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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Norman McLaren: Umbrian angels and stereoscopic drawings

A highlight of this year’s McLaren 2014 celebrations was the screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival of Norman McLaren’s stunning 3-D films from the early 1950s, painstakingly digitally-restored by the National Film Board of Canada. The fascinating history of these ‘lost’ films was recently told on the Canadian Animation Blog, and the films will receive another screening at MoMa in New York in November.

McLaren’s interest in the creative possibilities of stereographic art is recorded in a set of papers which were recently donated to the University of Stirling Archives by Prof. Harold Layer of San Francisco State University. Prof. Layer corresponded with McLaren in the 1970s and 1980s about his 3-D film work, these letters forming part of the collection. It also includes copies of stereoscopic drawings and paintings created by McLaren in the 1940s which Prof. Layer has documented on a very useful online resource.

Stereoscopic portrait (left and right) by Norma McLaren, 1944.

Stereoscopic portrait (left and right) by Norma McLaren, 1944.

The material also includes a set of reports and articles written by McLaren in the 1940s and 1950s, noting the new approaches offered by stereographic drawing and providing technical notes for the 3-D films he produced for the National Film Board of Canada. In 1946 McLaren wrote a proposal for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, seeking support for his research into the new field of sterographics which he defined as “the art of doing a separate drawing, painting, sculpture or mobile for each eye, which when viewed together, will synthesize a new additional dimension.”

Honeycomb, Stereoscopic painting (left and right) by Norman McLaren, c 1946.

Honeycomb, Stereoscopic painting (left and right) by Norman McLaren, c 1946.

McLaren argued that this method of drawing offered “Freedom from the physical laws of a three-dimensional world.” He went on to argue that:

“The laws of physics such as balance and gravity need not operate in this type of three-dimensional space created by stereoscopic synthesis. Apparently solid objects, heavy substances, complex structures and liquid matter may float in space, needing no support and existing by a sort of auto-suspension. The renaissance painter, with his growing awareness, gradually realized that he, on his flat surfaces, was released from such laws, and the first Umbrian angels who rose a few timid inches from the ground were soon to lead the imagination to a magnificent world of soaring form. Today’s stereographic drawings are like those Umbrian angels, for they point to a world where angels may ascend with a new magnificence into the very three-dimensional substance of space itself.” (Ref. GAA 31/F/7/2/2)

A later annotation to this document shows that many of McLaren’s plans remained unrealized. In the introduction of the paper he wrote that:

“It is my intention to go much further, and open up stereography as a creative medium. I am writing this paper on the basis of my past researches, my present conclusions, and my future plans.”

Beside the words “future plans” McLaren added an annotation in red pencil in 1980 which read “unfulfilled as yet.”

Read All About It! Archives of the Scottish Newspaper Society come to Stirling

The University of Stirling Archives has received a new collection of material which provides a new resource for those interested in the history of the Scottish newspaper industry. The Scottish Newspaper Society is a trade organisation representing local, regional and national Scottish newspapers. Its role is to represent, protect and promote the industry. The collection includes the archives of the Society and a number of organisations it replaced / merged with over the years including the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, the Scottish Newspapers Proprietors Association and the Scottish Newspapers Publishers Association.

Letterhead of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, c 1945.

Letterhead of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, 1940s.

The collection includes memorabilia dating back to 1915 but the earliest papers present come from the mid 1940s and detail the effect of the Second World War on the industry. The minutes of a meeting of the Scottish Newspaper Proprietors Association from 12th June 1943 begin with a statement from the Executive Committee noting that:

“For another year the meetings of the Association have been interrupted by the World War and it has been impossible to arrange for more than a one-day Conference. The improvement, however, in the Military situation raises the hope that the day when our meetings can be resumed in a fuller degree, may not be too far away.”

The war time minutes record the challenges faced by newspapers during the conflict which included loss of manpower, price and supply of newsprint, and censorship and reporting of events.

The next meeting of the Scottish Newspaper Proprietors Association, held in Edinburgh on 9th October 1943, was attended by Admiral Thomson, the Chief Censor. He reminded those present that newspapers should refrain from publishing anything that may be of value to the enemy and gave some examples of material to be avoided including:

  1. Those items which identified a unit or formation by number or which identified the location of a unit
  2. Matters relating to aircraft crashed in this country
  3. Reports of where and when an airman was missing

The extensive minutes and reports of these organisations provide information on a range of issues which concerned the newspaper industry including industrial relations, press regulation, delivery and distribution of local newspapers, advertising and circulation. The changing face of Scottish newspapers can be traced in a collection which stretches from war-time emergency to the challenges of a 21st century digital market.

Campaign against proposed rise in VAT on local and regional newspapers, 1987.

Campaign against proposed rise in VAT on local and regional newspapers, 1987.

The Royal Scottish National Hospital Project


This is the first of what will hopefully be a monthly series of blog posts on the progress of Continuity of Care – the project to catalogue and conserve the records of the Royal Scottish National Hospital. Thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust, this project started in the middle of August and will be completed by July 2015.

In 2013, the Royal Scottish National Hospital was given UNESCO status as a collection of international status (see our previous blog post). This reflects the importance of the Institution in the care of children with learning disabilities at a time when no distinction was made between mental disability and mental illness.

The Institution was founded in 1862 and the collection contains the earliest annual reports and minutes as well as a register of the first admissions.

RSNH first report USED

Title page of the first report, 1862

Amongst the items of interest catalogued so far is a volume of Superintendent’s Reports 1863-1872.

The Medical Superintendent was in charge of the day to day running of the Institution and answered to the Directors. He submitted a monthly report in which he detailed admissions and discharges; the progress of building; donations and finance; requests for information from the Commissioners in Lunacy; recruitment and salaries of staff; and the health of the children. Dr David Brodie was the medical superintendent from 1862 to 1867 and he had a troubled relationship with the Directors. He had run a school for imbecile children in Edinburgh under the auspices of the Society for Education of Imbecile Youth in Scotland. Once the Society had the funds to build its Institution at Larbert, Brodie was the obvious choice as resident physician.

In Brodie’s second report he wrote ‘Seven pupils have been admitted during the month – one full payment, one reduced payment and 5 election cases’. But by his third report he was reporting that ‘the proportion of the uneducable class is already embarrassing and entails too heavy a trial on the patience of attendants…’ He made frequent requests for more staff and better accommodation and in his letter of resignation he made his feelings clear:

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Part of the entry of the Directors’ Meeting, 1st October 1867

There has been a very large surplus revenue which as derived chiefly from payment cases I had a right to expect would be devoted to the practical work in which I have been engaged yet this has…been absorbed in the payment of past liabilities while I have had to bear unaided all the discredit and discomfort attendant on the deficient staff and accommodation and have had to feel and acknowledge that the work that we were professing to do at the Institution was not being accomplished’ (from the minutes of a Special Meeting of Directors 1st October 1867).

This tension between the needs of the Institution and the financial reality in which it operated was to continue throughout its history as later posts will illustrate.