The Palacerigg Visitor Centre includes a mural, painted in 1974 by Alasdair Gray (1934-2019) in the entrance foyer. The artwork, titled 'Scottish Wildlife Mural' is painted in oil on plaster and covers the northern wall of the foyer, opposite the entrance, expanding up and around the rectangular light well. The mural was restored by Alasdair Gray in 2001 with painted text panels added to lightwell at this time.
The Palacerigg Visitor Centre building, designed by the Derek Lovejoy Partnership and built around 1974, is a small single storey building with flexible spaces for café, exhibition, and toilet facilities. It is located within the Palacerigg Country Park, southeast of Cumbernauld town centre.
The theme of the mural is natural and human ecology, and it depicts Scottish wildlife in an idealised countryside scene. There is a large central 'tree of life' surrounded by species native to the Palacerigg Country Park including foxes, rabbits, deer, owl and badger. A stream passes through the lower section of the scene and a rainbow spans the blue sky above the trees with birds and an eagle flying above. To the left of the tree of life, in the lower section, there is a small Garden of Eden scene with figures representing Adam and Eve. The tree of life is depicted growing on a rocky cliff, the lower section of which has been carved with the quote 'the future of wild life depends on man' which is attributed to the former country park manager, David Stephen. To the right of this stone there is an industrial dockyard scene featuring chimneys and cranes. From the centre of the industrial scene a rocket blasts into the sky it's trail of fire and smoke creating a vertical line up the right side of the mural.
The three sides of the lightwell directly above the northern wall are decorated with sky, clouds, birds and black rectangular boxes filled with text and quotes in white typography. The text on the east side of the light well is titled 'Proverbs by William Blake - Born 1752 Died 1827 –'. On the south side of the light well the text box is another quote titled 'Leonardo Da Vinci (Born 1451, Died 1519) Upon Human Cruelty-'. The text on the west side is dedicated to the first warden and director of the country park and is titled 'In memory of David Stephen – Born 1911 – Died 1989'.
Palacerigg Visitor Centre was built in 1974 as an exhibition and visitor centre for the Palacerigg Country Park. Palacerigg Country Park was established in an area to the south of Cumbernauld town centre that had previously been farmland with some industrial use such peat extraction and fireclay mining. Opened by Cumbernauld Town Council in 1974, the park was founded in the early 1970s by renowned naturalist, writer and journalist David Stephen (1911-1989). Stephen was closely involved in the planning of the park and visitor centre with its objectives of conservation and education and became its first director (The Origins of Scotland's Country Parks, p 453). The area was planted with large numbers of new trees and hedgerows to create shelter for wildlife as part of development of a nature reserve.
The Dictionary of Scottish Architects records that the practice of architects and landscape architects, Derek Lovely Joy Partnership, designed the park and the Exhibition and Visitor Centre at Palacerigg. Construction of the exhibition and visitor centre is recorded as taking place around 1974 at a cost of £75,000.
In the same year, David Stephen commissioned Glasgow born, artist and writer, Alasdair Gray (1934-2019) to paint a mural in the new visitor centre (Gray, A Life in Pictures, p. 170). Gray lived on site with Stephen and his family at the Warden's house while painting the mural. Gray incorporated animals from the reserve in the work, sketching some from life, others from books. He recorded in his book, A life in Pictures, that the rat in the mural that has brought by the fox to its cubs was painted from a dead one that David Stephen had produced from the freezer (A Life in Pictures, p 171). The mural was finished shortly before the official opening of the visitor centre in 1974.
In 2001 Alasdair Gray and his assistant Robert Salmon carried out restoration work to the mural. The mural had suffered water damage and North Lanarkshire Council had asked Gray to restore the work (A Life in Pictures, p. 259). It appears likely that the black text panels in the light well, including the memorial panel to David Stephen, were added during this time.
Statement of Special Interest
Statement of Special Interest:
The Palacerigg Visitor Centre with the 'Scottish Wildlife Mural' by Alasdair Gray meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:
- Because the building includes a major example of a later 20th century public mural.
- The mural is an important surviving example of the visual art of Alasdair Gray that depicts themes and motifs commonly found in his work.
- The mural has a high level of authenticity having been restored by the artist Alasdair Gray in 2001.
