Month: February 2015

A Day in the Life of a Learning Intern!

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What does a Learning Intern at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum do? New Intern, Catriona McIntosh shows us a day in a life of a learning intern.

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Catriona in the middle of a busy day (On her way to lunch!)

What’s the first thing you did when you arrived this morning?
I set up the Red Room for Being Burns (one of our P5-7 workshops) for 24 kids at 10am. I also managed to sneak in a cup of tea before checking my emails and sorting my ’to-do’ list for the day.

Give me a brief description of your day.
We had a double Being Burns day, this means I did the workshop at 10am and again at 12 30pm. This was an easier day as I have done this workshop a lot and don’t have to really think too much about what I am doing.
Sadly, I didn’t have time to get to the Museum cafe for the soup! The soup and sandwich lunches here are pretty amazing – the best soup is Bombay Potato.

In the afternoon I edited a PowerPoint for one of our volunteers who is giving a Highlight Talk and put together an eBook magazine of drawings that a P2-4 class had made in a workshop called Robert Burns Superstar. This is great as you see a wonderful variety of interpretations of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

What’s your favourite thing about the job?
Enthusiasm of everyone who works and volunteers here! The museum is a great place to come to work every day. I work in an office next to the cottage where we have regular visitors in the form of deer, buzzards and herons.

I also love to work with the volunteers as they have fantastic knowledge and care for what they do so much that they really make this place tick.

What’s the funniest/weirdest thing that happened working at RBBM so far?

I was once asked if I had ever seen Robert Burns’ body, met Burns, and if he opens the museum!  Also did you know that mousies sneak into the museum on the back of dragons at night time?! 5 year old imaginations are amazing!

Will the Real Robert Burns Please Stand Up?

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Our forthcoming exhibition, The Real Face of Burns, explores the legend of imagery that has grown up around our bard. While we think we know what Burns looked like, the majority of Burns imagery is based on a portrait done by the artist, Alexander Naysmith. Yet, while Naysmith knew Burns, the other images done during the life of Burns seem to conflict. Who is the real Robert Burns here, in our collection of images, and will he please stand up?

Copy of the Naysmith Burns
Print of the Alexander Naysmith Bust Portrait of Robert Burns

This is our main image of Burns, isn’t it? It has become the most popular and the most often copied, perhaps because its original creator, Alexander Naysmith, was a famous painter and his images were well known and seen. However, while Naysmith was well acquainted with Burns, has he perhaps idealised his friend in this image? Robert Burns in the Naysmith style is handsome, perhaps even slightly ‘pretty’, with slim features and fashionable dress. While the Scottish countryside evokes Burns’s farming background, the muck and pleiter of farming life seems absent in this Edinburgh painting.

Engraving by Peter Taylor 1786-87
Engraving by Peter Taylor 1786-87

There are other paintings of Robert Burns done by people who knew him and saw him, and they differ substantially. There is the Peter Taylor portrait in our collection here at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which shows Burns again in Scottish landscape, still fairly slim, sitting quite formally with a large farmer’s bunnet, but with none of the refined air of Naysmith. Sir Walter Scott, who had met Robert Burns, said of the portrait that ‘I would not hesitate to recognise this portrait as a striking resemblance of the Poet.’

Portrait of Robert Burns Alexander Reid, 1796 On loan from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Portrait of Robert Burns
Alexander Reid, 1796
On loan from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Then, to confuse us further, there is also the Alexander Reid miniature of Burns. This shows him fairly swarthy in face and with a sturdier figure. Yet this portrait was painted only 6 months prior to Burns’s death, at which point he was often described as looking visibly ill and worn. Nonetheless, Burns himself said that this portrait was the best likeness of him that had been taken, and the thicker figure also seems to match with silhouettes taken at the time.

Photographic copy of silhouette of Burns - Kilmarnock 1787
Photographic copy of silhouette of Burns – Kilmarnock 1787

So who is the real Robert Burns? Is it the slender man gazing across the ethereal landscape? Is it the sturdy farmer with ruddy cheeks? Or are these depictions merely focusing on specific aspects of the man, perhaps adapting his image to portray him as they saw him, or wished to see him? The romantic poet, the Ayrshire farmer, the common man, the heaven taught ploughman, the lover, the debater, are all different sides of the real face of Burns.

So come along to the Real Face of Burns and discover old and new ways of seeing Robert Burns! Exhibition opens February 21st at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

WHAT DOES YOUR CUP SAY ABOUT YOU!

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Tea or Coffee? The question is simple but can evoke strong opinions from people. Likewise people can have strong connections and feelings to the cup they choose to use. Here in the RBBM education office we are mixed tea and coffee drinkers, but our cups are very different: some have polar bears, others star signs – mine is a purple donkey!

In our museum collection we have Agnes ‘Clarinda’ McLehose’s coffee cup and Jean Armour’s tea cup and saucer.  These two objects stuck with me, and when I thought of the objects side by side, I began to draw comparisons between the design, liquid, and ultimately, the two women who were big personalities in Robert’s life.  What did the cup say about them? I began to think through the drink and cup and create an image of these women in my head.

Tea and coffee were both expensive drinks in the eighteenth century. Coffee was consumed in Coffee Houses, which were hubs for the discussion of trade and politics; while tea was far more gentile and social, and employed a whole set delicate paraphernalia. Also, by 1785 tea was far more affordable than it had been previously -this was due to the Government slashing duty on tea to reduce smuggling.

Clarinda is already looking a wee bit adventurous… and exotic? While Jean, the gentle ‘wife’ is more feminine with her tea!

Jean’s tea cup and matching saucer is white with a red floral decoration. The cup and saucer appears sturdy and reliable, even today there are little signs of damage or tea staining! A frequent problem in break room mugs… The flower decor is pretty but it looks tough and enduring like it would survive storms and frosts. For me it speaks to the fact that Jean stuck with Robert through thick and thin!

Jeans Teacup

By comparison Clarinda’s coffee cup is far more exotic, But then Clarinda was exotic, she was part of the upper classes and literati of Edinburgh, a far cry from Jean in the countryside. Her cup is refined and dainty, porcelain with the Chinese Pheasant; a symbol of beauty and good fortune, also the representation of literary refinement.Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway.

The imagery behind the cups brought to life for me parts of their characters and personalities, giving us hints about the two main women in Roberts’s life.

In the end I love the delicate design of Clarinda’s coffee cup, but I am a tea drinker at heart….