Given the right conditions, collaborations flourish. This is certainly the case for Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats, a collaboration between artist Frances Priest and botanist Stephen Bungard. Celebrating and mapping the diverse plant life of the remote Isle of Raasay, Frances absorbed herself in and was inspired by Stephen’s botanical world to realise handmade, decorative ceramic artworks permanently installed in Raasay House. In addition, together, they produced a map of seven individual island walks exploring the island’s plant habitats.
Initiated by a self-directed study to develop a significant new body of work as a Creative Scotland bursary recipient, Frances was signposted to Stephen by ATLAS Arts, commissioners of the artworks. Frances was inspired by bumbling through low land walks with Stephen to observe the wealth of botanical species on the island off the east coast of the Isle of Skye where he is based. These outdoor primary research trips were supported by research locally in Portree Community Library and Archives and in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh collections.
Aware at the outset, her drawings were to feature on the ceramic and printed commissioned works, Frances partly abstracted her representations of the selected flora, enough to permit an amateur such as myself to identify familiar species such as bog myrtle and sphagnum mosses. The 70 plus works in Raasay House are extremely tactile due to Frances incising and inlaying marks, pattern and colour from her original drawings. This is pleasing given their function as door plates, door handles and tiles in the building which offers visitors somewhere to stay, outdoor pursuits, refreshment and a hub for local history.
The sited ceramic artworks are immediately recogniseable as Frances’: the tone of colour palette, composition of decoration, delicacy of mark and high quality finish. What is unfamiliar as Frances’ are the functional interior product forms of the artworks. They punctuate the interior of the House, standing out due to their unique design and their not being in keeping with the recently restored House. I point this out not as a criticism, rather acknowledgement of the sensitivity and considered approach embedded in this project – as Frances explains, ‘Due to a devastating fire at Raasay House in 2009 there is hardly a trace of its decorative arts history to reference. I’m reintroducing that. Attempting to understand the language that has gone before and what it could be.’
The community owned Raasay House, to whom the commissioned works have been generously gifted, are the third partner in this collaboration. They have embraced and supported the collaborative process, welcomed and contributed to the project’s evolution. The thought and consideration given by all involved in Patterns of Flora realises much more than the artworks and self-guided walks. The community distributed, maps will welcome visitors to the island and engage them in its diverse habitats. The artworks subtly sited in public areas of the House support guests’ navigation, enticing them to the Library where works are juxtaposed with botanical books offering keen explorers’ deeper engagement still. And, simply, yet effectively, limited edition Parian vases and colouring books provide visitors with a contemporary souvenir conducive to their island experience, and importantly a revenue stream for ATLAS Arts and the island community.
Patterns of Flora is an exemplar collaborative project encompassing the arts, science, community and tourism. The genuine investment and commitment of all parties is evident with the funding of the opportunity by ATLAS Arts, who invite artists to connect and respond to place, being critical to its successful realisation. Take a trip to Raasay!
Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats is an ATLAS Arts commission by artist Frances Priest in collaboration with botanist Stephen Bungard. The project is part of Spincycle Skye funded by Creative Scotland and HIE’s Collaborative Creative Communities Programme. Frances Priest is a Creative Scotland bursary award recipient.
Review by Helen Voce
Raasay House, Isle of Raasay, By Kyle (and Skye), IV40 8PB