The Fiosaiche of the Isle of Lewis

Katie Hughes, a Museum Studies student at the University of Aberdeen, joined the National & International Partnerships Department on a work placement in June 2017. Here she writes about a mixed media sculpture, Fiosaiche (Soothsayer), 2016, by Will MacLean, acquired by University of Aberdeen Museums in 2017 with an NFA grant of £900.

This mixed media sculpture consists of a hand-held church collection box bearing a temporary object movement label from University of Aberdeen Museums. Within the box is a copy of a prayer book and key from the University’s collection which belonged to a fiosaiche, a soothsayer or fortune teller, who lived on the Isle of Lewis during the mid-19th century. The artwork was inspired by the deeds of the fiosaiche and his ultimate downfall.

DSC00416

Mixed media sculpture, Fiosaiche, 2016, by Will MacLean

 

In 1899, the Reverend Malcolm MacPhail, Minister of Kilmartin, wrote about the fiosaiche of the Isle of Lewis. He claims that the fiosaiche was a divisive figure whose activities caused trouble between neighbours.

There was a Fiosaiche – soothsayer – who pretended to be able to foretell future events, and to detect criminals in districts far and near. By so doing he often caused a good deal of ill-feeling and dispeace. At the period of which we write – in the forties – the individual who had consulted him and the neighbours incriminated, were from Gearraidh na h-Aibhne, a district thirty-five miles from Ness.

 John Munro Mackenzie, Esq, Factor of the Lewis Estates, accompanied the parties concerned to the Fiosaiche’s house. Mr MacKenzie interviewed him, and sharply reproved him for his dispeacable conduct, in setting good neighbours at each other’s throats with his lies. The Fiosaiche boldly replied that he told no lies, and that he had said nothing but what he ascertained from the Book. Mr MacKenzie said to him, “Can you read? What book do you consult?” He replied, ‘Though I cannot read, I can understand the signs. The book is my property, and you have no right to ask me questions about it.’

Rev MacPhail’s account is particularly valuable because he describes the method by which the soothsayer claimed to foretell the future and solve the problems which were brought to him.

… Mr Mackenzie asked his Ground Officer to go in to the Fiosaiche’s house and to bring out the book with him. To Mr MacKenzie’s surprise the book was none other than the Bible. An old rusty key, and a number of ribbons of various colours were attached to the Bible. By applying this key to certain of the ribbons, he maintained that by observing certain signs he was able to solve the different problems that came before him.

 

DSC00417

Mixed media sculpture, Fiosaiche, 2016, by Will MacLean

 

During this period Pagan activity and witchcraft were ruthlessly suppressed by the established Church and Rev MacPhail went on to recount how the Bible was confiscated and that without it the fiosaiche lost his power.

Mr MacKenzie took possession of the Bible, and carried it away in spite of the false prophet’s protestations and loud curses. He thus crippled, maimed and discredited the Fiosaiche for the rest of his life.

(Extracts from Rev Malcolm MacPhail, Minister of Kilmartin, 1899)

The fiosaiche’s Bible and key were later presented to the University of Aberdeen by Alexander Thomson of Banchory House who received them from a Minister in Langholm in 1863. In his accompanying letter the Minister wrote:

 I said you should have it for your museum, so now I send it as a contribution to the history of superstition in the 19th century…

(Extract from letter to Alexander Thomson from Rev Mr F C Watson of Langholm, 1863)

I find this piece of artwork both fascinating and layered with history. I was drawn first to the story associated with the work, and continued to be drawn in by it; particularly the fact that it was inspired by objects from the museum’s collection; and that the original objects of inspiration have a traceable origin and accompanying letters detailing their history.

 

K Hughes
MLitt Museum Studies
University of Aberdeen

https://www.abdn.ac.uk/museums/

On Growth and Form – 100 years on and still growing

Limestone sculpture, In the Beginning, 2009, by Peter Randall-Page and digital c-print, Trifolium repens L.- top view – No.10, 2016, by Macoto Murayama, acquired in 2013 and 2016 by the University of Dundee Museum Collections with NFA grants of £15,000 and £1,267 respectively.

