Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi: Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria

Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century, was born in Rome in 1593. Her date of death is unknown, but it must be after 1654 when she is recorded as living in Naples. Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria (c 1615-17) has recently been acquired by the National Gallery in London, restored, and sent out on tour to unusual and unexpected destinations including a library, a school, and a health centre. The painting’s first stop is Glasgow Women’s Library where it is on display until 19th March, so hurry along if you are in the area.

Who was St Catherine of Alexandria? In the 4th century she was sentenced to death for her Christian beliefs and tied to a wheel studded with iron spikes. Although she was miraculously freed by angels, she could not escape a martyr’s death and was later beheaded. In Artemisia’s portrait she leans on the broken wheel with her left hand while her right hand holds a martyr’s palm. I spent an hour in the same room as Catherine / Artemisia and continually returned to that beautiful, clear gaze.

You can read more on the National Gallery’s site:

I wonder if Artemisia would approve of being added to a blogging challenge? If it gets more people looking at her wonderful painting, maybe she would. I’m linking to Becky’s Spiky Squares.

Dundee: RRS Discovery and Verdant Works

RRS Discovery

At the end of the 19th century, Dundee was a whaling port with a ship-building industry capable of constructing vessels strong enough to withstand the ice of Arctic whaling grounds. It was therefore the perfect place to build Royal Research Ship Discovery in which the British National Antarctic Expedition set sail in 1901, commanded by Robert Falcon Scott and including in the crew Ernest Shackleton. The expedition spent two years in the Antarctic in arduous conditions, resulting in a wealth of scientific information which is still used by polar researchers today.

In 1986, RRS Discovery returned to Dundee and was refitted as a museum which portrays both Scott’s and subsequent expeditions. I was surprised how much there was to see: I anticipated a quick tour round the ship, but there were also several interesting galleries before we boarded and in the end we spent all morning there. Highly recommended (and great mannequins, Jessica).

After lunch (tasty soup in Discovery’s café) we headed across Dundee for our second museum of the day.

Verdant Works

At one time, Dundee was undoubtedly the jute capital of the world. Around the year 1900, more than 50,000 people (out of a population of 161,000) were employed in over 100 mills. The Verdant Works transports us back to that time.

First we visited the Lodge Keeper before going into the Works Office. Most of the furniture and fittings in the office are original, dating to 1890-1900, so when the Dundee Heritage Trust bought the Works in 1991 it had to do very little to restore it.

The contraption in the last picture above is a copying press. In the days before scanners and copiers – or even carbon paper – an original written with copying ink was placed against a moistened piece of tissue and put into the press. The pressure forced a copy onto the tissue. Let’s be thankful for modern technology! When it works …

The machine hall took you through the process of making jute from fibre to fabric – lots of big green machines.

The biggest machine of all, however, is in the High Mill. The Boulton and Watt steam engine (1801), which we saw demonstrated, is too big to show successfully in one picture, but here are some impressions.

I liked the way the High Mill was decorated with images of its workers over the years, mainly female. Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, creating the original house-husband and giving Dundee the epithet She Town. This was also addressed in one of the social history galleries upstairs – it really is worth expanding the explanatory panel to have a read. Here’s to over-dressed, loud, bold-eyed girls!

Once again, this was a museum we thoroughly enjoyed and we were the last people to leave – we thought we might have been locked in when we found the main gate closed! Fortunately, there were staff in the café to let us out through the Lodge House. Our short break in Dundee had been wonderful, and we had plans for our journey home the next day. They didn’t quite work out – read on next week …

Dundee: the V&A and the McManus

V&A Dundee and RRS Discovery

London’s V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) claims to be the world-leading museum of art and design, so there has been great excitement waiting for its Scottish branch to be completed. V&A Dundee opened in September 2018 and the main purpose of our weekend trip in November was to check it out. The ship next to it in the image above is RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the last traditional three-masted ship to be built in Britain (in 1901). We visited the following day, so more on that in my next post.

