Gilded Animals and Fluffy Stuff
This is the sixth in a series of guest blogs written by visiting students who are working on the conservation of the decorative scheme created by William Hole. This post was written by Linda Raitosalo from Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.
The project at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is nearing its end; time has flown by so fast! When I arrived with my classmate from Finland to take a part in this fantastic student project, hoping to gain valuable experience and get to know other conservation students from other countries. I’m happy to say that the project has exceeded my expectations. As our studies are mainly on easel paintings and such, I have never worked on murals before and I find I’m rather enjoying the experience. There is something especially hands-on kind of fun about climbing up and down scaffolding and working on such a large scale.
But sometimes the sheer scale of things can be a little bit overwhelming. It’s easy to see only the big picture, but it’s also a good idea to take a look at some of the fun little details. The murals themselves have an amazing amount of detail, but they are not the only ones. For the last three days I have been cleaning some of the gilded capitals that decorate the hall. They have been carved out of the same red sandstone of which the whole building has been built and all of them depict leaves and fruit, matching the theme of the entire hall.
This bit of decorative art is easy to dismiss, unless you look closely. For hidden in between the leaves, twigs and fruit are small animal figures, some of which are mythical and some real. I think my personal favourite would be this little winged lion that lives on the East wall near the Southeast corner.
But I think the most peculiar carving we have seen is in the stairway outside the Great Hall that has pedestals with a similar style carving on them. The pedestals are a later addition and are not part of the original architecture. Between the 2nd and 3rd floor on the East side of the building, there crouching amongst the leaves on one of them is a figure of a small man wearing a motorcycling helmet!
During this project, as we are working very close to the murals and some parts of the architecture, we get to notice things that aren’t easy to see from down below, or you wouldn’t think to look for – things that are easy to miss. There has been one thing however, that has been absolutely impossible to miss, and that is cotton wool. We use it for cleaning, and it is everywhere. We work two floors above ground level, and somehow the cotton wool has made its way down six flights of stairs to the bottom. It clings to our clothes and our hair. Every day when we leave work it makes us look an absolute mess.