Issue 217
July/August 2021


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Jul 29, 2021

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Marchmont in the Borders revisited

Nick Jones is drawn back to 'one of Scotland's grandest mansions', where great things are happening in the arts and crafts.

I'M BACK at Marchmont, tucked away in the foothills of the Lammermuirs between Greenlaw and Duns, described by Country Life as "one of Scotland's grandest mansions".

Built from a design by William Adam, and enlarged by Robert Lorimer, the interior includes both Georgian and Arts & Crafts styles.

Although opportunities for cultural patronage come with the territory for Britain's great country houses and their families, Marchmont is about much more. That is largely thanks to Hugo Burge, transforming house, gardens and grounds with the work of some outstanding post-war and contemporary sculptors, including Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Meadows, Lynn Chadwick and Antony Gormley.

As well as celebrating great art past and present, he is making Marchmont a crucible for future creativity with an energy and enthusiasm that bring an appealing sense of excitement, curiosity and uncertainty to the place. What, who, why, where and how will be coming next?

It's a tribute to Hugo's vision, and generosity of spirit that he welcomes, shares and encourages creativity, providing a home and commissions for makers and creators – the Creative Spaces initiative.

So there are studios and workshops for rush-seat chair-makers Sam Cooper and Richard Platt, making ladder-back chairs in the Arts and Crafts tradition of Gimson and Clissett; a studio for stone-carver Michelle de Bruin; and ongoing, short term residencies for artists, many living and working in the Scottish Borders and England's north country.

As I write, a studio is looking for a new inhabitant, too, so contact Marchmont if you would like more details.

A few miles away, at Allanbank Mill Steading, and for twenty seven years now, artists Pauline Burbidge and Charlie Poulsen have opened their studios to visitors, as they will be doing again this year from August 6th to 9th.

As you'd expect, happenstance has brought many like minds together there. On one such encounter, Hugo was leafing through Charlie's sketchbooks, full of those stream of consciousness doodles that so often take artists by surprise, wondering where on earth that came from!

Charlie's doodles sparked an ongoing and fruitful partnership with Marchmont. It's enabled him to convert those doodles into more tangible and long term works, like 'Skyboat', a traditional east coast coble, cradled on an oak framework, as it might be for repainting and maintenance. Except that we're some thirty miles from the coast, and the intention is that this boat's next voyage will be skywards, enveloped and embodied within the five young oak trees that are growing beneath it, slowly pushing themselves and Girl Hannah (for that is her name, after the daughter of the fisherman who skippered her) up, and up.

That could be fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years hence, by which time, who knows what and where 'Art, Nature and Humanity' will be!

The selfsame title is the cue for three autumn residencies, inspired by Charlie, and organised, managed and funded via the 'Marchmont Makers Foundation' who invited Berwick Creative Guild to encourage artists and creatives in its network to apply.

The Guild was set up in 2019 to provide a platform for supporting, sharing, and promoting the burgeoning numbers of creative people working in or near to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The three artists selected are Anna Chapman Parker, Claire Ward, and Jim Grant. All three, like so many artists attracted to Marchmont, are inspired by its ecosystem, embodied in the beauty and variety of trees, timber, flora, fauna, rock and soil.

Anna's focus is on weeds, sometimes defined as plants in the wrong place, and generally unappreciated, or destroyed. But as both scientists and mystics tell us, since all creation is interconnected, (and how could it not be?) we need weeds as much as weeds need us!

Claire's inspiration begins with found objects, natural and man-made, that time and the elements metamorphose through decay, weathering and the unforeseen vagaries of life. Claire transforms further; gentle interventions to add or reveal layering, colour, texture and form. A reflection of the geological strata beneath us.

Jim's interest is human traces, the way we interact with and change landscape, reflecting needs and awareness, working with and taking account of the very diverse community that a complex estate like Marchmont depends upon to survive and thrive.

For all three artists the extent, variety and particular natural and human qualities of the place provide a special chance to explore within and without, and, given the luxury of dedicated time and space, to work at a greater intensity.

It's a great opportunity. Like the Skyboat, Marchmont is going onwards and upwards!

Future events at Marchmont include an Open Studios weekend on August 28 and 29; and a 'Conversations with Trees'
weekend from October 1 to 3. www.marchmonthouse.com.
Allanbank Mill Steading Open Studios is from August 6 - 9. www.allanbankmillsteading.co.uk


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