We’ll stop our Alice mural disappearing down rabbit hole

Lorraine Cooper in the gym with the mural

Lorraine Cooper in the gym with the mural

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it’s surely the most elaborate basketball court in the country.

And now there are hopes that a little-known 75-year-old mural of Alice in Wonderland at Wardie Primary School could be restored.

The piece was painted in 1936 by Robert Heriot Westwater, a postgraduate fellow of the Edinburgh College of Art.

The college was collaborating with the city’s education committee on a scheme called “Schools Beautiful”, to introduce artwork into schools, which also saw two murals painted in Craigmillar.

However the Wardie mural is the only surviving example in a working school, and has overlooked the education of generations of school children. In recent years it even had a basketball net mounted over it, carefully attached to wooden frames between the paintings so as not to damage the artwork.

But now the net has come down to give access to an expert from Historic Scotland, and it is hoped that the painting’s 75th anniversary could also herald its restoration.

A campaign to highlight the value of the country’s school murals is also to host a seminar at the school for adults and children to discuss the mural and others like it.

Headteacher Lorraine Cooper said the mural was an important part of the school – although more to some people’s taste than others: “We often get a lot of people who are former pupils who ask to come back to the school to have a tour round and the first thing they ask us is if the mural is still there.

“For some people their memory of it is that they didn’t really like it, because it’s a bit scary. It’s one of those things some people love, some people don’t like at all but they always remember it.”

The idea of restoration has tied in with the school’s 80th anniversary this year, which saw pupils celebrating with a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party inspired by the mural.

The Decorated School project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for two years to highlight the importance of school murals. The seminar, on October 29, is being organised by Dr Jeremy Howard of St Andrews University, who said: “The main thing we want to do I think is to re-evaluate what such art in schools can bring to our educational life, the upbringing of our children and the way we teach.

“It’s to reconsider how this has been done over a wide range of periods in the 20th century and the Wardie mural is in many ways the tip of the iceberg. It’s from the 1930s when there was a programme of building art into the schools, sponsored by Edinburgh College of Art – but it was going on around Britain and around the Continent at the same time.

“The problem with works of school art is preserving them and we’re trying to draw attention to that.”

The seminar runs from 10.30am to 3.30pm at the school and is open to all. For more information see http://thedecoratedschool.blogspot.com/

sgyford@edinburghnews.com