A blog by Simon Ross-Gill, facilitator of the Arran Arts Heritage Trail project
When I first applied for the job of Facilitator in January 2020, it looked set to be a most intriguing role. Setting up meetings at village halls around the island, face to face conversations with members of the community, handshakes, cups of tea and cake as we talked about this history and heritage of art on Arran.
Of course 2020 didn’t quite pan out that way, and I didn’t realise the words Skype and Zoom would feature so highly on the agenda. Nevertheless, considering my brilliant mainland-based colleagues have only been able to visit a handful of times, I think it’s fair to say we’ve given it our best shot and then some.
My first task was to remotely reach out to members of the local community to compile a Heritage Research Group, which we did through the Banner and the Arran Community Forum on Facebook. Despite not having regular in person meetings, since then we’ve been working together to build up a collection of digital content that will help to comprise the Arran Arts Heritage Trail. Dedicated members of the group have written articles on subjects from Art on The West Coast of Arran to the History of Photography on Arran to the Corrie Summer School, paintings have been shared from private collections not and plenty (and plenty) of artists biographies have been drafted.
We did manage to meet as a group a couple of times at the Heritage Museum, during those heady days of Summer 2020 when it was possible to do so. This lead to lively discussions about the history of art on Arran, first hand accounts of some of the artists featured, how to include craftspeople as a part of the long list of those engaged in the Fine Arts, and admiration of Colin Cowley’s extensive book about Arran artists. And we even enjoyed a cup of coffee from the Rosaburn cafe.
Clearly the role has somewhat transformed from the original job description, but it has been intriguing nonetheless. As the on-Arran team member it’s been exciting to advise on everything from what materials the placemarkers should be made from (Arran sandstone), what they might look like and where they should go, to advising on the logo, the website design and now working on a colourful brochure to accompany the launch. I’ve also made use of EcoSavvy’s ebike loan to go look for old churches in Pirnmill, to talk about Joan Eardley in Corrie, and now to pinpoint the GPS location of our placemarkers.
It’s all been of great interest to me personally. As a graphic designer, my creativity is inspired by Arran’s natural landscapes, and I wouldn’t be the first in my family. My Uncle Mike made jewellery using Arran gemstones and my Dad produced prints of Arran scenery and wildlife. My grandfather carved Celtic motifs from wood, and they all worked at the (long closed) Arran Gallery at St Columba’s in Whiting Bay. It’s a great privilege that the late Gills will feature on the Trail alongside a litany of famous names.
In 2021 we stride towards the launch of the Trail and though we still don’t know exactly what that launch will look like or when it will be*, we’re excited about the chance to celebrate the inspirational place that is Arran and share the works of those who have been influenced by this special place. While I was possibly surprised at the sheer volume of noted artists who have been inspired by Arran, perhaps I should not have been. This wee isle of ours has it all – dramatic and gorgeous coastlines to sheer, impacting mountain vistas, historic villages and impossibly colourful skies as a backdrop. As my Dad would always encourage me to do, perhaps it’s time to look out my sketch book.
*At time of going to press the date of the launch has been set for 29th April. More details to follow in the next issue…