Behind the Scenes with Art UK

9th May 2019

Over the past couple of months, the Collections team at Abbotsford has been preparing to take part in Art UK’s Sculpture Project. This is a National project working to photograph and digitise sculpture in public collections in order to make it more accessible to the public. This follows Art UK’s previous Your Paintings project which focussed entirely on oil paintings. You can enjoy the fruits of the project here at Abbotsford over on the Art UK website.

After meeting with our regional co-ordinator, Rhona, Kirsty and I came up with a list of potential candidates from our object collection. Very quickly we found ourselves questioning the situation for all of our carvings and casts built in to the fabric of Abbotsford! Due to the wonderfully eclectic nature of Scott’s museum collection and the way in which he often inset salvaged sculpture into his buildings and structures, our initial list contained everything from plaster casts of skulls to sections of the bed posts from Mary Queen of Scot’s House in Jedburgh! Rhona’s job was a tricky one as she had to whittle down the contenders to the sculptures that fitted Art UK’s criteria for the project. Her final decisions were made even harder given the fascinating stories linked to all of our objects! With her help, we reached a compromise where certain items were removed from the list and others were used as demonstrative of a wider body of material, particularly with regards to our interior and exterior decoration.


religious corridor

The wide variety of sculptures and casts made the choice difficult

Finally the first day of photography came and armed with a list detailing an ambitious number of sculptures to try and photograph, we met with Rhona and Matt our photographer for the day.

We started off in the Historic House where the intricacies of Scott’s home soon made work difficult. Matt battled on in challenging conditions, up ladders and squashed into awkward spaces photographing sculptures in situ. Due to their size, height from the ground, weight or the very fact that they were set into the fabric of the building, these items had to be photographed in situ. This was much easier for us to do over the winter when we are closed to the public for conservation cleaning.

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Matt and Rhona capturing Sir Walter's best side

Although we made great progress in the morning, in the afternoon we moved to our “studio” set up and things moved up a gear. We had been able to move a large number of items into our board room which became our studio for the afternoon, with the help of a large sheet of white paper which formed a cleaver neutral backdrop. Rhona and I spent the afternoon moving large and often heavy sculptures around, changing their position so that Matt could capture a 360 degree image.

Amazingly we photographed all the sculptures on our list for the day, although everyone was quite tired after the heavy lifting involved!

With sculptures built into the very fabric of Abbotsford, photgraphing them is no easy feat

Our second day of photography, which mainly involved our outdoor sculpture, came at the beginning of April on the only sunny day of an otherwise wintery week! Rhona and Matt spent the day outdoors, photographing selected sculptures in our gardens and grounds. These ranged from characters in Scott’s books such as Edie Ochiltree, to carved stone heads of people who worked on the estate in Scott’s day such as Tom Purdie. Despite the hard work getting professional photographs of all of our sculpture, there was still time for an ice cream!

We have really enjoyed taking part in the project so far and are looking forward to sharing our sculptures with the general public through Art UK’s online catalogue. We are also involved with the educational projects that Art UK are running in conjunction with the sculpture project. This will involve taking one of our sculptures out into the community which will be very exciting – more to come on that as it happens!

Eve Sladdin

Collections and Engagement Assistant

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