As the school holidays get underway there’s a host of new exhibition to interest all ages beginning with a fascinating local story on the 18th July.
‘A Hidden Gem’ is a little-known, but hugely important art collection offering a rare glimpse into a mid-nineteenth century asylum where art was encouraged, displayed, valued and collected. Dr William Alexander Francis Browne (1805-1885), was a pioneering physician based at the Crichton Royal Hospital and the individual patients who became participants in his art activity are the subject of this fascinating summer exhibition.
1 a 1 a gracefield 8In 1880 Dr Browne published an article ‘Mad Artists’ in The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology. The article provides an account of the earliest known organised art activity in a Scottish asylum and describes a collection of art in ‘three gigantic volumes’ produced by ‘lunatics in different forms and phases of derangement’. It was Dr Browne’s belief that art, like music and literature, should be fostered as a therapeutic activity for patients suffering from mental illness.
The three volumes no longer exist. However in 1983, Mrs Morag Williams, former Dumfries and Galloway Health Board Archivist, located one large volume containing 134 works of art at Crichton Royal Hospital. It was leather-bound with the title 1886 Art in Madness by W. A. F. Browne embossed on the front and appears to be an amalgamation of the original three volumes. Since then another fifteen drawings from Dr Browne’s original collection have been identified in other Scottish archives. It is the earliest surviving collection of art by a group of asylum patients in the world. Now housed in the Ewart Library, Dumfries, it includes works by at least forty-six patients – male and female, young and old, paying and pauper – almost all of whom were amateurs who took pleasure in the creation of art.
The works have been mounted and framed specially for the exhibition with additional items generously loaned from the Edinburgh University Library and the Royal College of Physicians Library as well as the NHS Dumfries and Galloway.
Chairman of Community and Customer Services Councillor Tom McAughtrie, commented: “It’s a unique opportunity to see an important collection of work, and see the value that art practise can bring to everyone’s lives, irrespective of circumstance, age or ability.”
Dawn Henderby, Gracefield’s Arts Officer, who has worked with exhibition curator, Dr Maureen Park, agrees: “the artwork is delightful is so many ways – fresh and lively with none of the constraints of preconception of what art should be. The idea of ‘Outsider Art’ has become more common place today, but in the 1880s, Browne’s ideas were ground-breaking.”
Morag Williams will open the exhibition Saturday 18th at 2pm, the event is free with refreshments served, but please RSVP on 01387 262084.
The following Saturday, 25th July, see the opening of the other important Annual Event – the Dumfries & Galloway Fine Art Society exhibition opens to the public with over 200 watercolours, oils, pastels, drawings and craft items displaying the skills of professionals and amateurs from the region’s largest and busiest art group.
If you are thinking of beginning your collection or maybe adding to it, then this is the ideal opportunity. Along with the usual cash, cheque or credit/debit card Gracefield, can offer interest-free instalments payments over six months, making your art purchase that wee bit more affordable.
The exhibition are open from Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm, both run until 22 August.
For younger visitors, there will be colouring sheets and quizzes to enjoy and don’t forget that that the Saturday Kids Art Club moves to Wednesday for the summer holidays. There are still a couple of places left on the adult Saturday Life Drawing fortnightly class – but they are booking up quickly…. full details on the website at www.dumgal.gov.uk/gracefield or give us a call on 01387 262084.
For more details about the all exhibitions, classes for adults and kids, events, craft shop and café Hubbub, please give Gracefield a ring on 01387 262084, visit the website, or see us on Facebook. Admission to Gracefield is free and there is free parking and picnic benches or picnic spots in the ample open grounds.

For further information contact: Dawn Henderby (Arts Officer)
Telephone: 01387 262084 Fax: 01387 255173 e-mail: [email protected]

Background Notes:
Gracefield Arts Centre is operated by Arts and Museums Nithsdale as part of the Customer and Community Services, Dumfries & Galloway Council. The majority of the loans for the Hidden Gem exhibition have been facilitated by colleagues in the Archives Department at the Ewart Library. Dr Maureen Park has written a fully illustrated book, ‘Art in Madness’ which looks into the collection in detail and will be available to buy from the exhibition.

For further information on how to become a member of DGFAS or contribute to the next annual exhibition please see their website at www.dumfriesandgallowayfineartsociety.org.uk

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