Let’s get back to telling the story of how the David Livingstone Centre was formed in 1929. An account written in the 1940’s is transcribed here, this time exploring how the Livingstone Gallery of ‘Tableaux’ came about. The Tableaux are pictured in 1958, in the popular “Dark Room”.
James I MacNair, Chairman of the David Livingstone Trust wrote in the 1940s, “The central feature of the Memorial, both in position and interest, is the series of 8 ‘Tableaux’ of this Gallery. They especially in the early days were, without question, its main attraction. They are unique artistic work of a high order. They tell more of Livingstone’s character than an ordinary person can learn in hours with books. Their origin is interesting.”
“It had always been our purpose to make a wide use of models in the telling of our story, but to discover the best method was not easy. In the course of fairly extensive enquiry, we learned that the Rhenish Missionary Society had done fine work in representing African scenes in this way. They courteously sent us photographs, but admirable as these were, they were too purely realistic for our purpose. Moreover, in the atmosphere of Industrial Lanarkshire they would have quickly tarnished. So, the problem was thrown back to out Architect, and in thinking the matter through Mr. Mears had a happy inspiration.
Each room in the old tenement had two bed-recesses. The thought occurred to him to throw four of these little rooms into one, thus making a long, low gallery and to use the bed recesses as niches where models might be placed. Mr. Mears then called in the help of Mr. C.d’O Pilikington Jackson, whose work in the Scottish National War Memorial on the Rock at Edinburgh Castle is also widely known and together they evolved an original method. It was the writer’s privilege to watch in the sculptor’s studio, this co-operation of brilliant minds and deft fingers, as the idea developed step by step.
The figures are about two and a half feet high, though they gave the impression of being life size. They are of reinforced cement, modelled on one side only, and each has a conical shaped background that gives, in a remarkable way, a sense of atmosphere and perspective. The figures are toned, the colour being laid flat , and shadow effects are given by their mouldings. The gallery is in darkness, illumination coming from hidden lamps placed above.”
“The dramatic effect of these groups of coloured statuary is much embraced by the action of an electric switch with which each group is furnished. The visitor lifts a handle gently, when out of the darkness there glows up gradually one of these beautiful scenes, to fade out slowly as the handle is released.
The subjects are symbolic, “Vision, Truth, Faith, Courage, Mercy, Renunciation, Endurance and Sacrifice”, each illustrated from the Livingstone Story. The treatment is of the severest simplicity. They are in a high degree educative and never los their interest. It is worth recording that Livingstone’s great successor Dr. Robert Laws stood by during the preparation of these tableaux. His knowledge of Africa was invaluable to the sculptor.
The first of these groups to be completed was called “Truth”. This immediately captured the imagination of the Governors, and it was proposed that the whole series of eight should be commissioned forthwith. But finance had to be considered. Each cost about £150 and we had available at that time only some £3,000 and were already committed to more than that sum for the work on the building, then in progress. It was a critical moment, but by the time this lack of money did not damp the committee’s enthusiasm, and so it was decided to make these Tableaux the subject of a special appeal and to go ahead. The money was raised with surprising ease, and the story of how it came is perhaps worth recording.
These times were propitious. The effects of the coal stoppage had passed, and philanthropic societies were enjoying a buoyancy they had not known for years. Hence, the idea came to us of asking some of the Societies which had a historic connection with the Missionary, each to be responsible for one tableau. It proved a most happy inspiration and perhaps out method of approach had just a touch of guile.”