I always assumed the exterior of the V&A was meant to represent a ship, to complement Discovery, but I read it was intended to look like sea-cliffs. I can see both things in it. Architect Kengo Kuma has also said he wanted to create a “living room for the city” for everyone to visit and enjoy and I think he has succeeded in that too.

 

There are two main parts to the museum: a gallery for temporary (paid) exhibitions and the permanent collection. While we were there, the exhibition was Ocean liners: speed and style (now ended). I thought this was very well done: spacious and with a clear path through it so that, although busy, you weren’t falling over other people. The large hall with models dressed elegantly for bathing and dining was superb.

 

This panel from the Titanic also caught my eye (click to enlarge explanation).

 

On emerging from Ocean liners we decided to have lunch, but both the café and the restaurant were packed full so we ploughed on to the permanent exhibition, the Scottish Design Galleries. I admit to recoiling in horror when we opened the door. After Ocean liners the space seemed small and cramped with no obvious route through it and people everywhere. There were two things we really wanted to see: Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room, a tea room interior created in 1908 which has been in storage since the 1970s, and the set for The Cheviot, the stag and the black, black oil (1973). This was a play by 7:84, a theatre company which took its name from the fact that 7% of the world’s population owned 84% of its wealth. Playwright John McGrath wrote of the exploitation of the Highlands between 1746 and 1973 which artist John Byrne illustrated in the form of a giant picture book which could be carried from venue to venue strapped to the roof of a van. The cast turned the pages as necessary – in the museum in November it was open at a war memorial scene (more info here).

 

We need to go back to give the permanent gallery more attention when it has been open longer and is (maybe) quieter. In the meantime, to recover from cultural overload, we went into the city centre for a quick lunch – and then went to another museum! The McManus is Dundee’s civic art gallery and museum, and it was much quieter – I hope it’s not going to suffer too much from the competition of the V&A. The building is Victorian Gothic and quite spectacular (photos taken the following evening as we don’t seem to have any day time ones).

 

Nor do we have many interior photos, and the ones we have I can’t remember what they are! One picture below might give me some ideas for my Scottish words feature. The coloured glass bottles in the other were an installation running from top to bottom of the building’s stairwell.

 

We truly were punch drunk with culture by this time, so we returned to the hotel for a reviving cuppa before heading out again for dinner. The following day we had plans for two more museums. Would we last the pace?

Glasgow Gallivanting: February 2019

Window Wanderland, Strathbungo

Window Wanderland started in (I think) Bristol in 2015 and has now spread worldwide. It’s a scheme in which communities brighten up winter by transforming their streets into an outdoor gallery. We visited one for the first time in Strathbungo on the south side of Glasgow, and loved it. We came back with over 100 images of windows so you are getting off lightly with the selection below! I particularly liked the ones where the theme was continued over several storeys.

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse (Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture) is always worth visiting, and currently has an exhibition about the life of Nelson Mandela (closes 3rd March, hurry along if you can). I don’t think I’ve ever come out of an exhibition snuffling quite so much. He was a unique human being.

Glasgow had a special relationship with Mandela. It was the first place in the UK to bestow Freedom of the City on him in 1981 (though for obvious reasons he wasn’t able to visit in person to receive the honour until 1993). In 1985 a year-long picket began outside apartheid South Africa’s consulate in St George’s Place, which was renamed Nelson Mandela Place in 1986. How it must have galled them to use that address! The Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation is currently raising money to erect a statue near where the consulate stood until it closed in 1992. Follow the link to find out more.

I also loved the Three Legged Stool exhibition by design workshop Still Life. There was a collection box for recycling plastic bottle tops and some examples of what they could be turned into – stools and trays. The impressive wall hanging is Care by Poppy Nash, which highlights the feelings of over 50 people about living close to someone with a long-term health condition or disability.

The last bit

Christmas 1984

Much of February has been spent catching up with old friends over coffee or lunch, mostly in Glasgow but also in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, where John and I met as students in 1979 (story here). John still has connections with the University of Sheffield and visits from time to time, but I hadn’t been back for about 25 years until this month. There will be posts on the wonderful weekend we had in due course. In the meantime, enjoy this photograph which one friend produced and which we’d never seen before: it look as though we didn’t even know it was being taken. I’m particularly impressed by our luxuriant hair, and the fact that John is wearing a Christmas hat in public without apparent coercion.