The University of Dundee has a long history of encouraging collaboration between art and science, going back to its origins in the 1880s when two of its most notable professors, D’Arcy Thompson (1860-1948), Professor of Biology, and Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), Professor of Botany, were pioneering visual thinkers who worked regularly with both scientists and artists. The art critic Herbert Read later told Thompson: ‘you have built the bridge between art and science’.

One of the most significant collections held by the University is that of the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum, comprising the surviving natural history specimens and teaching aids of the internationally renowned polymath. D’Arcy’s collection was used not only in teaching his students but also in researching his landmark book On Growth and Form, published one hundred years ago, which pioneered the new science of mathematical biology. Described as ‘the greatest work of prose in twentieth century science’, the book has had a huge influence in many fields. It showed that the complexity of nature can be understood through basic mathematical and physical laws and that living organisms are not static but constantly affected by the forces acting upon them. This has profoundly influenced many artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Hamilton, Jackson Pollock and Salvador Dali.

Over the past few years, the University has been building a collection of significant artworks inspired by D’Arcy Thompson’s ideas and collections, two of which have been grant-aided by the National Fund for Acquisitions.

The renowned British sculptor Peter Randall-Page RA (b1954) discovered On Growth and Form as an art student. His practice has always been informed and inspired by the study of natural phenomena, particularly the underlying principles determining growth. In his words ‘geometry is the theme on which nature plays her infinite variations’. With help from the NFA and the Art Fund, we were able to acquire his large-scale sculpture In the Beginning, which evokes cells multiplying within an expanding membrane. The sculpture is sited at the modern entrance to the University’s 19th-century Carnelley Building and can be visited by the public during normal working hours.

Peter Randall-Page sculpture installed

Limestone sculpture, In the Beginning, 2009, by Peter Randall-Page. University of Dundee Museum Services © the artist

 

Although the work of Japanese artist Macoto Murayama (b1984) takes a very different form, he too takes the mathematics of nature as his starting point. He has become internationally known for his exquisitely beautiful botanical artworks which he terms ‘inorganic flora’. These extraordinary images are created after minutely dissecting real flowers and studying them under a microscope. His drawings are then modelled in 3D imaging software and rendered into 2D compositions before being printed in large scale. The print we acquired is from a series showing white clover, Trifolium repens, and was created for an exhibition of his work we held in 2016.

Trifolium repens L.-top view-No.10

Digital c-print, Trifolium repens L.- top view – No 10, 1916, by Macoto Murayama. University of Dundee Museum Services © the artist

 

Macoto’s stunning print was one of almost 100 artworks from our D’Arcy Thompson art collection shown earlier this year in A Sketch of the Universe: Art, Science and the Influence of D’Arcy Thompson at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. The exhibition kicked off a year of celebrations for the centenary of On Growth and Form, including events in New York, Amsterdam and London, culminating in a major conference and exhibition in Dundee in October. Further details can be found at www.ongrowthandform.org

Matthew Jarron
Curator of Museum Services
University of Dundee

www.dundee.ac.uk/museum

By the Light of the Moon

Oil on canvas, Moon, 2014, by Alison Watt, acquired by the City Art Centre (City of Edinburgh Museums & Galleries) in 2017 with an NFA grant of £9,500.

Earlier this year the City Art Centre in Edinburgh acquired a new painting by contemporary artist Alison Watt to add to its Scottish Art collection. Numbering over 4,800 artworks in a variety of media, this collection traces the development of art in Scotland from the 17th century to the present day. The acquisition of contemporary works is a key part of our collecting policy, ensuring that the collection continues to provide a comprehensive overview of Scottish art for future generations.

