Natural Magic on the Orkney Islands: Part Three – Creative Reflections

My holiday diary so far has celebrated the natural magic of the Orcadian landscape. Let me change tack awhile in this post to focus on the magic of creativity.

Stromness is Orkney’s second largest town.  It is a picturesque urban area with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and a natural harbour from which you can sail to mainland Scotland:


Walking along the main street, we came across the Pier Arts Centre, and decided to take a look. From the outside, it was not at all clear what we might find:


Incredibly, it turned out to be what artist Patrick Heron describes as “one of the most distinguished and perfect smaller collections of 20th century art on permanent display anywhere in the world”. Packed full of stunning artwork by modern British artists, this gallery is absolutely stunning.  The collection was initially established by a major donation by Margaret Gardiner who was a hugely important champion of British modern art, mainly through the middle of the 20th Century.

I took tons of photos and found it so difficult to pick a few for this post – everything seemed to be a favourite. So here are some of my favourite favourites, as it were (click to enlarge, and for captions):





Experiencing this gallery is not just about looking at the collection: the building and surroundings are just as captivating:


I loved all the textures, light and reflections, which drew together perfectly the interior and exterior.  In this picture by Alan Reynolds, you can see reflected the mask by Martin Boyce, and the harbour beyond. It seems particularly apt that the Boyce sculpture is called ‘Everything Is Outside’:

Alan Reynolds: Modular Study (1) (1981)
Martin Boyce: Everything is Outside (2009)

(PS a close look at the centre of this harbour photo reveals the seal which was happily bobbing about)

Back on the inside/outside theme, I also loved this brilliant Cursiter painting, which reflects the room in which it is hanging, as well as the street outside, in turn mirroring Cursiter’s painting Bernstane House, which hangs at right angles to the window:

Stanley Cursiter: Red Laquer (1922)
In the window: Ian Scott: George Mackay Brown (1991)

Stanley Cursiter: Berstane House (c1935)


And finally, look at the exquisite placing of this Hepworth sculpture against the undulating shapes and colours of the water and kelp outside:

Barbara Hepworth: Large and Small Form (1934)


This gallery gives the viewer a totally immersive and highly memorable art experience, all for free which is amazing. Margaret Gardiner was visionary in her generosity – what an incredible woman she clearly was.  And everyone involved in presenting the collection, and running the gallery in general, are to be congratulated on a stunning achievement.

I have not even scratched the surface of the gallery’s riches in this post, even though it is very photo-heavy.  Plenty more can be seen on the gallery’s website which I highly recommend for more information about its 40-year journey and the collection.  And of course, this is a must-visit destination for anyone on the Orkney Mainland.

Finally, although I hesitate to do so in such august artistic company, I should note that the featured image at the top of this post is a digital painting by me, inspired by the colours of the following painting by Callum Innes.  Margaret Gardiner’s donation is described by the gallery as ‘an unfolding gift’. I feel privileged to have spent time in, and benefitted from, this amazing place of magical creativity.

Callum Innes: Exposed Deep Violet, Charcoal Black (2004)


30 thoughts on “Natural Magic on the Orkney Islands: Part Three – Creative Reflections

    1. I was planning to pop back to your recent Hepworth post with a link to this, but you beat me to it! You would have loved this gallery – maybe travel up for a visit some time…? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Those were the streets we walked, Liz! How wonderful to walk the nooks and crannies again through the lens of your camera and your written words. There is so much history and art captured in Stromness. I was particularly interested in your reference to Margaret Gardiner. Without the support of these “champions” many artworks would not find their way into art galleries. Margaret Gardiner joins the ranks of Gertrude Stein and Peggy Guggenheim.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It truly is a wonderful place, as is the whole of Orkney, as I know you know. And you are so right to place Gardiner in that company – she deserves to be better known.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gorgeous pictures, Liz. What a wonderful time you’ve been having on the islands! From what I know of the area, the artistic community is very strong up there, forming an integral part of the locals’ lives. The same is true of Skye, I suspect – another place I would love to visit one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jacqui – and yes, there is so much creativity and innovation across the islands. The landscape, history and cultural heritage generate deep and vibrant inspiration.


  3. Dear Liz. This is an inspired post. I love the way you have observed the streets of Stromness and linked your photos with the stunning artworks in the gallery. Margaret Gardiner’s collection is a wonderful foundation for the gallery’s works. I don’t think, however, many others would have seen the subtleties of the curation – seeing relevant artworks in the framed paintings reflections or the positioning of the artworks. Your observation of the Hepworth positioned in the window with those curvy coloured shapes outside is brilliant. Please send a link to your blog to the gallery because your writing is superb and a real tribute to them and the stellar art on display.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for this Mum – as you know, it took me quite a long time to gather together all my thoughts about this post into something coherent – I’m so pleased it seems to have come out well!


  4. Oh this is just glorious, Liz! What a stunning post: the gallery itself (what a find) and the composition of the post itself – right down to the seal – I found it! I was particularly excited when I saw the early pictures from Nicholson and Hepburn – well known for their Cornish work of course. But from there it just gets better and better. I have wanted to visit Orkney for so long. This treasure of a gallery will be the icing on the cake!

    Liked by 1 person

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