May 232014

On Friday night, the 16th of May, Aberdeen Art Gallery hosted an opening evening for adults. The verdict: huge success. Suzanne Kelly attended.

Festival-of-Museums-logo-holder-image_4x3A programme of fun, varied, creative, and thought-provoking activities awaited the many visitors to Aberdeen Art Gallery on Friday 16th.

When closing time came at 10 p.m., it came too soon.

The activities were, by and large, based around the theme of World War I.

Local historian, published writer, and my former neighbour Graeme Milne held writing workshops.

Participants selected random words pulled from an envelope and composed poems on the war theme.

The theme was beautifully, touchingly and sometimes humorously brought to life in a series of postcards Milne showed the attendees, and by the poems he read. One postcard from Christmas Day 1914 is reproduced at the end of this article.

Peacock Visual Arts had a massively popular printing workshop. Visitors queued and talked about the events, while waiting to choose from a number of famous WWI propaganda images and create their own screen print in a choice of colours of ink and paper. Alphabet blocks and ink also allowed those participating to create their own propaganda posters.

Finished posters by the score hung to dry on a line; Kitchener’s famous image was surreally reproduced in many colours. Peacock didn’t stop printing all evening.

People milled around exhibitions, tried on period costumes and posed for photos, and wrote telegrams.  Paper crane making gave people the chance to hide origami cranes in the gallery for people to discover the next day. Another popular activity was designing and making poppies.

People worked in near silence as they concentrated on making individual poppies from felt, ribbon, paper and tulle; these were mounted on rings, pins and headbands. The interactive, informative, creative, and overall fun nature of these events made the night the success it was.

Wartime sketching workshops allowed people to try their skills at quickly capturing models in army uniform. A prize was awarded during one session to Marion Black, who had this to say about the evening:

“I think there should be more things like this in Aberdeen; I think the creative art scene needs to be encouraged.  I study history of art, and there’s not that much out there for events; there’s Peacock and a few others…  we have an amazing gallery; the collection here is amazing.”

This event was part of the Festival of Museums event programme taking place across Scotland from Friday 16th May to Sunday 18th May 2014. Visit for details.

Before the event, Anna Shortland, the informal learning officer and event co-ordinator for Aberdeen Art Gallery, said:

“The Art Gallery is an amazing, unique place at any time of the day, and so we are confident that people will have a brilliant night.

“We know that our visitors are keen to see the gallery in a more informal and social context – having fun in a museum or art gallery is not just for children but for adults too. The line-up is sure to bring in new audiences and we’ve already had lots of interest in this event.”

The evening was exactly the sort of event Aberdeen needs: well thought out behind the scenes, and spontaneous, fun, unrestricting and educational for the attendees. More like this please!  But amid all the creating, singing and socialising, I could not forget the words on the postcard that ‘Jamie’ wrote to his mother.

His words in pencil were quite faint; the card they are on is ageing, but the sentiment of a young man at war, thinking of home on a Christmas Day, are something I will remember for a long time:

“December 25 1914 – Dear Mother, This is a board to remind (thou) it is Xmas, but as this is the day of ______ it well may be in time for next Xmas.  At any rate it will be in time for the new year or sometime after it.  We are holding Xmas day so we are getting a fed [sic] off them so we will have to make it as merry as we can. I am longing for a few lines from you soon. Hoping this Xmas you are all well, and wishing you all a  Happy New  Year as this leaves me in the best of spirits, but would of [sic] been pleased  holding the New Year at home. This is Xmas day in Italy – Jamie”

– I found myself hoping that this ‘Jamie’ made it home and saw many more Xmas days; so many never made it home again.

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