Taking a Line for a Walker

Pictish stone from Tulloch, Perth, acquired by Perth Museum & Art Gallery in 2019 with an NFA Grant of £1,500.

Towards the end of 2017 new roadworks behind St Johnstone’s Football Stadium in Perth unexpectedly and thrillingly unearthed a fascinating and complete carved Pictish stone.

Pictish sculpture of a spear-carrying warrior

Pictish sculpture of a spear-carrying warrior © Perth Museum & Art Gallery

The stone is a large, oblong, glacial erratic of metamorphosed sandstone measuring some 2m in height and bearing on one face an incised figure around 1m high. The key features of this figure are that he is naked, carrying a particular type of spear (a door-knob butted spear that can be dated to the second quarter of the first millennium AD) and sporting a pushed-back, intimidating hair-style. The stone is a significant new addition to Scotland’s corpus of Pictish sculpture and in particular the small group of incised, walking, often-grotesque and ritually symbolic, single figures. The three closest parallels, all spear-carrying walkers, come from Rhynie (Aberdeenshire), Collessie (Fife) and Westerton (Angus).

The probable dating of these to the fifth or sixth century may be indicative of a society dominated by warbands led by warrior princes/kings in which spear-wielding warriors were of fundamental importance. The presence of such a sculpture in the Perth area certainly fills a gap between the end of the Roman military intervention and the later Picts and suggests the presence of an important nobleman’s hall and/or place of burial in the Tulloch area. Stylised depictions of such fearsome-looking warriors on large, highly visible stones could well have been seen as having a warning, protective role and a status/power signalling role as one approached such sites: communicating both with people and the supernatural.

Mark A Hall
Collections Officer
Perth Museum & Art Gallery

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Great Neolithic Balls of Stone

Neolithic carved stone ball from Sheriffmuir, Perth & Kinross, acquired by Perth Museum & Art Gallery in 2019 with an NFA grant of £1,625.

Perth Museum is delighted to welcome into its collection a stunning example of a Neolithic carved stone ball, that uniquely Scottish element of prehistoric material culture. It is significant both archaeologically and for the public support it garnered in our bid to raise the £3,250 reward to the finder.

Sheriffmuir Neolithic carved stone ball

Sheriffmuir Neolithic carved stone ball. © Hugo Anderson-Whymark/National Museums Scotland

These astonishing stone balls are generally dated to the Later Neolithic period, around 3200 – 2500 BC. They are almost exclusively associated with Scotland where around 520 are known to have been found, with only a handful known from the North of England, Ireland and Norway. The majority have been found by chance rather than by excavation and their purpose is not fully understood. Curator of Prehistory at National Museums Scotland, Dr Anderson-Whymark writes:

These artefacts have captured the imagination for more than 150 years and despite much debate we’re still not certain how they were used. Were they weapons, symbols of status and power or something more practical? The newly discovered ball from Sheriffmuir is an exceptionally fine example and one of less than 50 that have been highly decorated. It would have been treasured in the Neolithic and will be the star of any Neolithic display.

Perth Museum’s collection contains a dozen stone balls exhibiting a wide range of stone types and designs and coming from locations across Perth & Kinross. The new addition will go on display alongside these in a new museum currently under development in Perth.

Seven Neolithic stone balls

Seven of the Neolithic balls in the Perth collection preparatory to their display at the National Gallery of Scotland © Perth Museum & Art Gallery

This new example is carved from a fine grained igneous stone and was found on a farm near Sheriffmuir. The majority of Scotland’s stone balls have been found much further to the north, making this example one of the most southerly of the known Scottish finds.

As well as coming from a new place, its design is also new for the Perth collection. The basic form of a round ball with six low knobs is quite widely seen but this example is unusual as two of the knobs have been decorated. One is incised with a grid of cross-hatched parallel lines and the other a set of five parallel lines. Dr Anderson-Whymark suggests that both decorative schemes were applied free-hand, probably with different tools and by two different people, though it is not known whether or not they were decorated at the same time. Dr Anderson-Whymark has taken 3D images of the ball to create a model which can be explored here: https://skfb.ly/6GwpW

The enigma of Neolithic carved stone balls has made them popular with our visitors. In 2011 Perth Museum worked with glass artist Louise Tait who made a glass interpretation of one of the stone balls in our collection. The installation and the glamour of the balls drew a huge response from visitors, who were asked to consider what such objects could have been used for. Answers included sports and games, hunting, weapons, ritual, currency, weights and social identity and prestige.