- The immediate and wider country park setting of the building is substantially unaltered and contributes to our understanding of the mural's conservationist theme.
- For its close historical association with artist and writer Alasdair Gray, a cultural figure of national importance.
The mural designed by artist and writer Alasdair Gray for the Palacerigg Visitor Centre is an accomplished example of 20th century mural art and is a major example of the artist's work.
Gray was born in Riddrie, Glasgow in 1934. A renowned creative polymath, Gray's output included murals, illustrations, novels, poems and plays with his art and written work often inseparable. He achieved international recognition following the publication of his novel Lanark, an illustrated book in four parts. Written over a period of almost 30 years and published in 1981, it is widely regarded as a landmark of 20th century fiction.
Although most famous for his writing, Gray began as a visual artist and studied design and mural painting at Glasgow School of Art from 1952-1957. Following his graduation, he was commissioned to paint murals in and around Glasgow whilst making a living variously as an artist, teacher and writer. Alongside his book illustrations, Gray's public murals are his best-known visual legacy today. His art, including a number of portraits, is also owned and displayed in galleries including the Victoria and Albert Museum and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Gray's artistic style combines realism and fantasy and is highly symbolic using Biblical and universal themes often within local settings. 'Scottish Wildlife Mural' at the Palacerigg Visitor Centre is a significant surviving example of Gray's visual art. Set in a landscape that references the surrounding country park, it depicts themes which reoccur in much of Gray's artistic and literary work, notably his interest in the place of humankind in the universe.
While the scale of mural is relatively small in comparison to many of Gray's public commissions, the Palacerigg mural contains a number of his commonly used motifs. These include the 'Tree of Life' and the embracing figures of Adam and Eve in the lower left of the scene. Both themes featured in Gray's 'The Seventh Day of Creation - Eden and After', mural painted in Greenhead Church in Glasgow, completed in 1963. This large and extensive mural was destroyed when the church was demolished in the early 1970s.The integration of literary and artistic interests, another distinctive feature of Gray's work, is also shown in the Palacerigg mural with the text panels in the light well featuring quotes from William Blake and Leonardo Da Vinci.
'Scottish Wildlife Mural' was restored by Gray in 2001 and the text panels likely added at this time. The addition of the text panels in Gray's distinctive typography, which reflect the influences of the work and the inseparable nature of his artistic and literary interests, increases the design interest of the mural. The fact that the restoration of the mural was carried out by Gray himself gives the work a high degree of authenticity.
The design of the visitor centre building is simple and functional in form and style. It uses standard building materials for the period and its visitor centre building type such as felt roofing and rendered exterior walls. The interior plan form with offices, stores and services surrounding the entrance foyer at the southeast leading to an open-plan hall reflects its multi-functional use as small visitor centre housing exhibition space and café. The building is a typical example of a visitor or community centre of the later 20th century with no distinctive architectural features.
The Alasdair Gray mural was not part of the architectural scheme by Derek Lovejoy Partnership but was commissioned by Palacerigg Country Park Director David Stephen in the year of the building's opening in 1974. This mural is a fixed feature of the decorative scheme of the entrance foyer where it covers a significant amount of the northern wall surface and is integrated within the light well. The addition of the mural to the entrance foyer is the focus of the building's significance in terms of artistic and design interest.
The mural is prominently located within the building in the entrance foyer directly opposite the glazed doors. The foyer space is largely unaltered since 1974 and the immediate setting of the mural is well retained.
The wider country park setting of the building is also substantially unaltered and contributes to our understanding of the artwork and its historic context. It is set near the western entrance of Palacerigg Country Park which was established in the early 1970s as a protected site for nature conservation and education. A golf course was also created in the park in 1975. The Park, which remains open to the public, contains grassland, woodlands, moorlands and ponds and is home to a variety of wildlife (2022).
In the context of Gray's work, the location of this mural in a rural setting in North Lanarkshire is unusual. The majority of Gray's murals were produced in the urban setting of central Glasgow, most commonly in locations in the west end of the city.
