Recording ‘The Artists Town’ past and present.
Mark Mulhern, European Ethnological Research Centre
One of the ambitions of the Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project (RESP) is to encourage and to facilitate individuals and groups to carry out fieldwork based research borne out of their own interest. So it was with great pleasure that we welcomed the opportunity to work with the Kirkcudbright Harbour Cottage Trust on their project – ‘Kirkcudbright Artists Remembered’.
We provided training and supplied recording equipment to enable the team of 16 volunteer fieldworkers from Kirkcudbright to record folk from the town on their memories and experiences of artists associated with the town.
The results of these labours make a significant addition to the overall collection of material on D&G which the Project has built-up. In addition, this collection of recordings is a rich source of information for anyone interested in finding out more about the work of artists and their place within a place.
A clip from each of the interviews is presented on the RESP website. These clips can be directly accessed by clicking on the name of each interviewee below.
Copyright in these recordings is shared between the European Ethnological Research Centre and the Kirkcudbright Harbour Cottage Trust.
Flora McDowall and Hilary Alcock for Kirkcudbright Harbour Cottage Trust
Inspired by a cluster of rapt exhibition visitors listening to an older resident recalling the painter Charles Oppenheimer, the Kirkcudbright Artists Remembered project was born.
Between November 2017 and November 2018, a Kirkcudbright Harbour Cottage Trust team of 16 volunteers carried out 38 interviews with local people who recall the bohemian artists and makers living in the town during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Names such as Jessie M King, E A Taylor and Charles Oppenheimer are synonymous with the town, but others were equally popular residents, actively involved with community life. These include artist David Sassoon, ‘‘the Godfather of Scottish studio pottery” Tommy Lochhead, multi-talented craftsman Tim Jeffs, pastel portraitist Lena Alexander and painters such as Ann and Alistair Dallas and ‘Bill’ Miles Johnston and his wife Dorothy Nesbitt. Most were incomers to the town attracted by its association with E A Hornel, but the painter John Halliday was born in Kirkcudbright. Halliday formed strong bonds with the artists’ colony of the time, propelling him onwards to start his career at Glasgow School of Art.
The first port of call for help with the project was David Devereux, formerly Curator of the Stewartry Museum, who provided enthusiastic support and advice. David suggested contacting the Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project and The Ewart Library, Dumfries. Alison Burgess, the Dumfries & Galloway Council Local Studies and Information Officer and Regional Network Representative for the Oral History Society, was on hand to help.
It transpired that there had already been a large recording project undertaken in Dumfries & Galloway by the Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project. Through the EERC we could access recording equipment, expert help with the necessary paperwork and have a home for the resulting recordings at a national level. There the recordings would become part of the larger study, professionally transcribed and properly preserved for the future.
Making the recordings was a rewarding experience for the volunteers and the participants. Everyone who contributed had something fascinating to say about the artists, post war life in the town or growing up in Kirkcudbright. It was a steep learning curve for the volunteers, only one having done anything similar before. The recordings are not formal, but conversational and relaxed with various interruptions from clocks, doorbells, squeaking furniture and chinking teacups … but no less interesting for that.
Kirkcudbright Artists Remembered moved on to a new phase when support was secured from Dumfries & Galloway Council and The Galloway Association of Glasgow to use the recordings as the basis for two short films. The services of the BAFTA award-winning young film maker James Alcock secured, the team went on to produce two, six-minute films, ‘Kirkcudbright Artists Remembered’ – which features oral history recording participants and some of today’s artists – and ‘John Halliday, Child of the Colony’. The films can be accessed on YouTube by clicking below: