Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture


Sandy Wood - Collections Curator

Sandy Wood joined the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture in 2003, and now works as their Collections Curator.

Founded in 1826, the Academy is artist run, and administers scholarships, awards, and residencies for artists who live and work in Scotland. The collection has been recognised as being of National Significance to Scotland, and new works are accessioned every year.

Sandy talks about the experience of working with a collection that has largely been developed by the contributors. This unique perspective provides an insight into both the world of Scottish Art in general and the individual artists involved.

Sandy talks about the experience of working with a collection which has largely been grown by artists themselves, which provides a unique insight into both the world of Scottish Art in general, and also the individual artists.



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hello and welcome to the max communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by sandy wood collections curator for the royal scottish academy of art and architecture hi sandy would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about your role at the academy hello yes i'm sandy i've i've been collections curator at the academy since 2013. so you know seven years in that particular row and before that i was the technician from was it 2003 [Music] and i think in between 2003 and then 2010 i became the assistant curator and then up to the you know overall collections curator when my predecessor joanna soden retired after being at the academy since 1985. so you know i've maybe got quite a wee while left in this role i've been here for what 70 over 17 years now at the rsa which you know feels like it should maybe be being accessioned into the collections myself at some point so how do you spend an hour day nowadays um since your role must have changed over the years um it's often spinning a lot of plates really i think you know that's what a lot of people do in museums these days especially smaller museums independent um museums and galleries you know i suppose in the numerous specialist roles have tended to decrease lately in the museum world and so if you're in a bit of a smaller outfit you probably find yourself doing a bit of everything i mean it's so it's really a bit of everything you might expect to happen in a collection or archive if you're familiar with the sort of work that goes on there if you consider that the national galleries of scotland for example have lots of different departments they have registrars they have a picture library team they have curators they have you know a handling team they have people who work on their website in digitization and they have you know separate members are members of staff or teams for all those areas in a way you know i suppose i do all of that at the same time and it's really rewarding to be able to have that variety in your role it can sometimes feel a little bit overwhelming and that you don't have time to to focus on something specific for a period but i think having that variety coming into work on every day knowing that it's not going to be exactly the same i think is uh you know i wouldn't swap that for for a different role anyway put it that way so what kind of material are you working with i mean the point of the obvious is primarily scottish but you must have lots of media for different artists yeah it's i mean our collection was the fact the first works that we've identified as commenter collection arrived in 1829 and they were gifted um by a um painter called john martin who's actually an english artist but he was awarded an honorary um he was made an army academician and so when in return for that he gifted us some work since since that point the core collection the academy the diploma collection which is where members will gift a piece of their work on election to represent them that collection began in 1831 it's when the first works came in and since that point you know our our collection has grown in the way you might expect an historic collection of that age to grow you know we've got paintings sculpture prints photography a library an archive you know we've now got time-based media coming into the collection which is more of a recent arrival and multimedia works installation pcs you know i think really is that there's a bit of everything and there's also you know substantial collections that have been gifted by artists studio gifts you might call them uh which which tend to come in after an artist is gone but might be considered while they were still around and that is really what in a way what it says in the tin and that it's as if you're walking into the artist's studio and and finding in the collections what you might have found there so you know sketchbooks artist tools their memorabilia objects of inspiration and influence that they might used in their paintings or their work their own archives you know photographic archives that they've held um other archives correspondents that they've they've had and so it's a really sort of rich and varied collection and the way the way i guess is the easiest way to understand it and navigate around it the way that we tend to navigate around it is as the the artist is the foundation and you know as an artist run institution we're the oldest surviving artist run institution in scotland but somewhere that's been you know run by artists the collections contains their work that collection has been developed by those artists over the years that's a sort of linchpin and it's an easy way of of thinking about you know everything that we have it all comes back to those artists that have either operated or ran the academy or have been involved in the things that we've done over the years so you're still actively collecting things from your members yes yeah i mean we're we elect new members every year and that the constitution was changed in 2005 so we can now elect as many members as they as the current membership would like to elect every year it used to be the case that it was a one out one in policy on the full membership where a full member had to die for another um associate member to be promoted to the rank of fueler rsa when we elect new members every year so the diploma collection is guaranteed to grow year on year sometimes we might receive quite a number of works in a year sometimes we'll