World in a Box Family Fun

Last week’s Family Fun focussed on how the photographs in our Above Scotland exhibition were taken but this week, for our second Easter Family Fun, we looked more closely at what was in the pictures. The amazing photographs show views of modern Scotland but they also show glimpses of Scotland from long ago such as the Ring of Brodgar, the ruins of houses on Scarp and Dunnottar Castle on the cliffs at Stonehaven. The aerial photographs show these historic sites in a totally different way to our usual view from the ground. Participants used these images as inspiration to create their own mini-worlds in boxes, including stone circles, castles, beaches, airports and even Batman’s bat cave. It was tricky to create these mini worlds from above, having to think about how all sorts of things would look like from up in the air and how to attach them to the box so that it looked realistic, but I think you’ll agreed that our participants were very creative and inventive with their shoe boxes.

That was the last Family Fun inspired by the Above Scotland exhibition, next up is our Family Fun for the University’s May Festival, on Saturday 10th May. This will be at the earlier time of 11am – 1pm. There will be lots going on on the University campus so be sure to have a look at the programme and come along. See you there!

Posted by: Lynsey

Let’s Go Fly A Kite!

The stunning aerial photographs in our current Above Scotland exhibition were taken from a high altitude a plane, but did you know that you can do aerial photography by attaching a camera to a kite? This is one of the techniques used by archaeologists to get a quick understanding of how an archaeological site looks from above.

Yesterday at Family Fun nearly 50 children made their own kites out of paper, straws and plastic bags. It was a busy afternoon with lots of activity! Luckily there was a bit of wind so the participants got a chance to fly their brand new kites.

We made two kinds of kites. Below you can find instructions on how to make your own. Our kites and instructions were inspired by various different tutorials that we found on the internet, so if you are interested why not check out the original inspirations – we collated them all together on our Above Scotland  Pinterest board.

Paper kite (easier)
paper kite

Download our Paper Kite instructions and make the kite using this Paper kite template

Plastic bag kite (a bit trickier)
plastic bag kite

Download our Plastic bag kite instructions

We also got one of our favourite feedback comments ever from one of the children, so we just had to share it with you: “tots awsome :) :) * * !!”

Hopefully we can keep up the tots awsomeness standard at our next Family Fun! Come along on Wednesday next week (16th April) between 1-4pm. Be inspired by the forgotten worlds of the past revealed in the exhibition’s aerial photographs and make your own world-in-a-box.

Posted by: Sarah

Above Aberdeen: aerial drawing class for adults

On Saturday the Special Collections Centre hosted its very first adult art class. Adults of all abilities came along to the class led by Aberdeen-base artist Kelly-Anne Cairns. Participants took inspiration from the aerial photographs in the Above Scotland exhibition before heading to the seventh floor of The Sir Duncan Rice Library to draw the magnificent views over the city and out to sea. Thankfully the weather wasn’t too foggy and so the views really were brilliant. By the end of the workshop the sky was beautifully blue and our artists had some fantastic art work to take home. Have a look at some of the photographs from the workshop in the gallery below.

If you’d like to hear about events like this in the future, join our mailing list. Just send your name and email address to us at

Posted by: Lynsey

Aberdeen Art Attack!

On Saturday we finally got to fulfil a long time dream – making an “Art Attack” in The Sir Duncan Rice Library. We grew up watching TV presenter and artist Neil Buchanan create huge images from strange materials, like a huge portrait of the Queen made of bank notes, and we have just been waiting for the day when we could follow in his footsteps. Our new exhibition, Above Scotlandgave us the perfect opportunity.

The exhibition, which is a touring exhibition from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), features amazing aerial images of different areas of Scotland. From an ancient stone circle on Orkney to Dundee’s modern riverside, the exhibition captures different aspects of the country. One image which particularly inspired us was the aerial view of Aberdeen Harbour. It gives a rare glimpse of the extent of the harbour, a view which a lot of locals never really see. We were amazed by the sheer volume of boats and buildings in there!

Aberdeen Harbour - Above Scotland Exhibition RCAHMS

We decided to recreate the bustling harbour on the floor of the library’s Events Space. First we marked out the shape of the harbour, the seashore and the river with masking tape (our Neil Buchanan moment). Then we challenged visitors to our Aberdeen Art Attack Family Fun to help us fill it with boats and buildings using recycling gathered from library staff.

Masking tape harbour

Recycling ready

As always our amazing visitors rose to the challenge. After a slow start the harbour started to fill up with tug boats, lighthouses, ferries and even a gun boat.

After all that hard work the harbour was looking much busier and more colourful. Even the beach was getting filled with umbrellas and beach huts! See how our finished Art Attack compares to the original photograph.

Aberdeen Harbour - Above Scotland Exhibition RCAHMS Aberdeen Harbour Art Attack

We have two more Above Scotland Family Fun events coming up in the school Easter holidays. Find out more on our Family Fun page. We hope to see you there!

