The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Should the golliwog be painted out of the mural?

A prospective parent looking round a primary school in Scotland has protested at the inclusion of a golliwog in a 1930s mural.  The mural has recently been conserved with HLF money, adding to the controversy.

The mural was painted by Robert Heriot Westwater (1905-62), who then  did murals for the ICI Pavilion at the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow and, in 1939, in the workers’ lecture hall at Musselburgh Wire Mills.

I’m with Jeremy Howard, a co-ordinator of the Decorated School project, from the University of St Andrews, who said in the Guardian “This is history: if you start painting it out or get rid of it you’re deceiving people about what views were prevalent in the 1930s.  I think once children are being taught about issues of race, social issues and human rights, especially as they get to primary 6 or primary 7 [aged 10 to 12], that could definitely be the time to introduce it. It seems to me to be a perfect tool for that, saying that in the past the establishment didn’t even blink an eye at having this here, but we do now.”

I love the fact that the Daily Mail spoon-feeds its readers by circling the golliwog and blowing it up (a strategy which conveniently blocks out the netball goal marring the Guardian’s photo).  Quite why a golliwog was included is a bit of a mystery, as all the scenes are episodes from Alice in Wonderland. 

A 1920s golliwog perfume bottle

Robertson’s promotional Golly badges and figurines were first produced  in the 1920s, and their jams were boycotted by the GLC from 1983.  The most ghastly golliwog object I’m aware of is this hideous 1920s perfume bottle, which is pretty offensive on many fronts (but a lot easier to shove to the back of a storage cupboard).

Read the Decorated School entry here and check out Jeremy’s lecture on the mural here



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