Routes to Roots: exploring diverse heritage in Edinburgh and the Lothians

Edinburgh and the Lothians has a rich and diverse cultural history. The Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council’s (ELREC) project, Routes to Roots: Adopting Scotland as a Homeland, is working to explore and showcase this shared heritage. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund the project is working with people from the Polish, Chinese, African, Spanish and South Asian communities.

The project’s aim is to highlight how these communities have enriched Scottish heritage by conducting video interviews with active members from ethnic minority backgrounds. The videos are being distributed online and the stories compiled into a book which will be exhibited in mid-2018 during the final stages of the project. Routes to Roots is also producing a weekly podcast on various heritage topics and conducting site visits to local religious centres, galleries and sites of importance in the local area.

Edinburgh Libraries is delighted to be supporting the project by hosting the material on our Capital Collections website. The exhibition will consist of the interviews that ELREC conduct and the podcast videos and photographs that they collect along the way. ELREC have started with the story of Wojtek, known to many as the ‘soldier bear’, who was brought to Scotland by Polish soldiers at the end of World War Two. His fascinating story is told over three short podcast episodes by Aileen Orr, author of Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero. ELREC will soon be adding podcast episodes about the Sikh community in Edinburgh and Chinese New Year celebrations in the city and much, much more.

Find out more by visiting the ELREC website: www.elrec.org.uk/project/routes-to-roots and follow the Roots to Routes project progress on Facebook: @ELRECroutestoroots and Twitter: @ELREC_Routes

James Grant and the artist’s imagination

From last September, one of our postgraduate interns from the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Massey, has been working with a large and unwieldy item from Central Library’s Special Collections. This is the sketchbook of the 19th century Scotsman James Grant, filled to the brim with paintings of historic Scottish buildings and some unexpected surprises. Having gone through each of the 383 artworks inside, recording their content and condition, Joseph has now arranged two separate exhibitions with Grant’s beautiful images at their heart. ‘Edinburgh’s Church on the Run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day’ is on display from 4 – 27 April in the Central Library’s Music Library, and explores the history of a forgotten architectural gem. ‘James Grant: the artist’s imagination’ is our new Capital Collections exhibition, focusing on Grant’s artistic development and creativity.

Few people could claim to have had as prolific and wide-ranging a career as the Edinburgh-born artist, novelist, historian and architect James Grant (1822-1887). Grant’s output was immense, but it all had a common purpose – to celebrate Scotland’s historic architectural achievements and to drive the country forward to create new masterpieces.

However, Grant’s early experiences in Scotland were not positive. Grant was only a child when his mother Mary Anne Watson died in 1833 and his father, Captain John Grant of the Gordon Highlanders, immediately took James and his two brothers to live with him in his Canadian barracks. Mary Anne had been a capable artist herself, and Grant kept two of his mother’s paintings for the rest of his life, putting them inside his own sketchbook. One of her paintings is of Craigmillar Castle, showing a mother and her child walking in the foreground. Perhaps Mary Anne took her son James to see the castle. Grant later produced a number of beautiful paintings of Craigmillar Castle, perhaps with distant memories of his mother in mind.

Craigmillar Castle by Mary Anne Watson

It was while living in Canada that Grant’s own artistic talent began to emerge. And, fittingly, he started with a painting of the fort’s architecture. Fort Townsend, based on the east coast island of Newfoundland, was the headquarters of the British Newfoundland garrison and the Grant family lived there at Barrack Square. In 1836, when Grant was thirteen or fourteen years old, he stood on the balcony of the east building and painted a picture of the barracks opposite. As an adult Grant painted more pictures of the place that had been his home for six years.

Fort Townsend, St John’s, Newfoundland

Grant’s family returned to Britain in 1839 and he soon joined an architect’s office in Edinburgh. He spent his twenties travelling around Scotland to see as many of its historic castles, palaces, houses and churches as possible – and it is these beautiful pictures that fill most of his sketchbook. Grant’s artistic imagination extended to drawing historic ruins as they would have looked in their heyday, and the most impressive of these is a series of paintings made in 1848 of Craigmillar Castle, where he has imagined how the castle would look with all of its roofs restored. Craigmillar had a number of dramatic connections to members of the Stuart royal family, including Mary Queen of Scots, which was probably why Grant found it so interesting.

