Issue 208
May/June 2019

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Jul 18, 2019

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Whiteadder's Open Studio

Nick Jones visits Allanbank Mill

Allanbank Mill Steading garden

EXTRAORDINARY to think back to 1994, and reflect on how the arts have blossomed in what might be considered a rural backwater, where the Whiteadder runs still, threading its way through the Lammermuirs, to merge with the Tweed a few miles downstream. Largely thanks to the pioneering vision and energy of two people.

I'm at Allanbank Mill Steading, between Duns and Berwick-upon-Tweed, home to artists Pauline Burbidge and Charlie Poulsen. Pauline works with textiles, collage and stitch, making wall hangings and quilts. Charlie makes large scale drawings, sculpture and 'growing sculpture'

For the past twenty-six years they have held their Open Studio event over four days of the first weekend of August. Studios become galleries and artwork is displayed throughout the steading. Last year visitors doubled to one thousand five hundred, after the success of their show 'Songs for Winter', at Edinburgh's City Art Centre in 2017/18.

Fern Strata, Pauline Burbidge Phil Stanley Dickson

More than immersive, being and feeling part of a living work of art, so tactile, so rooted, there really is no substitute for being here. For Charlie it's connection to place that inspires, drawing him to “the invisible energies, the internal organic forces of growth, driving the winds, currents and energies within the earth.”

They're both in for the long haul, recognising that it takes years to bed in, to tune in to the rhythm of the seasons and the cycle of the years. Slow Art at its best. No surprise that Charlie draws whilst listening to music, as harmony, melody, rhythm and form is closely related to the geometric grid structure of his drawings.

So too Pauline's work reflects the growth and seasonal changes within the natural world and rural landscape. She looks upon stitching as a form of drawing, as well as drawing directly on to fabric. The depth, at around 8mm thick, produces a three dimensional quality which, combined with the feel of the fine cottons and silks, makes these works very tactile.

She also incorporates cyanotypes, a photographic process that works particularly well with pressed plants, placed directly onto coated paper, creating a silhouette. Her quilts can be large, some two metres square, and take up to eight months to create.

Out in the garden Charlie is growing sculptures, using espalier, pleaching and grafting techniques. At first sight it's a surprise to find him also working with the dull minerality of lead, but of course it provides a foil to the vitality and energy of trees, like a musical counterpoint.

Plumbic malleability certainly produces some surreal surprises – which you must see for yourself!

Farther afield, land art commissions include 'Point of Resolution', on the Southern Upland Way, south of Innerleithen – a series of circles in the heather which will disappear in time. Looking ahead, Charlie and Pauline will be exhibiting in 2022 at the Ruthin Crafts Centre in North Wales.

Each year there's a guest artist.This year it's film animator David Martin, who'll produce a specially commissioned film. Taking place nearby over the same weekend is Allanbank Arts Open Exhibition, and Gill Walton's Open Studio. Then, for the first time, Allanbank Mill Steading is linking with Marchmont House, near Greenlaw, where Charlie is currently working on a major commission, and with Thirlestane Castle near Lauder, to create a new event – Borders Art Map 2019.

Marchmont will host a special event 'Conversations in Wood', showcasing the work of contemporary makers who use wood, presented in collaboration with Visual Arts Scotland, The Scottish Gallery, and Craft Scotland.

Meanwhile, at Thirlestane 'Theoretical Sharpness', features photography by the 14th Earl of Lauderdale & Sam Cornwell, all in a new gallery.


Charlie and Pauline's 26th Open Studio weekend at Allanbank Steading, TD11 3JX. Friday 2nd – Monday 5th August 2019 : 11am to 6pm. and links.

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