In my spare time…

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed will have seen amongst the random detritus quite a few posts about art or craft of varying sorts. I have quite wide ranging and eclectic tastes but one of my abiding interests is the Arts and Crafts movement – both the aesthetics and the politics. If you find yourself in Edinburgh during August this year I might therefore recommend that you visit one of the following free events that happen as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe:

In 1993 I dragged my then boyfriend along to an exhibition of work by an Irish born arts and crafts artist Phoebe Anna Traquair at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. I wasn’t well enough off to afford the exhibition catalogue, but a year later I was working for the city tourist board and in a cupboard were some old exhibition posters, including one for the Phoebe Traquair exhibition and I was able to save it from the bins. That poster graced various walls over the years, including my little flat and a couple of workplaces.

In around 1995 or 1996 I think I went to a cabaret evening at what was Cafe Grafitti – a club held in an old church on Mansfield Place, on the edge of the Edinburgh New Town. It was very badly lit, but I remember seeing glimpses of enormous gilded Phoebe Traquair murals high up on the walls. There was a lot of candlelight for atmosphere and of course indoor smoking, because this was still the 1990s. I saw performers from Cirque du Soleil dance on a ribbon strung from 60 feet up in the chancel, and it took my breath away.

In 2000 I went to visit the Song School at St Mary’s Cathedral as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to see their Phoebe Traquair murals. After the tour we were pointed towards a modest exhibition stand with photos of more incredibly beautiful murals, in heartbreakingly poor condition. A couple of volunteers from the Friends of Mansfield Place Church charity were waiting nearby, ready to explain the precarious position the building and it’s murals had been in. I sympathised, and never told them about that night in Cafe Graffitti when I might have contributed to the cigarette smoke in the air.

Thankfully with assistance from the City Council the building had just been purchased by the Mansfield Traquair Trust, and they were about to embark upon a multi-million pound project to restore the fabric of the building and convert it into an events and office space fit for modern use, followed by another multi-million pound project to conserve and restore the murals. The tenants for the building once complete would be SCVO – the umbrella organisation for the third sector in Scotland. The Friends were seeking volunteers to join and help prepare for the re-opening of the building. I was hooked. I still remember being given a tour by torchlight of the building just before work started. Again there were the tantalising glimpses of the murals up high, though this time they were mostly covered in protective panels to protect them from the imminent building work.

It will be 17 years this August since I joined the Friends, and I have served on their committee for most of that time. Each year I register our entry for the Festival Fringe and help my colleagues prepare to guide yet more visitors around this building that we all love so much. It’s now over 10 years since I was invited to join the Board of Trustees of the Mansfield Traquair Trust, and I am pleased to say I have also now managed to save up enough pennies to buy my own copy of the 1993 exhibition catalogue.

If you find yourself at a loose end in August, do visit. I promise it will take your breath away, and if you’re lucky, I may be your tour guide at Mansfield Traquair.

(By Stephencdickson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

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