Snapshots & Sketches – I love this town!

Community engagement as a radical act: local children, sharing history, Inverkeithing’s community garden and beloved woodland. Conceptual art about witch trials…

Ian Walker

featured image: Janus interpretation of Ian’s work.

Ian’s work is probably the most varied in interests of all of the artists, and he was certainly one of the most prolific. What emerges is a kind of radical enthusiasm for the ideas of community life and local resource management. Ian has been involved with the Inverkeithing Community Garden since its onset, a beautiful space which offers peace and beauty to visitors, as well as a deeply satisfying activity for people who get involved with gardening and managing it. Ian has a general love for wildlife, especially trees, and he was drawn to illustrating the trees of the area. If we come to value trees, and especially trees within complex eco systems, as we really should, then Ian’s work looks like portraiture of individuals, as much as just ‘drawings of trees’. Each is recognisable to someone who knows and them lives with them every day.

Ian’s other genius is for including passers by into his work, and the project of Inverkeithing in general. When out and about drawing or doing his other art works, he not only talks to people who express an interest, but documents them in the form of photography, and later develops this further into his work.

Ian was also fascinated by the horrific crimes against the people who were tried for witchcraft in the 17th Century in Inverkeithing. He elevated his response to this with a remarkable piece of conceptual art in Witch Knowe Park, which is situated across from Witch Knowe, the place where the accused were tried and killed. He attached 51 scraps of colourful fabric, representing the number of people known so far to have died here in this way, to a small tree in the public park area. These scraps remained on the tree, to be encountered by walkers and visitors, creating a memorial. While attaching the scraps, he was approached by a little girl and her mum, interested in what he was doing, and he invited them to help. He of course recorded this with a photograph.

Ian is currently collaborating with Rosie Gibson on her Instagram ‘Idiot Wind’ project.

Snapshots & Sketches – voices in stone and wood

Building an embodied town: experiences of Scottish tradesmen, tools and techniques for generations

Sandy Stephen

featured image: Janus interpretation of Sandy’s work

“There are many fine historic buildings in Inverkeithing. Some of these are named after the original owners such as Rosebury House and The Friary. In other parts of the country, houses are recognised as being the work of famous architects – Adam brothers – or as a reward for battles fought and won – Blenheim Palace – but as I studied the buildings and the methods used to build them I realised that those gems of construction are actually memorials to the multitudes of men and women who shaped and cut the stone and timber. Who worked long hours in often appalling conditions and so often to the detriment of their health. Who are forgotten and nameless. So when I see a tool mark or a particularly subtle piece of skill, I like to touch it and connect across the ages and thereby for a fleeting moment acknowledge and appreciate their skill and craftsmanship and even of their existence.”

Sandy Stephen, text for Snapshots & Sketches 2020

Sandy originally set off on the project drawing and painting the buildings of Inverkeithing, and as he looked at details, it was as if the countless number of nameless men who had physically built the town began to emerge from his pen! He filled a sketchbook with teeming details about building methods, tools and machinery, and even recreated tools from wood and other materials. But it was probably his paintings of the men working away which most readily illustrate his thinking. When Jane included the figures in her Janus interpretation for Sandy’s work, it began to take on the impression that the men were ‘building’ the head out of stone, like lilliputians creating a giant statue. This seems entirely fitting to his subject matter.

Snapshots & Sketches – layers of a townscape

Once upon a could have been: Inverkeithing’s townscape, buildings and layers of history

Donna Sinclair

Donna’s blog post differs from the other because her small sketch of a Janus head, inspired by her childhood memory of a small statue on the roof of the townhouse, became the key element of all of the interpretations. Her interest in this, and in the Inverkeithing witch trials, will be carried forward into further projects with Inverkeithing Arts, but the main body of work she created for the project has somewhat taken on a life of its own!

