Hereby hangs a tale of one man, his dog and Homecoming celebrations

10th July 2009 at 01:00
Art teacher Iain Mitchell and faithful hound Diesel braved gales to collect works in commemoration

Visiting art teacher Iain Mitchell and his dog Diesel called in at every school in Aberdeenshire, collecting art work for a children's exhibition to mark the Year of Homecoming.

The inseparable duo braved winter gales and blizzards to travel more than 3,000 miles, delivering 8ft-tall boards to schools across the region to display their work - then retraced their route to up-lift them.

Their dedication paid off. Everyone who sees it has greeted the children's work with delight and the exhibition will be on show at the Scottish Parliament in September. Diesel has even been recognised for his contribution - a tiny black dog is painted on the bottom right hand corner of the boards from 34 schools where Iain worked directly alongside the pupils.

Secondary, primary and special schools throughout Aberdeenshire each filled an 8 x 4-ft board with their own unique display reflecting their local environment. The result is a hugely varied showcase, which includes fishing boats and harbours, castles and tractors, post offices and power stations and a great assembly of wildlife.

"I never cease to be delighted and amazed by the beauty and diversity of the Aberdeenshire landscape," says Iain, principal visiting teacher of art. "It was during one of our walks that it occurred to me it would be wonderful to record and reflect this diversity through the eyes of our pupils' artwork."

He put this to Aberdeenshire's director of education, learning and leisure, Bruce Robertson, who backed the idea and is thrilled with the results. "The finished display is stunning," he says. "It is nothing short of inspirational and the quality of our young people's work is outstanding."

The objective, he says, has been to provide something to which every school could contribute, which would reflect their local environment and provide a lasting legacy of the Year of Homecoming.

"That's 2,500 square miles and about 180 schools from mountain to sea - so there's a huge variety in terms of our landscape. Every primary school has been doing project work during the year, which relates to the Homecoming as part of our initiative on A Curriculum for Excellence."

A book featuring highlights from the artwork will be produced for the opening of the exhibition in Parliament and there are plans to have spin- off enterprise projects, with children fund-raising through sales of mugs, mouse mats and calendars featuring their work. Parents and children were invited to an open day to see the artistry and there have been opportunities for art teachers who supported the pupils throughout the project to view the results.

Walking through the exhibition with Iain, what is most impressive about the children's work is how happy and colourful it is - you would think the children were l iving in a Mediterranean climate. Even when winter features in the snowy moonlit playground at Longhaven Primary, it's a riot of little Lowry-like characters in bright winter scarves and boots, which is crying out to be a Christmas card.

Some schools have used poetry or Doric phrases to illustrate their work - like Meiklemills Primary, which has a painting of a tattie-bogle (scarecrow) and hummel doddies (fingerless mittens).

As we walk round, Iain tells me that Diesel goes everywhere with him. "One minute I am up hills, such as Bennachie, and then I am in the rockpools of Stonehaven.

"There is a misconception that people are born artists with a French accent, a beret and a wee moustache, but it can be taught," he smiles.

"One of my star pupils is at Carronhill School and Nicky doesn't have properly developed arms, but he has got an absolutely wonderful pair of eyes. It's looking - if a kid can hold a pencil and write their name, they can draw as well as anybody, and if they don't - it's the eyes that need to be trained, not the hands. It's just a question of getting them to look."

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