Latest News - May 2020

Editor’s comment

Who would have thought how much the world would change, when we were planning our programme of work for the year ahead? As a result of the Covid-19 outbreak our museum, like all the others, is closed for the foreseeable future. It is not yet clear whether we will be able to open later in the season or will have to wait until next year. Frustratingly, we had another exciting summer exhibition planned and almost ready for our opening before Easter, but that is largely now gathering dust with no-one able to visit it in person.

However, if there is an upside to this it is that we are now planning to make both the summer exhibition and the permanent exhibition of Pictish art available on-line so that people can at least visit us from the comfort of their own homes. This offers us exciting possibilities to connect with a wider range of virtual visitors around the world, and will encourage people to visit us when the restrictions are lifted.

Changes in the management team

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held in November, and while two of our Trustees stood down (Tim McKeggie, treasurer, and Jill Harden, curatorial manager), we saw four new Trustees join us – Paul Pritchard, as treasurer, Sylvia Macdonald, Lynne Mackenzie, and John McLellan. Since then, Barbara Cohen has reluctantly decided to stand down as Chair, but is remaining on the board as a Trustee. Doug Maclean has been elected chair in her place. John McLellan has also resigned.

With the new, enlarged, team in place, work is in hand to enable the board of Trustees to increase its focus on the strategic direction of the museum, greatly assisted by Helen Avenell who has joined us in a board advisory capacity.

Behind the board, the museum has two part-time paid employees – Jo Clements, George Bain Curator, and Carola Martin-Smith, administrator – and a great team of keen and very able volunteers.

The Covid-19 outbreak and the restrictions imposed on the museum as a result, have had a very significant impact on the museum’s finances. Although as a result of the careful financial management over the past three years the museum is in a relatively strong position, we will nevertheless inevitably be suffering quite a loss. We have lessened the impact somewhat by successfully applying for a business support grant from The Highland Council, but we still expect to have a deficit in the region of £6,000 in the year. Donations will be even more welcome as a result.

Cooking the books

Rather than focus on the things we will not be doing this year, the items here and below tell you about the things we WILL be doing! First of these is that through the winter, some of our volunteers, led by Mo Kitchingham, have been working on putting together a Groam House Cookbook, which they plan to have professionally printed and put on sale in the museum. Apart from our volunteers’ own favourite recipes, the book includes offerings from Lady Claire Macdonald and Lady Lucinda Lister Kaye, and it is being illustrated by another of our talented volunteers, Carol Nolan. In addition .Lady Claire Macdonald has agreed to provide an introduction to the book. Watch out for it appearing later in the season!

Open Gardens – Black Isle Scarecrow Festival

As our Open Gardens event has had to be postponed until next year, our volunteers have been looking for something different to take its place. Anything they planned had to be achievable within the restrictions of lockdown and social distancing. So, they put together a plan for a Scarecrow Festival.

As well as providing a project to occupy both youngsters and adults during the Coronavirus lockdown, we wanted an event to cheer up the Black Isle and get people smiling.  Welcome to the Black Isle Scarecrow Festival!

The Black Isle Scarecrow Festival invites people of all ages to let their imaginations run wild to create wonderful and weird Scarecrows.

Funding coordinator, Jean Hogben, said “We thought a theme of Scottish Heroes Past and Present was particularly pertinent. Scarecrows can be made to celebrate our courageous key care workers or pay tribute to a hero from Scottish history. The theme is wide and we look forward to seeing every possible interpretation.  I hope to see some Pictish warriors, like those depicted on the stones in our museum, amongst the entries”.

A traditional scarecrow is made with threadbare overalls stuffed with straw, perhaps an overfilled sack for a head with an old hat on top. The picture above is from our Open Gardens 2018! The secret to making the best possible scarecrow is using your imagination to recycle, reuse and repurpose old clothes and other props you already have. During lockdown, people have time to have a good rummage around their house, shed or garage where they’ll find all they need to make the most inventive and inspiring creations.