Donna and her family are from the area, and she has an interest in history which far predates this project. She was drawn to old photographs and illustrations of the buildings and streets of Inverkeithing and surrounding area, and began to piece together the sometimes opaque history of the physical lay-out of the town. Its easy to spend many hours looking at old photographs, which pre-date some demolition or re-build or other and try to work out ‘where on earth is this’. For Donna this became a labour of love for her home town. Not only did she look and wonder, she sketched and drew what she was uncovering.

As she wrote in one of her sketchbooks, this work was a cry for ‘once upon a could have been’ for a town which has not been particularly valued since its heyday. Unlike Culross, chosen as a ‘history town’ despite it once being within the legal boundary of Inverkeithing, Inverkeithing’s heritage was poorly preserved for many years, unrecognised and often changed beyond recognition. With this current heritage regeneration, hopefully at last the importance of its townscape will be recognised.

Donna’s exquisite style has garnered her many admirers, and she is currently working with the Inverkeithing History Society for the ongoing Burgh Survey project. We’ll post updates on this here as it progresses.

Snapshots & Sketches – girls and women + dangerous power

Remembering the unvoiced: Inverkeithing’s witch trials and the dangerous power of young woman

Emma Hurles, 13

featured image: Janus interpretation of Emma’s work

Emma and her mum Susan worked in tandem on the project, and both were immediately drawn to the Inverkeithing witch trials and murders. They researched the terrible events and created their own personalised memorial for the people who suffered. Their research and art work deliberately aims for the creation of a permanent memorial within the town, which has been done in so many other places in Scotland, as across England and the rest of Europe.

Emma explored her own interest in concepts of the occult, and modern day witchcraft as a marginal belief system. As a young girl she represents the disruptive power which causes women and minority groups to remain ‘othered’. The work of 13 year old Hope Francis also reflects this, especially with photographs which include unsettling self portraits, set within the environments of Inverkeithing.

Two of the other artists involved with the motif project, Donna Sinclair and Ian Walker, were also drawn to the accusations of witchcraft, and the torture and murder which occurred in Inverkeithing in the 17th Century. Interest in this subject waxes and wanes amongst artists and writers, but 2021 seems an auspicious time, perhaps particularly on the back of the Covid 19 pandemic, to bring these ideas forward and think about bringing them to fruition this year. Watch this space!

Snapshots & Sketches – healing hands

Making masks and the power of hands in a pandemic: across many generations of care, health and loss.

Esther Gray

featured image: Janus interpretation of Esther’s work.

When the project began, Esther was already busy making face coverings for her family and friends. As an experienced seamstress she had sourced a really nice design, with a good shape, a removable nose grip and removable internal layer. This attention to detail, and level of care, is a good indicator of how Esther tackles everything, including the motif project. She began the project by drawing her own hands, doing ‘women’s’ tasks such as sewing, and the hands of loved ones. For her, they represent care, but nands also resonated with the fear that Covid was spread through touch, and the health directives to socially distance from each other and to wash our hands frequently.

Esther’s other interests included the Friary Hospitium, extending her theme of care and care-takers. The Hospitium provided a stopping-off-point for people on religious pilgrimage to Dunfermline, and for other travellers. Behind the Friary buildings, the site of the current parks and community garden, there would have been kitchen and physic gardens, growing plants to provide food and for medicinal purposes. The Friary sits atop a hill running down to Inverkeithing bay and harbour, and one thinks of supplies perhaps being taken down to the people on docked plague ships. The Friary is also just within the old town walls, where plague camps would squat, people quarantining and waiting to be allowed in to the town. Would they have been provided food by the Friary?

Esther’s work developed towards a sensitive interpretation of living during the Covid19 pandemic. She was interested in the idea of ‘memento mori’ and the way in which, in many eras, people have had to live with high mortality as a daily lived reality.

Snapshots & Sketches – dreams of an industrial wasteland

Diary of a teenage lockdown: post industrial landscapes, returning nature and finding your feet in odd times.

