Dundee Connections in the Scottish Design Galleries

Andrew Batchelor of Dundee Culture explores our Scottish Design Galleries with Davie, one of our amazing Visitor Assistants, to find out more about the Dundee connections within our galleries. Watch the video and read the article below.

Written by: Andrew Batchelor

The Scottish Design Galleries are one of the most fabulous places to visit in V&A Dundee, offering visitors an insight to Scottish design both past and present. I went there recently because I wanted to discover what connections the objects on display there had to Dundee.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Visitor Assistant, Davie, who welcomed me into the galleries and began introducing me to some of his favourite objects with interesting Dundee connections.

Napier Engine Watercolour Painting

The first object Davie showed me was a beautiful watercolour painting by David Kirkaldy of a handled steamer ship that was built on the Clydeside in the 1840s. Davie then explained that the first engine that Robert Napier had ever designed was actually built for a mill in Dundee.

Alexander Johnston Coffee Urn

We then headed forward through the galleries where Davie showed me a coffee urn that was made by Alexander Johnston, here in Dundee back in 1742, which was made for the Balfour family of Balbirnie, near the town of Glenrothes.

The urn is shaped like an egg which Davie told me was intentionally designed to dissipate the heat more efficiently than a flat coffee urn. It has an upper body with floral, shell and scroll as decoration and sits beautifully on display in the galleries.

Learning that Alexander’s career was not just confined to silverwork was something that really surprised me as he was also a Jacobite. The design was beautiful, and it was fascinating to learn that this urn was only one of 16 Scottish urns of this type that were known to have existed.

Dundee’s Jute Industry

One of the best parts of visiting the galleries was seeing how much of Dundee’s history was woven throughout the Scottish Design Galleries, and how much the city’s links with the jute industry forms a significant portion of what was on show.

The galleries featured a model of the Lawhill, which was a ship that was built in Dundee for the city’s jute trade. It was interesting to learn about its journey from being constructed in Scotland to its decommissioning in Panama.

I also learned about Dundee’s connections to Bengal through the jute trade, and as part of The Golden Fibre, the newest commission in the galleries, by Swapnaa Tamhane. In this installation there are several silver plates which feature a number of translated instructions from English into Hindi which gave an insight into how harsh the conditions were for the workers there. As part of the commission there is also a beautiful work of art in front of the plates which also represents the female jute workers in India.

There were several tools also on display such as a porter’s hook which was used to lift heavy jute. The collection also included weaving scissors that were used to cut jute up, and it was interesting to learn from Davie about the design of the scissors as it only included one finger hole.

Glasgow Coat of Arms

I was really keen to know about the Dundee connection to the Glasgow Coat of Arms that were on display in the galleries. For visitors, at first glance, they might be thinking, “why is the Glasgow Coat of Arms in a museum in Dundee?”

This was very interesting indeed as Davie explained that Dundee’s very own Michael Marra was the connection. It turns out that Michael quoted the coat of arms in his song Mother Glasgow, ending the song with the words “Let Glasgow Flourish” which are used on the lower banner on the coat of arms.

Learning something new about Michael’s influences in his songs was something I didn’t know about, and I found that pretty cool to learn through this lovely piece of design.

Lemmings Installation

Dundee’s video game industry also features prominently in the galleries with the inclusion of screenshots of Lemmings gameplay.

Davie also explained to me about the history of the gaming industry in the city, which linked all the way back to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which was manufactured in Dundee by Timex in the 1980s, before talking about the inclusion of Lemmings in the galleries, and how successful the game, made in Dundee, was at the time.

I’m a big fan of Dundee’s video games industry and to see it featured in the heart of the Scottish Design Galleries shows that it is an important part of our city, not just as a design story in Dundee, but to Scotland overall.

The Scottish Design Galleries is a must visit!

It was a great time visiting the Design Galleries and getting to know about the connections the objects on display had with Dundee.

Thank you to Davie, who was excellent in his knowledge about what was on show, and it was really interesting to learn the stories behind the objects in the Scottish Design Galleries.

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