Indoor Exhibition: John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe

John Muir’s Birthplace opened its doors today – May 5th – to welcome back visitors now that some COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. Since people can now visit the Birthplace in person, new panels of our John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe exhibition have been installed in the temporary display space on the ground floor.

First 4 panes of JMEPULast 4 panels of JMEPU

The final panel of the exhibition is entitled “What If…?” and, in summary, asks:

What if … we imagined … a future full of possibility … where we focus on a positive vision … where we tell a new story of a future where humans and the environment flourish together.

The Power of Imagination makes us Infinite – John Muir

Since the COVID-safe outdoor version of the exhibition was installed in The Battery at Dunbar Harbour in October 2020 our intention that “the exhibition sets the scene for a journey of community-led change away from high resource use and high C02 emissions, towards a more resilient community with a diverse and local economy and a vibrant culture with an equitable, sustainable future for all” is beginning to take effect. During the period that the exhibition is on display in John Muir’s Birthplace other groups in the Sustaining Dunbar What If? Network will have the opportunity to add their own content and to promote what they are doing.


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AGM 2020 – Convener’s Report

[The following Convener’s Report is the text of the submission to OSCR – the Scottish Charity Regulator – and highlights the activities and news from the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace presented at the AGM that followed the What Next for Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace? event on March 24th, 2021.]

It is customary to begin the Convener’s report by stating the aims of Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace (FoJMB) as given in our constitution. These aims are:

  1. to advance the education of the public concerning John Muir, as the Dunbar-born pioneer of world nature conservation, and his belief in the unique and irreplaceable value of wild places and wild creatures;
  2. to implement John Muir’s philosophy practically by conserving, restoring and enhancing landscape and wildlife in East Lothian and Scotland;
  3. to support the ongoing work of the John Muir Birthplace Charitable Trust and the staff of John Muir’s Birthplace.

Over the past year the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it imposed have had a major, detrimental, impact on our ability to further the above objectives. For instance, the following, normal, face-to-face activities have been curtailed:

  • Delivering a programme of talks and other events on John Muir and environmental topics, both within and outwith John Muir’s Birthplace.
  • Providing volunteers on a regular and ad hoc basis to support JMB staff and to promote JMB both locally and further afield.
  • Welcoming fellow Muir groups/enthusiasts to Dunbar.

However, the Friends online presence through its website[1] and social media channels – Facebook[2] and Twitter[3] – and platforms like Zoom became the norm for much of its activities. These included:

  • Delivering a programme of talks and other events on John Muir and environmental topics.
  • Publishing regular news items and blog posts containing items regarding John Muir, environmental issues and the work of JMB; published and promoted o its website and through social media.
  • Liaising (virtually) with people and organisations of influence both locally and nationally. Including: John Muir Birthplace Charitable Trust; John Muir Trust; VisitScotland; US National Parks Service; Sierra Club.

Another major activity undertaken during the year was to research, curate and produce the John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe (JMEPU) exhibition[4]. Normally our exhibitions are produced in a format suitable for installation in the temporary exhibition room of John Muir’s Birthplace. Such exhibitions are normally scheduled for opening at the start of the summer season – usually on or around #JohnMuirDay, April 21st. The first COVID-19 lockdown disrupted these plans but later in the year – and with the cooperation/permission of the Dunbar Harbour Trust – an outside version of the JMEPU exhibition[5] was installed at Dunbar Harbour Battery. Sustaining Dunbar[6] – a local community development trust – also worked closely with us and have been instrumental in the organisation, and support, of the ‘What If’ network of local groups that are tackling many of the challenges identified in the exhibition.

Since online virtual meetings became quite commonplace during the year it has been possible to engage with like-minded people and organisations to help influence, curate and then promote the content and aspirations of JMEPU. These online events have resulted in the following digital resources being produced:

  • Online Exhibition: John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe | Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace[7]
  • Virtual Launch of JMEPU[8]
  • Infinite Imagination Podcast[9] – A Scottish Communities Climate Action Network Podcast
  • John Muir – Earth Planet Universe – Sustaining Dunbar[10]

The success of the Birthplace is due, of course, to the hard work and dedication of the museum staff and, also, the Friends that help out on a voluntary basis. Despite lockdown restrictions and the limited capacity when the Birthplace was open during the past year, staff have been busy in updating and augmenting the digital resources and promoting these on a regular basis[11].

