.

A photograph of the ‘Night Birds’, a concert party of the 4th (Reserve) battalion of the Black Watch which Lt. James Salmond was a member of. This image is from a souvenir programme of a wartime concern in St Andrews  which took place on 8th February, 1918. Salmond is on the third row from the bottom and is second from the right. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Id No. 6980654, https://livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk/lifestory/3885079

When the Second World War broke out, Salmond served with the Homeguard in Dundee and became the Keeper of Muniments (the university’s institutional archive) and the warden of St Salvator’s Hall in St Andrews. Salmond spent time over four decades writing histories of the military and golf, two novels, and his works of poetry. As he liked to put it, he was a “journalist reporting/ A thing or two in rhyme.”

It was not a surprise when Sir James Irvine asked Salmond to write the text that would join several of the Recording Scotland paintings. As Salmond explained he endeavoured to “re-people the pictures.” The stories or vignettes in the book came from the location histories or his own personal encounters across Scotland.

Watercolour titled ‘A Speyside Croft’ by Alexander Macpherson, dated 1920 – 1942. ©University of St Andrews

In the early years of the Recording Britain plans, categories for artwork were hoped to capture fine tracts of landscapes, towns and villages, parish churches, and country homes and their parks. We see similar impulses in the Recording Scotland collection, with a distinctly Scottish flair.

The images chosen for the collection do reflect a myth of Scotland during this time period. By not focusing on the modern accents in the images it creates a timelessness, and further promotes an idealised image of society. This nostalgia avoids the distasteful advancement of time and could be used to inspire soldiers and citizens alike to continue the fight to protect the homeland.

This watercolour depicts the picturesque Castle Stalker on a tidal inlet off Loch Linnhe at Appin, Argyll. Titled ‘Castle Stalker, Appin’ by William Stewart Orr, dated 1920 – 1944.  Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Castles can reflect the more majestic history of the nation – defence, wealth and familial ties while churches can reflect the more religious aspects, and the crofts the agricultural industries sustaining the population. Each image can reinforce the traditional values that help influence citizens and improve morale. However, the paintings did not always reflect the grandest locations, but rather the local and obscure places that better characterise life in Scotland.

One of the great ironies in the collection is the very absence of war. The images that were selected avoid documenting in fine detail the presence of the war. Rarely do you see soldiers or military structures. Some of this can also be attributed to difficulties faced by civilians traveling near military areas to receive permission. Many artists lamented bureaucratic red tape as wartime restrictions gave them limited access to areas controlled by the military and navy.  This caused some confusion at times and frustration in keeping them from places they wished to paint.

Some of the paintings, by the time they were published, proved that time had indeed overtaken them. “Cat Row, Dunbar” by May M. Brown is one such piece. A picturesque street in the seaside village of Dunbar, known for all the cats that called it home. In 1937 the street, as we see it painted, was demolished as part of the Town Council’s clearance programme and replaced with modern houses.

“Cat Row, Dunbar” by May Marshall Brown (1887-1968) ©University of St Andrews

Salmond in his account laments the loss of the fisher quarters, old cellars, an old pier, the Rock House, and all the cats. He reflects on the once prosperous herring fishing and suggests that the Scottish answer for why the fishing might have failed was because “despite the warnings of the Kirk, Dunbar men would go fishing on the Sabbath.”

Whether it was a cat or a cathedral, the Recording Scotland captured not only the images of the era but many of the thoughts and concerns of the artists and authors that surrounded the collection.

Today happens to be International Cat Day, so in honour of the long gone cats of Cat Row, go ahead and take another picture of your favourite moggy.

Fact and Feeling: The Origins of the Recording Scotland collection

In the winter of 1939, it felt like the world was ending. The beginning of the Second World War had made a huge impact on the lives and homelands of millions.  As part of the war effort, brilliant minds like Kenneth Clarke attempted to identify what images of people, places, and things should be captured in case the worst were to occur. That is where the Scheme for Recording the Changing Face of Britain was developed.

