Library's marvellous mural marks welcome return for readers

26th April 2021

Avid readers who have missed using their historic library during lockdown received an exuberant welcome when it reopened on 26 April.

Greeting visitors to Cupar’s landmark Duncan Institute was a newly completed mural, spanning three floors, that is vibrant, colourful and fun.

Acclaimed artist Celie Byrne has created a fresh new look for the inside entrance that celebrates the joy of reading and the generosity of the building’s benefactor.

The giant mural features a painted red ribbon, adorned with stars, that mimics the course of the River Eden, which flows through the town. The ribbon leads visitors upstairs to the reference and local studies room.

Inscribed in the ribbon is a quote by the Turkish writer Mehmet Murat Ildan: “The bright stars of the skies are far to touch; but there are other shiny stars that you can touch easily: the books of the libraries.”

Visitors can also put a face to the name of the person who brought the building into being. Beside the door to the main library, Celie has created a striking portrait of Miss Elizabeth Duncan, whose bequest funded the Institute 150 years ago.

Generations of local people have enjoyed Miss Duncan’s legacy since the building’s official opening on 13 December 1870.

Celie’s inspiration was an oil painting of Miss Duncan that is normally kept in storage. The mural also features a quote from the benefactor’s will and a detail from one of the library's stained glass windows.

For Celie, who predominantly paints portraits but also produces large-scale murals, it has been a labour of love. The Kelty artist has known the building for many years as her uncle, Robert Simpson, was a science teacher at Cupar’s Bell Baxter High School.

“I’ve really enjoyed working on the project,” says Celie, who first gained a UK-wide profile in the 2011 BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“I’m pleased with all of the mural’s different elements. Painting Miss Duncan’s portrait allowed me to capture the essence of someone who was dedicated to the wellbeing of her community.”

OnFife Libraries facilities & services supervisor Susan Allan is delighted that a new look entrance will welcome visitors when the building reopens after lockdown.

Says Susan: “We’re so pleased with the joyful work that Celie has created. After 150 years, this iconic building is still serving people in a way that would surely have pleased Elizabeth Duncan.”

The mural is a fitting tribute to the woman who, in 1867, left £5000 – worth around £600,000 today – for the building of a ‘Mechanic’s Institute’ in her hometown.

Such institutes were a popular response to an increased interest in education and served to provide classes in science and technology, as well as access to books for the working classes.

A design competition was won by John Milne of St Andrews – an architect with a love of Gothic – whose entry was described as “an embellishment to the town” and a “great improvement to the locality”. Fife had not seen anything quite like it before.

The Institute’s Scots baronial style, with turrets, grotesques, stained-glass rondels, different window styles on each floor, and 114-foot twisted “broach” spire certainly stood out. Perhaps a little too much – for, in January 1874, strong gales knocked three feet off the top.


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