Alison Watt was born in Greenock in 1965 and studied at Glasgow School of Art during the 1980s. She first came to public attention in 1987 when she won the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious annual Portrait Award. During the early part of her career, Watt concentrated on the human form, painting both portraits and female nudes. However, in the late 1990s she began to produce highly detailed depictions of fabric and drapery which reference the work of 18th and 19th century French artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). Since then Watt’s style has become increasingly abstract, although her paintings remain rooted in the idea of human presence and absence.

Alison Watt - Moon, 2014- installed revised 2016_PRESS

Oil on canvas, Moon, 2014, by Alison Watt

Moon is a striking example of Watt’s mature work, which blends the influence of the Old Masters with the artist’s literary interests. The poetry of Norman MacCaig (1910-1996), with its focus on the small, often overlooked details of nature and their relationship to our wider understanding of the world, is of particular relevance. According to Watt, Moon relates specifically to MacCaig’s 1974 poem Praise of a Thorn Bush, which describes a transformation by moonlight:

at night you trap stars, and the moon
fills you with distances.

Like a piece of poetry, this quietly powerful painting invites a contemplative and intimate response.

Moon is the first artwork by Alison Watt to be acquired by the City Art Centre. It joins a growing collection of work by contemporary Scottish artists which includes important pieces by, among others, Nathan Coley (b1967), Christine Borland (b1965), Charles Avery (b1973) and Graham Fagan (b1966). It also strengthens the representation of female artists in the collection.

Alison Watt Installation Image

Moon on display at the City Art Centre

Moon can currently be seen at the City Art Centre in the new exhibition Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections. This show brings together over 300 objects drawn from across the City’s fine and applied art, social history, literary, archaeology and childhood collections. Within this diverse, multi-disciplinary display Moon is shown alongside a selection of historic and modern Scottish sculpture, revealing yet another dimension to this richly layered artwork.

Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections runs until 8 October 2017. For more information see: http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Venues/City-Art-Centre/Exhibitions/2017-18/Edinburgh-Alphabet

Dr Helen Scott
Curator (Fine Art)
City Art Centre, Edinburgh

http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/

A Stalker’s Reward

Hip flask and ghillie’s knife belonging to Donald and Alec Urquhart, stalkers on the Inverewe and Letterewe Estates, acquired by Gairloch Heritage Museum in 2016 with an NFA grant of £200.

Osgood Hanbury Mackenzie (b1842) was the third son of Francis, 12th Laird of Gairloch and founder of the world famous Inverewe Garden. Osgood and his daughter Mairi, who inherited Inverewe and left it to the National Trust for Scotland, employed local families for the garden and to service the hunting, shooting and fishing on the wider estate which was their main source of income. One of those who spent all his life in the hills in their service was Donald Urquhart of Poolewe. In his memoir, A Hundred Years in the Highlands (1921), Osgood referred several times to his ‘old friend’ Donald whom he praised as a valued servant and prolific stalker.

Duncan Urquhart, Stalker Inverewe 001Donald Urquhart of Poolewe

When Donald retired in December 1927 his eldest son Alec was appointed to take his place as gamekeeper on the estate where he remained until 1939. He later worked on the Letterewe Estate for the Whitbread family and the Marquis of Zetland.  Alec’s obituary in 1977 speaks of his uprightness, intelligence and physique and his knowledge of ‘old ways’ and hard work.

Alec UrquhartAlexander (Alec) Urquhart

In the summer of 2016 the opportunity arose for both Gairloch Heritage Museum and the National Trust for Scotland at Inverewe to acquire items associated with the Urquhart family, including photographs, family papers and a signed first edition of Osgood Mackenzie’s book. The two finest objects in the collection, an engraved silver hip flask and a rare ghillie’s knife, cast light on the relationship between the Urqhuarts and their employers.

