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Pitmedden artist in residence on finding herself after motherhood

Jane Keenan is the artist in residence for Pitmedden Gardens & Museum of Farming Life.
Jane Keenan is the artist in residence for Pitmedden Gardens & Museum of Farming Life.

There is something magical about Pitmedden Garden, tucked away in a slither of Aberdeenshire woodland.

From the grand house which overlooks grazing cows, to the stunning walled garden complete with almost six miles of clipped box hedging, it’s no wonder that dozens of people fall in love with the National Trust site every year.

Officially named Pitmedden Garden & Museum of Farming Life, the garden originally dates back to 1675.

The splendour gave way to necessity during the Second World War, when it was ploughed up to grow vegetables, and was even used as a kitchen garden for more than 100 years.

Jane Keenan is an artist in residence for Pitmedden Gardens & Museum of Farming Life.

A dedicated army of gardeners have since brought the unloved ground back to life based on 17th Century plans, with hundreds of visitors walking the network of paths each season.

It’s not difficult to see why you might discover inspiration in this colourful oasis, or find yourself deliberately lost in the orchard of more than 200 fruit trees.

For mum-of-three Jane Keenan, the gardens have enabled her to finally realise her dream of becoming an artist in residence – after motherhood saw her abandon her love of design in order to fight for her son, who has cerebral palsy.

Riley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and the next few years I spent ploughing all my energy into him.

Pitmedden Gardens gives exhibition space to a local artist each season.

Becoming an artist in residence means the chosen creator can find inspiration outside of their normal working environment, and in this instance, produce a whole host of Pitmedden-related designs.

Alongside running her own shop in Maud, Jane can also be found in the gorgeous rustic stables on site.

We caught up with her on a sunny morning in the gardens, and found out why this “hidden gem” has brought such joy into Jane’s world.

A career in London

“I used to draw all the time as a child, and luckily I was encouraged by my family,” said Jane.

I went to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee, and ended up moving to London.

“I was a stylist at Habitat, but actually started at the bottom.”

Jane’s work is inspired by botanicals.

From changing lightbulbs to window cleaning, Jane did anything and everything until she finally got her big break as a visual merchandise manager.

“It gave me the platform for creativity,” said Jane.

“I’d be in the office and Tom Dixon would go strolling by, it was amazing.”

The businessman is well known in the design industry, and clearly inspired Jane to be bold in her creations.

“I then decided that I needed to grow up a bit, spend time with my family,” she said.

Jane returned to art after motherhood.

“I moved back up to Aberdeen, got a mortgage and got married.

“I started a new job as commercial visuals manager for M&S, which was very different.

“It taught me so much about business.”

Traumatic birth

Jane went on to have her first child, Riley, who is now 14.

“There were big complications in my labour, and Riley was resuscitated,” said Jane.

“We were told on his first day of life that he had brain damage, we didn’t really know how it would impact him.

“Riley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and the next few years I spent ploughing all my energy into him.

Jane believes that were it not for Riley, she would not have discovered a new career.

“I could no longer hold down a full-time job, Riley needed so much extra help.”

Jane went on to have Corey, 12, and eight-year-old Hugh.

“There becomes a point in your life as a parent when you need to do something for you,” said Jane.

“I had spent so long solely thinking about my son, but I also knew I didn’t want to spend my life working in a shop.

“So I went back to my first love.

“If I had not had Riley, I would not be sitting here chatting to you.”

A new dream

Jane did a screen-printing refresher course with Peacock Visual Arts, a printing powerhouse in the north-east.

From that moment on, she got the bug, and went on to convert a barn into an art studio and exhibition space.

She was left devastated when the building flooded however, but fate led her to an empty shop unit in Maud.

It’s difficult not to be inspired by Pitmedden Gardens.

“I was originally going to rent it for the weekend for a pop-up shop, but I’m still here two-and-half-years later,” said Jane.

“It’s an art, homeware and lifestyle shop.”

Becoming an artist in residence was the final piece in the puzzle for Jane.

“My artwork is very botanical based, and Pitmedden Gardens is such an inspirational place,” said Jane.

Jane previously worked with the likes of Habitat and M&S, before going on to have three children.

“Even the changing of the seasons, from bare branches to apples on the trees.

“The smallest of things can give me an idea. If you go looking for inspiration, you are never going to find it.

“This place is amazing though, it’s not just a garden.

“It is the detail, I love it.”

Jane will be running workshops over the summer, and passing on her skills to others.

Jane is hoping to hold workshops at Pitmedden Gardens during the summer, and is juggling running the shop with her new artistic role.

“I would have been a ghost of a person if I hadn’t returned to art,” she said.

“My advice to anyone would be to do something for you.”

You can find out more about Pitmedden Gardens via www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/pitmedden-garden or search for Jane on Facebook under Jane Keenan Design.

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