Issue 229
Winter 2023/2024

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Dec 10, 2023

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Galloway's Rhins have it…

Hidden away in the far south west of Scotland, on a 25 mile long peninsula that reaches towards Northern Ireland, Mary Gladstone.

THERE'S St IVES and Kirkcudbright, both artists' communities from the last century, but where, if at all, can you find their 21st century counterpart?

I'd put my money on a well-kept secret and advise anyone interested to head South-West to the Rhins of Galloway. Within the past decade "artists, musicians and writers, have moved here and it's become a vibrant community," says Jane Fraser, an artist from Kirkmaiden in the South Rhins.

This 25 mile long peninsula juts out from the Wigtown District of Dumfries & Galloway, extending from the North's Milleur Point to the Mull of Galloway, the southernmost point of Scotland. The word, Rhins, derives from Na Rannabh, meaning 'points of headland' in Gaelic.

Bounded in the West by the North Channel, separating Scotland from Northern Ireland and by Luce Bay in the East, the Rhins act as a breakwater against the North Channel and Atlantic winds.

"It's remarkable," says Glenda Waterworth, who moved to Drummore five years ago. "We get the sea reflected on both sides of the peninsula and it acts like a giant mirror." Added to this, are expansive skies. "You can't paint sea-scapes without large skies," Glenda adds.

Linda Irving at work in her studio

The low-lying Rhins is offset by the Galloway hills in the distance and unlike some mountains of the Lake District and the Highlands, they don't hide the light. In 2016, when Linda Irving, an artist in felt, visited the Rhins. she saw an old blacksmith's smithy for sale and within 10 weeks, she had bought the property and moved in. The sea is important for her -- "It behaves differently on either side" --- and the changing light.

The colours of the field outside her studio alter according to the seasons: brown after ploughing, green with interesting markings made by agricultural machinery in summer and yellow later. Added to seasonal change, is the weather. Storms, heavy clouds and dark seas with sunny intervals. At this time of the year, it's the clarity of the light that's compelling after the summer haze.

Life in the Rhins is worlds away from Linda's former routine as an art psychotherapist when she worked in hospitals and Styal women's prison (Cheshire) with patients suffering drug and alcohol problems and those who self-harmed.

Art school-trained, with a Master's degree, Linda sees herself as a colourist and abstract artist. However, when she began work in art therapy, she discovered that patients responded well to activities involving touch, which gave her the idea of working in felt. "Physical contact is rare. They tend only to be touched when being restrained." Transformation comes when they're given the chance to handle fibre or wool and 'play' with it.

Linda must distinguish between her personal work and a need to earn a crust. One reason for settling in the Rhins was to sell her artwork from her premises. Each year huge numbers of visitors pass her studio on their way to the Mull of Galloway lighthouse. "Inspired by the Galloway scenery, I exhibit cards, felt vessels, bags, hats, scarves, flowers and felt-making kits, which are virtually a workshop in a box."

Maybe it's unsurprising that Jane Fraser likes wood. She grew up in South Ayrshire where her father was a foreman forester on the Glenapp estate near Ballantrae. She uses a lathe to make objects in unseasoned wood picked up from the beach or from woods or acquired from Logan Botanical Garden.

Her bowls are ornamented by freehand pyrography (images burned on to the wood's surface). "Wood is my canvas, pyrography my paintbrush," she explains. Favouring hawthorn because of its grain and irregular shape, Jane is intrigued by unseasoned wood with its twists and cracks that appear as it dries.

This month, as artist-in-residence at the Creative Stranraer hub (see last ArtWork), Jane displays her singular talent as a portraitist in her show, 'Well-kent faces o' Stranraer'. Her sketches of a cafe-owner, art teacher, a baking family and picture-framer (among many others) are the result of ridding herself of her preoccupation with detail and 'freeing-up'.

When Glenda Waterworth moved to Drummore, she missed the large studio in her previous house but compensated by going out each morning with her director's chair to sketch the Scar rocks in Luce Bay and climb the hill to draw the Isle of Man coastline.

As an abstract artist, Glenda has found a route towards her atmospheric land and seascapes through an internal and external approach. She keeps art journals, in which she records random ideas, relying on her intuition with little thought towards an outcome.

The Waterworths have several strings to their bow. Glenda and her husband are experts in IT and web design but have been constrained recently in their creative work by the Covid lockdown, illness, family bereavement and no appreciable studio to work in until the end of this year, Glenda is ready to step up, not only in her painting but in dyeing. She works with natural dyes using indigo and eucalyptus leaves and has learned book-binding and made marbled end-papers.

There's a strong sense of community here, not only between these artists but with other craftspeople like silversmith Gaby Reynolds, who exhibited with Linda, Jane and Glenda this summer at Kirkcudbright's Harbour Cottage Gallery.

In a similar way to individuals in other artists' colonies, the Rhins creatives support each other. Glenda has designed Linda and Jane's web-sites and dyes fibre for Linda's felt-making. Apart from featuring their work annually in Dumfries & Galloway's Spring Fling open doors scheme, they encourage creativity in the community by running workshops and teaching artistic skills. Linda exhibits local artists' artwork in her gallery.

So, what have these artists to lose on the Rhins? For my money, they've got the edge on St Ives. No crowds and a lovely, mild climate that easily competes with Cornwall.


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