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4 Jun 2018

Revealing our collections ... and our stories

Transcript

We have a responsibility to tell the stories of the people who lived in our properties, that’s what we are here to do. Until we understand what’s in our collections we can’t do that properly and we can’t let people engage with them properly because we don’t know ourselves the deep significance of what we hold, so this project’s all about bringing that to the fore and letting people access it for themselves – and maybe have their own interpretations of what’s important.

So Project Reveal is an exciting project that’s taking about 18 months to catalogue everything in our collections. We’ve got 26 people working on Project Reveal and every week there’s a blog article published by members of the team, and what’s wonderful about it they just pick the things they find most interesting in their daily work, so sometimes they talk about the process of documenting the collections but quite often they will pick out an item that they found particularly interesting, and these are stories that wouldn’t necessarily come to light otherwise.

Well, Project Reveal is taking place in our properties whilst they are open to the public, so although this is normally behind-the-scenes work, if you were visiting a property and the team is working there you can watch them at work and ask them questions about what they are doing. Well, we’d love the public to be able to contribute stories and also their own understanding of the significance of our collections. When we publish these collections online we’d like to invite people to comment what they think is significant about our collections. The other interesting aspect of our work is how our collections sit within the property – and one thing we are aware of is that we hadn’t really catalogued the interiors as whole items, so what makes a particular room significant? It isn’t just the architecture or the collections, it’s the assemblage of those things and items like plaster ceilings or wood panelling, staircases, mantelpieces – all of that needs to be documented so we understand the significance of those interior spaces, as well as the collections in them.

So Project Reveal is obviously a high-impact, short-term project but all the time we are also managing the collections behind the scenes. Any time an object is moved we have to update its location on the database and we have to keep in touch of things like insurance values, and loans, so some items don’t belong to us, they are on loan from other people. Right now a very fantastic portrait from Fyvie Castle of Colonel William Gordon, painted in 1776 in Rome, is actually on display in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It’s popped up there, it looks fantastic, but behind the scenes there is a lot of work to ensure that that could be shipped safely, insured properly, understood for the catalogue and our curators, conservators and registrars were all involved in making that happen.

Maintaining and cataloging collections is vital if we are going to understand their significance. People see museums and collections like ours as a trusted source of information at a time in the world when maybe we are less trusting of some of the information we read. However, we have a huge responsibility, there isn’t just one story, there isn’t one history, and one of the things we hope to be able to do, going forward, is bring different stories to the fore, the stories of the people who worked in the properties, who made the estates work, who supported the people who lived in them, and these people don’t always have portraits painted of them, so it’s the stories behind the closed doors below stairs that we want to bring to life, as we go forward. Project Reveal is the first step to doing that because we are documenting absolutely every aspect of life in these properties and we want to share with as wide an audience as possible.

Susannah Hillhouse

Number 1 in our 100 Ways list is Project Reveal, our ambitious project to create a digital record for every object in our collections, and telling people what we find.

The National Trust for Scotland is working every day to protect Scotland’s national and natural treasures. From coastlines to castles, art to architecture, wildlife to wilderness, we protect all of this For the Love of Scotland.

In Our Strategy for Protecting Scotland’s Heritage 2018 – 2023, we set out how we’re planning to work towards our vision that Scotland’s heritage is valued by everyone and protected now, and for future generations.

To show the scale of the work we’re doing, we’ve identified 100 Ways we’re protecting Scotland’s heritage.

One of these is Project Reveal - one of the most ambitious digitisation projects in Scotland.

Here, we're creating a digital record for every object in our collections all over the country, and telling people what we find as we go. 

Running since August 2017, three are five teams working across the country to record every single item in the Trust’s collections. 

So far, the 26-strong crew have logged and photographed 35,000 objects, completing inventories at 17 locations, and uncovering lots of fascinating stories in the process. 

Project Reveal has two main functions: one is to record every item in our collection and make sure we have good quality information about the pieces; the other is all about the stories. 

Quote
“We have a responsibility to tell the stories of the people who lived in our properties, that’s what we are here to do. ”
Susanna Hillhouse
Collections Manager

Susanna explains further:  

‘Until we understand what’s in our collections, we can’t do that properly and we can’t let people engage with them properly because we don’t know ourselves the deep significance of what we hold. 

‘So this project’s all about bringing that to the fore and letting people access it for themselves – and maybe have their own interpretations of what’s important.’ 

So far the team have uncovered some really interesting objects. But this isn’t just about collecting stories, it’s also about sharing them and showcasing the amazing pieces that are on display, or even in cupboards, in places across the country. 

Project Reveal team documenting artworks at Broughton House
Project Reveal team documenting artworks at Broughton House

Over the next few months, the teams will be heading out to Broughton House, Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Falkland Palace, Fyvie Castle, J M Barrie’s Birthplace and Pollok House. 

Project Reveal is an example of Conservation in Action – that means the teams work even when the properties are open to the public. It offers a peek at the often-hidden work that goes in to protecting our collections and gives visitors a chance to be the first to find out the story behind that striking object that really catches the eye.

There’s just so much to share about Scotland’s heritage, and so many untold stories to shed light on, as Susanna says: 

‘Project Reveal is the first step to [bringing different stories to the fore] because we are documenting absolutely every aspect of life in these properties and we want to share with as wide an audience as possible.’

The Project Reveal teams are blogging throughout the course of this project. You can read all about their latest discoveries here and follow them on our social media channels too. 

100 ways

in which we’re loving and protecting Scotland, for you.

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