Earlier this year I arranged to view baskets that were held by Dumfries Museum. When I told them about the research on basketry being done by the Scottish Basketmakers’ Circle the staff at the museum were extremely helpful and collected together all the basketry items they had and also any pictures or articles relevant to basketry ready for my visit.
They had quite collection of baskets; huge horse panniers used to carry grouse, several different frame baskets that were labeled variously as for potatoes, fish, for gathering garden produce etc, and smaller sewing and knitting needle baskets. One interesting basket was small (about 3 inches diameter) basket with a lid made with coiled field rush ‘ made by local lassie while herding cattle’ in the second half of the 19th century. Many of the baskets had very little information about them apart from the date of acquisition and who donated them to the museum. In some cases there was not even that information. Often it wasn’t clear if the smaller items like sewing boxes had even been made in Scotland or collected by people from abroad.
Not being an expert on scottish vernacular baskets I was not able to give the museum much extra information about the baskets they had in their collection. I was, however, able to photograph them all and take a note of the details they did have. Hopefully after comparing information and photos with other baskets that Stephanie and others have researched in other parts of Scotland I will be able to give the museum more information. This should also help build a clearer picture of basketmaking in South West Scotland as well as Scotland in general.
One thing that was clear was that at one time there was a fair sized basketmaking business in the area. The staff at the museum showed me a section in a book on the history of Dumfries that talked about a basketmaking business in the early19th century which devoted 15 acres of land to growing willow and employed 150 people at harvest time.
The final thing of interest in the Dumfries Museum was some of their collection of photographs by Werner Kissling. Although none were about basketmaking in the Dumfries area some were of interest for our research in other parts of Scotland. These included a series showing the making of a back creel (with hazel stakes and woven with heather) by a local in South Uist in the 1940’s. Another series of photos show a man in Galashiels making a mill skip, used for carrying yarn from spinning mills to weaving mills. The same man is also photographed in his workshop making a large bicycle basket. A parallel Kissling collection is held by the School of Scottish Studies.
General interest notes: Dumfries Museum is based in an 18th century windmill, and is described as a ‘treasure house of the history of south west Scotland’. Collections include fossil footprints left by prehistoric people, wildlife of the Solway marshes, early tools and weapons, stone carvings and everyday things of a Victorian farm. It has a camera obscura on the top floor from which you can see panoramic views of the town. www.dumfriesmuseum.com/