Marchmont House launches Skyboat sculpture and £1 million new creative spaces

Two new sculptures and a £1 million suite of workshops and studios intended to support traditional arts and crafts in Scotland have been unveiled at Marchmont House.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 8:03 am
Pictured with Skyboat is Hugo Burge, Marchmont’s director (foreground) and sculptor Charlie Poulsen (on boat). Photo: Colin Hattersley

The team which has restored the magnificent 1750 Palladian mansion in the Borders is determined that it will become a leading centre for artists and makers.

A major milestone has now been reached with the completion of the first stage of the Creative Spaces project which has seen the old stable block and garage, designed by Robert Lorimer, transformed into studios and workshops. Tenants are now moving in – all marked out by the exceptional quality of their work.

They are:

· Mural painter, affreschista (fresco painter) and art historian Julia Alexandra Mee

· Stone carvers and artists Michelle de Bruin and Jo Crossland

· Arts & Crafts chair makers Sam Cooper and Richard Platt

Marchmont has also taken on its first artist in residence, Valentine Warner, who will create a 3D collage inspired by the house and the estate – including features such as the Arts & Crafts-style owl towers which are part of the estate’s wildlife conservation measures.

Valentine, best known as a TV cook and food writer, also has a second role as Marchmont’s chef partner. This will see him creating menus and running some catering for events.

Two specially-commissioned sculptures called Skyboat and Dancing Tree, by Charlie Poulsen, were seen for the first time. The pieces add to what is fast becoming one of the finest collections of outdoor UK sculpture and includes works by Antony Gormley, Steve Dilworth, Frippy Jameson and Kenneth Armitage.

The heart of the Skyboat sculpture is Girl Hannah, an 11m wooden former fishing boat which is now suspended on a wooden frame more than 4m in the air. Planted beneath are five oak trees that will gradually grow to form a living cradle for the vessel.

Charlie said: “I loved the idea of a boat floating in trees. And this is what we have created – a fully seaworthy fishing boat, suspended above the ground, with oaks that will be trained to wrap their branches round its hull.

“Skyboat is the third of three ‘growing’ sculptures at Marchmont with completion dates measured in the time a tree takes to mature. These are risky pieces to take on but Hugo and Marchmont embraced them. This exemplifies Marchmont, a willingness to take risk, think creatively and think long term.

“It is an artist’s approach to the creation of place and culture of place - artists, crafts people, art and the landscape, combining to form a unique living environment.”

Eight Creative Spaces studios and workshops are now complete thanks to £1 million funding coming entirely from Marchmont Farms Ltd – with more planned in the future.

Hugo Burge, Marchmont’s director, said: “This is a hugely important moment for us. Marchmont is excited to be investing in Scotland’s future as a centre for the arts and crafts.

“We are deeply committed to supporting craft makers and the visual arts by commissioning work, funding residencies and also by establishing the kind of affordable and good-quality studios and workspaces they need for their work.

“At a time when artists and makers face crisis after crisis, and when there are so many demands of public resources, we believe it’s more important than ever to find new ways to support and nurture creativity.

“The Borders, Scotland and the whole of the UK have an enormous wealth of creative talent and an astounding heritage of art and craft making.

“This is something I am convinced that we must treasure and build on if we are to have a thriving society, culture and economy that offers fulfilling careers and opportunities for talented people.”

Julia Alexandra Mee, previously based in Edinburgh, received the commission to create and paint the series of murals in the Cupola Hall at Marchmont House in 2017.

She said: “Living at Marchmont House over the past two years whilst undertaking the creation and painting of the Marchmont Mural Cycle has been incredibly special.

“I have been greatly inspired by the artwork of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Pre-Raphaelite artists within the collection at Marchmont House and also the local flora and fauna on Marchmont Estate which has provided further inspiration, drawing from life, ‘en plein air’, in the picturesque landscape. “I am looking forward to being part of the Marchmont creative community as this studio will provide me with the opportunity to disseminate a greater appreciation and understanding of traditional mural painting techniques offering both professional artists and students the opportunity to experience these first hand.

“The new studios and workshops will provide high quality affordable spaces for artists and craft makers which is essential in the current climate and extremely valuable to the sector. I am looking forward to future collaborations with the makers and creators within this creative community, with one project already being planned and to be announced next year.”

Marchmont is a Grade ‘A’ Listed Building with one of Scotland’s finest Georgian and Arts & Crafts interiors.

Valentine said: “The artwork and the cooking will be inspired by the house, the estate and the region. I love creating food that reflects the culinary traditions of an are and what is available in the countryside and the markets, rather than imposing things from the outside. So I’ll probably never serve up a mango at Marchmont.”

Located near Greenlaw, Marchmont was awarded the 2018 Historic Houses/Sotheby’s Award for the seven-year restoration, which was described as “stunning”.

The Creative Spaces are now home to The Marchmont Workshop, which has saved the 19th-century tradition of Arts & Crafts rush seated ladder back chairs. Visit for details .

Please note that due to Covid restrictions a small public launch for the Creative Spaces and sculptures planned for September 19 has been postponed.