2.7.2 Statues and other public commemorative monuments

This section primarily deals with civic statues (Figure 59) and symbolic architectural monuments enriched by carvings and statues (Figure 58) erected during 19th century. The resurgence of interest in direct carving (without the assistance of maquettes or pointing machine) during the 20th century is noted but not expanded upon since the existing literature predominantly deals with individual artists rather than carved stones as a body of material (however see Pearson 1991a for a more thematic discussion of Scottish sculpture). Scottish examples of 20th-century carvings include Peter Randall-Page’s Body and Soul (1994–6) on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Purely abstract free-standing sculptures exemplified by the aforementioned work are common from the mid-20th century onwards. A more conceptual approach is illustrated by Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden at Little Sparta, which contains many poetic sculptures created in collaboration with various stone carvers. The contemporary idea of sculpture as installation lends itself to have multiple forms regarded as a single site-specific work, as well as offering opportunities to recycle older carvings (Figure 57).

Rectangular yellow stone panel with 1959 and a simplified castle carved into the surface - in a rose garden

Figure 57: Sidney Birnie Stewart’s three 1950s carved relief panels from the façade of Gracemount High School, Edinburgh, (demolished 2003) were modified with poems by Liz Niven and installed as standing stones, Landwards, in the new school’s garden. © Dianne King

The total number of carved stones within this general category is unknown. In April 2016, Records of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA) suggest there are 406 examples of public, or outdoor, sculptures and monuments within Glasgow alone (see also McKenzie 2002). However, this figure also includes monuments composed of materials other than stone. Thematic recording projects include a database of commemoration linked to Robert Burns produced by the University of Dundee and University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies.

It is said that Scotland, in common with elsewhere in Britain, went ‘statue mad’ in the second half of the 19th century (Whatley 2000). Rodger uses a case study of McCaig’s Tower, Oban, to suggest it was a uniquely Scottish aspect of this trend to employ architecturally influenced monuments as public or civic commemoration (Rodger 2014). Research on public commemorative monuments has tended to focus on its symbolic use to reflect collective ideas of national identity and on its contribution to the built form of cities that convey the particular ‘the spirit of the age’. Whatley (2000), for example, considers statues to Burns in Scotland and worldwide with the Scottish diaspora erected after the centenary of his birth in 1859. He places this practice within the wider European trend of commemorating literary figures and heroes linked to tourism, which created a demand for ‘destinations of interest’. In contrast, Carter Mckee views the creation of large urban monuments to Burns (Figure 58) as symbolic of the creation of a Scottish cultural identity during the emerging British Empire (Carter Mckee 2013). Similarly, Coleman (2014) focuses on how memorialization of prominent historical figures (in the case of Scotland William Wallace (Figure 59), Robert Bruce and Covenanting martyrs) enabled European, even transatlantic nations to define their own collective character and distinctiveness.

Large Circular stone monument with columns, plaques and garlands

Figure 58: Robert Burns’ monument Regent Road, Edinburgh. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Stone figure of a bearded man wearing a kilt style outfit with cloak and helmet, carrying a sword and saltire decorated shield on top of a square plinth

Figure 59: William Wallace’s statue and ornamental urn, Dryburgh. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Historians have tended to adopt one of two positions with regards to Scottish national identity. Some scholars suggest that in this period, Scotland’s contentment within the Union saw many Scots glorifying English national history above their own (for example Ash 1980; Kidd 1993). Others, including Coleman 2014, argue instead that it is possible to hold a historically-based sense of self identity that embraced Union but that at the same time was assertively Scottish. Coleman makes his case by arguing that the historical characters selected for public commemoration can all be read as figures symbolizing struggles for independence and against various tyrannical forces. Accordingly, these provided shared ‘British’ values at the same time as inducing a sense of national confidence and Scottish pride.

Another example used to investigate how Scottish national identity is mediated through public commemoration is the Wallace Monument. Despite commemorating a figure famous for opposing English rule, this monument is interpreted as memorializing the qualities that Scotland brought to the Union of 1707 (Withers 2001). This project’s first design was rejected after a public uproar over its visual unsuitability to its setting but also because of its ‘ambiguous symbolism’, which appeared to reference nationalist agitation (Smailes 2014, 85). The National Monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh provides a further perspective on how particular groups may reject rather than identify with the proposed collective remembrance of historic events. Gifford’s 2014 study reveals how various proposals for the National Monument failed to engender a collective national feeling due to contested local politics (see MacLeod 2010b for a similar discussion of tensions between local and national issues with regard to the Scottish National War Memorial).

Future research offers an opportunity to identify all public commemorative monuments that are carved stones and to assess whether these possess any particularly significant characteristics. This might include, for example, exploring how their materiality may be used symbolically to convey specific values and meanings. Such a project would be well suited to a multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approach. As most modern monuments in Scotland were erected well after the events they commemorate this raises questions about the processes by which a national public memory is created and how people’s relationships with the past can shift over time. What are the social and public values of these monuments to current communities (for example the attempts in 1994–5 to remove the statue to the first duke of Sutherland atop Ben Bhraggie in Sutherland: Withers 2001)?

Leave a Reply