Deborah Beeson, comes from Rhynie near Huntly and was invited to be our ‘Artist for all Seasons’ for a period of two years starting from September 2005.
In an increasingly homogenised world, what is the role and impact of seasons on our lifestyles? Huntly, steeped in history, with year-round celebrations, is no less a victim of this trend. Are seasonal celebrations an outdated frill to our society or do they play a role in keeping us rooted and interested in our communal activity? Where is the value of local produce when one can easily get year-round supplies from across the world?
This unique residency allowed Deborah to have a meaningful and prolonged engagement with the community, its traditions and the seasonal pattern of living evident in such a rural locale. In direct contrast is the monthly or even more frequent, pop-up exhibitions which are associated with urban-centred contemporary art. Although the model of urban art exhibition may be effective in its own context, Deborah illustrates a new method of art production, drawing from rural values and sidestepping the short-termism which is endemic in densely populated cities. This allowed Deborah to look at how Huntly operates on a day-to-day and a seasonal basis, studying social and economic staples of the town's fabric.
At the heart of Deborah’s artistic practice lies her acknowledgement of herself as a wife and mother which constantly informs her work. She embraces certain 'homely' aspects of creativity such as cooking, growing, sewing and even brewing. These processes are used both in the home, and in Debbie's own practice and aim at community sustainability and nurture - values also at the heart of rural, agrarian culture.
Deborah responded to seasonal celebrations, known locally and the world over, working with local groups. Throughout the residency her interest in the seasons and the idea of seasonal cultural life grew to accommodate a wealth of celebrations and cultural activities in Huntly.
Her seasonal programme of work culminated in a year-long celebration of the Aberdeenshire potato with her project pot(AT)o HOM(E)age.
In the lead up to this event Deborah's Artist for All Seasons portfolio included the following projects:
Hyperborea: In Summer 2006 Debbie was working towards her first solo exhibition, ‘Hyperborea’ at the Foyer Restaurant and Gallery in Aberdeen. The ancient Greeks Hyperborea was a land in the north, filled with lofty mountains whose caverns sent the north wind, where its inhabitants dwelt in everlasting bliss. They lived exempt from disease or old age, from toils and warfare. Based around the romantic illusions of home (Aberdeenshire) the exhibition displayed pieces which took Deborah's graduation piece 'A Moment Past' to a more 'polished' level. Clock-powered delicate images of hedgerow flowers, birds' wings, seeds and insects dominated the show as well as a dramatic wall piece reminiscent of a garden fence with images of the aftermath of 9/11. Also included were collages inspired from work with a 3rd year class at Gordon Schools in Huntly, exploring ideas of modern expectation combined with Pre-Raphaelite romantic imagery.
Lot's Wife: For the Halloween arts festival in Huntly Deborah created a small installation named ‘Lot’s Wife’ which could be viewed from the window of a hotel facing the square. The installation comprised two ballet dresses; one preserved and encrusted with sugar, the other with salt, which were hung from a swing swaying by ghostly means, creating shadows in the dark, empty room. The story of Lot's wife hails from the Book of Genesis. In this work Deborah specifically refers to the moment Lot's wife betrayed the command of an angel who was sent to destroy the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. As she left, turning to view the destruction, she was turned into a pillar of salt. As an accompanying performance, Deborah also dressed as a doll and gave away wishes to the gathered crowds.
Import(ance) of Trad(e)itions: During winter 2005, Deborah designed and produced a mug for Huntly, used primarily to serve mulled wine during the Huntly Christmas Fair. Based on a Willow Pattern, the drawing on the mug depicted traditional scenes associated with the North East of Scotland. Import and trade are significant features in this rural economy - both for local sustainability and in maintaining links with the rest of the world. It could also be suggested, however, that the marriage of these notions with ideals of tradition, results in a skewed representation of Scottish culture. These ideas, which are derived from outside of Scotland, subsequently cultivate romantic concepts. The mug is a representation of true traditions, but also a souvenir object that reduces local culture to a digestible form, fit for trade. Since the 18th century, and the writings of Sir Walter Scott, Scotland has been prone to such reductive, even fictional, renderings for the purposes of advertising and tourism.