Finally, to my Scottish word of the month. In December I chose bùrach, Gaelic for complete mess – specifically referring to the ongoing Brexit bùrach. Well, guess what? As I write, the UK government is still footering about in a complete guddle. To footer: to bungle or botch. A guddle: a mess, muddle, confusion. By my next Gallivanting post we are meant to have left the EU. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Happy March …

The road and the miles to Dundee

Apex Hotel, Dundee

Our second weekend away last November was to Dundee. We wanted to see the new V&A which had opened in September and, as Dundee has several other museums which we had never visited before, we decided to book a three night stay with John taking the Friday and Monday off work.

The title of my post is taken from a Scottish folk song which begins:

Cauld winter was howlin’ o’er moor and o’er mountain; wild was the surge on the dark rolling sea.

Our journey was nothing like that, well, apart from the cauld (cold) winter bit. We drove up the motorway and stopped in Perth for lunch and to stretch our legs. Perth is my second favourite Scottish city I think, and I’ve published several posts about it in the past. This time, something caught my eye that I hadn’t noticed before – the Sandeman pub which was previously a public library (you might have to enlarge the second picture to see the inscription above the door and windows).

I chose the Apex Hotel because, although I have never stayed overnight in Dundee before, I had visited it a couple of times for conferences and knew it was good. The location, right on the waterfront, is excellent and only a short walk from the V&A. It’s not the most exciting of buildings, but the surroundings were attractive at night (see top of post). Berthed nearby is HMS Unicorn, launched by the Royal Navy in 1824 and now the world’s last intact warship from the days of sail. We’d like to have visited, but just didn’t have time.

The hotel was also handy for a good range of restaurants. On the following evenings we would eat Chinese and Thai food. This first night we chose The White Goose – I can’t remember now what we ate but I know it was delicious, and I liked their goose mural shown above. We returned to our room eager to get a good night’s sleep to prepare us for our visit to the V&A the following morning.

Linked to Cathy’s On journey strand, though my journey is nothing like as exciting as her tales of the Camino.

Knapdale

Kilberry Church

Our short break at the Stonefield Castle was only for two nights, so on our second morning we had to pack up and head for home. We took a detour through Knapdale – Gaelic cnap (hilland dall (field) – the area of Argyll immediately north of Kintyre, stopping at Kilberry.

This was November 11th and, as we arrived at the church just after 11 am, we thought there might be a Remembrance Service on. However, a notice on the gate told us the service wasn’t till 2pm so we were able to have our own moment of remembrance in the beautifully prepared church.

 

Kilberry also has a collection of medieval grave slabs, dated from 14th to 16th centuries. It’s thought that they came from a burial ground beneath the current bowling green where human bones were found in the 1920s.

 

Finally, we enjoyed magnificent views over the Isle of Jura before our detour ended and we took the road home to Glasgow. We had another trip planned for the following weekend – Dundee.

 

Kintyre

Stonefield Castle Hotel

The Kintyre peninsula is about 40 miles west from Glasgow – if you’re a bird. Because of the numerous sea-lochs on Scotland’s west coast, you have to drive north then drop back south making a journey of over 2 hours. In November, we spent a couple of nights at the Stonefield Castle Hotel, just outside Tarbert in Kintyre.

Stonefield is a Scottish Baronial manor house designed by William Henry Playfair and built in 1837 for the Campbell family who owned it till 1948. It became a hotel in the 1950s and was extended in the 1970s – one of the extensions being the glass-sided dining room you can see above and below.

It was too dark to see anything at dinner, but at breakfast the view was wonderful. In the evening, the cosy bar was enjoyable too.

There are 60 acres of grounds at Stonefield, so on our first morning we had a walk around after breakfast.

Then we drove down to Tarbert itself, with its lovely harbour. You might remember that we stayed in a place called Tarbert in Harris last summer. There are several Tarberts in Scotland (sometimes Tarbet) – in Gaelic, an tairbeart means the isthmus. In this case, Tarbert village lies on the east of the narrow strip of land which prevents Kintyre from being an island.

