HAVING made an impact close to home both as an exhibitor at venues such as Berwick’s Gymnasium Gallery and as a resident stone carver. at Hutton Stone Ltd, Michelle de Bruin is now taking her love for art further afield, as she gets ready to enjoy her prize for emerging victorious in a recent competition.
Michelle from Sinclairshill near Duns was as shocked as anyone when she found out last month that she was chosen as one of two winners of the prestigious J.D Fergusson award, given by the Trust of the same name who aim to support Scottish artists deemed worth of encouragement.
And having worked solidly since graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 1990, Michelle has definitely proved she is a worthy candidate for such acclaim.
‘Life’ spoke to Michelle as she was busy getting ready for the first trip to be financed by her £3000 prize money. She has trips to New York, Chicago and Washington D.C also in the pipeline for this year but this week it was Italian city Florence that Michelle was packing for, clearly excited to get some more inspiration for her already eclectic body of work.
“The work that I do relates a lot to artefacts in museums and Florence has some terrific ones,” she explained.
“I’m going out there to see the anatomical models they have; to get a better look at how they’re made and see if I can take some of what I learn and put it into my own work. I’ve always been interested in museum displays generally - I’m intrigued by the way that artefacts are arranged and the stories they tell.
“I’ve spent years carving specimens for my imaginary museum exhibition - a natural history collection called ‘The Broom Cupboard’ in which I take the role of curator (and anatomical sculptor) in compiling a collection.”
Although she has been plying her trade professionally for over two decades Michelle’s ‘Sculpt It’ show at the Gymnasium Gallery last year was the first time she’d ever displayed her ‘Broom Cupboard’ creations, which makes her recent award win all the more of an achievement.
“I was really pleased with how the Gymnasium exhibition was received; it went really well,” she continued.
“From there I took some of the models to the Sculpting Symposium in Kirkcudbright and it was shortly after that when I first came across the J.D Fergusson prize on the net.
“I’d had a successful year so I thought why not enter? It was the prize which was the main attraction for me. As a mother of three I would never be able to justify taking £3,000 out of the household budget for me to travel the world for my art so this was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities.
“Putting myself forward for the award, I had to write a bit of background about myself and my work and take a few pictures of the models I was most proud of.
“I got all of that done and sent away before Christmas but I was in utter shock when I found out I’d won.”
Michelle’s colleagues at Hutton Stone are rightly very proud of her and although her work for them differs greatly from her own personal creations, she said the two complemented each other well, allowing her to work on the two different strings to her bow.
“The bulk of the work I do at Hutton Stone is concerned with memorials and signage which of course is completely different to my own art. But I find the two strands go together really well.
“Most artists face the same dilemma; whether to focus purely on their art or have another job running alongside it. For me, it’s good to have a steady income and whilst here in the stone yard I might receive a commission to do a head stone, I will always have a piece of my own art I’m working on at the same time.
“It would be too full if I concentrated solely on my art non-stop on a daily basis.
“Everyone at the stone yard has been incredibly helpful to me and what’s more I’m surrounded by stone; what more could a sculptor want.
“With all of my models being quite big - I’m currently working on a two tonne life-size wolf!- it’s also handy to have lots of men around to give a hand, not to mention the forklifts!”
Four years prior to winning the J.D Fergusson award, Michelle’s body of work was given a boost to the tune of £10,000 from the Arts Council, which gave her the financial backing she needed to devote more time to developing her ideas.
Recalling the excitement she felt at being selected for the funding, MIchelle said: “To get that money in 2008 was absolutely fantastic. If you are making art which has to be some sort of saleable commodity there isn’t too much room to develop your work in an intellectual way.
“The Arts Council grant allowed me to do exactly that so to now get money from the J.D Fergusson Trust as well is amazing.
“I’m really looking forward to Florence and I’ve already planned a trip to the Natural History Museum in New York to see its world famous taxidermy collection.”