Rhynie SWRI: Deborah approached members of the Rhynie branch of the SWRI (Scottish Women's Rural Institute) and asked if they would collaborate with her on this art project. The SWRI have a long tradition of encouraging domestic creativity. Inspired by the ladies' skills and a passage in the George MacDonald book 'Phantastes' describing flower fairies, a dozen SWRI members were asked to create headdresses for themselves. The headdresses reflected the ladies' diverse interests such as the love of shoes, gardening, writing, travel and painting. Photographs were taken in which the ladies were asked to express 20 different facial expressions. They were also asked to 'dress up' and to pose in a variety of ways to complement their headdress and costume. The resulting photographs were then manipulated by Deborah and a set of greeting cards and 'Old Maid' playing cards became the outcome of the project. The headdresses were put on display at the SWRI May fair at Inverurie Town Hall and there is also a small display of them, along with the cards, at 'Funcy Pieces', a small tea room in Rhynie. Inspired by the SWRI ladies and the onset of Easter, Deborah looked at the lost tradition of hat wearing. Once an essential item of clothing, the hat now exists as a shadow of its former glory. To illustrate this, Deborah created some intricate paper hats and then hung them on the disused coat hooks which line the corridor of the Brander Museum.
Kiss Kiss: For Valentine’s Day, Deborah created an installation outside the gents' toilets in Huntly. The piece worked to highlight a neglected but all too necessary part of tourist towns. She created two statuettes, made from willow and birch twigs, which had clockwork lips and eyelashes, surprising the viewer with their unusual movements as they walked past perhaps causing a little chuckle on a dreich day.
Mardi Gras: Mardi Gras was a project involving a 3rd year class at the Gordon Schools in which the children were asked to create their own costumes for the festival. Imagination and improvisation were key to the success of the project. Once the costumes had been completed Debbie photographed the children exhibiting their new creations, while posing in stances typical of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. These images were then introduced into Debbie's collages which were exhibited later in the year. The Home Economics department were also involved, as the project culminated in a costumed pancake race on Shrove Tuesday.
Halloween 2006: For this Halloween festival Deborah set up an art lunch club at the Gordon Schools and with the help of the children and staff created giant 'puppets' which were then worn by some of the towns people at the festival. Deborah also formatted and created the imagery that appeared on the poster and programme taking Hansel and Gretel as a suitable theme. Having dressed as a doll the previous year she created a more exaggerated costume based on the same idea and handed out sweeties.
Santa in the Woods/Christmas 2006: In 2006 Deborah ran a workshop with some children from The Gordon Schools creating crafts from found objects and then making Christmas cards based on the likes and dislikes of the season. These items were for sale on the Deveron Projects stall. Most of us seem to have a love/hate relationship with Christmas and Deborah honed in on this by using the brussels sprout as a very suitable symbol! She decorated the Christmas tree at the Brander Library with garlands of brussels sprouts and chocolate coins, as well as creating a tower of sprouts inspired by a well known chocolate truffle advert as a table decoration. For Santa in the Woods Deborah collaborated with the Forestry Commission to help create the atmosphere for a Santa’s Grotto in the nearby Bin Forest.
George MacDonald: Having looked at the work of George MacDonald previously, Deborah was very interested when Nuno Sacramento came to town as Shadow Curator and oversaw the George MacDonald festival. It was suggested that masks should be made to represent the people who had left Huntly and for those unable to attend the school photograph that Nuno organised. With the old black and white images of George MacDonald in mind and with the help of staff and pupils of Gordon Schools, 20 masks of George Macdonald were created. As part of the festival Bob Pegg was asked to produce a booklet of stories inspired and based around Huntly. Deborah provided illustrations for the booklet drawn in pen and ink, inspired by local landmarks and the stories themselves.