Issue 232
July/August 2024

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Jul 24, 2024

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Nick Jones tracks down a mysteriously registered car and the enterprising and didactic venture behind it

THE WEEK before the election, a Guardian article asked if there could be a brighter future ahead for the arts and arts education, after years of dwindling support from successive governments.

Around the same time Clive Myrie, talking on Desert Island Discs, revealed that one of the first things he does after getting back from reporting from the front line of a war zone is to go to an art gallery or to a concert. Why? To re-connect with the humanity embodied in art and music, an antidote to destruction or despair.

Paxton House art class

It seems he's far from alone. Fortunately, the creative spirit cannot be quashed. It never has been. You just have to look for it. Here in Berwick-upon-Tweed, back in 1873, a certain James Wallace established an independent art school. Ninety students attended in the first year. In year two students submitted over a thousand works to an exhibition in London. It went from strength to strength.

The school helped launch the careers of Wallace's son, James junior, who won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, as well as Frank Wood, whose work was bought by royalty.

Now, in 2024, another James is pioneering a different way of bringing the teaching of art to people in Berwick and the Borders; people of all ages who might otherwise miss out. My search began when I noticed JAGART82 painted on a car, not just the number plate.

I was intrigued. Who drove the Jagartmobile? An eighty-two year old Jaguar-loving artist, perhaps? Meeting James Alexander Gaffney and his admin assistant Jan, later, I began to understand – Initials+Inspiration+Year Born.

James and Jan and the Jagmobile

Here was someone autistic, with ADHD, who, once possessed by and addicted to alcohol and drugs, had found a way out by connecting with his inner artist. This not only released him but also led to an inspired sharing of the power of creativity.

The courage, determination, and generosity that James embodies clearly attracts others to benefit from his vision: "Inspire to be Inspired". Meaning, setting up hands-on workshops for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to make art and, at the same time, to help with their individual challenges, like a recent project in Eyemouth, "Skills for Life Multiply", supported by the Scottish Borders Council.

Participants created artworks to improve numeracy, for example measuring, cutting, designing and painting a box for their "Inspiration" quotes. "Fun with a ruler" involved creating a sailing boat, measuring each part exactly to make the perfect vessel. Shading and grading a hand drawn mandala embraced better mental health, mindfulness, and numeracy. The workshops were hosted by Eyemouth Marine, and also involved the St Abbs lifeboat team and "Thomas Tunnock", their 900W RIB lifeboat, named after their major funder, the famous teacake makers hailing from Uddingston, south east of Glasgow.

Tunnocks came to the rescue when the RNLI ceased its operation there. One of many benefits from this project? New artwork, presented to the lifeboat station.

The current programme includes Saturday Art Classes and an exhibition of more than two hundred pieces in Paxton House, along with Drop-In Workshops, a Junior Jag Art Academy, and Sunday art class at Berwick Youth Hostel. Each workshop is bespoke, adapted by James to meet participants' individual situation, from nursery one day to a care home the next.

Now an episodic film Shadows of the Boathouse, is being made, on location at Paxton. It has given participants all kinds of opportunities to express their creativity including designing and making 18th century costumes, acting, filming and writing screenplay.

The 'shadows' refer to the emotional darkness inherent in addiction, and the journey of release. Personal, yes, but, through sharing, healing too. The storyline heads up river, past Norham, where Turner painted his famous "Norham Castle, Sunrise", towards Coldstream, close by where Beatrix Potter wrote "Peter Rabbit". James is already talking to Netflix about it.

And where next? A generous benefactor and a building, please, somewhere in Berwick, to enable more workshops, better facilities, to attract more budding artists. Common threads in both the James's stories? An independence of spirit and a determination to keep going, to teach, encourage, support, and provide new opportunities. More important than ever now, when the economic, social and spiritual value of the arts to Gross National Happiness needs to be recognised.

There are literally hundreds of artists based in and around Berwick, but still precious few workshop and studio spaces, let alone opportunities to show and be seen. Time to invest more in local talent. Tomorrow's stars may be out there, but how would anyone know, including themselves, if they don't get the kinds of chances that James and his team are offering?

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The Crafts in Scotland 1950-1990
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