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 – 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 – 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.