John Byrne: Sitting Ducks

John Byrne exhibition posterScottish National Portrait Gallery

I recently mentioned visiting the beautiful Portrait Gallery in my post about my love for Scotland. Whilst visiting the Gallery I saw an attractive exhibition dedicated to the work of Scottish artist John Byrne.

Byrne was born in Paisley and studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1958 to 1963. He has worked as an artist, playwright and theatre designer. Byrne has always tried to avoid being associated with particular styles or movements in art. I was interested in the exhibition because the artist guided the selection of works on display, with many of the portraits being of close friends and family.

John Byrne exhibition, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

In this video, Byrne gives an introduction to the exhibition and guides the viewer around the space. He discusses some of the most captivating works, including those of his children and the beautiful Tilda Swinton.

I’ve always know John Byrne as the artist with the best moustache in Scotland! The exhibition contains a number of self-portraits (including the painting below) which show the evolution of his famous facial hair! I remember this artwork fondly, as previously hung in the Gallery cafe. I’ve spent many a time gazing at it while enjoying a coffee and a lovely homemade scone. That jacket is truly something to behold!

Self Portrait by John Byrne, 1971-1973. National Galleries Scotland

(source: National Galleries Scotland)

The exhibition also includes portraits of well-known faces, including comedian Billy Connolly wearing his famous banana boots!

Billy Connolly by John Byrne, National Galleries Scotland.

(source: National Galleries Scotland)

As well as the self-portraits, the other artworks which captured my imagination were the quickly executed chalks of his children. Even though the exhibition only covers two rooms, I felt it was successful in showcasing the artist’s various styles. It was also a truly Scottish exhibition. Perfect for my return visit! If you want to know more about the work of John Byrne, many of his artworks can be found on the Your Paintings website, as well as the National Galleries Scotland online collections.

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John Byrne | Sitting Ducks

National Portrait Gallery of Scotland

14 June – 19 October 2014

Admission free


view of Edinburgh Castle

In Love with Scotland

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Before I moved to Adelaide I lived in Edinburgh (and in St Andrews before that). While in the UK, I knew I HAD to go back to Scotland to relive the glory days! The good weather I’d had in London and Glastonbury fortunately decided to stick around, making for a very bonnie visit. I’m always discussing the various merits of Scotland with my boyfriend. I think Edinburgh is one of the best cities in the whole world. He on the other hand, found after ten years of living there, the weather wore him down. At least we won’t be having that problem in Australia!

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Day one in Edinburgh, consisted of an afternoon visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, followed by some shopping! This place wins the prize for my favourite museum in Edinburgh. I love everything about it! The Gallery reopened in late 2011 following a big refurbishment and it’s been one of my firm favourites ever since. You just need to look at the entrance hall to know what an amazing place it is.

Frieze at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery was designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson as a shrine for Scotland’s heroes and heroines. It opened to the public in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery. An elaborate Arts and Crafts decorative scheme, both inside and out, with its glittering friezes, evocative murals and extensive sculptural embellishment, makes it a very special visitor experience.

Mary, Queen of Scots, 1542 - 1587 (National Galleries Scotland)

Mary, Queen of Scots, 1542 – 1587, National Galleries Scotland.

I headed up to the top of the Gallery and started with the beautiful portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots. One of the reasons I love visiting is because Scottish history practically leaps off the walls. For a small country, Scotland has produced a vast array of wonderful minds through the ages. As the quote above suggests, this is the place to learn about the great and the good of Scottish history. I was a little but sad to find my favourite display of Scottish scientists has been removed to make way for a new World War I exhibition, but I guess that’s the rhythm of life in museums.

One of the displays I particularly enjoyed was the temporary exhibition “John Byrne: Sitting Ducks”. Focusing on the artist’s portraiture, the exhibition included many self-portraits. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the display and the artworks I admired soon.

The Queen’s Gallery

Entrance to the Queen's Gallery, Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh.

Visting the ‘In Fine Style’ exhibition wearing a dress I made myself!

Day 2: I set out to meet old friends and we ventured to the Queen’s Gallery, at Holyrood Palace. Those who have read my post about the Lace exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia, will know how much I love fashion displays. So I was really excited to see the In Fine Style exhibition, focusing on Tudor and Stuart dress. This exhibition was so amazing and I can’t wait to share the full details with you in an upcoming post. Whilst visiting the Palace I discovered I wasn’t the only person visiting Edinburgh that week. The Queen was also in town for the annual Holyrood week, which includes a garden party at the Palace. Shame she forgot to invite me!

