In a flutter over copper, crab shells and curves

8th January 2010 at 00:00
Kilbowie Outdoor Centre's challenging learning environment inspires work in painting, jewellery and textiles

Among the black cranes, engines and stark steel walkways of Scotland's industrial past, the paintings, jewellery and printed textiles stand out like butterflies in a coalmine.

Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life is hosting an exhibition of North Lanarkshire pupils' work inspired by their residence at Kilbowie Summer School. "Black Mountain to Blue Water is, to my knowledge, the largest of its kind in Scotland," says arts link officer Bob Saunders.

For many of the senior pupils from secondaries around the authority, this is the first public exhibition of their work beyond the school gates, and the experience is a little overwhelming. "It's beautiful," says Kelsey Ferguson, who is in S6 at St Ambrose High.

Designing a stunning exhibition is one aspect of the creative arts that can be overlooked in schools, says Mr Saunders. "Few of our pupils or parents had seen anything like this," he says. "It was an awakening. You could see them suddenly thinking, `We've got an artist living with us.'"

But the work on show had its origins when the artists were living away from home, for one week in summer, at the Kilbowie Outdoor Centre overlooking Oban Bay.

"We've been running the summer school for six years," says quality improvement officer Joe McAvoy. "It's developing all the time, and growing to include all the expressive arts, not just art and design. This year, six of the 45 students were specialising in music.

"The idea is to take advantage of the wonderful location at the centre to strengthen the links between learning in school and learning in more challenging environments."

Challenge creates good art, says Linda Jamieson, principal teacher of art and design at St Margaret's Academy, and Kilbowie tutor. "The pupils are taken well out of their comfort zones. You can see it in their faces when they get off the bus.

"They've never met and you can feel the tension. They start to relax when staff introduce themselves, show them their dorms, and get them out beachcombing in rain, sleet or snow, searching for primary resources - shapes, colours and objects that inspire the artist in them."

At this point, each artist has to specialise for the rest of the week in one of four disciplines - drawing and painting, textiles, jewellery-making or digital imaging.

"Jewellery was my first choice," says Catriona Clark, in S6 at Brannock High, indicating a shoulder-piece of copper bands and linked rings hanging from the shoulder of a mannequin draped in purple-swirled, printed textile.

"The inspiration for this was a crab shell I found on the beach, which was all browns and purples when you turned it over. I tried to capture its shape and colour, and its quality of being armour. I oxidised strips of copper shim with a blowtorch, then made chain mail from enamelled copper wire. The most challenging part was going from an object to a fully-formed idea, then producing the piece, all in one week. At Higher, you've lots of time, so I couldn't see how I could possibly do it. I discovered that if you go with your instincts, you can."

For Kelsey, the feeling of not knowing what was expected of her was unsettling, she says. "I've always done portraiture, not things from nature. I'd no idea where to start. I just sat down and started drawing what I saw and ended up producing a huge amount of work. I discovered a technique called bracelet shading, which gives you nice curves."

She indicates her own space in the gallery, an open cubicle with a profusion of line-drawings, beautifully patterned textiles and draped mannequins. "We drew the designs at Kilbowie, then they took us for two days to Heriot-Watt at Galashiels, where we learned to print them in colour. I had 13 screens.

"I didn't get it at first. But you see everybody in the same boat and you adapt together. People help you and you discover things you never knew you were good at. It's changed my direction at Advanced Higher."

The connection with the University of Heriot-Watt is new this year, says Mr McAvoy, and is part of the ethos of exposing students to professionals in their chosen disciplines. "We want to extend Kilbowie next year to include animation," he says. "Every year, it culminates in this exhibition, then you're starting to think what to do next time."

The aim is to keep challenging students and developing their skills, says Bob Saunders. "So next year we'll get pupils in to curate the exhibition, which will develop a whole new set of skills, such as the commercial side," he says. "How do you make contacts in the art world? How many of these works could you sell?

"We want to see students taking responsibility for every aspect of the project. So a few years ago we'd have got a graphics designer in to do the exhibition brochure. But the images on the cover this year were done by a pupil at Our Lady's High."

Surely not? They look utterly professional.

"Of course they do," insists Mr Saunders.

www.visitlanarkshire.comattractionshistoric-heritageSummerlee-The- Museum-of-Scottish-Industrial-Life

Black Mountain to Blue Water is at Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life in Coatbridge until January 10.

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