Monday, 15 August 2011

Muirtown and Duncan Forbes Primary Schools (Inverness) Murals

The multi-media mural at Muirtown Primary School, Inverness (1976) is by James Selbie and his students from Inverness Royal Academy. Created at the time the school was built, the mural celebrates Muirtown Basin industry, history and communications by having panels featuring Mackinlay's Glen Albyn distillery (now replaced by a Co-op supermarket and Comet), the dredger 'Fairway', the Caledonian Canal (replete with swing bridge, davit crane and safety winch) and the Inverness and Ross-shire Railway (through the still extant Clachnaharry Signal Box). This, it would seem, was the first of Selbie's school murals after he had moved to Inverness from Anstruther. The dragonfly and reed panel is signed 'Sandra MacAskill', presumably a student from Inverness Royal Academy where Selbie was principal art teacher.

A year later, Selbie created another foyer mural in yet another new Inverness primary school - this time Duncan Forbes Primary at Culloden. With the school being built on the grounds of Culloden House, the Forbes family home, the mural paid homage to Duncan Forbes (Lord Culloden, President of the Court of Session, 1685-1747) and his wife Mary Rose of Kilravock. The couple are known to have courted at a trysting stone under an old oak tree on the Kilravock estate. Selbie places the couple (in high relief) around the central tree and, through a combination of a variety of vibrantly glazed and enamelled ceramics, revels in the local flora and fauna.

The two Inverness murals complement one another in their distinctive styles and subject matter, both becoming, for those passing through the school, something of a 'wonderwall' (to coin the term of Bruce McLean, as envisaged for a North Ayrshire Primary School two decades later).

I am immensely grateful to Andrea Borsden, daughter of Jimmy Selbie, for telling me about these murals and for providing me with her excellent photographs. There will be more to come on Selbie (1920-1984) - who early on in his career was a roving puppeteer in Aberdeenshire, and who, besides a remarkable painting and ceramic mural oeuvre, has left some unique film and audio records. Together these provide invaluable glimpses of his approach, concerns and knowledge. His contribution and path will make for very interesting and fruitful comparison with those of Pat Tew.

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