Hope Francis, 13

featured image: Janus interpretation of Hope’s work

Hope started taking photographs with her parents’ camera and with her phone before the Covid 19 lockdown, but when the surreal times began in March 2020 she found herself off school, trying to do schoolwork at home, and going out for a walk each day. Taking photographs of what she saw each day, as well as self portraits, was an activity which kept her going. It also began to emerge as a visual diary of the times she was living through.

She is drawn to ex-industrial landscapes and objects; decaying and rusting machinery, crumbling masonry and blasted land. Inverkeithing’s history contains a large amount of industry, due to its position on the Firth of Forth, proximity to Edinburgh and a northern gateway, and its particular geography of rock formation. It’s a fascinating past, and one which many historians have studied. What is less usual, and it’s tempting to think it could only be truthfully expressed through the eyes of someone with Hope’s youth, is the destruction and mess which has been carelessly abandoned after industrial extraction has occurred.

Her eye is sensitive to the combination of industrial relic and nature thriving in neglected and abandoned spaces.

EDITING AND CHOOSING PROCESS

Hope’s process developed when she began experimenting with editing in colour. Almost by accident, she had discovered a revealing emphasis on the juxtaposition between nature and man-made objects in her chosen subjects.

Hope also included self portraiture in her photography, as she goes through the processes of growing up and finding herself. What’s particularly interesting is the combination of growing up and her environment. Some of these she included in this project, while others will be part of future planned projects.

On the strength of this project, Hope has sold some prints of her photography, and has decided to take art in 3rd year, and perhaps for Nat 5. Many people are impressed by her remarkably mature sensibility.

Snapshots & Sketches – Inner Bay

Searching for the Lazaretto: Inner Bay, Pinkie Well and mud-skating across generations.

Karen Delaney

featured image: the Janus interpretation of Karen’s work

“The muddy surface (of Inner Bay) presents a wretched contrast to the scene when the tide has returned and is at its height. One day soon going home from school with bag on back, I turned up my trousers as far as they could go, and started across from the bottom of the manse garden in the direction of Pinkie well. When nearly halfway over my imagination became possessed by the idea of bogs and the bottomless pit; and it seemed the same if I tried to turn back or proceed. I kept on my way, and got out at ‘Pinkie’, and there washed my little shanks in the pool at which cows were watered, none the worse, and less disposed to repeat the feat.”

‘Reminiscences of childhood at Inverkeithing, or, Life at a Lazaretto’ 1882, by James Simpson, b1826

Karen Delaney ‘Dad skating across Inner Bay with his brother, Inverkeithing 1950s”

Karen was intrigued by ‘the Lazaretto book’ which can be read here , and in particular she explored the topography and geography of Inverkeithing’s bay, and the position of the buildings. She runs the local cafe, situated near the top of The Mill Brae, a pathway from the high street to the bay and harbour. Her work in the community, especially for older Inverkeithingers, is well known and appreciated.

Karen’s family are from the area, and she found a delightful parallel between the story of James’ fearful skate across the mud flats in the 1830s, and her dad and uncle’s stories of skating there in the 1950s.

Karen is also interested in locally produced food and foraging, and has a knowledge about local sites where wild plants can be collected.

Snapshots & Sketches the interpretations

Introduction:

The creation of motifs and wording to be incorporated into the new street furniture in Inverkeithing for the forthcoming heritage regeneration sparked a project for community artists, and was instigated in the spring of 2020. It quickly became evident that trying to follow usual pathways, such as engaging schoolchildren, was going to be extremely challenging as we entered the first Covid 19 lockdown in March. Inverkeithing Arts responded with a counter plan to still engage several members of the community of Inverkeithing, with a good cross section of ages, genders etc, by dipping in to our list of people with whom we have previously done projects and classes over the last few years. They all knew us well, in many cases they are our friends and family, and they have gotten used to the values and methods of Inverkeithing Arts Initiative. Apart from this, we knew them as talented and thoughtful individuals, and we knew they would bring a lot of quality and attention to the project.

