The Place Where We Live

As co-founder and director of arts based social enterprise Inverkeithing Arts, I collaborated in 2015 with artist Rosie Gibson for her Luminate project Trading Wisdom, which was based on conversations she held with older local people of her mum's generation (born 1925-35). From the conversations she gleaned a brilliant series of 'nuggets of wisdom'. She then approached various trading places on the High Street in Inverkeithing and asked them to incorporate temporary installations to be experienced by customers. The project was to celebrate "both the gritty lyrical wisdom of my mum's generation and also the shops and businesses on the High Street. I was curious about what happens if you put the two together."

The nugget of wisdom she asked us to think about was a memory from her friend Grace:

"My mother's hoose was like a canteen. We went hame fae the mill for breakfast, lunch, then hame for the tea! And my brothers were on different shifts so they went hame at different times tae!" 

This memory is particularly meaningful to the people of Inverkeithing as 'the mill' she is talking about is Caldwell's Paper Mill. This was a major employer in the area, as well as a focus for much of people's social lives. It was closed many years ago and the factory left to become a ruin. It was eventually demolished but the mill site still sits, open and abandoned, like a wound in the town.

Rosie wanted to involve the younger generation in her Trading Wisdom project. She asked us to get involved and do a project with children from Inverkeithing Primary School. Their artwork would then be made into placemats for the Mill Brae Cafe, which was very fitting for Grace's story!  I set about designing a project for the school's p4 pupils based on Grace's nugget of wisdom.

Firstly, I was inspired by the imagery of Grace walking to and from work, from the Mill to her mother's hoose and back again, day after day. I knew this would be an experience familiar to the school children as they go out and about every day with their parents or friends, to and from school (and there is something about that repetitive journey which interested me) to the shops, the optician's, the chip shop, or the library. 

In preparation for the children's project, I drew two large, basic maps of Inverkeithing, writing Grace's words along the streets where she might have walked. Along the top of the Mill Brae, along the High Street, and turning down onto Town Hall Street, which sweeps up towards the primary school.

At the start of the project the children were shown the maps and Grace's words, and were invited to have a think and a chat about them. We asked them to imagine Grace as a young woman, many years ago, walking on the same streets which they walk along themselves. We asked, would Grace have seen the same things that the children see? They told us what they see when they are walking through the streets of their town: shops, buildings, vehicles, animals and people. Then they got drawing them, using small squares of white card and brightly coloured pens. After they had made several drawings each, they folded over the bottoms of the card - making each into a 3D mini sculpture! Then we all got together round the maps and stuck them in the appropriate places. The two maps were necessary as there were more than 40 children altogether. The two maps essentially told the same story, yet it was fascinating to see them side by side, in order to compare and contrast.

We were delighted and very impressed by the the children's response to this project. They were incredibly interested and engaged with the concept, and sincerely excited to be representing their daily surroundings through art work. They got down to hours of drawing without complaint, and in the process re-created their environment in a beautiful, charming, and most colourful and imaginative way. 

Photographs of the art works were used to create place-mats for The Millbrae Cafe.. The placemats continue to be used at the cafe, even after the Trading Wisdom project is finished, and the two beautiful maps made by the children will remain at the school, to be regularly and proudly put on display for visitors.