We are hoping other local groups and communities across the Black Isle will join in and bring a little joy to our corner of Scotland in these uncertain times.

For full details visit our Facebook page and our website or email Festival Organiser   Lynne.Makenzie@groamhouse.org  or  Jean.Hogben@groamhouse.org 

In the meantime, those of you who have visited Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales will know what a fun event a Scarecrow Festival and competition can be! The picture is of a Dougal scarecrow (with hair something like mine, as a result of not being able to get to the hairdresser - ed) from the Scarecrow Festival in Wetwang.


Summer exhibition

This year’s summer exhibition features the making of the Book of Kells, its methods of construction, and the link between its artwork and that of the decorated Pictish stones, including the Rosemarkie stone. Local artist Thomas Keyes is preparing the exhibition, which includes a reconstruction of a Scriptorium, a room used by monks to write and decorate their manuscripts. For his art works Thomas has worked extensively with vellum, the material on which manuscripts such as the Book of Kells were written. He has painstakingly recreated many of the natural pigments that the early scribes would have used. He has considerable knowledge of the practical challenges in working with these natural materials in creating such minutely intricate works of art, and many of you may recall his Groam House lecture on the practical lessons he had learned from creating manuscripts on vellum.

As the exhibition cannot currently be opened to the public, we are working with Thomas to create an on-line version of it. Already, much of Thomas’s work can be seen on his own fascinating website – which gives practical guidance on everything from skinning your own deer, to creating pigments and creating an illuminated manuscript. See www.scribalstyles.net



Sharing the creativity of Celtic Art through the George Bain Collection

Work progresses on the project despite the impact of the Covid-19 virus.

As we reported towards the end of last year, we staged a very well-received dance and animation event at Fortrose Cathedral, which was the result of workshops in both dance and animation for people in the local community – the first set of deliverables from the broader project which included funding from Museums Galleries Scotland and Creative Scotland.

The next stages are to digitise more of the George Bain collection held by the museum, and to present it on a specially-designed website so as to create an interactive catalogue for the Celtic design items in the nationally significant George Bain Collection. It will give access to objects that are kept in our research store, making them available for the first time to a world-wide audience. It will also have the exciting facility for people viewing the site to upload their thoughts and creative output (with appropriate mediation). The exercise will not only provide benefit for the wider audience world-wide but will further develop skills within the museum in building collections expertise for our volunteers.

As part of this project, Groam House Museum has launched the #CelticCreativity Consultation to ask artists and craftspeople how they would use the George Bain Collection of Celtic art online.  As only a tiny proportion of the collection can be on display, we are building a new on-line presence so that people around the world can access more of the collection to inspire creativity.

“George Bain was a visionary figure who believed that everyone could and should create their own Celtic art and craftwork” explains George Bain Project Officer, Jo Clements. “We want to make sure that we present the art and craftwork in the collection in a way that inspires people to use it creatively, so our #CelticCreativity consultation asks artists and craftspeople to tell us what they need to know about the collection and what they would do with it so that we can give them the information and material they need.”

“Last year we worked with animation and contemporary dance groups locally to understand the creative process in more depth, but now we want to hear from other artists and crafters around the world.”  

Artists and craftspeople can join in the #CelticCreativity consultation on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or through the museum’s online questionnaire.  

“We are grateful to Museums Galleries Scotland, Creative Scotland, and our dedicated team of voluntary fundraisers for providing the funds to allow this project to happen”, said Doug Maclean, Chair of the Groam House Museum Board of Trustees. “We hope that as many people as possible will take the time to share their views with us so that the collection can realise its potential as a living, vibrant resource.”

New website and on-line exhibitions

We have been thinking of revamping and updating our website for some time now, but until recently we didn’t have the resource to really tackle the issue. But when Lynne Mackenzie joined us as a volunteer with her experience of working in museums and of handling publicity, we jumped at the chance when she offered to develop a new website for us. 