City Art Centre

After a bite to eat for lunch we were off again, this time to the City Art Centre. We were able to catch “A Capital View: the Art of Edinburgh” before it closed early this month.

The Entry of George IV into Edinburgh from the Calton Hill by John Wilson Ewbank, 1822, City of Edinburgh Council.

The Entry of George IV into Edinburgh from the Calton Hill by John Wilson Ewbank, 1822, City of Edinburgh Council.

The beauty of this exhibition was being able to chat about the landscapes pointing out recognisable features. In many of the paintings (including the one above) I was able to identify the location of my old office. It was also interesting to note the things which have changed. For example, the building in the centre of the painting above, is the old Calton Jail, which was demolished in the 1930s. Overall, I thought it was an ideal exhibition for locals and a great celebration of a beautiful city.

I don’t know about you, but I find visiting museums a tiring business. After a wonderful day walking around the city a cocktail was just what I needed! Is anyone else in love with Scotland? Do you enjoy Edinburgh despite the weather being less than perfect?

pink cocktail

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Tea display at the Geffrye Museum Garden

The Geffrye: Museum of the Home

Outside the Geffrye Museum, LondonSince arriving back in the UK, I’ve been travelling the country seeing friends, family and museums. Visiting the Geffrye Museum, during my perfect weekend in London, has been one of the highlights so far. This museum has been on my ‘must visit’ list for a long time. During my museum studies Masters in 2008, I remember one of our lecturers remarking it was her favourite museum. She’s the kind of person with very good taste, so I knew it must be a gem!

As someone who only visits London a couple of times a year, it’s always hard to fit everything in. Especially when the nationals keep coming up with tempting sounding exhibitions. As soon as I entered the Geffrye, I was quickly wondering what had kept me away for so long!

The Geffrye Museum focuses on the homes and gardens of the urban middle classes in Britain. The displays track the tastes and fashions from the 1600s to the modern day. The museum is set in a beautiful old building, which was originally built as almshouse in 1714. Today, the building is surrounded by gardens with a perfect picnic lawn at the front.

Gardens at the Geffrye MuseumThe displays consist of a series of period rooms, guiding you through the ages. Each period room is complimented by an introductory display area, with objects, interpretation and furniture you can try out! I liked these displays because you can get a closer look at the collections and it allowed distracting interpretation to be kept to a minimum in the period rooms. It was interesting to learn about how the availability of raw goods was influencing tastes of the period. Of course one of the themes that caught my eye was TEA!


All things related to tea!

I love thinking about a time when tea was a very expensive luxury. The adorable paintings of ladies taking tea, helped you imagine what it would have been like to drink from the dainty cups. I also admired the tea caddies where the lady of the house would have locked away the precious leaves. Heaven forbid one of the servants might try and steal some!

Interactive displays at the Geffrye MuseumAs you can imagine, one of the best parts of the museum was getting to sit on all the different chairs! Below are three of my favourite period rooms. What do you think? Do you have a favourite?

  1. Drawing room, 1830
  2. Drawing room, 1890
  3. Living room, 1965

Drawing room, 1830, at the Geffrye Museum

Aesthetic Movement room at the Geffrye Museum

Living room, 1965, Geffrye Museum

The 1960s living room got me pretty excited as it displayed lots of Danish Modern furniture. Having just bought a very similar dining table and chairs at an antiques shop in Adelaide, I was pleased to see this type of furniture in a museum!

The rooms are complemented by a series of gardens, which are a super part of the visit. As with the period rooms, they are organised in a timeline. There was even a tea garden inspired by beautiful tea set I’d seen on display earlier (pictured above).

Tea display at the Geffrye Museum Garden

Overall this museum has a V&A-like vibe (but not as annoyingly busy!). It was classy and a really fun afternoon out. I also spotted a pretty cafe with views over the gardens. I didn’t have time to test out on this occasion, but it’s a good excuse to visiting again!

So I’m back in London again, after visiting Galstonbury (you can read about my trip to the abbey here) and Scotland. I’ve got a couple of days free for visiting other museums. If anyone has suggestions for other less-obvious museums to visit, I’d love to hear about them. Just add a comment or tweet me @amyldale.

