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George Mackay Brown artwork installed on commemorative trail

Date: 25 April 2022

Georges End of Toon

An artwork inspired by George Mackay Brown has been installed on a trail celebrating the life and work of one of Scotland’s most prominent writers, in what has been dubbed ‘George’s end of toon’.

The artwork, commissioned by Orkney Islands Council as part of overall GMB100 activities marking the centenary of the writer’s birth, was erected in the George Mackay Brown Community Garden in Stromness, with the blessing of the Stromness Community Council.

The garden itself forms part of the newly launched GMB trail, a project by Orkney Arts Society aimed at providing an insight into the people and places that shaped and inspired George’s work.

Taking the form of a bench, the installation is designed to offer a place where people can sit and reflect on GMB – in a scenic spot he was known to enjoy himself. The creative duo appointed to develop and deliver the artwork, local writer Gabrielle Barnby and visual artist from central Scotland Orla Stevens, drew on old maritime materials – oars, tillers and boat hooks - kindly donated by the Orkney Historic Boat Society (OHBS). These have been embellished by Orla with words of young people from Kirkwall Grammar School who worked with Gaby exploring themes of friendship, the sea, and travelling which run throughout GMBs work. The artwork also includes original text from several poems within GMB’s final posthumous collection ’Travellers’.

Gaby said GMBs writing resonates in today’s world: “George wrote in many forms, including fable, myth and folklore and this is perhaps what he is best known for – but he also wrote about issues contemporary to him, such as uranium mining and the Tibetan refugee crisis. He was deeply concerned with what it really means to be a citizen of this world and the importance of our links with each other and with our planet.

“It feels like this piece brings together so much that is important right now, offering welcome and friendship to those who become for one reason or another travellers. I hope it will inspire both compassion and a sense of joy.”

OICs Arts Officer, Emma Gee, said: “There has been so many people gently guiding this project home – offering materials, advice and time to deliver an artwork which fits so well with the work of GMB and the place where he spent so much of his childhood and also as a writer.

“And we’re absolutely delighted the artwork has also been incorporated into the GMB trail.

“It has been a real process of conversation and co-creation between all the amazing partners: KGS pupils, Orkney Historic Boat Society, Stromness Museum, Stromness Community Council, Stromness Development Trust, Orkney Arts Society, the project panel and artistic team and many more along the way.

“This aspect of a project frequently goes unspoken, but it deserves celebrating every bit as much as the final physical artwork that we hope everyone will enjoy.”

A formal opening for the artwork is planned for later in the summer.

The artwork was funded through Orkney Islands Council’s Culture Fund, and supported by a project panel including representatives from VisitScotland, Voluntary Action Orkney and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Find out more about the GMB100 artwork in our previous press release.

Find out more about the Orkney Arts Society’s GMB Trail on the website at which includes a link to the downloadable map.

Pictured here is the artwork finally in place - with Gaby herself and with Piers Cain, Secretary of Orkney Arts Society. 

  • Summary:

    An artwork inspired by George Mackay Brown has been installed on a trail celebrating the life and work of one of Scotland’s most prominent writers, in what has been dubbed ‘George’s end of toon’.

  • Category:
    Arts, Museums and Heritage
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