A BEAUTIFUL garden pattern on an ancient carpet is magically brought to life. Stories unfold on giant screens, of priceless objects which sit tantalisingly close by. Tiny details on small works of art become crystal clear, magnified to magnificent proportions...

The newly-refurbished Burrell Collection, which opens in March following a multi-million pound renovation, is using digital media on a scale never before seen in a museum setting to reveal the stories behind each one of its 9000-plus objects and artworks.

It is a show-stopping display of almost 100 different elements, from giant video walls and immersive films to interactive games and tactile experiences. Revealed exclusively to The Herald ahead of the reopening – some remain strictly under wraps, but they are dramatic and breath-taking – they allow visitors to place themselves at the heart of the world-famous collection for the first time.

“We use digital to tell people about the objects in a museum, where they came from, what they were used for, who made them,” explains David Scott, Digital Media Manager at Glasgow Life, which runs the museum. “The big challenge for the Burrell is that most of us have no frame of reference.


“At Riverside, everyone knows what a bus is, or a train – we have that shared experience. It’s a little harder when you are dealing with decorative, often obscure, works of fine art.”

Shipping magnate Sir William Burrell and his wife Lady Constance collected thousands of works of art before donating it all to the City of Glasgow in 1944. The purpose-built Burrell Collection opened in 1983 and closed in 2016 for a £69 million refurbishment, made possible by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Community engagement work ranged from inviting city toddlers to help design a play space outside the new Burrell, to creating ‘handling boxes’ which feature objects from the museum chosen by representatives from local groups, which will now head back out into the communities which created them.

Scott has been producing digital content for the heritage sector for more than 20 years. He joined Glasgow Museums in 2005, as Digital Curator for the £74M Riverside Museum Project and now works across 10 city venues.

His experience at the Riverside Museum of Transport taught him a lot about “what people look for in a day at a museum.”

“There has been a lot of learning,” he acknowledges. “The Burrell had a dwindling visitor base, and the challenge was to make it relevant to all parts of the population, without destroying the original.

“Family groups, for example, don’t have half an hour to pore over one object. Digital allows us to help people create a relationship with a particular artwork or object.”

Scott adds: “We are putting content on screens at the Burrell you can only see at the Burrell. It will be of a size never seen anywhere else. All of the documentary films can be translated into 10 different languages, including British Sign Language.

HeraldScotland: David ScottDavid Scott

“We want people to feel welcome – to see their city, and themselves, in the museum.”

Access is key – says Scott, and not just digital access, of course. The refurbished Burrell will have three physical entrances instead of just one, including a new main entrance and direct entry to the café. Floorspace is greatly increased, with old lecture theatres and staff offices transformed into exhibition spaces, and more of the collection than ever before will be on display in a patchwork of 25 galleries. Objects which have not seen the light of day for decades – and some which have never been exhibited – will be on view. The café has been extended, and an outside plaza will include a ‘playscape’ for young children.

One area will be devoted entirely to making and technique, explains Scott.

“A series of films will run on video screens situated beside particular objects, demonstrating the processes and techniques used to make those objects, and introducing viewers to the makers,” he adds.

“What is unusual about these screens is that they are life-size – about two and a half metres high. It’s very seductive, very easy to watch and understand.”

Equally unusually for a museum, Scott points out, the team at the Burrell made 30 of these films in-house. All of the makers featured, with the exception of two, are in the UK, and the majority are Scottish.

“There is a particularly lovely one about grass engraving, another follows a velvet-maker whose techniques are exactly the same as the ones which would have been used to make the velvet in the collection,” says Scott. “The films are fascinating, and provide a quick and elegant reference to the objects themselves.

“With many decorative objects, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the detail and you don’t know where to focus. The beauty of digital is that it lets you into that detail, and unlocks things the untrained eye might otherwise miss.”

Two films, also being shown on three-metre tall screens, aim to reveal more about the lives of Sir William and Lady Constance Burrell. With archive photographs and actors playing the couple, one takes viewers on a journey through 1910 Glasgow, from the Burrells’ home in the west end, to other key buildings and areas in the city which give a sense of their rise in prominence and their connection to the city; the second delves into the Burrells’ life at Hutton Castle, the Dumfriesshire home in which they lived among their collection.

Interactive games, designed for the under-fives and parents to play together, make use of state-of-the-art gaming and touch-screen technology – one is based on Aesop’s Fables, which William Burrell read to his daughter, Marion, another involves ‘virtual’ dressing up.

“It’s about creating a playful experience, that families can enjoy together,” says Scott. “Large video walls will show films which reveal the stories behind the objects on display nearby – one of the most incredible is of the Wagner carpet, which actually takes the viewer into the pattern itself.”

The Wagner carper is the third-oldest-known Persian garden carpet in the world, dating from the seventeenth century, and depicting a ‘heavenly’ garden.

“At a glance, it can be a bit overwhelming, but what the film does is turn it into a ‘pop-up’ version of itself, bringing it to life over the course of a day, from dawn to dusk, and delving into the detail,” says Scott.

“It’s very special – a thoughtful and gentle way of discovering more about these objects, playful, but always remaining respectful.”

Scott, like everyone involved with the Burrell since its closure, is now eager to share its reinvention with the public

“Being part of this - it’s the best job in the museums service,” he says, smiling. “It is hard work, and it’s a huge challenge.

“But we are doing something here in Glasgow that is very ambitious, on a size and scale which has not been done in a museum setting anywhere else in the world, and we are all very proud of that.”