Craigmillar Castle – ‘restored’

Grant also wanted to construct buildings of his own design, and the sketchbook contains his designs for two churches, a cathedral and a cemetery gateway – though unfortunately none of them were constructed. They all show his love of medieval gothic architecture, with an abundance of elaborate carved stonework, beautiful window tracery and pinnacles. Grant was also inspired by the work of his contemporaries in both Scotland and continental Europe, where the gothic style was experiencing a revival. Grant’s 1846 design for the west front of a cathedral is one of the largest and most detailed works in his sketchbook. Scotland had no medieval cathedrals as elaborate as this – Grant wanted to bring something new and exciting to his native country.

Cathedral design

It was this love of gothic architecture which drove Grant to make a number of images of Trinity College Church, built in the 1460s and originally located below Calton Hill. In the 1840s the North British Railway company purchased the site of the church so that they could demolish it and make room for Waverley Station. Grant immediately set to work, creating numerous images of the exterior and sculptural details inside, which included monkeys on the pillar capitals! Many other prominent Scotsmen, such as David Bryce, also painting the church and making suggestions for where it could be rebuilt. Some of the earliest photographs taken in Scotland show Trinity College Church before its demolition. Unfortunately the church was not rebuilt in its entirety – after leaving the stones sitting on Calton Hill for 20 years, there was only enough material left to rebuilt part of it, which can still be seen down Chalmers Close, off the Royal Mile.

Trinity College Church

Today Grant is best known for his three-volume series Old and New Edinburgh (1880-83), which traces the history of Edinburgh through its buildings. It is a fitting legacy for a man who devoted his life to Scotland’s architecture.

Joseph’s exhibitions expertly shine a light on the history of Trinity College Church and the work of James Grant:

Church on the run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day
4 – 27 April, Mezzanine, Central Library

James Grant: the artist’s imagination is available to view on Capital Collections.

 

A childhood dreamland

The staircase exhibition in Central Library for April is Idyllic Garden in Mind: Childhood Dreamland which uses illustrations from Kate Greenaway’s children’s books. The exhibition was created by Lin Fan, an Art History master’s degree student at the University of Edinburgh.

Fan has selected some beautiful Kate Greenaway books as well as some lovely winners of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal from the Library’s collections. Last month, she also held a Garden Book Family Craft Workshop inspired by Kate Greenway’s illustrations and some of the books created by the children will be on display too.

Browse the ‘childhood dreamland’ in the Central Library staircase and foyer display areas from 3 – 28 April 2017.

 

World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April – A personal story Part 3

Following on from yesterday’s post Hope talks about working for Edinburgh City Libraries.

It was my boyfriend who suggested I apply to libraries. He thought the work would do me good, give me stability that seasonal waitressing and freelance writing didn’t.

I didn’t think I had a chance, but he found out that Edinburgh City Council have a scheme where they guarantee an interview to candidates who declare they have a disability. I felt a bit weird about using this, but I also remembered the libraries of my childhood, the magic there, the tales of courage and failure, as well as success, the way that books seemed to be the haven for kids who felt they were outsiders. With this in mind I applied and got an interview, where I spoke to the interviewer about how important libraries were to me as a child, how I’d like to see other children have similar positive experiences in libraries, how books could make a kid feel that he or she was not so alone after all. I thought I’d talked to much and made a total mess of it.

When I got the phone call to tell me I’d got the job I was delighted. Andrew, the interviewer, told me that my passion had come across and I’d given a good interview.

There have been challenges to working in libraries. One emotion I cannot recognise in others is anger, and this makes me edgy – aware of the potential that someone may become angry and I will not recognise it. A raised voice will frighten me for example, and I have mistaken customers’ legitimate frustration’ with anger directed at myself and my colleagues. But I’ve learnt to deal with this, communicating clearly with customers who have problems, and speaking with them about the steps we can take to ensure that the problem is solved.

