David Livingstone Birthplace

Tableaux Depicting David Livingstone’s Explorations Go Through Extensive Conservation Programme

Media Release

12 September 2019

Main Text

Tableaux depicting David Livingstone’s explorations go through extensive conservation programme.

A group of precious polychromatic plaster tableaux depicting David Livingstone’s historic journey to Africa have been painstakingly restored as part of a £6.1million project to transform the Scottish explorer’s birthplace, due to re-open to the public in 2020.

The tableaux, created by prominent 20th Century British sculptor Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson in the 1920s, were carefully transported from David Livingstone Birthplace in Blantyre to Edinburgh- based sculpture specialists Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation for the intricate conservation project.

The specialist conservation work forms an important part of the £6.1 million project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland, to transform Livingstone’s Blantyre birthplace into a hub of learning and cross-cultural importance.

The site is currently closed for the renovation of the Birthplace which includes the renewal of the historic buildings, a newly interpreted exhibition which will showcase artefacts from the Trust’s collection of over 3000 objects, and an upgrade to visitor facilities such as the café and shop. The tableaux will return to Blantyre to be exhibited once the multi-million-pound project is completed and the site re-opens to the public in 2020.

There are eight tableaux in total, which were commissioned in 1927 after the Executive Committee of the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone was established to honour his memory as well as secure the site of his birth in Blantyre. Each tableaux depicts scenes from his life.

Pilkington Jackson, who was prolific in the 1920s working on war memorials across the U.K, including the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle, collaborated with architect Sir Frank Mears, who was instrumental in the project to save the building of Livingstone’s birth and artistic planning of the tableaux.

After an international appeal was launched to preserve Livingstone’s first home, a number of societies that had some form of connection to Livingstone sponsored the various tableaux and were depicted in the creations. For example, the tableau named ‘Truth’ was sponsored by the National Bible Society of Scotland and ‘Mercy’ by the Anti-Slavery Society. The team from Graciela Ainsworth have been involved in the conservation work of the Pilkington Jackson tableaux for some time, performing an initial survey of the work required to the actual painstaking restorative work, from restoring flaking paint to toning unpainted areas.

Coincidentally, Pilkington Jackson’s granddaughter, Kirsty Jackson, was able to direct conservators from The David Livingstone Trust to more information about the tableaux in the National Library of Scotland after she happened to be visiting Graciela Ainsworth’s studios while on an art trip.

Grant McKenzie, Project Manager at David Livingstone Birthplace, said:

“It has been wonderful seeing these precious tableaux created by renowned sculptor Pilkington Jackson be rejuvenated by the superb Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation ahead of our re-opening of David Livingstone’s birthplace in 2020. Although celebrated for their artistic merit, the tableaux depict David as a lone explorer, working mostly without the help of local Africans. This contradicts extensive written evidence left by the man himself, so the depictions are not a true reflection of the essential roles played by local Africans during his travels. The works very much depicts the era. We are excited to share the beautifully restored tableaux with the public next year.”

Graciela Ainsworth, Founder of Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation, added:

“They are great pieces of sculpture, and working closely on them, has enabled us to learn so much more about Pilkington Jacksons hand modelling, and of these fine pieces, and importantly to very cleverly integrate the invaluable structure within each very thin tableaux is masterful. Each tableaux is as much about the physical sculpture as the space that they embody. Therefore these pieces are incredibly fragile yet have an inner strength as objects, and for us to dismantle them from their building, transport them and work on them in our workshop is a privilege and also a great learning process, aided by Pilkington Jackson’s granddaughter, and the very important support, understanding, and passion of Lesley Scott Project Conservator.”

To find out more about David Livingstone Birthplace, go to the web site http://www.david-livingstone-trust.org/

For more information about Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation, visit http://www.graciela-ainsworth.com/

Contact: Emma Davies. E-Mail: e.davies@volpa.co.uk. Telephone: 01738 700134.


1. Image and Video DetailsVideos presented by Lesley Scott, Project Conservator at David Livingstone Birthplace, talking about the Pilkington Jackson conservation work plus a selection of images is available at the following link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/480kt8m1ann1a21/AAA4Tkd8fU2ZBAMIAs6_8-cna?dl=0

2. About David LivingstoneDavid Livingstone is considered to be of great international importance in terms of his contribution to science, exploration, faith and humanitarianism. Born in 1813 in a cramped mill home, Livingstone started his working life aged 10 with 12-hour shifts in the cotton factory. However, his passion for education, exploration and his deep faith led him to Christian missionary work and 30 years of exploring Africa, often in places where no European had previously ventured. His discoveries – geographic, technical, medical, and social – provided a complex body of knowledge that is still being studied today. The respect he gained from Sub Saharan individuals, such as Chief Sechele of the Bakwena people, opened the door to missionaries who introduced education and health to the local people, it inspired abolitionists of the slave trade, and influenced European and Western attitudes towards Africa. More information at www.david-livingstone-trust.org

3. The Birthplace ProjectThe Birthplace Project will transform David Livingstone Birthplace in Blantyre into a world-class visitor attraction which preserves the birthplace and legacy of David Livingstone and retells his story to modern audiences in fresh and exciting ways. The project will include:

  • Renewal of the historic buildings of Shuttle Row and the Weavers’ Cottages (Grade A listed buildings) to include additional museum display space, refreshed storage facilities with refurbished research and education/workshop spaces.
  • New interpretation of our internationally important Collection, telling the story of David Livingstone from poor millworker to global figure to enable all of us to think about how we too might too make an impact on our world.
  • The refurbishment of the café and shop; and multi-use space for temporary exhibitions, talks, workshops and community use* Landscaping of part of the grounds to recreate an authentic sense of the Shuttle Row courtyard and to open up the entrance, leading visitors to the Birthplace Museum.
  • Delivery of an Activity Plan to engage our public, inspire social justice and personal achievement; and make our visitors aware of the heritage value of the historic site. More information at https://www.david-livingstone-trust.org

4. Clark Contracts LtdFounded in 1978, Clark Contracts Ltd is a privately owned main contractor with six operating divisions; Construction, Fit Out, Small Works, Retail, Maintenance and Manufactured Joinery. The company works throughout the UK, employing over 250 employees and is number 72 on the 2018 Sunday Times Best Companies to Work for List. The proportion of business derived from repeat customers each year has averaged 76% over the past ten years and 72% of customers rate the contractor as ‘Impressive’ or ‘First Class’.5. The Heritage Lottery FundThanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife https://www.hlf.org.uk

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.6. Historic Environment ScotlandHistoric Environment Scotland provides a significant role as a grant provider, investing over £14 million per year in national and local organisations to support building repairs, ancient monuments, archaeological work, the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme and the requirements to apply for grants under the various schemes at: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/grants-and-funding/our-grants/

We are very grateful to our key funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Government for their support in helping us deliver the Birthplace Project.

National Lottery Heritage Fund
Scottish Government
Historic Environment Scotland
Note: Please note that David Livingstone Birthplace (and the David Livingstone Trust) is no longer part of National Trust Scotland (NTS). NTS members will therefore no longer receive discounted/free entry to the Birthplace Museum.

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