An open suitcase containing old artifacts including a black and white photograph of a man and other documents

Background

Dr Werner Kissling was a German aristocrat who was born into great wealth but ended up living as a tenant of a bedsit in Dumfries. He left the German diplomatic service whilst posted to London in 1931, unwilling to work for a Nazi government. Instead, he pursued academic research in the UK even after anti-Hitler activities cost his family their fortune.

Dr Kissling was a distinguished ethnologist, particularly taking photographs in the Western Isles of Scotland.  He made the first ever film to use spoken Gaelic and is regarded as one of the great photographers of the Western Isles.

Dumfries Museum houses an extensive collection of photographs taken by Dr Kissling between 1935 and the 1970s.  Many show images of crafts people and agricultural workers from New Zealand to the Western Isles of Scotland at work, some practising crafts which have since died out.

 

Challenge

In 2018, a suitcase of Dr Kissling’s personal possessions was donated to the museum.  A great deal of work had been done already in terms of sorting, copying and documenting the contents of this suitcase, but further work was required to archive, digitise and catalogue them.

This inspired the Dr Werner Kissling Project 2019, a project to document the newly acquired collections and collect reminiscences from people who remembered Dr Kissling.

 

Solution

Mari Findlay, from Interface, put Siobhán Ratchford, curator at Dumfries Museum, in touch with the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) Internship/Artist Residency programme, where PhD student Kirsty Kernohan expressed an interest in the project.

Kirsty, who was studying anthropology at University of Aberdeen, created over 500 new catalogue records for the museum’s collection and developed a record identifying Kissling collections in other institutions, available for future research by public and experts. She also compiled three online information pages including around 120 digitised photographs for Future Museum, a resource showcasing the collections of museums in Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway. Kirsty’s work on Futuremuseum.co.uk can be viewed here.

 

Benefits

Company - A Scottish museum’s internationally significant collection of photographs has been expanded and preserved for future generations, thanks to Interface’s connections. The staff at the museum were delighted to see Dr Kissling’s collection finally honoured and become more accessible to the public.

Siobhán Ratchford

Dr Kissling’s archives are a very valuable insight into Scotland in times gone by. Without Kirsty we would never have had the capacity ourselves to do what she has achieved. We always knew that the collection was important, the fact that more of it is available and accessible to the public through better documentation will help preserve images of crafts which we have lost. 

Siobhán Ratchford, Museums Curator - East , Dumfries and Galloway Council

Academic – The Dr Werner Kissling Project 2019 gave the PhD student the chance to take on a multi-faceted project in a museum context, allowing her to put into practice skills she had gained volunteering in other museums and through her PhD research.  Previous experience on anthropological fieldwork allowed her to conduct ethical interviews and add to the museum’s records, and research experience allowed her to collate information about Dr Kissling, enhancing the museum’s collection.

Kirsty Kernohan

My time in Dumfries has been invaluable.  I learnt a whole new set of skills involving press releases, radio interviews, and museum documentation practices. I can now take forward all these skills into a future career in research or the museum sector. I thoroughly enjoyed undertaking this project whilst working within the supportive environment of Dumfries Museum, getting advice and support from almost all members of staff at various points.

Kirsty Kernohan, PhD student, University of Aberdeen