Recording Britain, as it became known, was an effort to employ artists to create works that captured essential places throughout England in watercolour, pencil, and oil. Photography was certainly available and efforts, under the National Buildings Record scheme, were hastening to collect images of architecture before German bombs rained down. However, the Recording Britain scheme sought to create a visual record of these important places through the gentle strokes of a watercolourist brush and to construct an account of what “Englishness” looked like in this tumultuous era. The paintings were meant to capture the feeling of a place rather than the reality of it.

A portrait of Edward Stephen Harkness by Frank Owen Salisbury, created between 1925-1933. ©Estate of Frank O Salisbury, image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The Recording Britain scheme gathered 1,549 pieces of art between 1939 and 1943 that were ultimately transferred into the care of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Scotland, as well as the rest of Britain also had its champions who ensured that both funds and attention were given in documenting the images of Scotland in their own collection. It might even surprise you to learn that support for documenting Scotland came from across the Atlantic; from an American philanthropist named Edward Stephen Harkness (1884-1940) who had a keen fondness for his ancestral homeland. The contributions that benefited St Andrews from Edward Harkness were gained through the devoted efforts of his friend and university Principal Sir James Irvine (1877 – 1952).

Portrait of Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of St Andrews James Colquhoun Irvine, created by Keith Henderson, 1941. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Principal Sir James Irvine was a keen promoter of St Andrews, especially in the United States. During one of his many trips, he befriended the American billionaire Edward Harkness, who had inherited his father’s fortune and turned to philanthropic work on behalf of schools, cultural institutions, and hospitals. As the sixth wealthiest man in the United States at one point, his money was donated to institutions like Yale University, Harvard University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the University of St Andrews through a charity called, The Pilgrim Trust. The Pilgrim Trust was created with the idea of promoting [Britain’s] future well-being, after Harkness had witnessed the efforts of the British people in World War I. Harkness was the chief benefactor for the building of St Salvator’s Hall and received an honorary Doctor of Law degree in 1926.

As friend of the benefactor and architect of the Scottish scheme Principal Irvine was appointed a trustee of the Pilgrim Trust and took a firm hand in the establishment of a committee to choose art and artists for the Recording Scotland collection. His committee was comprised of an architect, a painter, a businessman interested in art, and an art collector. Irvine himself had a background in chemistry. The committee invited a shortlist of artists to submit artworks for the scheme.  With little guidance in composition and size, except for a preference for pieces in colour, they received over 200 submissions and reviewed each one to find the images with the most merit.

Irvine wanted art that conveyed “character and atmosphere of a place as seen through the eyes of an artist.” Several paintings at an exhibition of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) formed the foundation of the collection if artists were willing to part with them for modest prices. The Trust initially allocated £500 for the early purchases, later adding £1100 to support more purchases and give prizes for a schoolchildren’s art competition held by the RSW.  That averaged out to artworks selling for between £5 to £20. While this was still a scant amount of money, some artists were willing to sell, and even gave discounts so that their works might be included in the collection. Artwork was gathered from existing works of Scottish painters, as early as 1913, with a few pieces being created during this window of time. The collection is now made up of 145 paintings, mainly in watercolour but including a few oil paintings and pencil drawings.

During the war, the artworks were put on exhibition to improve morale. The Scottish pieces were also meant to specifically inspire young people by touring schools and hanging in residence halls on campus. Irvine had previously worked with the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), which had a project to encourage travelling exhibits that reached wider audiences.

One of the paintings which is part of the Recording Scotland collection. This watercolour piece is titled ‘St Andrews Cathedral’ by Alexander Nisbet Paterson and is dated to 1920-1943. ©University of St Andrews

After the war, the Recording Britain collection was shared with the wider world in five published volumes, with the fifth and final volume being dedicated to Scotland. Sir James Irvine was key in choosing pieces that went into publication, and the adjacent text was provided by James Bell. Salmond, a poet and protégé of Irvine’s. We will learn more about Salmond’s contributions next week.

Sir James died shortly after the publication of the Recording Scotland collection in 1952. In commemoration of his work, the entire collection was offered as a gift to the University of St Andrews.

The collection of paintings remains a potent reminder of the difficult times that were faced by the British people. Through the simple media of paper, paint, and pencil they explore the affinities and anxieties of an unknown future and give us not only a glimpse into the past but mirror to our present.