Working in libraries has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I think that because of my experience as an outsider I can relate to library users who may have challenges in a more direct way than other staff members can. Of course, all staff will seek to help library users with disabilities, but I feel that wanting to help, and being able to relate are different things.

The customers are for the most part friendly, engaging and interesting, and something I’ve learned about people since I was a child is that whether they are on the autistic spectrum or not, they are all as keen to be liked as I am, and everyone has at one stage in their life had a time where they feel like an outsider; whether that is when they are starting a new role, or in an unfamiliar situation. Alienation is lonely, but also universal, and it took a long time for me to understand that.

Just today a member of the public came into the children’s library and asked about books on autism. He works as a play worker with autistic children, and was looking for resources. I pointed him in the right direction and we had a chat about his work, and how important it is. I didn’t tell him I’m on the autistic spectrum and I don’t think he guessed. Sometimes it’s nice to pass as normal.

World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April – A personal story Part 2

Following on from Hope’s post yesterday.

So how can I work in libraries, working not only within a team, but also serving customers, dealing with their enquiries, advising them on where to find a book, or how to get a bus pass, or which part of the library to go to?

Hope

Hope working in the Central Library

Ever since I can remember I have loved libraries; I remember the childhood treat of being allowed to choose new books every Saturday, which would be my bedtime stories for the week ahead, learning to read myself, making slow but crucial sense of the strange characters on paper which make up words, sitting on the little plastic orange chairs and reading story books about kids who also felt isolated, or awkward or were in some kind of jeopardy. The monsters who they fled from seemed similar to the bullies who I spent my lunch break hiding from.

The books in the library told stories of outsiders, kids like me who although they weren’t autistic, had something separating them, something which meant that they weren’t like all the other kids, something a bit magical. Through the magic of libraries and the kindness of librarians I learnt a lot, and even as a child, frightened of the world and the people in it, I always thought it would be sort of cool to work in a library.

As I got older I learnt to disguise my weirdness and fear, until the fear was far smaller and the weirdness transformed into something people called ‘quirkiness’ or ‘magic.’ I went to University and graduated at the height of the recession then worked as a waitress, because there was literally no other work. I found to my amazement that excepting the odd person, working with members of the public is kind of nice.

Tomorrow Hope talks about her experience of working for Edinburgh City Libraries.

 

World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April : A personal story

This is the first in a three-part series of blog posts written by Hope, who’s a member of library staff and who is on the Autistic Spectrum. In part one she talks about her experiences as a child.

It is not always obvious that someone is on the Autistic Spectrum. I am a thirty-one-year-old Library Adviser in  Central Library. I also happen to be on the Autistic Spectrum.

As a child, I was lost in unfamiliar social situations, filled with a fear of strangers, separate to that created by the ‘stranger danger’ messages with which all children are familiar. My fear was more complex, less easy to express. I was afraid of being disliked, of being thought of as weird, of seeing strangers’ eyes glaze over as I spoke to them, or worse, seeing them look sideways at the person next to them in a glance they thought I couldn’t catch – a glance which said – ‘isn’t she a freak?’

Work can be frightening for people on the Autistic Spectrum, as it entails working with people (members of the public as well as colleagues.) The fear comes not from the other people, but from the Autistic person’s inability (or their low perception of their own ability) to read social cues. Some people who have Autistic Spectrum disorders may talk too much to cover up nerves, some may hardly speak at all – both can be construed as inappropriate.

Tomorrow, Hope talks about the importance of libraries.

“O”, it’s Othello… Black Star Film Season continues

Black Star Film Season is a celebration of the range and versatility of black actors on film taking place at Craigmillar Library.

The season runs until 22 May. These free screenings will encompass different genres, decades and styles for all audiences. Black and white.

black-star-leaflet-poster-final

On Monday 27th March we are showing O (15) which takes William Shakespeare’s Othello onto the basketball courts of a high school. Film runs from 6 – 7.40 pm. Doors open at 5.15pm.

To book your place just contact Craigmillar Library by email craigmillar.library@edinburgh.gov.uk or phone 0131 529 5597.

Check out the full Black Star Film Season and save the dates!