P1070381Knife made by Holtzapffel & Co, London

The knife, made of spring steel with a nickel coated frame, dates from the First World War period. Its construction is unusual – the sides open laterally through 180 degrees with a hinged latch fastener at the head for holding them firm in both open and closed positions. The maker was the London firm of Holtzapffel & Co which, though best known for tools and lathes, also made high quality gentleman’s accessories. A catalogue entry dating from 1923 tells us that the knife cost 25 shillings, more than the average agricultural worker’s weekly wage.  It is likely to have been a highly valued gift to Donald from his employer.  Ron Flook’s London Knife Book records only four examples of this type of knife.  (The London Knife Book: An A-Z Guide to London Cutlers 1820-1945. London, 2008).

P1070382Sterling silver, glass and crocodile skin hip flask, 1922, made by G & J W Hawksley, Sheffield

While the accompanying hip flask is not particularly rare or unique, it is a very nice example of its kind and well preserved. The flask is made of sterling silver and glass with a crocodile leather skin shoulder mount. The bayonet fit lid and pull-off cup base are of silver with gold-gilt interior. The hallmarks show that the flask was made in 1922 by G & J W Hawksley of Sheffield, silversmiths and manufacturers of dram bottles and powder flasks. It is the inscription and accompanying letter, however, that make this such a wonderful acquisition for the collection at Gairloch. The flask is engraved with the following inscription:

ALEXANDER URQUHART
FROM
HUMPHREY WHITBREAD
IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF
19TH SEPTEMBER 1947
ON
LITTLE BEINN THARSUINN
15ST. 12LBS – 13 POINTS: 15ST. 11LBS – HUMMEL

In the accompanying letter, Whitbread writes of a happy day on the hill during which, with Alec’s help, he bagged a thirteen pointer stag and a very large hummel (an antlerless stag). He feels he will never again have such results and offers the hip flask as a reminder of a remarkable day.

3. Urquhart x 2 + Lord KnutsfordLeft to right: Alec Urquhart, Lord Knutsford and Donald Urquhart with a dead deer

Gairloch Heritage Museum is delighted to acquire these two objects which, with the papers, photographs and other items that accompanied them, represent a relationship of mutual esteem between landlord and tenant.

Dr Karen Buchanan
Curator
Gairloch Heritage Museum

www.gairlochheritagemuseum.org

Frozen in Time: The Frank Plumley Collection

Collection of personal items, archives and photographs which belonged to Frank Plumley (1876-1971), a stoker on SY Discovery during the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904, acquired by Dundee Heritage Trust in 2016 with an NFA grant of £12,500.

In 1901 48 men risked their lives in pursuit of the unknown. Led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on board SY Discovery, the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904 set sail to pursue scientific and geographic discovery in this largely untouched continent.

Here at Discovery Point, while we aim to tell this story of Antarctic exploration by showcasing both the ship and the men who served on her, the nature of collecting means that our narrative often focuses on just 11 men, the officers and scientists. Some of them published diaries and reports and a few, Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, went on to become celebrated figures in this Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration. As a result, more material relating to higher ranking men has been recorded and preserved.

Frank Plumley

Frank Plumley in naval uniform

We were therefore delighted when an opportunity arose to redress the balance to some extent. With the support of the National Fund for Acquisitions we secured a collection of 35 items which belonged to Frank Plumley, one of five stokers on board the 1901 expedition and a man we previously knew very little about. The collection includes personal notebooks, poems and letters, service and polar medals, photographs and personal items, including an Expedition Royal Doulton mug, snow goggles and a pipe. Preserved by his grandson, the collection also includes many newspaper cuttings and articles relating to Frank’s later life, allowing us to build up a fascinating history.

Officers and crew of Discovery, Sept 1904

Crew and officers of Discovery on 14 September 1904, the morning after the Lord Mayor’s banquet to celebrate their return. Frank Plumley is in the 4th row, 3rd from the right

Born in 1876 Frank joined the Royal Navy at the age of 20. Five years later at Cape Town, South Africa, he joined Discovery from HMS Gibraltar. During the expedition he was part of Lieutenant Barne’s first attempt in March 1902 to reach Cape Crozier, which struck trouble when a blizzard swept over the Hut Point Peninsula sending George Vince to his death. He later played a part in Captain Scott’s Western Attempt in October 1903. After Discovery he served on a number of Royal Navy ships, including HMS Dreadnought, HMS Venus and HMS King George V, and saw active service during the First World War. He returned to civilian life in 1919, employed as a blacksmith at Gun Wharf in Portsmouth. Frank died in 1971, aged 95, in Newport on the Isle of Wight.

