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Flooring The World

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Object No 40 completes a trilogy of pieces on the industry that, like its 'queer-like smell', will always be most closely associated with Kirkcaldy, and which brought the town its claim to have 'floored the world'.

Having already learned a great deal about floorcloth and linoleum through stories 24 and 31, we find that guest writer Lily Barnes has uncovered yet more history through her work for the forthcoming exhibition at Kirkcaldy Galleries.

 

Lily's rather quirky Object reflects perfectly the spirit of the 50 Objects Project - with accumulated impressions contributing to a fuller picture of our local heritage.

Lily's research encompassed different voices and perspectives and the exhibition will provide a focus for further reminiscence.

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Flooring the World

This month’s article is written by Lily Barnes, a curator with OnFife. Lily is currently working on a project called Flooring the World, which explores the history of the Fife linoleum industry. The team are delighted that Lily has accepted our invitation to author Object 40 – the final segment in our linoleum trilogy.

In the first two parts (Objects 24 and 31), Gavin Grant gave us a fantastic introduction to the linoleum industry – from its beginnings in floorcloth, to its rise to prominence as one of Kirkcaldy’s defining industries.

However, linoleum’s fortunes began to wane in the 1960s. By the end of the decade, only one of the Kirkcaldy’s firms remained, and the majority of the town's factory buildings were demolished between 1969 – 2014. Nonetheless, the fortunes of Fife floorcoverings did in part recover, and today Kirkcaldy is the only town in the UK which still manufactures linoleum.

Since 2022, Lily has been working on the Flooring the World project, exploring the industry’s varied history and working to share it with as many people as possible through events, digital outreach and physical displays.

In this article, Lily will be sharing some of the achievements made during the Flooring the World project. These include an ongoing series of oral history interviews, four ambitious conservation projects, work to improve the storage, digitisation and documentation of existing collections, and active efforts to develop these collections by adding new material to OnFife’s already world-class holdings.

The article is illustrated with a selection of photographs from the Trusts collections – many of which represent a fraction of the over 2000 objects collected during the project. This includes Lily’s choice of object.

Object Number 40 looks a bit inauspicious at first glance. This irregular little block is made up of layers of paint used to print designs onto Nairn’s linoleum. Over the years, split paint had dripped beneath the floorboards of the printing loft, building up in layers as time went on. When the building was demolished, the block was cut away from the hardened puzzle and preserve in the Forbo factory archive.

The fact that it exists at all is an accident, dependent on unsteady hands, overflowing measures, leaky containers, and other tiny unpredictabilities. Like the rings in a tree, or geological layers of rock, its colourful stripes act as a kind of timeline of Kirkcaldy linoleum.

Lily chose this object to represent the history of Kirkcaldy because she thought it perfectly symbolised the impression the industry has had on the town. Though so many of the physical reminders of the hey-day of Fife linoleum are gone – most of Kirkcaldy’s factories were demolished between 1969 and 2014 – the memories of that time are still very much present. Individually, each small memory or object might seem as insignificant as a drop of paint spilt on a factory floor. But seen together, they form a colourful, complicated and comprehensive record of this aspect of Fife’s history. This is also the way she sees the work we’ve done during the project – lots of small pieces coming together to form a cohesive whole.

The project will culminate with an exhibition at Kirkcaldy Galleries, which will run from Wednesday 15 November 2023 – Sunday 25 February 2024. Admission is free, and you can visit any time during the Galleries’ regular opening hours.

To learn more about the project and to read the full story, click the yellow button at the top of this page

If you have any questions about the project, you can get in touch with Lily by e-mailing lino@onfife.com

Flooring the World is a two-year project exploring the history of the Fife linoleum industry. It is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, which is run by the Museums Association.

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