I have always liked the phrase 'to come full circle'. It blends beginnings and ends to the point where you can't tell which is which. Beginnings can be ends of one phase of your life, and ends can always be new beginnings. I now find that saying to be apt of my time as a Laidlaw Scholar, where I ended this phase of my leadership journey in the place where it began – the hallway of Martyrs Kirk Library in the University of St Andrews. Nicole in the summer of 2022 waiting with her notebooks and pencils outside of the Reading Room, not knowing that Nicole in the fall of 2023 would be accomplishing a goal that she had only just began to dream of. When I came into the library today to hang ten posters as part of an exhibition based on my Leadership in Action project, I looked at the locker in which I put my jacket and bag just over a year ago, and I looked at the bench on which I sat before going to begin my research project. I thought that that version of me was still lingering there, and I wished I could tell her about all the wonderful things that were to come.
In 1875, the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron illustrated the Idylls of the King with images that reconceptualized her source material by challenging Victorian gender roles and tradition, creating new interpretations of Alfred Tennyson’s cycle of poems about the legendary King Arthur. The workshop that I ran with Madras College as part of my LiA project had the participants engaging in a similar project of creative interpretation. Each of the students chose materials from the University Special Collections and produced artworks and writing inspired by their items. The goal of the workshop was to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of art and literary histories, and to showcase the unique visions and voices of each student as – echoing Cameron’s creative project – they made these idylls of their own.
Yet just as giving young people the space for creative expression is extremely important, it is also necessary to provide them with opportunities to share and be proud of the works that they have created. So when I was offered to hang a set of posters based on the workshop in the hallway next to the Napier Reading Room in Martyrs Kirk, I leapt at the chance to both fulfill a personal goal and to share the incredible works made by these students with a greater public. Each of the posters places the original material from the Special Collections and the creative work by the workshop participant side by side, along with their written observations about their items.
I am incredibly grateful for the Museums and Libraries team at the University of St Andrews, especially Rachel Hart, Maia Sheridan, and Sarah Rodriguez, without whom neither the workshop nor the exhibit would have been possible. I am also thankful for the support of Ms Hannah Madden, Art and Design teacher at Madras College, as well as the wonderful and talented students who participated in the workshop. Idylls of Our Own – Creative Works Inspired by the University of St Andrews Special Collections can be viewed at 80 North Street, St Andrews, every Monday to Thursday from 10 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to 4 PM.