Now, this isn’t a League of Gentlemen thing, all about ‘local museums for local people’. In my years, I’ve been to more than a few museums, some big ones, the massive kind in big cities with security guards and Rosetta Stones and that, as well as smaller museums, the ones that fit into one room and have displays that might not have been updated in the last couple of decades. I try to take each one as I find them, seeking to be open-minded and curious even while I may not have much affinity with the place or with what is being displayed. Most towns and cities in Scotland have a museum, some, like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, have quite a few. The National Museums and Glasgow Museums get enough limelight. As much as I like traipsing around NMS, Kelvingrove, Riverside and the rest, I generally prefer the museums to be found outside of the Central Belt, even just outside Glasgow and Edinburgh. They tend to be less familiar and so have more to actually learn and absorb.
Every so often, a new local museum springs up. When I was off recently, I took a trip to Dunfermline, an old haunt of mine, to go to the brand new Carnegie Library and Galleries. Dunfermline already has a museum all about Andrew Carnegie, who was born in the town, and it is quite fine. Since Carnegie donated money to build libraries all over the place, including a fair few here in Glasgow, it was only natural that he bunged his home town a few quid to build a library, which opened in 1883. That building was refurbished and enlarged over the last few years with a suitably grand Victorian exterior on Abbot Street and a more modern wood, glass and boxy affair looking onto the garden and the Abbey beyond. Inside it is stunning. The library is agreeably old-fashioned looking with wooden shelving and the archive bit manages to combine wooden shelves and looking quite swish with a mezzanine level. It was filled with light and lots of gaps to see the light and the rest of the building at different points. The museum and gallery spaces were much more modern and the tone was set by the entrance to the building, which housed panels, some audio-visual, with images of Dunfermline and its prominent citizens and pursuits over the centuries, as well as a Vespa scooter. Not sure quite why but I liked it all the same. What tickled me was that the museum featured photos of well-kent folk from Dunfermline, including Jim Leishman, who is perhaps best known as a football manager for Dunfermline and Livingston, amongst others, as well as occasionally scribbling doggerel poems to inspire his teams. Referred to as the ‘Lochgelly Messiah’ in Ron Ferguson’s Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, Leishman is now a Labour councillor and the Provost of Fife, no less, and there is a plaque by the reception saying that he officially opened the place, as well as featuring in the exhibits. Legend. Another highlight was the video featuring local scenes, probably from the Scottish Screen Archive, though it featured a soundtrack of music by local musicians, including Barbara Dickson, Big Country and, wonderfully, Into The Valley by the Skids. I’ve written here before about one of the highlights of watching a game at East End Park in Dunfermline being the steak bridies made by Stephens. Another is hearing the Skids belted out at full volume as the teams come out. The video in the museum was originally playing in the background though cleverly it got louder as I walked towards it, sitting down in front of it on a comfy cinema-style seat. I could have sat there all afternoon, to be honest. The museum didn’t suffer from being quite bitty and thematic, as so many museums tend to be nowadays, going into some topics but not following a strict linear chronology. The architecture of the building, inside and out, was cracking and I just liked walking around it, looking out the window and down and up and through the place.
The fact I know Dunfermline fairly well probably affected my response to its museum. If it had been a place I know less well, the museum may not have resonated as much with me. A couple of days previously, I was in Perth. I like Perth – it’s a douce, prim sort of town, a traditional market sort of place. Its highlights for me are the Fergusson Gallery, dedicated to the work of Colourist artist JD Fergusson, and Huntingtower Castle, which sits just at the other side of the A9 at the edge of the city. This time I went to the Fergusson, where there was a good exhibition linking Fergusson to Charles Rennie Mackintosh (on until 29th January 2018, incidentally) and for a daunder along the Tay. On the way back, I hit Perth Museum and Art Gallery, which sits in an elegant building with pillars and an atrium just up from the river. The first time I went to Perth Museum was a few years ago and I remember being struck by how dated its displays were. Some of the displays about the local area were produced in 1990. This was well into the noughties. I was born in 1989 and at that point I could vote and everything. Thankfully, it has been spruced up since then though it is about to shut for a refurb again. The natural history and geology bit, which is much the same age as I am, was fine though it was hard to get into. It was a lot of reading, which is fine, though not knowing Perthshire very well or much about its geography or wildlife, I was a bit lost. The current exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (on until 4th November) was great, with lots of taxidermy on show as well as good, absorbing exhibition panels about the society’s activities. I go to enough exhibitions to know when a curator has had fun putting an exhibition together and the curator at Perth had clearly been loving their work, displaying all these stuffed animals in such a way that really stood out.
Scotland is far more than Edinburgh and Glasgow. Or indeed more than Loch Ness or Stirling Castle. It is those places that aren’t always obvious. One of the best museums in the country is the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath, another is Broughty Castle Museum in Broughty Ferry, just outside Dundee. The other day I was thinking about being at the opening of the museum in Musselburgh a few years ago, which manages to combine a whole lot of the history of that fine burgh in a space about the size of a newsagents. There are still loads I haven’t seen. For years, I’ve been meaning to go to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright, which is apparently from a bygone age, and indeed to the Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura. It’s a fairly difficult part of the world to get to, Dumfries and Galloway – as written about a wee while ago in Awkward – so it will probably be a while until I get there. I still haven’t been to Eyemouth Museum, which has a good collection about fishing, despite it being fairly close to Dunbar, where I grew up.
This is why I am in no particular hurry to travel abroad. Where I live, or near to it, is interesting enough already. The museums especially.