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The Highland Folk Museum is a museum and open-air visitor attraction in Newtonmore in Badenoch and Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. It is owned by Highland Council and administered by High Life Highland. It was founded by Dr. Isabel Frances Grant (1887-1983) in 1935.

History

In 1930 Grant organised and curated the 'Highland Exhibition' in Inverness, with 2,100 artefacts gathered and exhibited as a 'national folk museum'. She founded the Highland Folk Museum in 1935, using a personal legacy to acquire a disused former United Free Church on the island of Iona; Grant recorded 800 visitors in the first summer of opening and 900 the following year. Nicknamed Am Fasgadh (Gaelic for ‘The Shelter’), the Highland Folk Museum's remit was “…to shelter homely ancient Highland things from destruction”, and Grant collected assiduously to that end; by 1938 the collection had outgrown its home. In 1939 the museum moved to larger premises on the mainland at Laggan, Badenoch: a village in the central Highlands, where Am Fasgadh was sited for the next five years. The outbreak of the Second World War, and resultant restrictions on movement along the west coast and islands of Scotland, meant that Grant was unable to collect during this period, while petrol shortages contributed to a general reduction in the numbers of visitors to the museum. In 1943 she purchased Pitmain Lodge, a large Georgian house, together with three acres of land near to the train station at Kingussie, about twelve miles east of Laggan, and on the 1st of June 1944 the Highland Folk Museum opened once again to the public.

The collections at Kingussie were developed “…to show different aspects of the material setting of life in the Highlands in byegone days” and included vast arrays of objects: furniture, tools, farming implements, horse tackle, cooking and dining utensils and vessels, pottery, glass, musical instruments, sporting equipment, weapons, clothing and textiles, jewellery, books, photographs and archive papers with accounts of superstitions, stories and songs, and home-crafted items of every shape and description, including basketry, Barvas ware and treen. The site at Kingussie also enabled Grant to develop a suite of replica buildings: including an Inverness-shire cottage, a Lewis blackhouse and a Highland but-and-ben. These buildings and the use of ‘live demonstrations’ to interpret exhibits for visitors sealed the Highland Folk Museum's popular reputation as the first open-air museum on mainland Britain.

When Grant retired in 1954 ownership of the Highland Folk Museum and its collections was taken over by a Trust formed by the four ancient Scottish universities (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews). George ‘Taffy’ Davidson, senior fellow in arts and crafts at the University of Aberdeen, was appointed curator in 1956 and developed the collections in parallel with his own antiquarian interests, including folk music, taking in large numbers of gifts over the coming years. The next phase of the Highland Folk Museum's history began in 1975, when Highland Regional Council took over its running. Ross Noble of the Scottish Country Life Museums Trust was appointed curator and a process of modernisation began. Noble introduced open, thematic displays and re-introduced live demonstrations as part of popular ‘Heritage In Action’ days for visitors. The museum thrived. In the early 1980s an eighty-acre site was acquired at Newtonmore – about three miles to the south of Kingussie - and work began to lay out four distinct areas: Aultlarie Croft - a 1930s working farm; Balameanach (Gaelic for ‘Middle Village’) - a developing community of relocated buildings; the Pinewoods – an area of forest with interlinking paths; and Baile Gean - the Highland Folk Museum's reconstruction of an early 1700s Highland township. The Newtonmore site opened to the public in 1987 and operated in tandem with Am Fasgadh until the closure of that site in Kingussie in 2007. In 2011 responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Highland Folk Museum and its collections was handed over to High Life Highland – an arm's-length charity formed by the Highland Council to develop culture, health and wellbeing, learning, leisure and sports across the region. The new Am Fasgadh - a modern, purpose-built collections storage facility and conference venue - opened in 2014, and in 2015 the collections at the Highland Folk Museum received official ‘Recognition’ from Museums Galleries Scotland and the Scottish Government as a ‘Nationally Significant Collection’.

Exhibits

The museum is primarily made up of three areas that represent and interpret three separate eras of the Scottish highlands. The west of the park primarily features the Pine Woods and the 1700s Township beyond it, while the Open Air Section, consisting of buildings interpreted from the nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries, and Aultlarie Croft, interpreted for the 1930s, are situated in the east. Each area is also interpreted by a staff member dressed and performing as a highlander in the exhibit's setting, and on certain days, the museum features demonstrations of highland life activities, such as weaving or rope making.

While some of the buildings on the museum site were built there, many have been relocated from other places around the highlands and reconstructed onsite. In the early 2000s the museum acquired the Glenlivet sub-post office. In 2011 a thatched cottage was recreated from a photo taken in the 19th century of a house that stood in Grantown-on-Spey. The following year a crofthouse built in Carrbridge in the 1920s was donated and plans drawn up to move it 22 miles to the museum.

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