Discovery Walk: Creating Mary Ann Baxter’s Plaque

Mary Ann Baxter

Discovery Walk Baxter
Photo credit: Fiona Christison
If it wasn’t for Mary Ann Baxter we wouldn’t have Dundee University and I may not have studied equally alongside men when I attended if she had not insisted on this happening all those years ago.

I also wouldn’t enjoy all those wonderful twisted trees, the pretty flowers, the pavillion and those huge lawns on a regular basis if it were not for Mary and her family creating Baxter Park in Dundee. The family wanted to try and make the lives of their mill workers better and in doing so created a park for them and their families to enjoy when they were not at work. Such a grand thing to do at the time (and even now for that matter!).

Here is a little more about Mary:

Baxter 1

Baxter 2
These are two pages from the beautiful brochure that was designed for us by Juliet Wright. She took my illustrations with words and quotes from the project and really made them sing. Thanks Juliet!
So how do you go about designing a bronze plaque to celebrate such a wonderful woman? With difficulty as it goes! I must have re-drawn the design about ten times and it never seemed quite right until right at the end. I had lots of different elements I wanted to include, especially things that weren’t written on the plaque itself. I wanted the illustrations to tell more and make people want to find out more about Mary.

The obvious elements for me were to include the story of Dundee University and how Baxter affected education forever more. The silhouetted figures represent Baxter and those first students and lecturers at Dundee University, both men and women, studying side by side. The scroll represents learning and achievement and the feather creation and communication.

I couldn’t quite decide which feather I liked best so I asked for the help of my followers on social media. They chose the one on the left, which now appears on Baxter’s plaque. It was lovely having everyone join me on the Discovery Walk journey, especially if the process was being difficult. Their support really gave me a boost and positive words inspired me to keep on trying that bit harder to solve the inky puzzles that were emerging on my drawing board.

scroll by WhimSicAL LusH

At one point the design also included a different scroll, an old ornate inkpot, wheat sheafs and stars (representing the Baxter family crest) and an open book (for Dundee University) but it was decided that less was more in this case and I concentrated on bring in lots of small detail across the top of the design to tie it all together and bring in the story of the park.

Baxter by WhimSicAL Lush Ink Pot
The ink pot didn’t make it onto the plaque in the end
I interpreted the wrought iron gate railings of Baxter Park to acknowledge that the park was created by Mary and her family for their mill workers. I used the Arbroath Road main gates as inspiration. The flowers adorning those railings symbolise the nurturing nature of Baxter and the beautiful gardens in the park.

Thank you Mary, for those gifts that you left for us in Dundee and the rest of the world too…

Mary Ann Baxter (Photo courtesy of Dundee University archives)
I hoped you enjoyed reading a bit more about Mary Ann Baxter and the ideas that went into designing her bronze plaque that now sits proudly in the pavement of Slessor Gardens leading up to the V&A museum. A bit of Dundee history being celebrated in a bit of Dundee’s present and future.

For more about Discovery Walk Dundee please pop over to the main page here: Discovery Walk

Read my previous post about designing the walk’s title plaque here: Discovery Walk: The Story of the Title Plaque

Thanks for reading x

Sketching the railings

The illustration is scanned in and digitally tidied ready to be merged with other assets
Sketching flowers for Mary’s railings

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