Alumni Services

Matilda Mitchell

History of Art graduate Matilda Mitchell has enjoyed a varied career in the arts sector, which saw her bring paintings into the corridors of hospitals.

Name Matilda Mitchell
Degree Course History of Art
Year of Graduation


Matilda Mitchell

Your time at the University

As a mature student, my mind was better organised so I did very well initially. We four mature students thought we had broken the system of slide tests by continually getting all the images right, a test we considered a bit stupid. But in retrospect it did give us that essential bank of about 2,000 images an art historian might well need. It was entertaining watching the quality of the questions asked of us get more difficult in ways I could not anticipate.  It was also entertaining watching my fellow students surpass me in understanding, though maybe I caught up. Several of the staff were more or less my own age, and some were already known to me, so it was also amusing to see them tumble from their pedestals. One who fell with a bit of a crash was an artist whose work I had already shown in the art gallery that formed part of my previous existence.

Being completely (well almost) unknown and without any authority whatsoever proved a problem until I found the postgraduates and joined them in their flat. But I found congenial solace with Serena Hutton who beavered away in the wee room half way up the stairs, and would give me time and a seat when I really felt lost.

I was in receipt of both a full grant and a mature student’s allowance. However, as I was running on about a third of my usual income, we drank instant coffee and ate potato pie for long but happy months.

Find out everything you can in as many directions as possible, for never again will you be so free to do this without getting into trouble.

Matilda Mitchell

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

Personal circumstances dictated I move on in 1980, and, devoting one third of my time to earning money (cataloguing artists’ work, and china conservation), and one third to other people, I learned British sign language and taught something, not much, to a profoundly deaf person with epilepsy living in Aberlady. I also worked as a government appointee to Polmont Young Offenders, and acquired a bit of knowledge about fundraising, achieving the sum of £26,000 within 18 months for the restoration of the neglected collection of Victorian pictures at the Smith Museum and Art Gallery. I was also responsible for purchasing art work for the then new psycho-geriatric wards at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, and briefly running an art consultancy practice.

Fundraising skills proved necessary in 1991 when I established Paintings in Hospitals Scotland at the request of a Trustee of the English equivalent. Doing hypothetical sums on the back of the proverbial envelope at a London board meeting, I said £10,000 would be enough to begin. The cheque was instantly written and pushed back down the board room table!  PiHS is still going strong, as Art in Healthcare, now owning over 16,000 works of art placed in hospitals and care homes all over the country.

Moving into the country, I discovered no local talking newspaper in the Scottish Borders, so set up the Borders Talking Newspaper, also still flourishing with almost 80 volunteers.  I have also continued to work on artists’ estates, including the residue of Joan Eardley’s works and drawings by David Jones, and others. And I have lectured around Scotland on Scottish artists: Alan Davie, Joan Eardley, Lord Haig, Margaret Mellis, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and other women artists, notably Paula Modersohn Becker and Marie-Louise von Motesizcky.

Now in the age group 75+ I live with my husband, Douglas Hall, surrounded by works of art, in the old manse in Morebattle.

Alumni wisdom

You think you already know how to learn?  Are you sure? 

My second point is to ask questions, and keep on asking questions. Find out everything you can in as many directions as possible, for never again will you be so free to do this without getting into trouble.