Tuesday 17th November 2020 marked five years since the first refugees from Syria arrived in Renfrewshire through the UK Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. To mark the occasion, Paisley Museum is reopening with a Syrian glass collection prominent in the building, dating back over 2,000 years, which has never been displayed before. Research Assistant Joel Fagan realised the significance of the pieces and spoke with The Fountain about what to expect from this collection as well as what more to look forward to from Paisley Museum when it eventually re-opens.

TF: You will have a Syrian glass collection in Paisley Museum, can you tell us more about this collection? 

The Syrian glassware has been in Paisley Museum’s collections since the 1940s. However its potential significance only recently came to light when we were moving objects into The Secret Collection, in preparation for the £42m redevelopment of the museum. The collection hasn’t been on public display before now, and is in remarkably good condition. It dates from the 2nd and 3rd century AD and includes 14 well preserved objects including a glass beaker from Damascus, a brown bulbous bottle decorated in gold, and a purple beaker with a dark feathered design. Due to glass flaking away from the surface of the objects, the light creates the incredible florescent colouring seen on the surface. 

TF: What shape does this take, is it a digital archive or a physical space to admire the collection? 

It’s the first time the collection will go on public display and we will try to show as many of the glass items as possible. It will be a key display in the galleries when the Museum reopens, and our interpretation will be in both English and Arabic. Central to this display has been the relationship forged with a group of Syrian learners who are part of the Council’s Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme, and who attend English classes through Renfrewshire Council’s Adult Learning and Literacies Service. We invited them to the Secret Collection to see our collection of glass just over a year ago and it was a very emotional moment. Since then, we have been working with them on interpretation materials and they have chosen which pieces of glass will form the display in order to help share their stories. 

TF: The connection to Syria is interesting, a valuable connection for Paisley? 

Damascus is known as the birthplace of glass making, with glassblowing still prevalent in the region today. Started over 4,000 years ago, by 200AD Syrian glass was traded throughout Europe and the Museum collection dates from this period. Visitors to the Museum will be given a snapshot of the rich cultural heritage of Syria thanks to the insight of the Syrian learners. The Syrian families who live and work in Paisley are an important part of our community and we are delighted that they have taken such an active role in the redevelopment of our displays. 

TF: What else can we expect from Paisley Museum as well as the glass collection, it would be great to know more? 

The redevelopment of the Museum is led by an international team including architects AL_A and exhibition designers Opera Amsterdam. Once completed it will allow the number of objects on display to be increased by 100% and is expected to attract 125,000 visits each year and provide a £79m economic boost to the area over the next 30 years.The museum has an unrivalled collection of 1,200 Paisley shawls and vast natural history collections. They are currently being held in Paisley: The Secret Collection, the only publicly-accessible museum store on a UK high street until they go back on permanent display.