Outside the Glass Box by Louise Tait

Outside the Glass Box by Louise Tait © Perth Museum & Art Gallery

The other significant aspect of this object is the new fundraising initiative it signalled for Perth Museum. Recognising the very difficult funding climate in which museums operate, the Archaeology & History Section of the Perthshire Society of Natural Sciences introduced a new element in the Society’s long-standing partnership with the museum with the specific objective of helping the museum to continue to acquire significant archaeological finds allocated through the Treasure Trove process. Using the Just Giving platform, the Society set up a page calling for donations: as a test case we decided to focus on the Sheriffmuir ball and sought to raise half the reward fee, £1,625 to match the 50% grant from the NFA. The experiment was a resounding success with our total raised well within the two-month campaign timescale. The Archaeology & History Section and the museum were delighted with this success and look forward to seeing how we might develop the scheme for future Treasure Trove appeals.

Mark A Hall
Collections Officer
Perth Museum & Art Gallery

When the Bronze Age Boat Comes In

Late Bronze Age logboat from the River Tay at Carpow acquired by Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 2007 with an NFA grant of £500.

We’re delighted to have an opportunity to share in the celebrations of the NFA’s 60th anniversary and express thanks for the Fund’s long-standing support in developing the archaeology collection at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Many of the objects acquired through Treasure Trove could be singled out but I have chosen what is one of the most exciting and popular acquisitions and certainly the largest!

Digital StillCamera

Excavation of the logboat at Carpow nearing completion

Following its discovery in 2001 this Bronze Age logboat was excavated in 2006 and declared Treasure Trove. It was allocated to Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 2007. Although the bow had been severely abraded by the tidal flows of the River Tay, the greater part of the boat had been protected by mud and peat deposits. Several prehistoric and later logboats are known from the River Tay but this was the first opportunity to excavate and study such a vessel to modern standards. Radiocarbon dating has established a date of circa 1,000 BC, making the boat 3,000 years old. At 9m long the logistical challenges of dealing with the boat were enormous. The Museum saw the acquisition of the boat as a vital and unique opportunity to add to its prehistory collection, one of the key strengths of which is its Bronze Age elements. The excavation of the boat was led by Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust and was followed by five years of conservation, carried out by National Museums Scotland.

Logboat conservation nearing completion

The logboat undergoing conservation at the National Museums Collection Centre

In 2012 the boat made a triumphant return to Perthshire when it was displayed for 12 months in Perth Museum, where it was seen by 100,000 visitors. The exhibition told the story of the logboat, addressing discovery, excavation and conservation and its Bronze Age significance, including making and potential use. The latter could have encompassed ferry, cargo vessel, fishing and/or wild-fowling craft and a platform from which to make offerings to the river.

Bronze Age swords

Late Bronze Age swords from the River Tay

Rodent-nibbled hazelnut recovered from boat

A 3,000 year-old rodent-nibbled hazelnut recovered from the stern of the logboat

It was a double thrill to display both the boat and all the Bronze Age metalwork so far found in the River Tay (and in the collections of National Museums Scotland, Perth, Fife and Dundee museums). Much of this metalwork may have been deliberately placed in the river as offerings and the boat may have ended its working life as just such an offering.

Carpow logboat on display at Perth Museum

The Carpow logboat on display at Perth Museum and Art Gallery

The entire Carpow logboat project demonstrates the value of working in partnership to secure and interpret our shared past. NFA was a vital supporting partner to the core team of Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust, Perth Museum and Art Gallery, National Museums Scotland and Historic Scotland, making a critical contribution to the preservation of the boat and the sharing of its story.

Mark Hall
History Officer
Perth Museum and Art Gallery

http://www.pkc.gov.uk/museums

Dazzling, playful Glare – the Perth Hare

Water-jet cut and screen-printed glass panel, Glare, 2011, by Rachel Elliott, acquired by Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 2012 with an NFA grant of £1,200

Storefronts, grand old hotels, imposing buildings, a glasshouse, big trees … can you identify the places around Perth on a larger-than-life glass hare?

