Alexander Croall's Guide to the Smith Institute

The Smith Institute has changed a great deal since the time that I was curator back in the nineteenth century... and, if I may say, the building has continued to go from strength to strength, with every new decade bringing something fresh and new to offer to our visitors.  I will be pleased to be your guide now as we take a look at the Smith's transformation over the past 140 years.

Reception and Shopping Area

On entering the Smith, just as in my day, you will meet the building's friendly front-of-house staff who are ready to welcome you to the art gallery and museum.  The shop and reception area will lead you into the different galleries, the cafe, and also the lecture theatre, as well as the Smith's on-site facilities.  The stained glass inner doorway was designed and installed by Yvonne Smith and Joe Boyle of GlasWorks Glasgow in 1998, and is acid etched with the names of companies, organisations and individuals who have given support to the Smith.  New names are added from time to time.

It is here that staff are on hand to deal with visitors' queries, and to also to take bookings for the use of the Smith's lecture theatre, which is regularly home to events such as the Friends of the Smith lecture series, meetings of the Board of Trustees, and conferences, conventions and assemblies of a great many other groups who come from far and wide to hold gatherings here.

Gallery 1 and The Smith Cafe

Back when I managed the Smith, this gallery was a library and reading room which held thousands of reference publications.  Following that, it became a natural history room for many years, captivating visitors with its exotic range of mounted specimens.  But today it is home to a constantly changing series of different exhibitions, showcasing all forms of art and a range of many other exhibits.

Gallery 1 also houses the Smith's cafe.  The cafe is available to visit during the building's main opening hours (Tuesday - Saturday, 10:30am - 5pm; Sundays 2pm - 5pm), but please note that service stops one hour before closing time.  The cafe serves the public throughout the year.

The window hangings feature a stencil scheme designed by George Walton (1867-1933) for Miss Cranston's Crown Luncheon and Tea Rooms, Argyle Street, Glasgow, 1899.  The scheme was chosen for use here as it features deer, the beasts common to the nearby King's Park until the eighteenth century.

There is a variety of literature to read in Gallery 1, detailing venues and events throughout the area, which echoes back to the days when the Stirling public of Victorian times would leaf through printed matter in the comfort of the Smith building.  No doubt our founder, Mr Thomas Stuart Smith, would be pleased to know that this tradition continues even to this day.

Lecture Theatre

Once, this capacious room held the lower museum, which at various times held the Smith's ethnographic collections and artefacts relating to Scottish history.  In the modern day, however, it has been developed into a lecture theatre with all modern facilities, which can house over a hundred people at a time.

The lecture theatre
is a popular venue at any time of the year, and is used by a great many different groups from week to week.  The theatre can be booked both during the day and in the evening, and facilities include a radio microphone system, television with video/DVD, and a large pull-down screen with blackout facility for those wishing to use their own projection equipment.  There are also many electrical sockets situated throughout the room, and Internet access is available on request.  Quite a change from the magic lantern shows of my day!

The Smith also has a meeting room, a smaller venue which is similarly available for bookings.  If you would like to know more about the lecture theatre or the meeting room, please contact the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum for further details.

Gallery 2

In Victorian times, Gallery 2 was used as a picture gallery for watercolour paintings.  Today, visitors may still view paintings and photography of many different types in this area, but the gallery is also used to house all kinds of different exhibitions too - some of them of a community or special interest nature.

During the summer months, the traditional red walls are used to show the Smith's beautiful range of historical paintings to advantage.  Please check the Stirling Smith website for details of current and forthcoming exhibitions and events taking place here in the gallery.

Gallery 3

Just as was the case when I worked at the Smith, Gallery 3 remains the largest single exhibition space in all of Central Scotland.  For many years it was home to a comprehensive collection of oil paintings.  Today, however, guests will find far more than paintings on display, as this gallery is home to the Stirling Story.

The Smith's permanent exhibition since 2000, the Stirling Story is a wide-ranging view of the history of Stirling from Neolithic times up until the present day.  The Stirling Story takes the visitor on a tour through many different aspects of Stirling life throughout the centuries - the community, the art, the history, and everything that has made the city the vibrant and exciting place that it is today.

The Stirling Story also contains a variety of children's activities including dressing up, colouring in, and audio-visual presentations for the whole family.  The Stirling Story is where Stirling comes to life - past, present and future.  There are even some artefacts hearkening back to what Stirling was like during the reign of Queen Victoria, when I was still in charge of the Institute!  This important display features an interpretation of the full history of Stirling, told using artefacts from the Smith collections ranging from the neolithic to the modern day. It has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and sponsorship from Scottish Amicable.

Ailie's Ga

When I managed the Smith Institute back in the nineteenth century, the garden to the rear of the building was used for two purposes - to house my vegetable patch, and also to provide a home for my animals; the cows and sheep that the Burgh Council allowed me to keep on the premises to provide food for my family.  But that was all a long time ago and, of course, things change.  It is difficult to imagine a more profound change, however, than the one that I find whenever I visit the garden in the present day, for it has now become something quite different altogether.

Between 2001 and 2002, the Smith's grounds were extensively renovated into a major new attraction due to the efforts of the Friends of the Smith, who led an ambitious project to completely reshape the area into a biodiversity gardenAilie’s Garden, at the rear of the museum, was formally opened by Robin Harper MSP on Monday 16 September 2002, and has been a very popular area of interest for visitors ever since.

Named in honour of Ailie R Maclaurin (1913-2000), a talented horticulturist and long-serving Friend of the Smith, the garden was created to encourage wildlife and nature studies, to demonstrate ecological responsibility through composting and waste management, and to provide an outdoor facility which adds to the pleasure of visiting the Smith through creative relaxation.

So now you know about some of the things that the The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum has to offer.  The only question left to ask is: when will you become part of the Smith story?