Month: September 2016

Burns’s relationship with the Kirk

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Earlier this year, two students from the Scottish literature department at Glasgow Uni joined us on a month long placement as part of their degree. This is the first in a series of four blog posts they wrote between them on elements of the exhibition they found significant.

During his lifetime, Burns was inspired by many different things, but one of the most significant aspects – which gave him plenty of creative fodder to chew on – was the oppressive control the Scottish Presbyterian Church held over not only the people within his own locality, who provided his primary concern, but the entire nation. In its ‘A Cauld Kirk’ section, the museum chooses poems which reflect this: ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’, ‘The Holy Fair’, and ‘The Holy Tulzie’. Burns’s religious satire is a rich source for one who wishes to observe the religious climate of the late eighteenth century, and so we must recognise that our present-day attitudes towards Burns’s contemporary Kirk have probably been largely shaped by his poetry. However, Burns’s religion has often been misunderstood by readers and critics alike – Burns was not an enemy of religion, nor a pious Presbyterian, but we can be sure from his satire that he hated religious hypocrisy. Around the time Burns was writing, a rift was beginning to appear within the Church of Scotland. There appeared two branches of Presbyterianism – the ‘Auld Lichts’ who represented a more severe and unforgiving form of Presbyterianism, Calvinism, which involved fire and brimstone sermons and the idea of predestination which Burns so despised. The ‘New Lichts’, with whom Burns shared sentiments and could really get behind, represented a more moderate form of Presbyterianism which sought to put more emphasis on morality and the human aspects of religion, rather than just being blindly faithful.

It cannot be denied that Burns’s religious satire is an attack on the ‘Auld Lichts’. Ever since the Reformation, individual Kirks within small communities held supposedly God-given authority over their people – and they ruled by fear. To illustrate this, the museum allows you to put yourself in Burns’s riding boots by taking a seat on the ‘cutty-stool’ or ‘creepie-chair’, situated in front of the pulpit and therefore the entire congregation. This chair is not dissimilar to the naughty-step your parents might have chastised you on, and in it Burns would have sat and been told off in front of his family and good friends, as well as he entire village of Mauchline, and this did not sit well with him at all. Burns willingly sat in similar sermons all over the country – he was a ‘sermon-taster’ – but it was his experiences within the Mauchline Kirk which inspired poems such as ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ and ‘The Holy Fair’. However, the museum does acknowledge the fact that Burns’s religious allegiances were not as clear cut as they may appear in his satirical poetry by recognising his relationship with ‘Auld Licht’ minister William Dalrymple, whom Burns admired and respected for his liberal views – it is well known that Burns was a man of many contradictions.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway.

Hanging in the ‘A Cauld Kirk’ section is Alexander Carse’s painting ‘The Mauchline Holy Fair’, a depiction of the twice-yearly gathering described in ‘The Holy Fair’. If you look carefully at it you might notice a character resembling Burns, sporting a rather mischievous smile, walking alongside the bright and beautiful personification of Fun, closely followed by the dark, grim, Calvinist-type women representing Superstition and Hypocrisy. Mauchline Kirk is painted at the left, the pub on the right, and between them the village community, caught up in a kind of moral tug-of-war. Carse depicts the villagers as Burns would have recognised them, as individuals caught up on the tension between religion and traditional culture. This moral tug-of-war was about deciding whether to embrace their freedom – drink, chat, eat, and flirt until there heart was content – or to behave themselves and not risk public condemnation in the sermon. We see now that these people lived in constant fear of the Kirk and its authority – one foot out of place was all it took. Burns was a fond observer of human nature and he recognised that in order to be reformed, the Kirk must take moral weakness and human frailty into account.

This exhibit is only a small sample of what Burns’s moderate Presbyterianism and relationship with the Kirk has inspired, and it is important we remember the unjust Kirk practices that inspired Burns to write, so that people never have to live in fear of being ‘only human’ again.