'Glare' by Rachel Elliott

Water-jet cut and screen-printed glass, ‘Glare’ by Rachel Elliott. Photograph by Paul Adair

The images take you back in time to a Perth of days gone by. Get really close, the details of a hotel lobby stand out, from a distance the hare takes on a personality, the sight of battling hares in the fields of Perthshire.

Glare by Rachel Elliott detail 3    Glare by Rachel Elliott detail 4    Glare by Rachel Elliott detail 2   Glare by Rachel Elliott detail 1

The Perth Hare, or Glare, is a unique piece, twinning this iconic local creature with the historic images of the city itself. Always popular with our visitors, it forms the centrepiece of Dazzle, the current exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

Like Cook’s Collection by James Maskrey, which was the subject of a previous post From Australasia – Antarctica (via Perth Museum and Art Gallery), Glare was created for the exhibition Trove, a collaboration with the Scottish Glass Society. Invited artists created new works inspired by artefacts from the museum’s reserve collection. Glare draws on both the natural history collection and the Magnus Jackson Photography collection. In creating it, Rachel Elliott incorporated several pioneering elements; it was the first time she had used the technique of water-jet cutting, the first time she had worked on such a large single piece of glass and the first time she had screen-printed kiln-fired enamels on this scale.

The glass collection at Perth Museum and Art Gallery is a Recognised Collection of National Significance based on the history of glass production in Perthshire; Glare is part of an initiative to extend the collection with examples of glass by contemporary makers.

Henriette Ebbesen Laidlaw
Digital Content Officer
Perth and Kinross Cultural Services

http://www.pkc.gov.uk/museums

http://rachel-elliott.com/

 

A Perthshire Lad: J D Fergusson and the Fergusson Gallery

Three paintings and a drawing by J D Fergusson acquired by Perth Museum and Art Gallery between 1983 and 2009 with NFA grants totalling £9,655.

In the year that J D Fergusson (1874-1961) is the subject of a major retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, an unprecedented number of works by the Scottish Colourist can be seen on display across Scotland. The Fergusson Gallery has been working in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland to celebrate his contribution to Scottish art.

Watercolour, 'The Trocadero, Paris', c1897, by J D Fergusson

Watercolour, ‘The Trocadero, Paris’, c1897, by J D Fergusson

The Fergusson Gallery in Perth is home to the archives of J D Fergusson and his lifelong partner Margaret Morris (1891-1980), the pioneering dancer, choreographer and founder of Margaret Morris Movement. The gallery holds the largest single holding of works by Fergusson in public ownership and opened in 1994 after the J D Fergusson Art Foundation gifted the collections to Perth & Kinross Council. Since then, the collections have been developed and are continually displayed. The gallery also houses works by Fergusson’s circle including Margaret Morris and members of the New Scottish Group. Additionally a collection of contemporary Scottish art has been developed through the J D Fergusson Art Award which supports the development of artists through offering both travel and exhibition awards.

Oil painting, 'Le Cirque Medrano', 1907, by J D Fergusson

Oil painting, ‘Le Cirque Medrano’, 1907, by J D Fergusson

 

Conte crayon drawing, 'Elizabeth Fergusson, the Artist's Sister', 1897, by J D Fergusson

Conte crayon drawing, ‘Elizabeth Fergusson, the Artist’s Sister’, 1897, by J D Fergusson

The National Fund for Acquisitions has been central to growing the collections with the acquisition of Le Cirque Medrano, The Trocadero, Paris and a drawing of Elizabeth Fergusson, the Artist’s Sister. The Fund also assisted Perth to acquire its first Fergusson in 1983 with A Village in a Valley which is part of Perth Museum & Art Gallery’s collections.

J D Fergusson, Village in a Valley

Oil painting, ‘A Village in A Valley’, 1922, by J D Fergusson

This painting originated in one of Fergusson’s Highland tours. It can be seen on display as part of the current exhibition at the Fergusson Gallery. J D Fergusson: Picture of a Celt looks at how Fergusson placed great importance in his Perthshire ancestry. Although born in Leith, he saw himself first and foremost as a ‘Perthshire lad’ and increasingly cited this Highland heritage as the source of his creativity. The exhibition focuses on this connection with Perthshire and explores how his sense of belonging to a Celtic nation shaped his artistic career. Fergusson’s father came from Logierait, just south of Pitlochry, and his mother from Moulin, at the foot of Shiehallion. He reportedly enjoyed summers in Highland Perthshire with relatives at Strathtay and in her biography of Fergusson Margaret Morris recalled:

Fergus’s father sent him to spend holidays with relations still living in the Highlands and he never tired of talking of the mountains, the waterfalls, the rivers, the birds and animals … Fergus loved his uncle and though he only spent a few holidays with him he fully realised how much he owed to him and the hours he spent talking and teaching the rudiments of fishing and shooting.

