John Muir Fellowship – Is Soil Alive?

Natalie with the AppearanceMadder plant. This plant was used to create a deep red dye for the Keeper of the Soils cloak – reflecting the colour of East Lothian soils.


Natalie Taylor, our new John Muir Fellowship artist, will be working with us in the community until July 2022. The main theme that she will be researching with us is; ‘Is soil alive?’

Natalie will be offering creative workshops and events exploring this theme in and around Dunbar, which will be advertised on our website and social media channels.

The first collaborative artwork, made during a series of free workshops in Dunbar during September and October 2021 was the Keeper of the Soils cape, a ceremonial cloak designed to be worn by different people interested in holding ceremonies for seasonal earth celebrations and for collecting significant soils to add into the soil collection For the Love of Soils

The cloak,made using woollen blankets and dyed using natural pigments by Kirsty Sutherland, was embroidered in collaboration with the community using  images of the soil/ food web that we are naturally part of. It was initially worn during our celebratory event in Dunbar (link here) and then formed part of the Pilgrimage for COP26 (17-30th Oct), being worn by eight different pilgrims along the journey between Dunbar and Glasgow. Each day it formed an integral part of ceremonies marking the locations where specially selected soils were collected along the way for the project –  For the Love of Soils, A People’s Collection. You can see more about this journey here:

Keeper of the Soils during Pilgrimage for COP26

Updates,Workshops and Events can  be found on our facebook page:

and our instagram:


Natalie explains here about the project – “Earth – Is soil alive?”

I’ve been fascinated by plants and seeds for years now and have made loads of work (sculptures, paintings, animations) about seeds since leaving art college. The subject of soil was only indirectly interesting to me at first, as a medium in which most plants are grown, but then when I was invited by North Light Arts in 2015 to do a micro residency about soil I became really interested in how important and yet sadly overlooked soil actually is. It dawned on me how much we all depend on soil for our survival and yet we take it almost completely for granted. When NLA invited me for this fellowship on the subject of soil I jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to find out how East Lothian’s community relates to the soils around us, what food it supplies, and what sort of soil husbandry is going on here and even better, a chance to make art with people about and with soil. 

During the UN International Year of Soils back in 2015 I learned that around 30% of the world’s arable soils are now damaged in some way, reducing our ability to grow food and I made the Alchemy of Soil painting in response. It is created using soil as a painting medium and it’s a sort of Soil/ Food web; showing the relationship between soil and our food system. The framework is based on a famous icon from Tibetan Buddhism, the Kalachakra mandala and all the images within it are about soil creatures, the food we eat, the weather which produces our food and our food distribution system. It’s an attempt at putting this very complex relationship into visual form.

For the opening project of my fellowship I am creating a wearable version of this soil/food web in the form of a hand dyed cape for the Keeper of the Soils. The Keeper will also gather precious soils from around the Central Belt and keep them safe for performances and events. The first place where you can see the Keeper of the Soils  is at the opening event for Pilgrimage for COP26, in Dunbar on the afternoon of the 17th October.  More information about that event coming soon…..

I am really looking forward to meeting more people from Dunbar and the surrounding area and making art about soil with you!