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Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

The real Glastonbury

So Glastonbury Festival is over for another year. For those in the know, you’ll already be aware that the festival isn’t actually located in Glastonbury. It’s held in a village called Pilton. I’ve been to the Festival many times over the years, but unlike many festival-goers I’ve also spent a fair bit of time in Glastonbury proper. This year, with the big move to Australia on the cards, I didn’t secure tickets. However, I did end up in the town during the run up to the event.

After a perfect weekend in London I headed West to spend some time in Somerset. With my Mum living in the area, I’ve spent many a happy day there. Glastonbury is know for being one of the most hippy places in the UK. It’s also a place surrounded in history and myth. Glastonbury Abbey dates to the first century and during the 1500s was the second most wealthy abbey in Britain (behind Westminster Abbey). Today the ruined remains are located at the bottom of the high street surrounded by beautiful tranquil gardens.

Glastonbury Abbey

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

The Lady Chapel, Glastonbury Abbey

The Lady Chapel – built between 1184 and 1186 on the site of the first church at Glastonbury.

With the glorious weather continuing, we took a picnic and basked in the perfect afternoon. My favorite part of the visit was the Abbot’s Kitchen, which is still intact. The kitchen would have served fine food and drink to the powerful abbots. A table in the centre of the room displayed the types of food they would have eaten, including produce grown on the lands surround the abbey.

Display of food on a table at the Abbot's Kitchen, Glastonbury Abbey

I was impressed with the number of fireplaces in the kitchen. The square room had one in each of the four corners, all designed for different types of activity. In one corner there was a special oven for making pies and bread, and on the other side of the room was a large spit for roasting meat.

Tomb of King Arthur at Glastonbury AbbeyKing Arthur at Glastonbury

The town of Glastonbury also has strong links with the legends of King Arthur. In the Abbey you can see a grave marked out. The grave  is said to be the site of the tomb for King Arthur and Guinevere. Interestingly, the sign goes on to say that the bones of the King and his wife were originally buried in a different part of the Abbey, but were later dug up on the orders of King Edward I. They were reburied with much splendor under the watchful eyes of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor in 1278.  As well as enjoying finding out about the history and myths of Glastonbury, it was the perfect day for just strolling in the grounds. Maybe it’s time for Glastonbury to be known for more than music, mud and festival fun.

View of the Tor from Glastonbury Abbey

View of the Tor from Glastonbury Abbey


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Brockwell Park

Landing in London

There is nothing better than visiting the UK during summertime. After surviving my first 23-hour flight from Adelaide, I was delighted to arrive in sunny London. I have the next couple of weeks free for exploring and travelling so I’m feeling a bit like an excited tourist.

This weekend we stayed in Brixton, eating our way across the city, visiting museums along the way. A sunny walk around Brockwell Park was the perfect way to shake off the jet lag. We discovered a hidden walled garden in the centre of the park, which offers visitors the perfect escape from the busy city. The garden was full of poppies, roses and wild flowers.

Brockwell Park walled garden

Pink roses growing in Brockwell Park walled garden

On Saturday we headed to The British Museum for the Vikings exhibition. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this exhibition for months and recently blogged about the cinema screening of the exhibition. I’ll be publishing my review of the exhibition soon.

Entrance to the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum

On Sunday, I was catching up with some of my oldest and dearest friends for a bit of a reunion. Fortunately, they don’t mind being dragged to a few museums!

In the morning, we visited The Geffrye Museum, which is devoted to the history of the home. If you’ve never heard of this place, it’s amazing! Go next time you have a day off.

Entrance to the Geffrye MuseumIn the afternoon we popped into the Wellcome Collection. I like visiting this museum because they have quirky themed exhibitions. The building is currently undergoing redevelopment, so some of the galleries were closed but we still enjoyed having a look around.  The cafe has huge comfy seats and wasn’t very busy when we visited, which was perfect for sitting around and gossiping.

Antony Gormley sculpture at the Wellcome Collection

Antony Gormley sculpture hanging from the ceiling at the Wellcome Collection, London.

Over the weekend I felt as if I got to see London at its best. When the sun shines everyone seems more happy and friendly. Next up in my trip is Glastonbury and the West of England.