receive fewer and it just depends when those academicians get around to collecting the work and depositing it as an example of what they do in their practice we also operate scholarships and awards like the kenross scholarship which has been sending students final years and post grad students to to italy um since the 1980s and other awards like the morton award for line space media the barnes graham mickey awards little john award which all results in works by those award winners those scholars entering the collection so you know it it creates an important um [Music] alternative type of work in the collections of the establish artists work so you have on one side the diploma collection which tends to be those artists who've been practicing for some time are elected and you also have emerging artists work there's often cross over there where members might be involved earlier in their careers and you can see that trajectory flowing through so we are we've our collection grows pretty rapidly compared to a lot of other institutional collections and we do also purchase work we have a ring fence acquisition fund that was established a few years ago and we use that to fill you know to fill gaps in the collection for artists work that we maybe don't hold or have missed out on in the past and to try and create the right representations of our our membership that you would expect to find if you are looking for such and such a member in our collection you'd want to see what parts of their practice you what they were remembered for or or you should find in a collection and i guess the final thing is we get gifted works bequeathed works on a regular basis especially kind of coming from the membership and so yeah our our collection even in the time i suppose in the time that i've been at the rsa is probably growing by a couple of thousand individual artworks i guess wow so you have you have um exhibitions obviously but a lot of it must be in storage a lot of your collection must be inaccessible to the public for most of most of the year it is yeah i mean i think that's probably the case with that with a lot of collections and that the vast majority of them are are kept in store you know we've we do have exhibiting space at the mound but we don't have run of the rsa building fully in the way that we used to so it's it's mainly temporary exhibitions and permanent space is fairly limited do you get a lot of people coming to your storage space to have a look at things then we do you know as as i've said before you know whereas with a small team where we're an independent institution when we receive no government funding at all so we've we've got a few you know our full team within of permanent staff in the collections is four and only you know only two of us are full-time so we we have to kind of balance the access that we can provide with you know what what is achievable we do have a lot of researchers come in particularly to to look at our collections in our archiving that you know is quite a unique resource within scotland um we have you know we do have members of the public and visitors come in but it's it's not it's not that's not a regular occurrence as such it's quite difficult to manage um those kind of visits on a on a regular regular basis we obviously make we make the collections accessible to to friends and patrons of the academy and that's a bit of a bonus if you're in in those areas you can have a little bit of more access than you might otherwise um but yeah i mean the the mantra really is to make everything as accessible as possible so we we certainly do our best and what lights are the items that aren't on physical display there's you know certainly over the past decade the ways that digital access has developed has moved forward and quite considerably in what we may have offered in the past what are your hopes for the future of the collection then uh i suppose it's trying to you know and when you get asked those kind of questions it's it's i guess trying to balance your blue sky thinking with what's actually achievable and and finding finding the right way to go forward i think having a collection that fully represents the membership from scottish art and the role of the academy over the last 200 years i think that would be that would be a great thing to to get the collections to that that sort of place you know they're they're recognized as a collection of national significance to scotland and they were back in 2008 but there are still gaps we're actively filling those um on on the flip side of that coin you know what i don't know if you can ever say your collection can be fully representative i think that's bit of a subject of opinion um depending on who you speak to i guess from another side to have everything in the collections archiving library absolutely fully cataloged in one database so that we can make that accessible online you know we've been working on addressing sort of backlog of documentation and getting everything on our collections onto our collections management database but it's uh it's a long it's a long project um and you know as i said earlier we get quite a lot of stuff coming in so sometimes my uh our documentation officer can find a he no sooner does he think he's managed to address a bit of that backlog that we get another uh big request in which includes three or four hundred works and it feels like he's back to back to the uh to stage one on that and i guess having everything digitized as well those are that sort of side of it just would will make access you know accessibility access much better and especially where we are at the moment in the pandemic you know that moved to digital although it's been slightly enforced to think with recent events and physical sites being less successful i think having that hybrid approach of your collections accessible through a digital platform as well as a physical platform is is really key to how museums and galleries are going to want to operate going forward and i suppose the the final two two things are sort of vision for the next five years or so just over five years in 2026 it's the rsa's bicentenary so we've been around for 200 years so we're currently looking at various projects with which you know we how we might celebrate that anniversary so when a lot of those are obviously revolving around the collection so that's quite an exciting it's quite an exciting time for us and by that stage you never know as well we might have a a new store um