The original idea for the Argyll Collection was conceived in 1960, by the author and political activist Naomi Mitchison of Carradale, Kintyre and Mr T. G. Henderson, former Director of Education for Argyll County Council, and established in collaboration with Jim Tyre, Art Advisor for Argyll County Council. The purpose of the project was to enable young people in Argyll to experience fine art, in a remote area with little access to museums and galleries.
“Argyll schoolchildren have very little chance of visiting art galleries. Even if there is an art exhibition in one of the few centres of population, only those who live close are likely to see it.
One answer might be a travelling art exhibition to go round the schools. It was along these lines that I began to nag the Council’s education committee and after a time the nagging took effect, I was given £100 to keep quiet and with some additional money begged of Argyll residents I started buying for the County.
My plan had two edges: one was purely artistic. But the other was to build up a Scottish confidence, a sense of nationhood, something a civilized person could be proud of.”
Naomi Mitchison, Times Educational Supplement 1966
Naomi’s eclectic and adventurous taste in art combined with Jim’s thorough knowledge of the contemporary Scottish art scene, resulted in what was considered at the time to be a challenging collection of artworks. They focussed on Scottish art, predominantly paintings and prints, but also including ceramics and textiles. Naomi added work from Africa and Asia from her extensive travels.
Jim and Naomi rarely spent more than £100 on any of their acquisitions. They bought work from exhibitions and galleries, and directly from artists, both young and emerging, and from more established artists.
The growing collection was moved around Argyll and Bute’s schools by Jim Tyre, using a small van. Jim would travel to the furthest reaches of Argyll, and enthuse art teachers about the collection.
“Jim comes along with his pictures, hangs them, talks about them… and he works his magic, leaving a fresh breeze of new ideas”
Naomi Mitchison, 1986
The artworks were a valuable resource and teaching aid. They would be exhibited in schools for a period of time, with the aim of inspiring teachers, encouraging pupils to write about art and to inspire their creative learning.
Jim Tyre retired in 1988, and with the exception of works created during the Artist in Residence scheme as part of the City of Culture in 1990, the local authority ceased to add any new acquisitions to the collection.
The collection was divided into 11 mini exhibitions, which toured around schools annually between the ten secondary schools in Argyll and Bute. This took place for several years, until lack of finance and resources meant that the work eventually stopped circulating, and the collection ceased to be the educational resource it was intended to be.
In 2009, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Argyll and Bute Council, the Creative Arts in Schools (CAST) team led a project to renovate and relaunch the collection. The artworks were uplifted from schools and offices all over the region and transported to a central location. The collection was documented, surveyed, reframed, and conserved where possible. The Argyll Collection renovation project was celebrated with an exhibition at Inveraray Castle in 2011.
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The collection was exhibited in 2018, at the “Paintings are for People” exhibition at Dunoon Burgh Hall and Tighnabruaich Gallery, as part of Cowal Open Studios. The exhibition was incredibly well received, with many visitors expressing their enthusiasm for more opportunities to experience the collection in further exhibitions.
The collection is currently exhibited in high schools throughout Argyll and Bute. We are also piloting “Take One Picture” a project in which primary schools in Kintyre are given an artwork from the collection to inspire cross curricular learning.
Modern African Art in the Argyll Collection
The University of St Andrews School of Art History led a research project in 2019 to document works of art collected in Africa by Naomi Mitchison. To find out more about the project, please click the link below: