A labour of love
The Scottish Arts and Crafts Movement is inspiring pupils in Edinburgh, writes Su Clark.
"Go and see the spinning chair," urged Claire McCreath and her friend Joanna Sproule, as they sat in the art room at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, working on elaborate paintings. Inspired by the exhibition around her, she pointed at her sketches of the high-backed chair: "It's amazing."
Sitting next to them, her schoolmate Tom Colquhoun worked on an abstraction of designs he had copied from the exhibition. In another room, Paul Wright was creating a felt sculpture of a boar's head, while Kathleen Renwick was decorating a piece of fabric, which she intended to turn into a scarf. Five more pupils from Broughton High in Edinburgh were making textiles, jewellery and lettering.
"I did this study of a rabbit and I'm going to draw lots of them over the fabric," said Kathleen, as she sewed a tiny dismembered arm on the cloth.
Hand, Heart and Soul was the first major exhibition to explore the Scottish Arts and Crafts Movement, bringing together a rich and diverse collection of work. It showed how the people involved, nearly all dedicated to the rights of the individual, sought to bring together art and functionality. It has just finished in Edinburgh, and schools in Aberdeen can look forward to the exhibition next June, when it visits the city's Art Gallery.
Pieces by the most famous within the movement, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Phoebe Anna Traquair, were on show alongside work by less well known members. "It's really inspiring and there is such a variety," said Saira Bathgate who, with her Broughton High friends, was taking part in the first of five workshops for secondary school pupils.
"I had touched on some of this work before, because I studied Art Nouveau last year," added Tom. "It is interesting to see how they influenced other areas." But while the designs inspired the pupils, it was the art room at the City Art Centre which really impressed. "It has got such an amazing art space," he said. "There is loads of equipment."
In recent years, the gallery has been trying, with success, to attract more schools to its exhibitions. There is a large educational facility and its workshop activities range from weaving and stencilling to stained glass and bookmaking.
"We see education as an important part of the gallery's remit," said Margaret Findlay, learning and access development officer. "And we are keen to explore educational opportunities within our exhibitions."
The target group for the Arts and Crafts workshops was secondary schools, offering opportunities to learn about painting, glass and mixed media, and jewellery making; take an illustration masterclass and make greeting cards. To lead the session, the centre had brought in local artist and lecturer Lynda Frame, who encouraged pupils to find things within the exhibition themselves, rather than telling them what to do. "I began the workshop by getting them to look around at the work on display. To see it for themselves," she said.
The exhibition covered every aspect of the Arts and Crafts Movement, from the late 1800s to the Second World War. The displays included furniture by Mackintosh, embroidery by Ann Macbeth and Traquair, stained glass by Bessie Bell and Mary Gray, inlaid panels by James Watterson Herald, tapestries woven at the Dovecot Studio, repousse brass book covers by Frances MacDonald, and enamelling by James Cromar Watt.
There was also considerable architectural work on show, which pleased Claire, who wants to study architecture and, of course, that spinning chair made by Mary Strachan Begg. Beautiful hand-carved and painted, it is a fine example of the movement useful and handsome.