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George Mackay Brown public art finds home at ‘George’s end of Stromness’

Date: 25 March 2022

Time: 11:00

Clip showing artist impression of artwork in place at the GMB Memorial Garden, Stromness - and before an after of painted oars.

A public artwork celebrating much-loved Orkney writer George Mackay Brown will be installed in his native hometown Stromness, in a community garden dedicated to his remembrance.

The sculpture was commissioned by Orkney Islands Council in as part of overall GMB100 activities marking 100 years since the writer’s birth, to support ongoing awareness and interest in GMB’s work, as one of Scotland’s most prolific and innovative writers.

It will now be installed in the George Mackay Brown Memorial Garden, a project developed by Stromness Community Council and run and looked after by volunteers from the local community, following formal support from the community council for the artwork to be located there, close by to where GMB spent his childhood and a lot of his time writing.

Artist-write duo, local writer Gabrielle Barnby and visual artist from central Scotland Orla Stevens, were appointed to create the GMB100 public artwork late last year by a panel including representatives from VisitScotland, Voluntary Action Orkney and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

The artwork will take the form of a bench, drawing on old maritime materials – oars, tillers and boat hooks - kindly donated to the project by the Orkney Historic Boat Society (OHBS). Over the past several months, these materials have been embellished by Orla with words of young people from KGS who’ve worked with Gaby exploring three of GMB’s poems - The Friend, Waters and To the Tibetan Refugees - all poems from his final posthumous collection ‘Travellers’ - exploring themes of friendship, the sea, and travelling.

Gaby says: “I’m delighted to have the support of the Stromness Community Council for this intimate and reflective location. It’s so important that we have community enthusiasm for this space for people to reflect on George Mackay Brown’s work and his legacy and relevance to our lives today. We hope that the piece will inspire many things, that it will draw people to George Mackay Brown’s work and to Stromness, the place he called home. We also hope that it will begin conversations around the support and welcome that everyone needs as they travel through their own personal journeys in life.”

The project was coordinated and funded by Orkney Islands Council’s Arts Development service through the Culture Fund.

The sculpture will be taken into Orkney Islands Council’s public art collection with OIC responsible for its upkeep – it’s been designed to withstand the Orkney elements for the next ten years.

Emma Gee is OIC’s Arts Development Officer and says the project has been strengthened by the support and help from across the community: “We cannot thank the Stromness community enough for their input and support. From the donation of maritime objects by the Orkney Historic Boat Society and the technical advice on how to guard them from the elements, to the support from community councillors to help guide the artwork to a welcoming home, and finally the Orkney Arts Society who are kindly incorporating the sculpture in their GMB100 Trail leaflet at the last hour to help draw even more people into the magic that is George Mackay Brown’s legacy.”

Chair of Stromness Community Council, Phyllis McLaughlin, said: “We’re proud to be providing this lovely community space as a home for this artwork in what is George’s end of town and right alongside the sea which runs as a theme through so much of his work.”

Chair of Orkney Historic Boat Society, Michael McLaughlin, said: “We were pleased to be able to assist this project with the donation of boat related objects. While these items were not part of our boat collection, being of no known provenance, history or particular significance, they do nonetheless help contribute an appropriate heritage feel and aspect to the planned project.”

Find out more about the inspiration behind the artwork in our previous press release 

More about Gabrielle and Orla:

Gabrielle Barnby lives in Orkney and writes short stories, poetry and full length fiction. Her work has been included in numerous anthologies and magazines and she is twice winner of the George Mackay Brown Fellowship writing competition. Gabrielle has run creative writing workshops for many years, encouraging new writers and supporting creative discovery. She is Programme Leader for Wirdsmit, Orkney’s writing group for young people, and has a particular interest in writing for well-being.

Orla Stevens is a painter based in central Scotland. Orla’s work explores human connections and experiences of wild land/seascapes. Her work is informed by plein-air trips, where she documents her experience of the landscape, and often uses historical and folklore narratives to inform her paintings.

  • Summary:

    A public artwork celebrating much-loved Orkney writer George Mackay Brown will be installed in his native hometown Stromness, in a community garden dedicated to his remembrance.

  • Category:
    • Arts, Museums and Heritage
    • Community
    • Leisure and Culture
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