Then & Now - The Burrell Collection

I’m Fiona and I help to look after The Burrell archive. We’re celebrating the successful re-opening of the museum, so it’s nearly time to sign off from this blog – this is the final blog in this series. Now that The Burrell Renaissance project is complete, it’s a good chance to look back on the history of the building and the Collection. Archives help us to remember and evidence the past, so I’ve selected some photographs from The Burrell archive that show some of the many moves of the objects within the Collection before they came back ‘home’ to their newly refurbished building.

Infamously, Glasgow had a long wait between the Burrells gifting the Collection to the city in 1944 and The Burrell Collection opening as a permanent home for the Collection in 1983. During this time, the huge Collection was securely stored across multiple locations in the city, including some former museum venues such as Camphill Museum in Queen’s Park, Aikenhead House in King’s Park and Coplawhill, the former tram depot which now houses Tramway, and which used to be the site of the first Museum of Transport.

Burrell Collection objects on temporary display in the Central Hall of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, early 1950s. Visitors are looking at Chinese ceramic fish bowls, which are some of my favourite objects in the Collection. Our Annual Report for 1952 notes that ‘it was considered wise to remove the ceramic specimens at weekends’…

Without a dedicated building, public access to the Collection was inevitably limited though. For this reason, the city was delighted when the architects Barry Gasson, John Meunier and Brit Andreson were announced as winners of the architectural competition to design the Burrell Collection in March 1972. Their stunning design finally led to the iconic Burrell Collection building opening in 1983. Finally, visitors young and old could enjoy the Collection.

Images above include:

GMA.2013.1.1.2071 - Two younger visitors who were taken with the suits of armour, in 1983 – 1984.

GMA.2013.1.1.2026 – The Needlework Study Group, looking at objects in The Burrell Collection, 1983 – 1984.

GMA.2013.1.1.2430 - Inauguration of the Cassette Service for the Blind, 20 November 1984. Visually impaired guests put on headphones and portable cassette players to participate in the first audio guided tour of The Burrell Collection.

When The Burrell Collection temporarily closed its doors in 2016, a generation of visitors had been able to enjoy the Collection. This time, Glasgow ‘only’ had to wait for 5 and a half years – it has been a long wait for fans of the Collection, but the new life that’s been provided by The Burrell Renaissance Project ensures that The Burrell Collection can be enjoyed by many more. The project has focussed on consulting and collaborating with local people and museum visitors to ensure that the Collection works for its local community and visitors now, and into the future. At the same time, the objects and The Burrell archive are housed in greatly improved display and storage conditions, which helps ensure their long-term preservation.

Looking back at The Burrell archive, it’s clear we’ve come a long way from the Collection being inaccessible to most of us, to being as accessible to as many people as possible. I look forward to adding the current and future progress of the Collection to the Burrell archive over time as the vision of building on the strengths of the objects in the Collection, its stunning architecture and beautiful setting, while listening to and prioritising visitors’ needs, develops.

If you’re reading this Project blog, you’re probably a Burrell fan already – but whether it’s your 1st trip to the Burrell or your 100th, I hope you’ll be able to visit and enjoy the museum in person soon and see if you love the ‘new’ Burrell Collection as much as I do.

It’s been inspiring to see the creativity and thinking that local schoolchildren have brought to the Children’s Panel and developing the schools’ programme for The Burrell. I particularly love this drawing from a St. Vincent’s Primary pupil, because the future of The Burrell Collection looks bright, which makes me very happy – and this drawing sums it up! It’s a perfect image to conclude the Project blog.