I’d like to thank all my fellow Council members – past and present – for their tireless efforts in promoting Friends and the Birthplace. The challenges posed by COVID-19 have been substantial and have severely limited our ability to engage with the membership through face-to-face meetings and activities. It is too early to know what impact the pandemic will have had in the long term and what the ‘new’ normal will be like. I sincerely hope that in the year(s) ahead we will be reinvigorated and will rise to the challenges that have been identified in our JMEPU exhibition.

Best wishes.


Duncan Smeed

Date: 24th March 2021

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What Next for Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace?

On March 24th, 2021 at 7pm, Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace (FoJMB) and Sustaining Dunbar (SD) hosted an event in SD’s What If? series. During the event, five speakers shared their presentations and discussed the following themes:

  • What role does John Muir’s Birthplace play in the life of the town and the High Street?
  • What can we learn from John Muir’s life and legacy to support and inspire us?
  • What role for the Birthplace in supporting the transition to a better future for all of us?

The Zoom session was recorded and is now available on Sustaining Dunbar’s Youtube channel here [link opens in a new tab].

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Pilgrimage for COP26

One of the original aspirations for activity inspired by the Friends’ John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe exhibition was to organise a walk along the John Muir Way from Dunbar to Glasgow ahead of the COP26 Summit that was due to be held in the city in November 2020. Needless to say that COVID-19 restrictions put paid to that last year.

However, due to contacts made during various online, climate action related, conferences, workshops and meetings, members of the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace began collaborating with co-curators of a more extensive and ambitious ‘Pilgrimage for COP26’ – #pilgrimageforcop26 – curated by Jonathan Baxter – @artandecologyedinburgh. Although this pilgrimage is more than six months away and detailed plans and programmes of events, etc, are still being considered, Earth Day 2021 seemed to be a great opportunity for a ‘soft launch’ in Dunbar and to invite and encourage participations from people and organisations in East Lothian and beyond.

In addition to the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace the main, local, collaborators are currently North Lights Arts, Sustaining Dunbar, and the Battery Theatre Company. Many more groups have expressed interest in the idea of some form of ‘pilgrimage’ that   helps people create their bonds with the natural world. More information of other groups, etc., will be announced in due course and, apart from local news and social media outlets, the main source of information will be Jonathan Baxter’s Pilgrimage for COP26 – A+E which includes the following introduction:

The pilgrimage commences in Dunbar on the 18th October to arrive in Glasgow on the 29th October – with events taking place in Glasgow on the 30th and 31st October. Pilgrims are invited to join the pilgrimage at any point during the journey.

Basic information

18th October – 31st October 2021

A pilgrimage from Dunbar to Glasgow to reflect on the climate and ecological crisis in anticipation of COP26.

The pilgrimage includes a public engagement programme to accompany the walkers and encourage participation en route.

Participating organisations include Deep Time Walk Project, Interfaith Edinburgh, Glasgow and Scotland, John Muir’s Birthplace, North Light Arts, Scottish Dance Theatre, and more.


“Pilgrimages are a common cultural practice. Historically associated with religions, today they speak to a wider public in search of meaning through an interest in history, identity, roots, and heritage. The Pilgrimage for COP26 draws attention to the climate and ecological crisis. It offers a chance to reflect on this crisis by walking two well-trodden pathways, The John Muir Way from Dunbar to Kirkintilloch and St Ninian’s Way from Kirkintilloch to Glasgow. A key question animating the pilgrimage is this, ‘How can we honour the mutual bond that exists between people and planet, a bond that sustains our very existence?’” Jonathan Baxter, co-curator, Pilgrimage for COP26.

