A tribute to a Galleries volunteer

Our much-valued volunteers at the National Galleries of Scotland help support the organisation by carrying out vital tasks across all of our departments.

Volunteer Kate Maxwell, who sadly passed away last year, worked in our development department, as well as on a long-term project to transcribe the letters of FCB Cadell that we hold in our archives.

Development Co-Ordinator Mollie Mitchell, who worked closely with Kate, said: "Kate worked with us for over six years, assisting with a range of administration tasks for our fundraising and Friends membership programme. In particular, Kate assisted with our Gift Aid claims, contributing significantly to the additional funds we were able to raise for the galleries.

"Kate was always a welcome face in the office, willing to pitch in with a range of tasks and help us out with whatever was needed. She made some good friends amongst our other office volunteers during her time working with us and she is sorely missed by us all."

Kate wrote about her experience working as a volunteer and she particularly loved going through the letters of Cadell. We wanted to share her words as a tribute, and perhaps they can inspire others who may wish to volunteer.  

Kate Maxwell

My Volunteer Story by Kate Maxwell

When I retired, I had always thought I would volunteer in some capacity, but I wasn’t sure what exactly.  However, the opportunity came rather sooner than I had anticipated in 2012, when I found myself redundant from a position I had been in for almost 20 years. 

Whilst I didn’t feel ready to quit employment quite yet, I decided to check out the voluntary sector in the meantime.  After leafing through the “sits vac” in the Volunteer Centre, one that caught my eye was with the National Galleries of Scotland. 

Having done an Art course at school and studied some History of Art during my Open University degree, I thought this sounded interesting, so I followed it up and was fortunate to be taken on by the Development Department. 

For most of this time, I have been dealing with the database, inputting details of those who have donated an extra 10% when attending the various paying exhibitions.  It’s amazing how generous people are, even those who don’t live within easy reach of Edinburgh.  Whilst I still do some of that, I have also become involved in a most interesting project known as The Cadell Family Letters, which takes me to the Reading Room in Mod 2.

The Scottish Colourist, FCB Cadell, went to Paris to study in the 1890s, when he was just 16 years old. He was accompanied by his mother, Mary Cadell and his sister Jean. There are hundreds of letters between members of the family on either side of the Channel, and the plan is to transcribe these, then upload them to the internet, where they can be read by interested parties. 

A letter from Cadell to his father.

Most of the letters I have done to date have been from Cadell’s mother to his father, Dr Francis Cadell, an Edinburgh surgeon, who remained here with their other son, Arthur.  Mary is a very prolific correspondent, writing almost daily.  Of course, at that time there weren’t the distractions of television and indeed, the internet, with its endless possibilities via social media.  So they reflect very much the social history of the time. There are also references to world events like the Boer War, for example. Mary talks quite often of submitting letters to The Scotsman, for which she was paid a fee.

Money (of the lack of it) is a constant concern. She keeps detailed records and clearly often feels the need to justify what she has spent to her husband.   Everything was “make do and mend”.  However, I get the impression they were a very loving couple and it must have been hard for them to be separated for so much of the time. Her letters to him are usually addressed “Dearest Frank”, “My dearest Frank” or sometimes “Dearest Piggles”! Their son Francis Cadell is always referred to as “Bunty”.

Working my way through the letters, I am sorry not to have come across many from Bunty so far, but I see from the catalogue that there are more to come. In one which I have found, there was a beautiful sketch of a “General” in full military regalia. 

An example of Cadell's handwriting.

I must acknowledge my indebtedness to Google.  The handwriting is small – I’ve had to invest in a new pair of glasses!  – so some of the names of places etc. would be indecipherable without it.

I did manage to secure some part-time employment later on, but decided to continue my voluntary roles because I enjoy them so much.  There are many “perks” to volunteering with the Galleries such as attending exhibitions, first night openings and discounts in the Gallery shops and cafés.  It’s a real education!

27 February 2020