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New public artwork takes its place in Stromness’s George Mackay Brown community garden

A new piece of public art takes its place in Stromness.
A new piece of public art takes its place in Stromness.

A new piece of public artwork, commissioned as part of events celebrating George Mackay Brown (GMB), has been put in place at a memorial garden in the renowned writer’s hometown of Stromness in Orkney.

The artwork, a specially-designed bench, was installed on Thursday.

It features oars, tillers, and boat hooks painted in vibrant marine paint featuring sections of the writer’s poetry and poetry from pupils at Kirkwall Grammar School.

The sculpture was produced by writer Gabrielle Barnby and visual artist Orla Stevens. It came as part of the GMB 100 events marking what would have been the writer’s 100 birthday.

The bench has found its place in the town’s GMB memorial community garden at the south end of the town. The garden was developed by the area’s community council.

Orkney Islands Council’s arts officer Emma Gee spoke about the process behind the artwork and how people are seeing the result of many conversations and a good community effort.

Finished artwork is the result of conversations and collaboration

She said: “We wanted to put the work somewhere people would go to or be drawn to. The location had to have significance.

“There’s been a whole process of conversations and each conversation has made what we’ve arrived at happen.

“In their first pitch, the artists actually had the idea of a reconstructed boat. Gabrielle started from the basis of the GMB anthology Travellers. It deals with difficult themes of migration and questions about where you belong.

The oars, tillers and boat hooks featuring sections of poetry from George Mackay Brown and Orkney pupils.

“Orla went and had a conversation with the Orkney Historic Boat Society about the boat idea. They then donated oars that weren’t in their formal collection but were artefacts they had.

“Then we had this idea of it being a sitting place, which is very ‘George Mackay Brown’. Stromness became the obvious place.”

Emma said they spoke with the Stromness Development Trust and asked how a piece of public art could help them with their goals.

The trust said they are trying to pull people’s attention to the south end of the town, which would have been GMB’s own local area.

Emma added: “We identified some possible sites and lots of conversations down the line we were brought us to the ‘crazily obvious’ – the memorial garden.

“It’s in a prominent location at the bottom of the garden and you can overlook the sea. Again, just the perfect place to put it.”

Memorial garden was the perfect place for new artwork

“All these things have come through conversations. It’s a hidden part of what artists do. It’s been a prime example of the art you see being the tip of the iceberg.

“We’ve come up with a beautiful, exuberant, and practical piece of art – at the end of the day, it’s a nice bench. You can sit on it and look into the garden or look out to the sea. It invites you to come and sit.”

The timing of the work’s installation could not be better as tomorrow sees the first guided walk on the Orkney Arts Society’s George Mackay Brown walking trail in Stromness.

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