The website is currently under development and we expect to be making it accessible in stages over the summer. Initially it will offer much the same functionality as the existing site, but with a cleaner and more up to date look. Later we will be adding more functionality to add more value to what is an important shop window for our museum.

At the same time, Doug is working to make available “virtual tours” of the museum on-line, so that “virtual visitors” will be able to visit our museum and browse around from the comfort of their own homes while the restrictions on opening remain in place.

Some of you will have seen the virtual tours that we offer for the upstairs summer exhibitions, available only in the museum itself, so that people with mobility issues can view the exhibition from the ground floor without having to tackle the stairs. We are now developing these tours to be accessible over the web – and we will shortly be offering a virtual tour of the Pictish exhibition, followed by the summer exhibition of the Book of Kells. We’ll make sure there is a virtual donations box as well!


We have recently re-established the accommodation working group that was formed a few years ago to look at options for extending or otherwise developing the museum’s accommodation. That group commissioned studies to look at a number of options, but financial pressures a few years back prevented any further action. Now, we are working with solicitors to explore the purchase of Groam House from the Council for a nominal sum, and at the same time we are again exploring options for possible expansion.

Meanwhile, we have been notified that the owners of the Rosehaugh Estate plan to redevelop the stables block where our office accommodation is located, and this could mean that we may have to leave the premises for a time, or even permanently. So the group is looking at potentially re-housing our back-office accommodation. 

Fundraising and activities

With the current restrictions, opportunities for the traditional fundraising events are very limited, so we have come up with the idea of trying less traditional approaches. First of these is to create online activities and games for young people that will reflect the work of the museum and help to continue our engagement with children and young adults.

Of course, as soon as we are able, we will re-schedule our old-favourite activities – the book sales (perhaps in a different form), coffee mornings and other regulars.   

Repairs to Groam House

Sadly the repairs to Groam House have suffered delay as a direct result of Covid-19. All was set for the work to be carried out over Easter, but the lock-down prevented work from starting, and we await a relaxation of the rules before work can progress.




Interested in volunteering?

In the items above, we make frequent mention of our band of dedicated and active volunteers. They are lifeblood of the museum. We rely on them absolutely for the running of the museum and its activities. At the same time, the volunteers benefit from working with us – they learn new skills, they enjoy the strong social interaction which belonging to a charity such as ours offers. Most importantly they enjoy what they do. There is much research on the beneficial effects of volunteering to support our view that working with us offers a win-win opportunity – we both benefit from the involvement.

Like all charities, we never have enough volunteers. Our current numbers are relatively small – dangerously so, in terms of ensuring the long-term running of the museum. So once again we invite local people young and old to come and join us. There are opportunities to gain new knowledge and learn new skills, as well as to get involved in various social activities. Several volunteers have joined us last year and they’ll happily share their experiences with you.

Groam House Museum has so much to offer - a wealth of information about the Picts and their amazing stone carvings, the Nationally Recognised George Bain Collection, our local history collection and the opportunity to meet like-minded people in the museum, at our fundraising events, our lectures and our back-office operations.

Please get in touch with our volunteer co-ordinator by email Carola@groamhouse.org  or leave a message on our office phone on 01463 811883. 

We have two specific requirements at present, for when the lock-down ends:

Collections: are you interested in learning about museum objects - local history, applied art and archaeology?  How to handle, record and photograph them as well as research and create exhibitions? We meet for a couple of hours every Monday and Thursday mornings - they're really absorbing sessions.

Greeting visitors: do you like meeting people from all over the world, and giving them a really warm welcome? We need volunteers to staff our museum to do just that, and to introduce them to the exhibitions on display – don’t worry we provide training!


Doug Maclean



Groam House Museum is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), charity number SC004435. Registered Office: Groam House Museum Office, Rosehaugh Estate, Avoch, IV9 8RF.

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