The Artists:

We approached several people from our list, and eight agreed to take part, engaging with the brief, and with the historical materials, as much as they could. Difficulties due to lockdown were accepted as part of the project’s limitations, but they were more than willing to proceed, often self-directedly. By October 2020 we were rewarded by our trust in the individuals with a wonderful exhibition of very high quality work across several genres. Some of the artists developed their ideas further into conceptual and site specific work, and others plan to continue to explore the themes they uncovered. The excellence of work, the level of engagement, and the willingness to be open ended in approach, is what led us to two decisions: to incorporate everyone’s work in the motifs for the heritage regeneration, and to plan for the scope of the project to be further developed during 2021.

The difficulties which the group faced in trying to meet face to face, share ideas or work together revealed just how vitally important they are to our sense of community and health. The group continued to feel the project was a communal one, despite the limitations, and we wanted to honour this. It seemed fitting at this present moment in history, to include everyone’s work rather than declare a ‘motif winner’.

Interpretations:

A small and expressive sketch of a Janus head, by Donna Sinclair, inspired by her memory of a statue which used to sit on the Inverkeithing Townhouse roof when she was a young girl, revealed its potential as a key or anchor for the resulting motifs. It has such a ‘complete’ and balanced shape, and the two swirls of hair cry out for the inclusion of imagery. The faces look in opposite directions and bring to mind past and future, west and east, sea and land or any number of dichotomies within which to place our interpretations.

The deciton to use this image as a key motif provided a base on which to create a series of interpretations, incorporating work by all of the artists. Our brief talks about a wish to explore the past, present and future of Inverkeithing, and the artists met this brief through their own lenses of nature, work and play, caring for each other, witch trials, and the industrial and built landscapes, to name just a few.

Over the next few blog entries, we’ll explore each of the interpretations, and through them, each of the artists, in turn.

Snapshots and Sketches – from inspiring artworks to street motifs

What a strange time it was to be involved with a community art project! It has been challenging in many respects, but very thought-provoking. Without the social restrictions we would undoubtedly have met as a whole group much more often, both outdoors and in different indoor venues. We would have spent time in the library with books and objects, and in the Town House where many original historical resources are kept. We would have met up at Maker to draw together and share ideas, and, perhaps most importantly, we would have enjoyed an opening night of our exhibition together, inviting friends, family and community members to share in our artistic endeavours.

But on the other hand these are historic times. We added the significant phrase ‘Inverkeithing Past, Present and Future’ to the brief in order to reflect this. In the times of Covid we look back at the past with new eyes, perhaps feeling more kinship with people who lived in less certain times, when illness and disease had devastating effects on a more regular basis than we are used to now in the richer nations. ‘The Lazaretto Book’, (as we called ‘Reminiscences of childhood at Inverkeithing; or, life at a lazaretto’ by James Simpson, b. 1826), was especially fascinating, as were stories of plague ships docking in the harbour and being flooded with sea water to disinfect them, and a quarantine shanty town on the outskirts, just outside the town walls.

In the lazaretto book the narrator writes: “The cholera season of 1832 is vividly impressed on my memory. For some time before that I had been at the parish school, which was dismissed when the pestilence made its appearance in the town and neighbourhood. I have no recollection of having realised in any form the solemnity connected with this visitation of the angel of death; and I am satisfied that I was incapable of doing it at that age, unless it had been the death of an inmate of the family, or of one which whom I had stood in close and contact relationship. My associations connected with the cholera are those of the most unalloyed pleasure I have ever experienced; the event was the golden age of my existence, the epoch to which I soon began to look back as the dim antiquity of real happiness. There were the dismissal of the school, the beautiful weather, the family all at home, their variety of plays and amusements, the bigger body of the town sailing and squabbling all over the bay, the burning of tar barrels, and the half solemn, half exciting discussions of what to me were in incomprehensible. Then there were the bustle about the Lazaretto, which had been disused some time before, the boatmen moving about, the receipt and dispatch of merchandise of vessels, the supplying of the men inside the building with necessities, and my daily watching all the operations. Then there was my father going about the house several times a day with a saucer containing saltpetre and vinegar, and fumigating everything by stirring the contents with a red-hot poker. Then there was us children taking our meals (not playing with ‘tea-things’) inside of the hedge at the bottom of the garden, under the trees, on tablecloths spread on the ground.”