By Kirsty MacQueen

Friends On Baith Sides: Photography

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Last Saturday, we held our third and final workshop for ‘Friends On Baith Sides’, an intergenerational project aimed at learning new skills through a series of creative endeavours, using Burns as an inspiration.

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Our guest workshop leader was Iain Brown from Photography Made Simple, introducing us to the world of photography. We began by looking at some of Ian’s cameras and discovered that some of the most famous photographs in the world were actually taken with relatively simple equipment. The key to a good photograph, as it turns out, was not about a fancy camera but all about setting the shot.

To this end, Iain stepped up as the model/victim for the group’s first attempts at a portrait shot! With little time to prepare, everybody snapped a quick photo of Ian, each directing him to stand up, sit down, smile, look serious, wear glasses, or stare thoughtfully into the distance. We quickly realised we had more than one potential David Bailey in our talented gaggle of budding photographers.

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Next up, it was time for the group to hone their skills and consider how to extract light for that perfect shot. Iain explained that they should be aiming to recreate the ‘Rembrandt Triangle’, a popular lighting technique used in portrait photography where light is on one half of the face of the subject, and a triangle of light is on the shadowed side of the face just under the eye.

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Rembrandt Self-Portrait, 1658 (image from Wikipedia)

Tricky indeed but admirably attempted by all and it was obvious to see vast improvements from the original portrait shots. It was also fascinating to see how taking a photograph of the same person in the same place using the same camera could produce completely different images!

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To round off the day, the group went outside to explore the landscape that inspired so much of Burns’ poetry. Here the technical side of photography (composition, direction, approach) combined with the creative and the group produced lots of lovely snaps.

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All in all, a wonderful day was had by all. New skills were learnt and lots of stories were shared – did you hear the one about the time Iain was the official photographer at a horse-racing event? It involves a slightly new photographer, a nervous horse, a camera flash and a rather disgruntled jockey!

To hear more about this and see the final products from our photographers, come along to our Creative Showcase on Saturday 1st October 11am -1pm. We will be displaying all of the work produced over the last three weeks for Friends On Baith Sides and celebrating the achievements of all involved with songs, stories and refreshments. Free entry, all welcome.

With thanks to Austin Hope Pilkington Trust and Craigie Development Trust for funding this project.

Friends on Baith Sides : Song Writing

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On Saturday the 10th of September we had the second of our Friends on Baith Sides workshops. Friends on Baith Sides is an intergenerational project funded by Austin Hope Pilkington Trust and Craigie Development Trust. The project takes its name from a line in Burns’ 1792 poem ‘Here’s A Health To Them That’s Awa’ and is aimed at getting people of different generations to form friendships and learn skills together, this week we had a song writing workshop led by Jamie McGeechan.

The workshop on Saturday was busy and vibrant with a nice mix of people of all ages. At the beginning of the workshop Jamie highlighted how important he felt it was to interact and form friendships with those of different generations to your own. One of the participants spoke to me during the break about how nice it was to see young people there getting involved and that it ‘Restored his faith in humanity’ he also spoke about the generation gap and how it only exists if you let it.

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The workshop took the form of a nice big chat with everyone sharing their own ideas, opinions and experience of song writing and interacting with music. We also had quite a few participants performing for us. It was really lovely to see how comfortable the group was and how supportive everyone was of each other.

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Jamie played a couple of his own songs for us including one called ‘These Days.’

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Rosie sang a song for us about horses on the boat from Arran during the First World War. It was based on a photo she had seen which she had used for inspiration.

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Rebecca is 15 and got into song writing after having been offered music lessons at school. She sang a song she had written called ‘Little Soldier’ for us, she had been inspired by other songs she had heard and the idea of telling another side of the story. The intergenerational aspect of the project was really highlighted when Rebecca said that she was inspired by singer songwriters such as Ed Sheeran and I saw one of the older men in the group looking up and mouthing ‘Who!?’