Alasdair Gray described the park setting as the inspiration for the mural, noting that, 'outside many mining, steel industry and factory towns were starting to fail' (A Life in Pictures, p 171). Gray further explained that modern farming in midland Scotland was destroying the habitats of rabbits, foxes, badgers, birds, rare plants and trees (A Life in Pictures, p 171). Gray's mural reflects the original nature conservation objectives of the county park and depicts both the surrounding wildlife and the wider industrial heritage of North Lanarkshire. The strong link between the mural and its setting adds to its interest in listing terms.
Age and rarity
Before the 20th century, painted murals in Scotland were most commonly found within buildings such as churches and high-status private houses. Examples of listed buildings which contain significant murals include the Former Catholic Apostolic Church at Mansfield Place which contains extensive murals by Phoebe Anna Traquair of 1893-1901 (LB26849). A notable example of mural in a public building is the large-scale historical murals and astrological ceiling by William Hole in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh of 1887-1901 (LB27764).
By the mid-20th century art came to be valued as an important part of new public building and housing developments which were largely state sponsored at that time. The commissioning of works such as sculptures and concrete or painted murals for public buildings and spaces reflected a more socially aware approach to public art with the objective of creating a sense of place and identity and of bringing art out of galleries and into people's daily lives. In this context murals came to be commissioned more commonly in public buildings such as community centres and schools.
Fixed artworks such as murals which cannot easily be relocated are however vulnerable to redevelopment and easily covered or painted over when decorative schemes are changed. Many mid to later 20th century murals have been lost to demolition or redecoration making surviving examples increasingly rare.
Alasdair Gray is one the most significant Scottish mural artists of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Gray began creating murals in the 1950s and continued working in this medium into the early 2010s, producing one of the largest pieces of public art in Scotland with his murals for the arts and entertainment venue Òran Mór, Glasgow in 2002-2004. With a number of Gray's earlier public works having been lost to demolition, the mural in the Palacerigg Visitor Centre of 1974 is amongst his earliest surviving public murals. Of the seven murals Gray lists as having completed before the Palacerigg commission, three are known to have been lost, these are: The Seven Days of Creation Mural, 1958, Greenhead Parish Church, Firmament, 1958, Belleisle Street Synagogue and Falls of Clyde Landscape, 1969, The Tavern, Kirkfieldbank (Alasdair Gray: critical appreciations, pp. 37-39). The Mural on the Book of Ruth painted in 1973 for Greenbank Church of Scotland, Clarkston (LB52459) survives, however the faces of the figures in the mural were completed by another artist in Gray's absence.
The Scottish Wildlife Mural at the Palacerigg Visitor Centre is a major example of a public mural dating from the second half of the 20th century and is amongst the earlier surviving works of Alasdair Gray, an artist and cultural figure of national importance.
Social historical interest
The mural was commissioned to decorate the newly built Palacerigg Country Park exhibition and visitor centre. Country parks were established in Scotland from the later 1960s by local authorities to provide space for open-air recreation close to towns and cities. As well as providing recreation for the residents of the New Town of Cumbernauld, the park's first Director, noted naturalist David Stephen, developed the park at Palacerigg to have a particular emphasis on wildlife conservation and education. The conservationist theme of the mural reflects the aims of the park in the 1970s and tells us about the varied objectives of country park development in central Scotland in the later 20th century.
Association with people or events of national importance
The Scottish Wildlife mural at the Palacerigg Visitor Centre has close historical associations with a person of national importance. The creator of the mural, Alasdair Gray has had a significant impact on Scotland's cultural heritage of the later 20th and early 21st centuries.
Gray's work influenced many foremost Scottish artists and writers of the later 20th and early 21st century. Following his death in 2019 Gray was described as 'the father figure of the renaissance in Scottish literature and art' referring to a period beginning in the 1980s (The Guardian, Obituary).
A Scottish nationalist, Gray also wrote about history and politics. His impact and influence on Scottish culture is demonstrated by the engraving of a phrase he popularised "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation" (attributed by Gray to Canadian author Dennis Leigh) on the Canongate Wall of the new Scottish Parliament Building in 2004.
Gray's association with the mural at the Palacerigg Visitor Centre is well documented. Gray recalled the commission for the mural at Palacerigg and his inspiration for the artwork in his book A life in Pictures of 2012. He describes how he lived on site in 1974 to complete the work and returned to restore the mural in 2001 (A Life in Pictures, pp. 170-172, 259).