“North Light Arts are co-curating the start of the pilgrimage from Dunbar and across East Lothian along the John Muir Way. We are working with East Lothian Council, Sustaining Dunbar, the Battery Theatre Company and Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace to begin the conversation with exhibitions, talks and an opening event on Dunbar Harbour.” Susie Goodwin, Director, North Light Arts.

“The simple act of walking together through time and space enables us to explore the many ways humanity is deeply interconnected with the more-than-human world. We are pleased to bring a deep time perspective to the Pilgrimage for COP26, helping to galvanise positive action and advocacy at this critical juncture for humanity.” Robert Woodford, Executive Director, Deep Time Walk Project.

Other links:

  1. North Light Arts
  2. Sustaining Dunbar
  3. BATTERY – Theatre Company
  4. A+E | Facebook


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Earth Day 2021

It’s another beautiful sunny day in Dunbar on this #EarthDay. It is a great pity that the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevent large scale gatherings and community events such as beach cleans, litter-picking, tree-planting, and all manner of conservation and environmental activities that in past years have taken place during the week that sees #JohnMuirDay and #EarthDay.

Earth Day 2021 is the inspiration for climate action activities worldwide and the Earth Day 2021 | Restore Our Earth™ | EARTHDAY.ORG page highlights many of these.

Perhaps it’s time to start planning for #JohnMuirDay2022 #EarthDay2022 when, hopefully, some degree of normality returns and people can get together to “Do something for wildness…”


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John Muir Day 2021

It is nearing the end of a beautiful sunny day in Dunbar and it’s time to take stock of all the #JohnMuirDay activity on social media.

The John Muir Trust (JMT) has been actively promoting this opportunity to ask the following question on their Modern motivators celebrated during #JohnMuirDay 2021 page:

Who inspires you to take action for nature? Share your stories on social media and help us celebrate #JohnMuirDay (21 April)

A number of people have had their video testimonials shared to the JMT page. Many more have shared their thoughts on social media using the #JohnMuirDay hashtag.

Unsurprisingly, much of the social media activity has centred on Muir himself and the fact that his legacy continues to inspire people. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of posts that celebrate #JohnMuirDay and thousands more that have engaged with these by liking and sharing them.

Although John Muir is an inspiration, as you would expect, for the John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe (JMEPU) exhibition that Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace produced in 2020, other ‘motivators’ were included as more modern examples. These included: Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and Wangari Maathai. This exhibition has also been one of the catalysts for engaging and motivating many people and community groups locally and this gives hope for the future.

One more thing…

Another reason for celebration this #JohnMuirDay is the fact that the go-ahead for the production of the JMEPU panels suitable for installation in John Muir’s Birthplace took place this morning. This means that the exhibition will be in place in time for the re-opening of JMB on May 5th 2021.

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Dunbar and Martinez Celebrate 40th Anniversary

Today – 18th April 2021 – marks the 40th anniversary of the twinning link between Dunbar and Martinez. Ten years ago Will Collin was instrumental in the arrangements to mark the 30th anniversary as he was, then, a member of the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace committee; a Trustee of the John Muir Birthplace Trust; and a member of Dunbar Community Council. Will drew upon his personal connections with a number of people and organisations in Martinez to arrange the exchanges of messages between the two communities. Visits from Martinez residents to Dunbar, and vice versa, have also cemented the twinning links over the past decades. What follows is a summary of some of the interactions that have been reported in some of the newsletters articles and posts over the past 10 years.

The Dunbar and Martinez Celebrate 30th Anniversary and Dunbar-Martinez Sister City 30th Anniversary posts from 10 years ago. The first post includes the text of an article that Will Collin contributed to the FoJMB Newsletter April 2011 [pdf] newsletter. The second post includes a beautifully worded message to us all in Dunbar from the Board of Directors of the John Muir Association in Martinez.

Also in the April 2011 newsletter was an illustrated article about a John Muir’s Birthplace exhibition marking the 30th anniversary the twinning with Martinez, California. Local resident Steven Boyle, who was one of the first Rotary Club ‘ambassadors’ to visit Martinez in 1997, displayed some of his own nature photographs, alongside a selection of historical photographs of both towns, produced by Dunbar and District History Society and Martinez Historical Society, commemorative objects, and messages from our sister city.

