Project to remember artist behind town’s Ro-Ro sculpture

The Ro-Ro sculpture of a birlinn-style boat which sits atop a stone plinth near Campbeltown's New Quay.
The Ro-Ro sculpture of a birlinn-style boat which sits atop a stone plinth near Campbeltown's New Quay.

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To mark the centenary of his birth, the family of a renowned Scottish artist, who worked with students to create a Campbeltown sculpture, is inviting members of the public to share their stories about his work.

The Mapping Memories project went live on Thursday December 31, on what would have been George Wyllie’s 99th birthday. The Glasgow-born artist, who has ancestral links to Kintyre, died at the age of 90 in 2012.

In 1996, with the help of pupils from the art department at Campbeltown Grammar School, he created the Ro-Ro sculpture of a birlinn-style boat which sits atop a stone plinth near the town’s New Quay to mark the restoration of the short-lived ferry service between Kintyre and County Antrim.

It was unveiled in October 1998 by Campbeltown Grammar School pupils Collette Sloey and Alan Downie at a ceremony attended by fellow pupils, members of the public, Argyll and Bute councillors and members of Campbeltown Community Council, as well as Mr Wyllie himself.

In addition to tracking artworks which exist in the public domain and in public collections, the Mapping Memories project aims to include the locations and details of the artist’s major temporary installations, such as the Straw Locomotive (1987) and the Paper Boat (1989) which now exist only in memory and archive material.

George Wyllie’s 'out and about' approach to art took him across Scotland and beyond. Photograph: George Wyllie Estate.
George Wyllie’s ‘out and about’ approach to art took him across Scotland and beyond. Photograph: George Wyllie Estate.

Throughout the year leading up to what would have been Mr Wyllie’s 100th birthday on Hogmanay 2021, the George Wyllie Estate will welcome public contributions to the project and will publish previously unseen material from the artist’s own archive.

By visiting anyone can add audio or video recordings, text, photographs and film as well as the geographical location of the work about which they are posting.

A second blog on the website called Just For Fun asks people to share the ways in which Mr Wyllie inspired them to get creative.

Announcing the digital launch of the trail, the artist’s eldest daughter, Louise Wyllie, said it would form a permanent marker of her father’s ‘out and about’ approach to art, which took him across the UK and beyond.

She said: ‘My father used to say that his definition of public art was art the public couldn’t avoid and there are hundreds of sculptures, installations and artworks out there; some of which we know about, like the Running Clock in Glasgow, and others which were temporary, such as his most famous artworks, the Straw Locomotive and the Paper Boat.

‘There are works of my father’s out there – in pubs, houses and gardens – that we don’t know a lot about and it’s important to us that we find out more about them.

‘We’d like to collate as much information as possible to create the art trail map. The project will act as a window into the past, allowing people to discover my dad’s temporary installations, which were often his most ambitious and influential works.

‘So we’re asking the public – communities, artists, curators, critics, welders, shipbuilders, school pupils… anyone who worked with my father, who remembers his temporary installations, or knows the whereabouts of public sculpture, to contribute to this project by sharing their stories.’