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Tree in Cleland Conservation Park

Crowdsourcing conservation in the bush

During a recent visit to Mount Lofty, I spotted an interesting digital project in Cleland Conservation Park. The Park protects a significant area of natural bushland in the Adelaide Hills. The aim of project is to encourage passers-by to take photos of an areas of bush, using an app called ‘Trend‘. These photos are then used to create 3D models, allowing the researchers to monitor the ecosystem over time.

2014-06-05 13.40.46 HDRThe information board provides very clear instructions for visitors and includes a QR code for downloading the app. In order for the 3D models to be created, a photo must be taken from two different angles. For the results to be comparable, each visitor must also take the photos in exactly the same spot. These problems were easily overcome by providing posts for people to place their phones while taking the photos.

2014-06-05 13.42.12 HDR

Here you can see this area of bush being studied (between the two yellow posts) and the wooden post in the foreground where you place your phone to take the photo.

2014-06-05 13.43.10 HDR-1This area of bushland is of interest to researchers, as in October 2013 it was part of a programme of controlled burning. I could see walking around the trunks of the trees are still black from the fire. Controlled burning is a land management technique I vaguely remember reading about during my anthropology degree. So, it was interesting to see it being used in a conservation park.

Overall, this digital project caught my eye because it was simple and elegant enough to engage passers-by as citizen scientists. My one criticism is the app can only be downloaded from the Australian app store. As someone who is still connected to the UK app store I was unable to download the app. I’m sure other tourists who want to contribute will encounter the same problem. Hopefully this can easily be fixed and I wish the researchers every success with the project.

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Amy Dale, sitting on a rock in Cleland Conservation Park

Exploring Mount Lofty

Mount Lofty SummitI’m one of those people who is always itching to explore new things. Top of the list is usually cultural events, but I also like exploring the great outdoors too. I read somewhere that Adelaide is one of those places that you have to reach out and engage with; it’s not just going to grab you.

With that in mind and the sun shining, we decided to explore the Mount Lofty Summit in the Adelaide Hills. It’s a twenty minute drive from the city and is well set up for visitors. There’s everything the weary explorer needs, including a visitor centre, a gift shop and even cafe. But what you really go for it is the amazing view. Mount Lofty is more than 710 meters above sea level with panoramic views across the the city all the way to the coast.

Mount Lofty Visitor Centre

View from the summit of Mount Lofty

View from the summit of Mount LoftyThere is also an interesting monument to Matthew Flinders at the summit, which caught my eye. It’s a big white obelisk and a door on the outside got me wondering what it’s like inside. Flinders (1774 – 1814) was an English navigator and cartographer, who was the first to circumnavigate Australia and identify it as a continent. He explored and surveyed the southern Australian coastline in 1802, in his ship ‘Investigator’.

Portrait of Captain Matthew Flinders. State Library of South Australia (B 16400) 

A plaque on the side on the monument reads:

Flinders Column

In honour of Matthew Flinders commander of the Investigator who from Kangaroo Head, Kangaroo Island discovered and named Mount Lofty on Tuesday 23rd March 1802

This tablet was unveiled and the column named by his Excellency Lord Tennyson, 22nd March 1902


Matthew Flinders monument, Mount Lofty Summit

Matthew Flinders monument, Mount Lofty Summit,

Bushing walking around Mount LoftyAmy Dale at Mount Lofty by a sign giving information about bushwalking in the area

Mount Lofty is set in the beautiful Cleland Conservation Park, which protects a significant area of natural bushland. Throughout the park are trails for walking and cycling where you can enjoy the natural wildlife. As someone who has only been in Australia for six months, I get pretty excited about the idea of being in the ‘bush’. It’s one of those things that’s so typically Australian. The unfamiliarity of the plants and trees make everything seem more interesting than in the UK. For me, the natural environment is one the the biggest reminders I’m living on the other side of the world. I wore the wrong shoes for bushingwalking on the day we visited (typical!) but were still able to do a little bit of exploring. I didn’t see any koalas, but I know they live in these parts. Next time, I’ll be going for a longer walk (in the right shoes) and hopefully I’ll spot one!

It seems to be mushroom season here in South Australia; every time I head out of the city I spot them growing. I couldn’t resit talking a photo of these little mushrooms blooming from a dead tree stump. As well as enjoying the view from the summit and the beautiful bushland, I also spotted a digital conservation project from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Government. I’m always keen to see digital projects engaging with the public. Stay tuned for more about that in my next post.

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