Although the Martinez News-Gazette link in the Sister Cities celebrate Muir Legacy post is no longer valid the rest of the post provides more news about the 30th anniversary celebrations.

Will had also contributed a short article for the John Muir Association’s Spring 2011 Newsletter, as follows:

Dunbar and Martinez, California, were ‘twinned’ in 1981. On 18 April of that year, Martinez Mayor Eric Schaeferread the proclamation declaring Martinez and Dunbar “sister cities,” the American terminology. The twinning of Dunbar and Martinez was due to links with John Muir, the former being his birthplace and the latter being his home from his marriage in 1880 to his death on Christmas Eve 1914. The twinning is a civic link, not simply a John Muir one. There are benefits for many areas of our two towns and surrounding districts, for example in education, cultural exchanges and tourism.

To recognize the 30th Anniversary of the Dunbar-Martinez sister cities link, Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace, supported by the John Muir Birthplace Trust, have initiated an exchange of greetings between the two cities. In addition, Dunbar officials propose to send letters to schools, churches, history societies, Rotary clubs, Masonic lodges, senior citizen organisations, Dunbar traders and Martinez Chamber of Commerce, and other pairings.

John Muir Birthplace staff have also added a post to its website with Will’s updated version of the 30th Anniversary announcement. See John Muir’s Birthplace: Twins for 40 Years! Dunbar & Martinez for the complete story.

Under the title ‘Goodwill Ambassadors’ the article in the FoJMB Newsletter July 2011 [pdf] newsletter noted that:

Dunbar Community Council hosted a reception in the Birthplace on Friday 1 July for Frank and Carol Walsh who spent a couple of days in Dunbar in the capacity as Goodwill Ambassadors on behalf of the Martinez city council. Frank was involved in the early years of the twinning in arranging the student exchanges between Alhambra High School and Dunbar Grammar School.

[Note from the editor: This post may be updated with more twinning news over the next few days.]

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Virtual Launch of JMEPU Exhibition

Registration for this Sustaining Dunbar hosted event is via this Eventbrite page. That page includes the following information:

Digital Exhibition Launch | Tuesday 10 November, 7-8.15pm (on Zoom)

Please note a Zoom link will be emailed to all registered participants prior to the event.

John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe is an outdoor exhibition which opened at the Dunbar Harbour Battery in October 2020. The exhibition is the latest in the series created by the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace over the years. This one focuses on Muir’s legacy and his role as an environmental activist and campaigner and his relevance for our situation today.

Continue reading

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First visitors view the new outdoor exhibition

Three generations of the Moorhouse family from Edinburgh were the very first visitors to the JMEPU exhibition in the Dunbar Battery at Dunbar Harbour.

Moments after the installation of the weatherproof  version of the John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe panels in the Dunbar Battery, members of the Moorhouse family paid a visit. They very kindly agreed to have their photograph taken to mark the occasion. Many thanks to them for helping to publicise the exhibition in this way.

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Outdoor Exhibition: John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe

Installation of the JMEPU exhibition in the Dunbar Battery at Dunbar Harbour.

On Saturday, 24th October, the weatherproof versions of the panels of the Friends’ 2020 temporary exhibition entitled ‘John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe’ were installed in the wonderful outdoor venue that is the Dunbar Battery at Dunbar Harbour.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions it hasn’t been possible to showcase these panels in John Muir’s Birthplace over the summer season – as is normally the case for our temporary exhibitions – and we are very grateful for the help and support of the Dunbar Harbour Trust to allow us to use The Battery at Dunbar Harbour as a wonderful outdoor venue. There, we hope that many people will be able to visit, read and be inspired to get involved – all in a beautiful Covid-safe environment where John Muir himself explored during his boyhood in Dunbar!

“When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures” [John Muir, The Story of my Boyhood and Youth]

An official ‘virtual’ launch of this exhibition, and further news about the ‘What If?’ programme it has inspired, is planned for early November.

For those that can’t visit in person please see the online version of John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe

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