Some of the pictures in the gallery above were taken on the climb up to the castle. The earliest fortifications on this hill date to the 13th century, but the most noticeable remains are of the 16th century tower house.

I had my first fall of the day at the castle – the weather was lovely and bright, but it followed a period of heavy rain so the grass was very slippery and I slid down a slope onto my bottom. Fortunately, no harm was done apart from a muddy patch on the back of my coat and the damage to my dignity! So it was on to Tarbert Sculpture Walk where we met some pretty black sheep.

Next stop (by car) was Skipness, with another 13th century castle overlooking the Kilbrannan Sound.

Close by, as you can just about make out in the last shot above, is the ruined Kilbrannan Chapel, dedicated to St Brendan and dating from the late 13th or early 14th century. It had an interesting graveyard attached which I enjoyed looking around.

As usual, I grieved at the graves testifying to the terrible rate of infant mortality. Anne McLellan lost three children in infancy, her husband in 1895 and a son in the First World War. Unimaginable. The black gravestone commemorating Emma Berrington also intrigued me – how did someone who was born in West Virginia and died in Wales end up here? Maybe her son lived in Kintyre? The stone gives no clue.

The current church was back near where we had parked. This was November 10th and a couple had just arrived with a car full of flowers to decorate the church for the following day’s Remembrance Service, so we didn’t look inside. The war memorial looked unusual to me with its clock – note my square shot. At this point I imagined I was going to take part in Becky’s daily #timesquare project in December. The thought was there at least …

There is also an iron age fort nearby – we set off through the woods to find it, but the rough path with treacherous tree roots and protruding stones hidden by a combination of mud and fallen leaves resulted in my second fall of the day. This time I came down with a heavy thump, banging my shoulder and ripping the elbow out of my coat. Walking was abandoned for the day!

Back in the car, we continued down the east coast of the peninsula to Saddell. The bay here is where the pipers marched in the video for Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre, but we didn’t visit – we looked at the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey (active 1160 to 1507) and its magnificent medieval grave slabs. Apparently, the abbey is haunted by a huge black spectral hand, but we were lucky to miss that …

We then drove on towards Campbeltown, the biggest settlement on Kintyre. By this time, the light was fading – and can you see the hint of a rainbow in the first picture?

In Cambeltown itself, we visited the Linda McCartney memorial garden (hmm, not sure about the merits of that statue) and had coffee in the recently restored art deco cinema. You might also spot another potential #timesquare that went unused!

By this time, it really was dark and not worth continuing to the Mull of Kintyre itself. That will have to wait for another visit.

Glasgow Gallivanting: January 2019

The Giant Lanterns of China

On the first Saturday of the New Year we headed over to Edinburgh armed with tickets for The Giant Lanterns of China at the Zoo (still on till mid-February). It was amazing! Three sections covered Chinese legends, Scottish myths and animal species, especially those threatened or extinct. It was good that even the information boards about the mythical creatures all had a section on conservation, eg The Monkey King board warned against the trade in exotic pets.

Chinese legends
Scottish myths
Animal species

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

We visit Kelvingrove regularly throughout the year. While another Glasgow Museum, the Burrell Collection, is closed for refurbishment Kelvingrove has a changing display of some of its treasures. The current exhibition is on medieval art which has some stunning stained glass panels.

However often we go, I always spot something new. How did I miss this, I wonder? It’s A big cat with a bit of writing underneath by John Knowles which has been in the collection since 1992. Bright and eye-catching though it is, it was the words (to which the information panel made no reference) that drew my attention: WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and 1913 Cat and Mouse Bill. This was the common name for the Bill which became the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, by which the government sought to deal with the problem of hunger striking suffragettes. It allowed the early release of prisoners who were so weakened that they were at risk of death.  They would be recalled to prison once their health was recovered, where the process would begin again, hence cat and mouse. Horrific!

Celtic Connections

I never have that feeling of January being a bleak month after Christmas. In Glasgow we have Celtic Connections, the brilliant winter music festival!