down in granton you know the national galleries are developing um something down there which the rsa is part of and that will help us you know store and care for our collections which are you know growing exponentially a little bit better you mentioned that there are some gaps you want to fill what areas do you think are under-represented um i suppose it's perhaps not so much areas as particular members work you know members have been elected and for whatever reason we haven't neces perhaps received a diploma work from them or associates have been elected we haven't collected a an example of their work so i think you know the first the first priority really in our collecting strategy is to have representation in our collections of at least one one work by every member who's been elected to the academy we have been working i suppose over the last wee while on trying to bring our 20th century printmaking holdings up to the same sort of level as our 19th century holdings you know our 19th century printmaking is has been sort of recognized as a as i'm as very significant resource in that area in scotland but our 20th century holdings are slightly less impressive and so we've we've been collecting various things over the last few years that have to address that gap you know folios by likes of eduardo palozzi allen davey will mclean um to sort of give a give a better representation of that important phase of scottish print making from say the the kind of 1920s going going forward what is your favorite item that you have in the collection uh good question kind of an impossible question i think because there's so many and if you think of and if i think about it from different perspectives you know different different works come to mind for different reasons i think um you know i can talk i can talk about a few i suppose um and but then if you ask me the same question in a week's time the list will probably change it depends what comes to mind with it if you're looking at 8 000 things that you work with on a regular basis there's there's so many interesting items in there it's impossible to choose i guess one thing that comes to mind one recent diploma work that comes to mind is a piece by derrick gild titled follower which is the was the first certain multimedia diploma work really um in that he deposited a painting format photograph and a film and it was all sort of based around the performance that he gave and i think it was a 2016 annual exhibition where he was in the gallery painting uh he had a sort of various vases of tulips on a table in the gallery and he was painstakingly painting the petals of each of these tulips over the the course of the gallery being opened and was surrounded on the walls by some of these paintings of those tulips and over the course of the show obviously painted them and then the tulips are welted and died and it was that work was all kind of inspired by the tulip mania from the dutch golden age where tulips got to such a ridiculous um price that they were i think at one point they were sort of the entire you know a fairly well paid um tradesman for the year would be his entire annual salary so you know that i think that that was an interesting work in a number of ways and because i think it was a bit of a first for the diploma collection that's why it sort of comes to mind phyllis bones diploma work is another um sheer can the tiger and she was the first woman to be elected as an academician and obviously she can has a lot of nice nice memories from your childhood and um mowgli in the jungle book um so those are two but there are there are lots there are lots of other ones um early scottish photography we have an interesting collection of helen adamson and thomas keith photographs which are pretty unique and i think because i did photography art school um i'm sort of drawing towards towards those and i guess just i suppose an artist's work that that's sort of quite close to the forefront of my mind at the moment just because of a lot of the global issues that are going on as the the work of adi adesina he was born in nigeria on the same year as me actually in 1980 and moved to scotland and studied at grey's and aberdeen but he creates sort of monumental um prints mainly or often in you know wood cut um lino cut and he uh the the scenes that he that he creates there they're often commenting on humanity's sort of the precariousness of humanity the global warming climate change you know they're visually immersive landscapes which are you know just kind of fantastic things to look at and start drawing into this um theatrical filmic sort of um landscapes so those you know his work i think has always spoken to me since since he became a member that's a bit of a cross-section so i suppose that's that's maybe sort of four things that maybe that this week are my favorites nice variety though yeah yeah i mean that's that's a great thing there is such a variety of of different types of work in the collection that here you know the the way the relationship between the historic work in the academy that's been produced and the contemporary work there's always a dialogue going on there and it's it it's interesting how you find similar conversations cropping up now that might have been happening a couple hundred years ago so you're open at the moment again government regulations permitting have you got exhibitions on right now yes there's you know our academicians gallery which is the the gallery which is open all year showing academicians working and selling academicians work which you know we've we've been selling scottish artists work since since 18 20 26 so you know we'll keep we'll keep doing so as long as we continue to exist you know that that has been open i think since september in the time um and is always respectable by appointment in the current regulations hopefully next year will open up properly again and we've got two two exhibitions on at the moment reduct abstraction geometry and scottish art and peace starts with a smile by our our member making member stuart duffin you happen to be in edinburgh and you want to go and catch those shows they're all booking by appointments if you have a look on the rsa website you'll be able to to find out a bit more about that fantastic thank you for talking to me today sandy it's been really interesting hearing about the variety of members work you've got in your collection it's a pleasure faith thank you very much nice to speak to you cheers cheers bye