Reconnecting with Arran's Artistic Heritage
When I was younger, in my early 20s, shortly after leaving art schooI, I visited the painter Mary Armour (1902-2000) in her 19th Cent cottage in Kilbarchan. I remember being impressed that she painted in her living room, with all the smells of paint and linseed oil. She was painting vibrant flowers at the time, part of a still life, set up on the table in the middle of the room along with her palette, turps and brushes, the same table we sat at for tea and cake.
Drumadoon Point, Arran Mary Nicol Neill Armour (1902–2000) Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow
Over 40 years later whilst doing initial research for the Arran Arts Heritage Trail I discovered that both Mary and her husband William Armour (1903-1979), also a painter, often painted the sea at Blackwaterfoot on Arran, and that Mary had told a friend that she would like to be remembered for her seascapes. How great it would be if we could contribute to Mary's wish as part of our Art heritage trail.
How could we engage people, locals, visitors, artists and non artists in the rich visual arts heritage of Arran?
We know that for centuries Arran has attracted artists and crafts people to both live and work here and still does today. We have a vibrant artistic community; many artists take part in the annual Arran Open Studios weekend or the year round Arran Art Trail (a group of around 12 studios open to the public all year round) and many other small groups and individuals are involved in art in some way. However very little seems to be in the public domain about artists who have lived and worked here in the past. It is possible to live here or to visit and leave not knowing about this rich heritage in the visual arts. We wanted to tell the story of the many artists and crafts people who have lived and worked here. An important part of Arran's identity, if we don't tell this story it could well be lost for good.
Around the time we were discussing this, the Arran Art Trail , a trail of present day studios, was formed having evolved from the annual Arran Open Studios weekend. The idea came to us that some kind of similar trail documenting past artists and their work inspired by our beautiful island, could be a great vehicle for telling the story of our visual arts heritage. It could engage visitors and locals alike.
I began some initial research. I couldn't believe the sheer number of artists I was coming across. As an art school graduate I was thrilled to discover so many artists whose work I admired. Jesse M King, John McLaughlin Milne, James Nairn, Margot Sandeman, Joan Eardley to name a few. I discovered Samuel Peploe, the Scottish Colourist, had painted on Arran. How did he come to be here? It seemed likely it was his connection with Jesse M King and her husband E A Taylor who had begun a summer drawing and painting school in Corrie in 1914 which ran for two decades. They had spent time in Paris where they met Peploe and he frequently visited them in Kirkcudbright. Lots of questions were popping up. If Peploe visited the island, which other prominent artists did too? Perhaps some came as visiting tutors? Suddenly after 24years living away from Scotland, I was reconnecting with Scottish art I was so excited by the fact that many prominent artists had worked on Arran, the place which had always been special to me and where I now live.
The Shore, Corrie, Arran - Joan Eardley RSA (1921-1963) Cyril Gerber Fine Art
Making it happen It became clear that the research task was extensive and that we would need the expertise of a project manager, professional researchers and others with a personal interest. So the process began to secure funding and employ those with the necessary expertise. It is fantastic that three very experienced people have been appointed and that they are all passionate about the project. I am looking forward to being part of the research group, discovering more and seeing Arran's Art Heritage Trail evolve. This heritage is part of the identity of our island and the project will hopefully be an expression of our community's pride in Arran's rich Artistic past.
Kildonan - James McLachlan Nairn (1859–1904)
Glasgow Museums Resource Centre (GMRC)