by Caroline Copeland
I’ve had a long relationship with Stirling University. For over thirty years I’ve sampled the delights of films and plays at the MacRobert Arts Centre, I’ve walked children and dogs around Airthrey Loch and admired the stark 1960s architecture that makes up its many buildings: sleek and white against the backdrop of the ever-changing shadows of the Ochil Hills. I’ve always noticed the sculptures interwoven with the trees and bushes that circle the loch, in places blending silently into their environment, in others standing in stark relief against it. However, I was unaware of the importance of art in the life of Stirling University, nor the magnitude of its arts collection, until I recently started teaching here in the wonderful low-slung concrete and glass Pathfoot Building. It is here, amongst the courtyards and concourses of Pathfoot that a large proportion of the collection can be found.
The collecting of art at Stirling goes back to 1967 when the university first opened. The first Principal, Tom Cottrell, firmly believed that art and culture should be part of the everyday experience of the university and that those working, and visiting the university, have the opportunity to be surrounded by uplifting and beautiful works of art. From the outset, 1% of the cost of each new building built was earmarked for the collecting of art and in some cases site-specific works were commissioned.
During the late sixties and early seventies, purchases were made chiefly from galleries such as The Waddington in London, The Compass Gallery in Glasgow, and The Richard DeMarco Gallery in Edinburgh. The works collected during that time include paintings by Patrick Heron, Sir Robin Philipson, Michael Tyzack and John Schueler, and sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi and Justin Knowles. A major print collection was also developed which includes work by Norman Ackroyd, Robyn Denny, John Hoyland, Willie Rodger, Elizabeth Frink, Patrick Caulfield, Pierre Celice and Ian Hamilton Finlay.
The last thirty years has seen the collection benefit from two major bequests; the first from the estate of Scottish Colourist JD Fergusson in 1968, which forms the largest collection of Fergusson’s work outside of the Fergusson Museum in Perth: and the second in 1997 from the Scottish Arts Council which donated fifteen paintings and three sculptures, including work from John Bellany, Elizabeth Blackadder, Joan Eardley, William MacTaggart, James Morrison, Alberto Morrocco and Anne Redpath.
The collection, now numbers over three hundred works of art, and has recently been awarded museum status, with its focus now on the collection of Scottish Contemporary art and artists. As the university approaches its 50th anniversary in 2017, many themed exhibitions and public lectures are planned. Before then however, the collection is open Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. Guided tours and further information can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Access is free.