It was a passion for objects and the stories they tell that started my museum career.
Joining Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums in the 1980s gave me the wonderful opportunity to work with some fabulous artefacts and to develop an outstanding Decorative Art collection; here are some of my top picks.
Over the years many generous donations and bequests, along with purchases supported by funding grants, augmented the collection, including the Peggy Walker gift of costume and accessories, the Bill Gibb archive of fashion drawings, the Robinson-Young Art Pottery collection and the Cochrane Collection of over 100 examples of British and European porcelain.
A personal favourite is a beautifully moulded figure made at the Chelsea factory around 1762. With a little lamb nestling at her feet, she is known as The Shepherdess. Yet, as her apron is filled with an abundance of intricate hand-modelled flowers, it seems unlikely that she looked after many sheep!
Working with jewellery and metalwork has been a special highlight, from the elegance of Hiroki Iwata’s enamelled copper vessel, or Graham Stewart’s gorgeously engraved silver bowl celebrating the Millennium, to the practical tableware produced in 18th century Aberdeen by some of Scotland’s finest silversmiths.
One of the best was George Cooper who fashioned almost spherical teapots, known as ‘bullet form’, ideal for the newly introduced craze of tea drinking.
When I joined the gallery, I discovered a group of superb enamel panels and jewels made by James Cromar Watt, and went on to research and curate an exhibition of his work in 1993. Working in an Arts and Crafts style, he often based his designs on a heart shape, epitomised by this pendant with a blister pearl flower and shaded enamel background.
With retirement approaching, if I could take one piece home with me, it would be Malcolm Appleby’s Hoy brooch. Of iron carved and fused with various colours of gold, this brooch superbly captures the Scottish rugged coastline. Happily, it’s on display in the art gallery – I hope you love it as much as I do!