This year we went to six events with musicians from Scotland, Ireland, the US and Canada. The most moving was An Treas Suaile (The Third Wave) written and performed by Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and fiddler Duncan Chisholm. It commemorated the Iolaire disaster which I wrote about in one of my Hebridean Hop posts. In the early hours of New Year’s Day 1919 the Iolaire, carrying 280 servicemen home to Lewis, sank just outside Stornoway harbour, almost certainly due to navigational errors. Overcrowding (the capacity was only about 100) and insufficient crew compounded the problems, with the result that 201 men were lost in a tragedy which reverberates in Lewis and Harris to this day. Fowlis and Chisholm created a multimedia event honouring both those who died and those who survived, many of whom performed heroic feats. I can’t say I “enjoyed” this exactly, but it was definitely a highlight.

No photographs of that concert, but below are Rhiannon Giddens, Karan Casey and Loudon Wainwright III. Can’t wait for next year!

Burns Night

January also has Burns Night in memory of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns. This year we celebrated at a local restaurant, The Bothy, with good food, good company from our friends John and Pat and good entertainment from The Caledonian Cowboy who piped, recited and made us all laugh. I learned that, when you take religious subjects out of the count, the three most popular people for statues are Christopher Columbus, Queen Victoria and Robert Burns.

The menu wasn’t wholly traditional – there was haggis but not in its plain haggis, neeps and tatties version – and I’m fairly sure Burns never ate a deep-fried Mars Bar. I can now say I have. The verdict? Not as sweet as expected but not something I plan to repeat either.

Glasgow Cathedral

It’s a while since I’ve been into the cathedral – the last time was for a funeral. This time I wanted to see a new exhibition, Scotland From The Sky, which features a series of aerial photographs from around the First World War onwards. We spent a long time in front of a shot of Glasgow in 1988, of which you can see a detail below. X marks roughly the site of our house which wouldn’t be built for another five years.

Whilst there, we also took time to look at features such as the stained glass and the crests on the ends of the pews. I picked out a few crests that meant something to us (clockwise from top left): Glasgow University (John’s employer), Glasgow Academy (his old school), the city council and Strathclyde University (my former employer).

Banton Loch and Colzium

The weather in January wasn’t great, but we did seize one sunny Sunday afternoon to stroll round Colzium Estate and Banton Loch. Once home to the Edmonstone family, Colzium House now belongs to the local council and its grounds are very popular with walkers. Banton Loch is actually a reservoir – it was built in 1773 to feed the new Forth and Clyde canal, flooding the site of the Battle of Kilsyth (1645). Apparently, bones and armoury are still being found in the fields to the north of the loch – although fortunately not by us!

The last bit

I wrote a different kind of guest post this month for my professional body, CILIPS, which is running a Meet our Members strand. I was invited to reflect on library life after retirement – you can read it here. I’ll let you into a little secret. I’d actually decided that, six years after I finished work, it was time to let my membership lapse. Then they asked me so nicely to write this post that I paid up again. Don’t tell CILIPS or they’ll be asking me to write something every year …

Finally, to my Scottish word of the month – in fact I’ll give you two. The word bothy has cropped up twice: once as the name of the restaurant where we had our Burns Supper, and then in the gallery above where you might have noticed the sign for Stoury Bothy. Many of you will know that a bothy is a hut, either basic accommodation for estate workers or a shelter in mountainous areas. “Basic” certainly doesn’t apply to the restaurant, but what about Stoury Bothy? Looking on Trip Advisor I find it is a very attractive holiday cottage, not basic and not stoury either – stour being a Scottish word for a cloud or mass of dust (pronounce stoor as opposed to the English place name which is pronounced to rhyme with flower. See also oose which has a similar meaning.)

In conclusion 1) if that were my cottage I would call it something else and 2) I do not mean to imply that you need lots of synonyms for dust. I’m sure you never have any.

Happy February!