Selection of Plumley material

A selection of material from the Frank Plumley collection

For more detail on these objects or to see other highlights of our fascinating collection please visit our Collections Online http://www.dhtcollections.com/

Louisa Attaheri
Curator
Dundee Heritage Trust

http://www.rrsdiscovery.com

 

 

 

A Waterloo Pistol?

A 1796 pattern Other Ranks heavy cavalry pistol acquired by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum in 2015 with an NFA grant of £4,000.

1796 Other Ranks Heavy Cavalry pistol of the 2nd (or Royal North British) Dragoons, c1800

1796 pattern Other Ranks heavy cavalry pistol of the 2nd (or Royal North British) Dragoons

In 2015, the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum acquired a pistol which has particular significance for the collection. Regimental markings on the trigger guard link the pistol to the 2nd (or Royal North British) Dragoons, better known as The Royal Scots Greys, which is one of the regiments whose history is interpreted by the museum. The Greys formed part of the ‘Union’ cavalry brigade at the battle and, at a critical moment, charged into columns of French infantry, wreaking havoc and halting their advance upon the British and Allied line. During that charge, the Greys’ Sergeant Charles Ewart captured the standard and Eagle of the French 45th Infantry Regiment: both standard and Eagle are preserved in the regimental museum today.

Pistol 1

Detail showing the engraving of Regimental markings on the trigger guard

The pistol is of the type that would have formed part of the personal side-arms of soldiers of the 2nd Dragoons at the Battle of Waterloo. It is a single-shot, muzzle-loading, flintlock weapon with a calibre of 16 bore. This type of pistol was issued singly to Other Ranks (enlisted men) and was carried in a heavy leather holster fastened to the front of the soldier’s saddle on the off-side. It had a maximum effective range of about 50 yards but was most deadly when its lead ball was fired at very close range into the body, or horse, of an adversary.

Paul Newman
Assistant Curator
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers & Greys) Regimental Museum

http://www.scotsdgmuseum.com/

 

 

 

Heavy Metal and the Natural World

Six pieces of jewellery and a silver and enamel pill box by Norman Grant acquired by Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums in 2015 with an NFA grant of £1,587.

In May 2014 I wrote a post on a brooch and pendant by North East Scotland’s own Norman Grant, acquired for our collection with NFA funding.

All that glisters is not gold … it’s very often silver

With our increased knowledge about the pieces Grant created, and access to his original sketchbooks and designs, we have acquired seven other examples of Grant’s beautiful enamelled work, again with NFA support.

Norman Grant was born in Forres, Moray in 1943 and studied at Gray’s School of Art in the 1960s. He was a student of David Hodge who established a goldsmithing and jewellery course at Gray’s in 1954, leading the department until he retired in 1975. Hodge remembered Grant as one of the students who made his teaching career memorable.

In the late 1960s Grant began to design jewellery, initially working in a shed in his garden. His preferred medium was translucent enamel which he combined with sterling silver. The comparatively low cost of materials enabled him to be experimental in his work while keeping the cost to the customer reasonably low. Knowing that to be successful he had to sell, Grant showed examples of his work to local jewellers and was surprised when all the pieces sold in one morning. Right away Grant found himself working full time to complete orders and within a year the popularity of his work was assured. With its psychedelic colours and Pop Art patterns, his jewellery reflected the fashion and style of the period.

Having initially studied graphic design before switching to silversmithing, Grant often maintained that he was influenced by the natural forms of the coastal landscape he had grown up with. Inevitably these influences found their way into his early jewellery designs; microscopic plant cell structures, petals, stamens, seed heads, trees, driftwood, shells, seaweed, anemone-like forms and later fish, wave and cloud motifs can all be seen in his work.