Posted by: Lynsey

New workshop!

Our new primary schools workshop on the David Cardno Story Box is now available!

The workshop consists of a session held at the Special Collections Centre, University of Aberdeen, in which pupils will get to see the original notebooks, scrapbook and journals of David Cardno, a 19th century whaler from Peterhead who had many exciting adventures in the Arctic. This is followed by interpretive drama and art activities based on many of the incidents of whaling and Inuit life described in Davie’s archives.

In addition to the workshop there is also a supporting resource pack available for internet download, which contains transcripts of sections of Davie’s archives along with exciting activity ideas developed from the David Cardno Story Box Project.

Download the David Cardno Story Box schools resource pack

We are very excited to offer this workshop package, as it is the culmination of all our Story Box school projects this last year. In addition to Family Fun and summer school sessions in 2013, we ran an extended project with Kittybrewster Primary School for the 2013  Explore Your Archive campaign and worked with artist Tracey Smith to create art workshops for the Arts Across Learning festival in March 2014. The workshop and pack pulls together the material and interpretive activities from these events into one accessible package for primary schools. The workshop is suitable for P4-P7 classes.

If you are a teacher and would like to book a workshop for your class, just get in touch with us by emailing or phoning (01224) 273047 or 273048.

Below are some photographs of the David Cardno Story Box workshop which we piloted during the last fortnight with classes from Middleton Park primary school.

Whale tale

It’s been hustle and bustle in the Learning Room lately as primary school classes made massive “scrimshaw” whale skeletons as part of the Arts Across Learning festival.

If you follow this blog you’ll know that since November’s Explore Your Archive Campaign we’ve been working a lot with our Davie Cardno Story Box, the notebooks, journals and scrapbook of a 19th century whaler from Peterhead. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to really dig into a collection and explore what it has to offer for creative projects.

This time we had artist Tracey Smith with us to come up with some ideas for an art workshop for the festival. Tracey is a printmaker and has worked with whaling collections before, and she suggested scrimshaw might be an interesting area to look at. Scrimshaw is the name for the carvings and engravings that whalers made on bone by-products from the whaling trade. Obviously we couldn’t give bone and sharp carving implements to children, but the look of scrimshaw can be imitated using an easy printing technique called mono-printing. We decided to be ambitious and create an entire whale skeleton of “scrimshaw” bones in each workshop!

Paper "scrimshaw" whale skeleton

First of all each class was introduced to the source material – Davie’s archives. Davie’s own personal story, with his stowaway on a whaling ship at the age of 11 and his subsequent adventures in the Arctic are fascinating. As well as his memoirs, the collection contains some of Davie’s own photographs and his notes on traditional Inuit life. Over time the photographs have become very faded and indistinct, but you can still see the faces of his fellow crewmen and his Inuit acquaintances, and you can get a feel for the daily life the photographs record. It’s amazing to see Davie’s view of the inside of an Inuit tent from over a hundred years ago!

Viewing the Cardno archivesCrewmen on board shipInuit groupinside Inuit tent

After a look at the archives we moved swiftly on to introducing and mastering the mono-printing technique. Tracey demonstrated how to ink up a laminated A3 sheet using water-based ink and a roller, and how to draw on paper into the ink to create a print. The children tried out the technique by tracing over images from Inuit and whaling life, some of them Davie’s own sketches (facsimile copies, of course!).

Demonstrating mono-printingMono-printingTracing scrimshaw to try out mono-printingTrying out mono-printing using Cardno sketchWhaling sceneMono-prints of Inuit life and whaling

Then it was on to the whale. Using templates the children cut out and printed onto paper whale bones, making up their own Arctic inspired designs. It was a mad rush to get all the bones done in time, but each class did it and created their own scrimshaw skeleton.

Designing scrimshaw boneDesigning scrimshaw bonesA final scrimshaw skeleton

It was exciting for us to experiment with how the archive could inspire a visual arts workshop. Plus we can’t wait for an excuse to get mono-printing again! it was so much fun to get a bit messy with art in the Learning Room.

You can see more pictures of the workshop over on the Arts Across Learning Creativitea Rooms blog.

Posted by: Sarah

In the Conservation Studio

Hi, my name is Rachel Day. I’m a Postgraduate student at West Dean College working towards an MA in Conservation of Books and Library materials. As part of the course I have spent the last six weeks as an intern here in Aberdeen at the Special Collections Centre. As it comes up to the end of my time here I thought I’d write a bit about one of the projects I’ve been working on.

Rachel Day, conservation intern at SCC working on a papyrus project

Rachel working on a fragment of papyrus in the Glucksman Conservation Centre.

