This unique triptych has been gifted to the Medical School by the Dundee and East Scotland Embroiderers Guild and has been a wonderfully exciting collaborative project involving the Guild and the Medical History Museum. After discussions with curator Laura Adam, it was decided that the panels should represent an opened pharmacy cabinet of the renaissance period, depicting twelve plants used to provide medicine during the past millennium. The plants are illustrated on twelve beautiful pharmacy jars on the outer panels of the triptych. Laura Adam provided coloured illustrations and information about the plants and Tom Macleod provided illustrations of the pharmacy jars of past centuries. The plant kingdom was widely interpreted so we could include two important sources of medicine used in the 20th century - the fungus from which penicillin is made, so important in combating infection, and the soil fungus which produces cyclosporin, which has made such a difference to patients who have transplanted organ, enabling them to avoid rejection. The other plants range from the poppy, used not only in the past millennium, but in millennia before that, to the foxglove, the periwinkle, the willow tree, the cinchona tree and finally the yew tree, used only in the last twenty years to treat patients with cancer.
The centre panel depicts a tree of life, against a background of the Tay Estuary, with identifiable local landmarks such as Ninewells Hospital, Cox's Stack, and Dundee Law. The tree of life bears pomegranates, and within each fruit is an image of life which can only be seen with the aid of a microscope, invented in the middle of the past millennium. The images include a pollen grain, red and white blood cells, an insulin molecule, sperm and ovum. Above the tree is the ancient caduceus, the rod and snake emblem of medicine. However, because we wanted the panel to represent medicine of the future as well as the past, the coils of the snakes evolve into strands of DNA. This unique symbolism thus highlights the code of life now being researched, which shows promise of radically changing approaches to disease in future centuries.
Lottery funding and financial support from the Medical History Museum Fund and the Professor of Medicine, Charles Forbes, enabled the Embroiderers Guild to purchase rich and colourful materials for the embroidery, from the deep damask of the background to the filmy chiffon sky behind the tree of life. The colour choices and overall design were co-ordinated by Eileen Rumble of the Guild and all the members contributed their artistic skills to create a most beautiful and outstanding work of art. From the point of view of the contributor of the ideas, the transformation of these ideas into a visible work of art has been a revelation. The creation of these panels by the magic talents of the Embroiderers Guild has surpassed initial imagination, and this project has been both an inspiration and a source of pleasure.