Gold and Moss Agate Frog and Lily Pad Pendant

‘Gold and Moss Agate Frog and Lily Pad Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Gold and Moss Agate Frog and Lily Pad Pendant is an example of Grant’s later work and reflects his love of the natural world. Not only does the pendant incorporate a frog and lily pad but the pond is made from a piece of pale moss agate. Scottish moss agates are primarily found in Fife where Grant’s workshop was established, forging another link with the geology of the area. The pendant and chain are made of gold although Grant worked predominantly in silver during this period.

Stickleback Motif Blue Pendant

‘Stickleback Motif Blue Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Often Grant’s designs were made up in the workshop by one of his silversmiths but we know that Stickleback Motif Blue Pendant was made by Grant himself. Grant’s original design brochures feature this pendant as design number PG17. The piece is finished in vitreous glass (kiln-fired) enamel in translucent shades of cobalt, aqua, and sky blue set within the silver cells which form the abstract outline of a stickleback fish and give the pendant a kaleidoscopic effect.

Rockpool and Reflections Pendant

‘Rock Pool and Reflections Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Rock Pool and Reflections Pendant, made in 1978, is a variation on the theme of ‘organic’ designs. We now know that the ‘silver and enamel pendant’ featured in my last post should more correctly be called Rock Pool Pendant. The two are linked in their circular form, redolent of areas of sea water contained by the rocks around them.

Eight Enamel Panelled Necklet

‘Eight Enamel Panelled Necklet’ (‘Mexican Blanket’ series) by Norman Grant

Eight Enamel Panelled Necklet is part of the ‘Mexican Blanket’ series which also includes the enamel brooch discussed in my previous post. It has been a very rewarding process to work with some of the original design sources in order to positively identify the prototypes. The series derives from the traditional Mexican saltillo (or serape) blanket design which dates back to the Chichimeca people of pre-colonial times. The necklet is formed of eight irregular panels of coloured enamel with silver borders and seven ball and chain features suspended below. The pendant is attached to a thin silver torque. It was made in 1972 at a time when Mexican culture was becoming increasingly popular as a result of the social, political and cultural Chicano Movement.

Silver and Titanium Parrot Pendant

‘Silver and Titanium Parrot Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Silver and Titanium Parrot Pendant is from Grant’s ‘Titanium Futuristic Jewellery’ collection of the late 1970s and early ’80s which included pendants, earrings, brooches and bangles. This is very different in style to his earlier work. Titanium jewellery became fashionable during this period as designers sought to move away from more traditional metals. Developed for use in the aerospace industry, titanium is a light, strong metal that can be anodized to create a variety of vivid colours. This is achieved by passing an electric current through the metal. The parrot was one of the most difficult pieces of titanium jewellery made by Grant owing to its curved and uneven surface which exacerbated the difficulty of making titanium adhere to silver. Later titanium pieces by Grant are often unmarked and can only be identified by style. The parrot pendant, however, bears Grant’s ‘NG’ punch mark.

Silver and Enamel Pill Box

‘Silver and Enamel Pill Box’ by Norman Grant

This small pill box is one of a limited edition. The decorative enamel lid suggests a cross-section of a plant, the granulated orange and pink sections similar to the cells of a seed head.

Honesty Brooch/Pendant

‘Honesty Brooch/Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Similarly, Honesty Brooch/Pendant illustrates Grant’s fascination with plant life. Whereas the structured lines or septa of the pill box are formed of grey enamel, the septa on the brooch forming the structure of the cross-section are slightly raised ridges of silver, the enamel poured in around them.

Support from the National Fund for Acquisitions has allowed us to continue to acquire pieces by this creative and highly individual designer and to increase our knowledge of his design methods, his breadth of style and the ideas which inspired him.

 

Vikki Duncan
Curator of Decorative Art
Aberdeen Art Gallery

http://www.aagm.co.uk/