In addition to books and paper documents the University’s archive collection holds a large number of works on parchment. Parchment is a material made into sheets by preparing the skin of an animal, often goat or calf. In ancient and medieval times it was often used as a writing surface. For the purposes of this project I focused on a selection of parchment documents that were stored unfolded and flat in a plan chest. A number of them had pendant seals which can be very delicate and present a particular challenge in terms of safe housing.

These items were part of a larger collection which includes a variety show of pieces, on both parchment and paper, that span hundreds of years; from a letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots to unidentified miscellaneous papers collected by ecclesiologist Francis Eeles and later donated to the archive. The main focus of my project was the historical charters relating to Marischal College.

Existing housing for parchment document (Ref: MSK 256/6/3).

One of the parchment documents in its existing housing: sandwiched flat between two boards, one of the pendant seals protected by a lightly padded seal bag (Ref: MSK 256/6/3).

This collection is being looked at as a precursor to a re-housing project to give the pieces that need it more appropriate storage. To collect information for this project I created a survey and did a sample evaluation of one drawer of the collection. The results showed that of the sample surveyed most were being stored simply sandwiched between two pieces of board. As over half of the pieces have seals, some of which aren’t even in seal bags, this type of housing could be considered inappropriate for both storage and handling.

Example of current housing (Ref: MSK 256/17/3).

Another example of current housing that is not providing adequate support for the pendant seal (Ref: MSK 256/17/3).

I also found that all but one of the documents surveyed has some sort of information on the reverse. In the case of the charters, i.e. the documents with seals, the writing on the reverse is only a small inscription rather than a second full page of text. However, this inscription is also where you will find the date the charter was written. The rest have the same amount of text on both sides of the sheet making it difficult to tell which is the front.

Parchment with full text on both sides (Ref: MS 2379).

Document from the collection of Francis Eeles papers, with full text on both sides (Ref: MS 2379).

The main problems with documents that have important information on both sides is finding a way to house them which will allow people to handle them by the mount and yet still be able to turn them over. As they are housed now all the information is accessible but readers are likely to handle the document directly in order to access it. This is likely to lead to mechanical damage and dirty documents.

Having anticipated this problem I had previously researched current methods of mounting and housing, hoping to find a solution. Unfortunately I just ran into more problems. After looking through multiple articles I came to the conclusion that most of the current methods of mounting double sided parchment were adhesive in nature.

This is a problem because you don’t want to use adhesive on parchment unless you absolutely have to. Parchment is extremely sensitive to moisture so even an adhesive like wheat starch paste that is widely used in book and paper conservation is likely to cause some distortion. The parchment will suck in the moisture from the paste and expand causing it to become wavy, or cockled. And that’s even before you need to take it out of its mount again later, which will require the application of more moisture to release the adhesion of the paste.

However, there are a few methods of mounting and housing that don’t use adhesive.

Ignoring the conundrum of double sided-ness for a moment, let’s venture into the topic of non-adhesive housing. One of the charters within the collection has already been re-housed. The technique does require the document to be removed from the mount to be able to access the back but other than that it is a good solution to housing important, single sheet parchment documents.

Non-adhesive mounting housed in a custom-made clamshell box (Ref: MSK 256/43/1).

The Foundation Bull of Pope Alexander VI, 1495 an example of non-adhesive mounting housed in a custom-made clamshell box (Ref: MSK 256/43/1).

This method requires making a clamshell box large enough to house the document, and the seal if applicable, and therefore is costly in time, resources and storage space. However, it provides the document with a secure housing and the support board can be removed from the box for better handling or display. ‘V’ shaped strips of polyester at the edges hold the document in place while allowing it freedom of movement if the environmental conditions fluctuate and cause the parchment to distort. The seal cup consists of two curved strips of Melinex standing proud of the board. This will hold the seal in place protecting it and preventing unnecessary stress from being put on the cord it’s attached to.

Rachel’s housing solution (Ref: MSK 256/43/10).

Rachel’s housing solution for the Bull of Indulgence, Pope Julius II, 1506 (Ref: MSK 256/43/10).

A variation on this method that is less time consuming to make, though slightly less sturdy, involves housing a similar support set up in a different type of box. Starting with a piece of box board the same size as the mount you can construct the equivalent of a box. From this you construct a tray with walls slightly above the height of the seal cup, which in this instance is made of thin card. This tray is then glued into a case made of the same material consisting of a lid, base and spine that are connected by a strip of cloth along the spine. As can be seen above it was this type of box that I decided was the best solution, though I used polyester strips over the corners rather than along the edges. It is an appropriate compromise between construction time and sturdiness.

With either of these variations access to the reverse of the document can be given via a high quality image included within the storage box.

This project was only one of many things that I got to do during my internship here but unfortunately it was the last. I have enjoyed my time here immensely and I’m sure I’ll miss it and all the wonderful people I’ve met when I go. But for me it’s back off down south, back to college and back to working on my MA.

Thanks for reading!