The Art of Intelligent Ageing: Portraits of the Lothian Birth Cohort

In June 1932 and 1947, almost all 11-year-olds across Scotland undertook a test of their thinking skills, giving us a comprehensive account of the intelligence of Scotland’s children born in 1921 and 1936. Decades later, researchers at the University of Aberdeen and Edinburgh rediscovered these tests and spotted a rare chance to study the factors that influence lifetime cognitive ageing. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, led by Professor Ian Deary, contacted those who had sat the tests and still lived in Edinburgh and the Lothians, and in doing so formed the Lothian Birth Cohorts (LBCs), which are now among the most important studies of ageing anywhere in the world. Members of the LBCs have been followed up since 1999; they have been assessed on many cognitive tests, they have taken part in brain scans, they have undergone many blood-based tests including genetic tests, and have carried out questionnaires on their social and family lives.

A Lothian Birth Cohort reunion in 2017

A Lothian Birth Cohort reunion in 2017

The Art of Intelligent Ageing: Portraits of the Lothian Birth Cohorts by Fionna Carlisle is a unique art exhibition set to honour this remarkable group of people who have contributed so much to health research.JohnScott Exhibit logo

Fionna Carlisle is a renowned portrait artist and a former student of the Edinburgh College of Art. She has painted many of Scotland’s famous faces, including Alex Salmond, former leader of the Scottish National Party and the late MP Robin Cook. Fionna, who hails from Caithness, is an internationally recognised artist and splits her time between Crete and Edinburgh. She spent over four years painstakingly detailing some of the LBCs’ participants and researchers using her signature style of colourful, bold brushstrokes.

Alongside the paintings are scientific treasures from the LBCs, including a 3D-printed brain and laser-etched crystal block of the brain of one LBC member, John Scott. A special portrait of Nobel-prize winning physicist Peter Higgs – who also took part in an Edinburgh study of ageing – will also be on display. He took part in a cognitive ageing study that was a forerunner of the LBCs.

Fionna Carlisle said, “The camera is instant whereas the artist listens and studies the sitters to gradually build a human picture. With these paintings I wanted to filter age and show the youth and spirit of the older sitters as people who have real bodies and limbs, spirit and life.”

Professor Ian Deary said, “The Lothian Birth Cohorts have encouraged my scientific team to scour their minds, bodies, and histories to build rich and valuable accounts of their negotiating the whips and scorns of time.”

The exhibition is curated by Duncan Thomson, former Director at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and is free to visit. It will run on Tuesdays to Saturdays from 27 October to 24 November at the Fire Station, Edinburgh College of Art.

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