Hebridean Hop 22: returning home

Saturday 18th August 2018

After an early start, we were in the ferry queue at 7am ready to depart Castlebay at 0755. Once on board, we positioned ourselves near the restaurant ready to beat the rush for breakfast when it opened. That rush didn’t materialise, and wandering round the ship later we found out why. Many people had brought their pillows and duvets and were catching up on sleep! When we got to the top deck, we were amazed to have it to ourselves most of the time. The howling wind might also have had something to do with that …

More or less on time, at 1240, we approached our destination, Oban.

We didn’t linger, choosing to drive to a pub outside town for lunch, and then to make our way home to Glasgow. Our Hebridean Hop was over. Some thoughts:

  • We drove just over 1000 miles, a seemingly modest amount for three weeks, but once you’re on the islands there aren’t a lot of places to drive to! The roads are greatly improved since our previous visits, but most of them are still single track and consequently slow. Being impatient to get straight from A to B just doesn’t work.
  • Other infrastructure – museums and cafés – has also improved greatly, enhancing the tourist experience and, it is obvious, bringing greater prosperity to the islands. It’s probably selfish to feel that this diminishes the charm and makes the islands feel less remote. However, I’m glad to have caught them at this point before they become overrun, as seems to have happened to Skye.
  • We were lucky with the weather – and I mean that, despite having written about some terrible downpours. It could have done that every day, whereas most days were reasonably fine and some were sunny and warm. However, if you must have guaranteed sunshine, the Hebrides will not be for you!
  • We walked, on average, seven miles a day, much of that on beautiful, golden sands. This was enough for our collection of dodgy knees and feet!
  • It’s 25-30 years since we last visited any of these islands and we can’t understand why we left it so long. This year, current thinking is that we will visit some of the Inner Hebrides, but they don’t lend themselves so obviously to a “hop” and will involve more route planning.
  • Thinking of going to the Outer Hebrides? Yes, I think you should! Find all my posts with the tag Hebridean Hop for inspiration.
  • Finally, I’m linking this post to Cathy’s On returning home invitation. Check the link for details: Cathy’s current post is about leaving Japan after teaching there for a few months.

Hebridean Hop 21: Kisimul Castle and Northbay

Friday 17th August 2018

Kisimul Castle from the jetty

Our last day dawned dull and wet, but we hadn’t been to Kisimul Castle yet so this had to be the time. There is a little jetty to wait on, above, and a boat comes from the castle to pick up passengers on the hour and half hour. Here it is!

Kisimul Castle probably dates from the 1400s, though the rocky islet it is built on might have been fortified for several centuries before that. The stronghold of Clan MacNeil, it was significantly restored in the 20th century and since 2000 has been on 1,000 year lease to Historic Scotland.

Compare and contrast – the pictures below are from our visit in 1992 with our friends Pat and John. The basket, presumably for a beacon, above Pat’s head suggests these were taken at the top of the tower (the same basket can be seen in the gallery above if you look hard enough). It’s not possible to climb the tower now, which I found disappointing.

The weather showed no signs of improving, so once back on dry land we collected the car from the hotel and set off for Northbay. If nothing else, we knew there was a good place for lunch there! We were lucky to get a short, dry stroll on the Woodland Walk (woodland, however small, is something of a rarity on the islands).

Once we arrived in Northbay itself though, the heavens opened. We could have done with those yellow and orange waterproofs below. Fortunately, we could shelter in St Barr’s Church for the worst of it.

For lunch we visited the Heathbank Hotel which we remembered as a seedy dive on our last visit, but which has come up in the world since then. Our waiter confirmed our memories, that it had been very much a fishermans’ pub. His granny probably told him – he turned out to be the young man who played the fiddle as we ate our curry in Castlebay the previous evening. He’s also a student at Glasgow University, though we haven’t spotted him around. These coincidences don’t happen so much in Glasgow!

After lunch, we stopped once more to walk ( across rather wet ground) to the abandoned village of Bolnabodach on the shores of Loch Ob. These collapsed blackhouses date from 1810-1840.

From here it was back to the hotel to pack and load up the car, keeping just an overnight bag behind. Our ferry in the morning was at 0755 and we had to be in the queue by 0710 at the latest. A good night’s sleep was required!