Meet the Scottish National Gallery Project Team: Mara Barth

As the Scottish National Gallery undergoes an ambitious transformation to create new gallery space dedicated to Scottish art, find out more about the many people working hard behind the scenes in the lead up to the opening of these exciting new gallery spaces.

Here, Mara Barth, Project Learning Officer, describes how her favourite work in the Scottish collection has led to the sharing of rhubarb and vegetable recipes, and how it holds a secret only visible via X-Ray.

What’s your favourite work in the collection?

My favourite painting is The Vegetable Stall by William York Macgregor because I love how it captures a moment in time, and at the same time it is so timeless. There are no people in the painting but for me it makes me wonder about what comes before and what comes after – who grew the crop and who will prepare a meal from it – for it then to be shared around a wooden kitchen table. I think that this is something that resonates with many people – I’ve had many a chat in front of this painting, thinking of the many uses of rhubarb and how much some people dislike cabbage. Art and food have this in common, we can connect and engage – exchanging stories and impressions.

Also I grew up in a market garden in West Cork in Ireland, so for me it resonates on a personal level. I grew up in the midst of cabbages and onions and carrots.

There’s also a secret about his painting. The artist actually painted a woman, a stall holder, into the work, and painted over her, but in X-Ray she is visible. I agree with the decision the artist made, to focus on the still life and remove the figure as it really gives the vegetables a chance to shine and makes for a more unusual painting.

What’s your role in the Scottish National Gallery Project?

As Project Learning Officer, I’m based within the Learning and Engagement Department and I work closely with colleagues across the galleries, organising events and activities around, and in response to, the Scottish collection. This involves lots of different strands, one of them is Art in the Open, which is about going off site and delivering drawing activities in public spaces and inviting people to have a go at being creative at these pop up events.

A lot of the work I do is around collecting responses to the Scottish collection and exploring the collection in ways that are relevant, exciting and interesting to people today – this could be through creative writing, a discussion session, or through music. These responses give us a better understanding of the work of the Galleries in caring for and feeding into the interpretation of these works.

What are you most looking forward to when the galleries open?

I’m most looking forward to seeing Phoebe Anna Traquair’s embroidery works, the Progress of the Soul, back on the wall and in a much better space. It will be truly wonderful to be able to step back and admire all four panels together.  Previously when they were displayed on the Mound, they were in a quite narrow space and there never really was enough space to step back.  I’m really excited about seeing them in this new space, where we will be able to experience them in their full glory.

Find out the latest updates on the Scottish National Gallery project.

12 February 2020