This period in history has been very difficult for many people, and we felt that this piece of text, written from the perspective of a small boy, had a brilliant resonance with the times, especially during the spring and summer of 2020, when the project was started. As 12 year old Hope Francis wrote ‘during lockdown, I started a dream diary’. There seemed to be a possibility for us to remember what is important in life, and like Hope, dare to dream (about better times?). In early 2021, however, with a second wave of infections underway, with its suffering and tragedy, combined with the winter darkness and cold, it was hard to have much sense of the possibilities for change which the children’s texts across generations seem to invite.

Now as spring approaches and we maybe feel a bit more positive again, we can perhaps begin again to reflect on the present and dare to hope for the future?

A key motif has been discovered and decided on, and its based on a piece of work that wasn’t actually in the project exhibition at Maker. Some of the artists continued to work after the exhibition had been installed, including Donna Sinclair, who continued her work based around the buildings of Inverkeithing, recreating them from old photographs and paintings. She remembered a small statue of a Janus head that sat on top of the Town House when she was a little girl. Her memory is that it disappeared at some point in the 1980s, she presumes stolen. For the project she made some sketches of Janus heads from her imagination, inspired by the concepts it encapsulates. When we saw the drawings, one in particular had a lovely lively quality, with swirling hair, creating a poetic and very balanced shape.

We found that the imagery and symbolism of a Janus reflects so many aspects of our project, and of Inverkeithing. The heads face in opposite ways and Janus heads are usually set north and south, and often represent the past and future, and the transformative period in between. It can reflect dichotomies such as the land and the sea, church and trade, home and of other places. Janus was a roman god, and used in statuary at gateways into towns and cities, so we can see it can represent transitions and limens, and also represent a welcome to a place. Given that the regeneration project as a whole is about placemaking and improved experiences for both residents and visitors, this really spoke to us.

This motif is key, but we also want to incorporate everyone’s work, paying homage to all of their talent, engagement, hard work and imagination. These have been created and are currently awaiting the final say to make them available to the public. In the meantime, do you remember the Janus Head on the Town House? Let us know if you have any stories about it, or any thoughts on the symbolism and meaning of Janus heads.

Incorporating the artists’ work into the motifs

The work has been developed in progress towards motifs which will be integrated in upcoming public realm works throughout the town centre. It was developed by members of Inverkeithing Arts Initiative and commissioned for the Inverkeithing Heritage Regeneration project, funded by Historic Environment Scotland, National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Fife Council.  The project, running 2019-2024, is being delivered by Fife Historic Buildings Trust.

Noticing the details: Snapshots & Sketches

I have spent some initial quiet exploratory time with the collated work done by eight local artists for the Snapshots and Sketches project at Maker. I wanted to heed the selection, giving it some space to reveal the artists’ engagement with the themes of past, present and future. I noticed many delightful details, and captured some images to share. The work will remain in-situ in Maker now so it can be viewed from Thursday – Saturday 11am-5.30pm. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the work below.

The work has been developed in progress towards motifs which will be integrated in upcoming public realm works throughout the town centre, taking inspiration from Inverkeithing past, present and future. It is being developed by members of Inverkeithing Arts Initiative and commissioned for the Inverkeithing Heritage Regeneration project, funded by Historic Environment Scotland, National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Fife Council.  The project, running 2019-2024, is being delivered by Fife Historic Buildings Trust.