Following wishes expressed in his will, Fergusson’s ashes were scattered on the summit of Shiehallion, one of Perthshire’s finest mountains.

Maria Devaney
Principal Officer (Art)
Perth Museum and Art Gallery

J D Fergusson: Picture of a Celt at the Fergusson Gallery, Perth and The Scottish Colourist Series: J D Fergusson at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two), Edinburgh both run until 15 June 2014.

http://www.pkc.gov.uk/museum

http://www.nationalgalleries.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Australasia – Antarctica (via Perth Museum and Art Gallery)

Free blown and sculpted hot glass, Cook’s Collection, 2010, by James Maskrey, acquired by Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 2012 with an NFA grant of £765.

In March 2011 the Scottish Glass Society and Perth & Kinross Council presented Trove, a contemporary glass exhibition showcasing the work of 25 emerging and established glass artists who were invited to create new artworks that revealed the hidden treasure in Perth Museum and Art Gallery’s reserve collection.

Following some research and a subsequent installation at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby I wanted to further research Cook’s voyages and was overjoyed to discover a first edition of Cook’s Journals in the Perth collection. Through further investigation and my continued relationship with the Captain Cook Memorial Museum I discovered that Cook developed quite an original approach to diet and as a result his crew rarely suffered from the effects of malnutrition, namely scurvy, the debilitating disease that was the curse of seafarers. He utilised locally sourced and seasonal foodstuffs on his travels as well as vitamin rich ‘anti-scorbutic’ concoctions he brought from home. Interestingly, he was also the first known person to brew beer in New Zealand.

'Cook’s Collection', Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Photograph by Paul Adair, Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

‘Cook’s Collection’, Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Photograph by Paul Adair, Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

Cook’s Dietary Curiosities is a celebration of this, a menagerie of factual and imagined curiosities collected by Cook before and during his voyages.  All the work was made using traditional methods of glass blowing from the furnace. Jars, lids and contents were all free-blown and sculpted by hand using hot glass techniques. The labels were designed, printed and distressed, some sourcing original drawings by Joseph Banks, the botanist onboard Cook’s first voyage and utilising similar typeface of the period. Such is my love of the creative process that every part of the procedure was completed personally.

Detail of Spruce Beer label. Photograph by David Williams

Detail of Spruce Beer label. Photograph by David Williams

Subsequent pieces have concentrated on the factual with the odd red herring, the joy being that the viewer may find it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. On closer scrutiny, however, they would discover that it is nearly all fact. Cook’s Collection now extends to nearly 20 individual pieces.

Part of 'Cook’s Collection'. Photograph by David Williams

Part of ‘Cook’s Collection’. Photograph by David Williams

This body of work has since found a completely new direction. Through further research I learned that Cook was the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle, discovering the South Sandwich Islands and mapping South Georgia. This gave rise to speculation about the existence of a ‘Great Southern continent’ (Antarctica).  Subsequent work over the past three years has evolved into a narrative of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. All these works (from Cook to Antarctica) aim to celebrate, capture and preserve. They have been shown widely in the UK, Europe, China and the USA and pieces from the series have since been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Crafts Council.

I feel privileged to have been selected for Trove and I’m indebted to the Scottish Glass Society and Perth Museum and Art Gallery for the opportunity. Much of the development and subsequent success of the work has been down to the original subject matter and research conducted for the exhibition and in the collection at Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

'The Worst Journey in the World' (Crafts Council Collection). Photograph by David Williams

‘The Worst Jouney in the World’ (Craft Council Collection) Photographs by David Williams

Left to Right: 'Furthest South'; 'South Polar Regions'; 'The Cairn'. Photograph by David Williams

Left to Right: ‘Furthest South’; ‘South Polar Regions’; ‘The Cairn’. Photograph by David Williams

James Maskrey
Glass Artist
Technical Demonstrator/Artist Facilitator
University of Sunderland

www.pkc.gov.uk/museums

www.sunderland.ac.uk/faculties/adm/staff/glassceramicsteam/jmaskrey