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Hector then sang a song called ‘Smile’ that he had written the previous night which had been based on the good mood he had been in that night. He told us about how he writes about what he sees and how he feels. Hector is 13 now and has been playing guitar since he was in primary 5.

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Kenny then performed the ‘Loch Fyne Herring Song’ for us. He wasn’t sure himself if it was a song or a poem but it told the lovely story of him being sent to buy herring for his family when he was a young boy.

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Our youngest participants Maisie and Archie played us some music that they had made on an app called Garage Band and Archie also played a wee bit of guitar for us on this very snazzy blue acoustic number.

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It was a brilliant day and everyone seemed to have a great time, two of my favourite bits of song writing advice that were shared was Hector’s advice of ‘Nobody said it had to make sense anyway’ and Scott’s comforting statement that ‘Persistent doubt is part of creativity.’ I think one of the participants summed the day up perfectly by saying ‘I enjoyed the workshop, brilliant company and young and old learning together!’

We will be hosting a creative showcase of the work that has been done during the Friends on Baith Sides project on October 1st from 11am-1pm.

For more information about Jamie and his work please visit his website. http://www.littlefiremusic.com

 

 

 

Recycle your leftovers!

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This week, the 12th – 18th September, is Recycle Week Scotland, with this year’s focus being food waste reduction. As a lover of nature, Robert Burns would almost certainly have cared passionately about protecting our environment, and coming from a farming family would have found the concept of wasting food quite alien. This week, we asked our staff and volunteers to share their favourite ‘leftover’ recipes – ways to use up those bits and bobs still in the fridge at the end of the week. We’ve chosen our favourites below, including a guest recipe from our neighbours at Culzean Castle and Country Park! We hope you enjoy them – if you have any of your own ideas then let us know in the comments.

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1. Left over stir fry – by Learning Intern, Linda Muir

Ingredients:
Use leftover boiled rice (if you need to make rice, cook it and let it cool down first)
Any vegetables in your fridge or freezer. Broccoli, carrots, peas, bell peppers etc work best. I like to add some pak choi or kai lan (Chinese broccoli) if I can.
Meat: I like to use left over chicken from a roast but any small pieces of meat will work. Otherwise fresh chicken breast or pork fillet cut into small pieces.
1 or 2 eggs, beaten
1 Onion, diced
Ginger or garlic
1 teaspoon of ground Szechuan pepper (if you have it)
Soy sauce
Oyster sauce (if you have it)
Sesame oil (if you have it)

Instructions:
Using a wok on a high temperature, fry your ginger or garlic with a splash of oil. Add the diced onion and the Szechuan pepper and fry for a few minutes. Add any meat and cook if required (if the meat is already cooked then add it later) Move the ingredients from the wok to the side and add your egg, stirring to prevent it sticking so you have some scrambled egg. Add in any vegetables or cooked meat now along with roughly a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of oyster sauce. Cook for 30 seconds or so, stirring continuously. Now add the cold rice and stir it all together. The rice should have a coating of sauce on it, if it doesn’t add a little more soy sauce. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of sesame oil over the top.
The ingredients for this can be changed quite easily, as long as you have some rice and veg you can make a version of it. I like to use all the random bits in the fridge I haven’t managed to use in other meals. It’s also a great way to use left over rice if you are like me and always make way more than you need!

2. Pasta Asciutta – by Volunteer, Tricia Candlish

Ingredients:
Left-over mince
1 onion (chopped)
1 – 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped/minced)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Quantity of cooked pasta (macaroni or similar type)
Parmesan cheese, to serve

Instructions:
1. Sautee the chopped onion in a little oil (or simmer in a couple of tablespoons of water for a lighter version).
2. When the onion is soft, add the chopped garlic.
3. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes.
4. Salt and pepper, to taste.
5. Simmer for a few minutes.
6. Add the left-over mince and heat through.
7. Add the cooked pasta and mix till coated with sauce.
8. Serve sprinkled with some parmesan cheese.

