Issue 217
July/August 2021


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Jul 29, 2021

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On the Arts & Crafts Trail in Kirkcudbright

Stephen Barclay: 'Trailer' Gouache on paper 54cm x 80cm Artist's collection

THIS YEAR, Kirkcudbright celebrates its Summer Festivities' 50th anniversary, but some events have been cancelled, particularly the crowd-drawing Tattoo, The Parade, country fair, car show, pipe bands and Highland dancing. However, The Kirkcudbright Art & Crafts Trail, although cancelled last summer, is back for its 18th year and will be held from Friday July 30 until Monday August 2.

"It's growing and growing," says installation artist Colin Saul who, with wife, Pauline, a painter, has been a driving force in the Trail's success since it began. Although this year, the usual 24-page brochure is cut down to a fold-out leaflet listing participants only, the Trail map is covered with 111 red dots, each indicating a separate venue.

This year people can't open their homes, as before, but may exhibit on tables outside and in gazebos and gardens. In the town centre's Soaperie Gardens, a grassy area with trees, 20 gazebos will be used to show art and craft work. Of course, galleries, shops and café s, who regularly participate in the Trail, are already open.

Kirkcudbright Art & Crafts Trail has built a reputation for 'doing crazy, tongue-in-cheek things', sometimes 'sending up' the contemporary art world. In response to Tracey Emin's 'Unmade Bed', they erected a pristine one with an old-fashioned bedstead and a flowery quilt.

Bed (not Traceys's), Kirkcudright Arts & Crafts Trail c. 2016

Damien Hirst's diamond-studded skull was an opportunity not to be missed. The Trail's thought-provoking plastic version covered with diamanté bling implied a special irony.

The Trail artists' ingenuity didn't stop there, especially when they substituted Banksy art for Beltsy, introduced washing-line art, encouraging people to decorate clothes pegs with which they pinned up their artwork and invited the town's residents to send messages in bottles.

This year, Colin Saul is planning a life-size shell lady made with scallop shells. Mysterious happenings are ear-marked for a Dr Who police box. Rapunzel, still stuck at the top of Kirkcudbright castle, will let down her hair again, in the hope of being rescued

The Vikings, as a theme, predominates. In September 2014, Derek McLennan discovered in Galloway the largest Viking hoard in modern history: over 100 objects, including beads, brooches and rings. The Galloway Hoard will go on display at Kirkcudbright Galleries from October this year until July 2022.

The Vikings are a favorite with children, who like the excuse to carry a shield and wear a helmet. A Viking boat will show its prow and, with their habit of 'taking the mickey', local artists will exhibit their 'precious' Viking artefacts: plastic beads, paste brooches and lager can rings, in a glass case!

Kirkcudbright Arts & Crafts Trail prides itself in being inclusive and open to all ages. They don't ask anybody to prove they're an artist and if someone says they've been embroidering for 20 years and wants to show their work, they can do so.

The trail receives no public arts funding either. But over the years, they have been supported financially and in other ways by Kirkcudbright Summer Activities. Under the latter's umbrella, the Trail is helped in issues connected with public liability and insurance. Shops, galleries and individual artists support them and they own a charity shop that brings in money.

With 111 venues, which include pit stops for coffee, fish & chips and other places to eat and drink, there's plenty of choice. Most venues are in the town centre. Within this area you can sign up for a cookery class, wander around Broughton House garden or learn to make a bottle lamp, lamp shade, lantern or to upholster a foot-stool.

The Trail's vintage caravan serves as an information centre and new artists and craftsmen are in the programme like Joshua and Angela's print gallery in Castle Street where you can watch Joshua cutting and block printing. Another newcomer to the Trail is Ian Ledger of Craftgenix, who makes leather goods and slate wood.

It's obvious that during these very difficult times, the spirit of invention and resilience has predominated. Lockdown has shown how artists can turn confinement into something positive, even creative.

Last autumn, Europe's first live drive-in opera was inaugurated when English National Opera performed 'La Boheme' in a London car park to an audience seated in their cars.

With a comparable spirit of verve and innovation, when Pauline and Colin Saul were unable to visit Stanley, their grandson, living in South England, they kept in touch by writing stories, sketching, pictures and taking photographs to create a newspaper called The Greengate News (the Sauls live two houses down from the Tolbooth at Greengate, 46 High Street, which was once the artist, Jessie M King's home).

She would not only have approved but been amused.

MARY GLADSTONE


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