Edinburgh, United Kingdom
July 5, 2002
When I first entered through the glass doors buried amongst the building’s trademark columns, I was in the small gift shop area. I picked up a museum guide leaflet and went up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs is the Social History Gallery, which starts off with a nice enough exhibit representing the office of the museum’s first curator. Because the museum was founded in 1871, this means it contained every sort of thing of interest to the ‘naturalist’, from the curator’s personal collection of butterflies to stuffed lions and tigers. Further along was an area devoted to Paisley explorers, and there’s a stuffed wombat. In this same area was an exhibition on ‘psychedelica’, including paisley-adorned garments and other items from the 1960s and 70s. Around the corner was a display on Paisley’s experience of World War II, and then another describing what it was like to live in the city in the 1930s.
I moved on to the Exhibition Gallery, which was devoted to things royal in honor of the Queen’s Jubilee. I have to admit I completely skipped this, as I find royalty and their possessions very boring, or even irritating (perhaps they could spare some of the extravagance and actually do something for their subjects, ya think?).
Finally I made it to the Shawl Gallery, which had a couple of large looms on display, and several shawls encased in protective glass. There are also several boards describing the history of the design and shawl production of the area. Paisleys, contrary to what I assumed, did not originate here. Instead, they are based on a Kashmiri design, which became fashionable in the late 18th century first in Britain and then in France. At this point the shawls were simply ‘imitation Indian’, but by the 1820s the designs became more complex and therefore more original. Paisley was one of the three top production centers in Britain for these shawls; the others were Edinburgh and Norwich. There was a great deal of rivalry between them all, but obviously Paisley did something right since the design has retained its name!
The last part of my visit was to the Art Galleries. There was an exhibition on involving a couple of contemporary artists, one of whom is ‘Scottish’ and the other ‘British’ (hmm…). They created some pieces for the exhibit and selected some more traditional artwork in the gallery’s permanent collection, and everything was displayed together. Maybe I’m uncultured, but I just found it singularly unimpressive. This particular exhibit is on until the end of August 2002.
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sunday 2-5pm. Admission is free and much, but not all, of the museum is wheelchair accessible (call +44 (0)141 889 3151 for details).
From journal Paisley: Not Exactly a Suburb of Glasgow