Note: It is also nice to grate some cheddar cheese and mix into the sauce mixture after adding the cooked pasta.

3. Spanish Omelettes or frittata – by Volunteer, Rosie Mapplebeck

Ingredients (suggested for lunch for 4 people!)
150-200g boiled potatoes, cut in 2cm chunks
4 eggs
5 green-tails, chopped, or 2 sprouting onions. You can also use wild garlic leaves if you like.
1 handful leftover bits of veg like red pepper, frozen peas or green beans, beetroot (boiled or baked not pickled), even kale or young nettle tops are good.
1 handful feta cheese, cubed plus any cheese ends, grated.
1 dessert spoon olive oil and teaspoon sunflower oil
2 teaspoons Italian herb seasoning/ mixed herbs

Instructions:
Heat oils in a large seasoned or non-stick frying pan. Fry potatoes and turn over when golden.
Crack eggs into a bowl and add 100 ml tepid water, herbs, seasoning and beat till mixed
Pour eggs into pan over potatoes and immediately add the veg, green-tails and top with cheese cubes
Pop a lid over the pan and cook on medium heat till egg is set.
Cool slightly then turn out onto a large plate. Serve hot or cold with salad or steamed seasonal greens.
Note: To season a pan to make it non-stick, heat pan and wipe with kitchen roll dipped in oil and fine salt. Wipe pan thoroughly, heat and repeat several times. A patina will form which stops adhesion. After use re-season with another wipe and heating.

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4. ‘Sellery sauce’ – a guest 18th century recipe from Culzean Castle and Country Park!

Ever wondered what to do with those leftover bits of celery in the fridge? Hannah Glasse, one of the most famous cookbook authors of the 18th Century, provides us with a delicious recipe to make a sauce in her The Art of Cookery, made plain and easy.
To make celery sauce either for roasted or boiled fowl, turkeys, partridges or any other game
Take a large bunch of celery, wash and clean it, cut it into little bits, and boil it softly in a little water till it is tender; then add a little beaten mace, some nutmeg, pepper and salt, thickened with a good piece of butter rolled in flour; then boil it up, and pour into your dish.
You may make it with cream thus: boil your celery as above, and add some mace, nutmeg, some butter as big as a walnut, rolled in flour and half a pint of cream: boil them all together, and you may add, if you will, a glass of white wine, and a spoonful of ketchup.
Yum!

Friends on Baith Sides: Willow Weaving

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Friends on Baith Sides is an intergenerational outreach project. We are seeking to teach people new skills and make new connections to the museum through a series of creative workshops. Saturday was our first week and we got off to a flying start by making some beautiful handmade willow baskets.

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Our teacher, Geoff Forrest, chose a basket for the day’s project as it is an object that may have been familiar and useful in the 18th century when Burns was living in Alloway. We started with a circle of willow that Geoff had already constructed for us. The next step was to add in ‘spines’ using a thick section of willow and then tie it with strands of willow to the circle in a cross stitch. We then simply started weaving the reed between the spines and the circle.

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The process sounds fairly simple but the material frays and snaps quite easily and can be tricky to manipulate the way you want it. One trick Geoff showed us was to wind the willow around a stick to start with so it had a curve already as one of our participants demonstrates below:

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It was lovely to see everyone pitching in to help each other with the trickier bits and several people commented on how therapeutic it became once they got the hang of the technique.

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Feedback on the workshop has been very positive. One person said, ‘Great class, great teacher, great fun. Thank you very much’ while another said ‘what a fabulous day’.

We are pleased to offer these workshops free of charge thanks to funding from Austin Hope Pilkington Trust and The Craigie Development Trust. Next Saturday, 10th September, we have a song writing workshop and there are still a few places left if you would like to take part. A photography workshop will take place on 17th September as well. Contact 01292 430 316 if you would like to book a place.