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Exploring Cultural Treasures on International Museum Day

On the 18th of May each year, International Museum Day celebrates the rich tapestry of human history, culture, and knowledge preserved within the walls of museums worldwide.

Model of an umiak, purchased by Isobel in Greenland, can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland

This year's theme, "Museums for Education and Research," resonates deeply, emphasising the pivotal role cultural institutions play in offering immersive educational experiences. Moreover, it advocates for a conscious, sustainable, and inclusive approach towards preserving our collective heritage.


At the heart of International Museum Day is the celebration of individuals like Isobel Wylie Hutchison, an early 20th century trailblazer whose life journey was about education and cultural exchange. Isobel left an indelible mark on history through her pursuits as a botanist, arctic traveller, filmmaker, writer, and poet, immersing herself in local communities.

Photograph of Isobel held at the National Library Scotland, with artefacts from her travels.

It was her expeditions to Greenland in 1927 that cemented her legacy. While there, Isobel encountered a local Inuit fisherman who had lost his kayak and livelihood. Moved by his plight, she commissioned him to create a flat-bottomed model Umiak, fashioned from sealskin and wood. In an era where museums face scrutiny over the acquisition of culturally significant items, Isobel's acquisitions or commissions stand as examples of cultural exchange and creativity, enriching the narratives passed down to future generations

Isobel's diary of 1928 (National Library Scotland) with notes of her cash accounts, including payment for the

"model umiak" as seen above

This intricate piece is now housed in the National Museum of Scotland, providing a window into the diverse cultures and skills she encountered, each artifact telling a story and underscoring the importance of museums in preserving and sharing these narratives.


Isobel’s writings also shed light on the challenges faced by indigenous communities. Through her documentation and collection of artifacts, Isobel sought to amplify the voices of these communities and honour their cultural heritage. In doing so, she contributed to the broader mission of museums to foster understanding and empathy across cultural divides.

Isobel's artefacts seen in a cabinet at the National Museum of Scotland

An item purchased by Isobel and now seen in the National Museum of Scotland

International Museum Day celebrates the transformative power of museums as hubs of education, research, and cultural exchange. Through the lens of Isobel Wylie Hutchison's legacy, we are reminded of the profound impact of individual explorers in preserving our shared heritage.



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The North Star Explorer

Learn more about Isobel’s passion for the natural world, her experience of travelling to remote places and her encounters expressed through art and creative writing.

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