It’s a beautiful Saturday morning on the Cromwell Harbour in Dunbar; a few hours before our opening event, I am sitting on the quayside, next to McArthur’s Store, in a generous square of warm sunlight. There are quite a few people out here on the harbour, with their families, with fishing rods, or just strolling and admiring the fine view of the coast and the light playing on the water. I open my copy of John Muir’s The Story of My Boyhood and Youth and read:
The highest part of our playground [at] the back of the school commanded a view of the sea, and we loved to watch the passing ships and, judging by their rigging, make guesses as to the ports they had sailed from […] In stormy weather they were all smothered in clouds and spray, and showers of salt scud from the tops of the waves came flying over the playground wall.
Although the harbours of Dunbar are actively used for fishing and leisure purposes (as I witness today), during John Muir’s youth in the 1840s it was more extensively used for commerce. I love this image of the sea spray leaping over the playground, much to young Muir’s delight.
At 2pm the opening party to launch North Light Arts 2013 summer programme, Walking A Line, begins and friendly faces arrive. Walking a line will run from 22nd June until 25th August. Rita Bradd provides us with music on her harp, and Holly Letch with unbelievably good canapés. We’re extremely proud of our programme, put together by North Light Arts directors Alastair Cook and Susie Goodwin- I’m especially looking forward to meeting with and learning from our artists in residents, and participating in the poetry walks led by Colin Will and Alexander Champion. Our first artist in residence is James Norton, and as you can see from the photograph, he’s settling into the beach Hut for a week quite comfortably. It also marks the beginning of Alastair Cook’s stay in McArthur’s Store, while he is artist in residence for the full length of the festival, working with wet plate collodion, tempting portraits from the fishermen,.
Today also marked the opening of Douglas Robertson‘s exhibition ‘The Guga Stone’ at the John Muir Birthplace on Dunbar High Street. Before catching my train back to Edinburgh after the party, I go in to have a look. I’m struck by how Doug uses the space of the page for his highly narrative illustrations. In ‘Gannet Love Song’, for example, the bird’s head half-eclipses our view of an island in the distance. Closer inspection reveals that the bird and the island are actually one: the gannet’s eye assumes the centre of the hill on the island, just as its head is a continuation of the sky and water. I highly recommend viewing Doug’s work, which is on display until 25th July.
A post-script introduction: my name is Lila Matsumoto and I will be assisting Tracy Morgan direct this summer’s festivities. In this blog I’ll report on many of the exciting Walking A Line events throughout the summer, as well as the activities of our artists in residence. As this year marks the centenary of the publication of John Muir’s The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, I’m also aiming to reflect on aspects of Muir’s intriguing personal account of his childhood in Dunbar as a para-text to my own experience of getting to know the town.