A glimpse of the exotic in new exhibition at Museum nan Eilean

Many enjoyed the items on display at the opening reception on Friday evening.
Many enjoyed the items on display at the opening reception on Friday evening.

The curtain was raised on the eagerly anticipated ‘Collector Extraordinaire’ exhibition at Museum nan Eilean on Friday evening.

This latest showcase at the museum, based at Lews Castle Stornoway, features the first ever curated exhibition of Colin Mackenzie’s India Collections.

Portrait of Colin Mackenzie.

Portrait of Colin Mackenzie.

Mackenzie was a son of Lewis, who was one of Scotland’s most famous 19th century explorers. Born in Stornoway in 1753, he went on to lead a life of travel, discovery and exploration in India as a soldier, engineer, cartographer, polymath and collector.

His collection comprises a remarkable range of material, including beautiful figures intricately carved in stone, drawings and sketches from across India and Java depicting ancient monuments, people and customs, maps, coins, and incredibly old and precious palm leaf manuscripts.

Items from the collection are on loan from the British Museum, The British Library and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

It had been the desire of Colin Mackenzie to return home to Stornoway and showcase the items from his collection, he said at the time: “It would be my ambition to carry home with me a body of material that I conceive may be very interesting to the public if properly brought forward, and it is my object now in remaining a few years longer in India, to devote my chief attention to it.”

One of the many pieces of art on display at the exhibition.

One of the many pieces of art on display at the exhibition.

Unfortunately Mackenzie died before he was able to sort, analyse and present his collection.

Now his fellow islanders will be able to see these precious items thanks to this exhibition, which is part of the Purvai Festival, taking place in Stornoway this month.

The official opening of the exhibition was made by Alan Gemmell OBE, Director of the British Council India, who praised the work undertaken, particularly by Catherine Maclean, to pull the exhibition together.

Mr Gemmell went on to say how apt the exhibition was this year given that 2017 is the UK-India Year of Culture, a year of cultural exchange which launched in February when Her Majesty The Queen hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace.

There was a special performance of Indian classical music from Roopa Panesar and Dalbir Singh Rattan.

There was a special performance of Indian classical music from Roopa Panesar and Dalbir Singh Rattan.

He also went on to joke that during his recent visit to Edinburgh that it was the Purvai Festival taking place at An Lanntair arts centre this month which is being more talked about rather than “that other festival” which also happens in August.

Also speaking at the opening reception Catherine Maclean encouraged people to visit the exhibition, as well as enjoying the other events of the Purvai Festival and Comhairle nan Eilean Convener Norman Macdonald thanked the museums for their contributions to the project.

On the evening there was also a taster of the other Purvai events taking place this week with a special performance of Indian classical music from Roopa Panesar and Dalbir Singh Rattan.

The Collector Extraordinaire exhibition is open at Museum nan Eilean from now until mid-November.

The Purvai Festival runs until August 19th, more details of events at the festival can be found: here