Hope’s Altarpiece Pays Tribute to a Lost Scottish Rural Workforce

Hope’s Altarpiece - DGWGO Dumfries and Galloway News
Image copyright - Colin Hattersley

Generations of workers at a Victorian creamery, the closure of which caused economic disaster in a small Dumfries and Galloway town, are being honoured in a new art project.

The Bladnoch Altarpiece, which has been created for this weekend’s Spring Fling open studios event in Dumfries and Galloway, is also a tribute to the men and women who have built new businesses in the 19th-century buildings.

Hope London painted The Bladnoch Altarpiece as the centrepiece of a body of work created during a two-month residency focused on the former Co-Operative Wholesale Society creamery at Bladnoch, near Wigtown.

Its closure in 1989, with the loss of over 140 jobs, was a devastating blow, and was compounded by the knock-on effects to local shops and businesses.

Hope said:The creamery was at the heart of the area’s economy – with so many people having spent their working lives here.
“I wanted to pay tribute to those generations of men and women, and also to those who are working here now. Instead of dairy products this has become a place where people make art, music, amazing metal stoves and repair cars.
“But despite the new life there are lots of industrial relics, and these have been fascinating to explore.”

In addition to paintings and drawings, Hope has also made a recording which captures the sounds of people at work – and also the noises from still vacant areas, such as rainfall on old roofs and pigeons roosting.

Some of the imagery used by Hope recalls medieval religious art. The Bladnoch Altarpieceitself involves a triptych with an industrial valve presented like a Celtic cross. This is suspended in front of a huge splatter painting.

The exhibition takes place in The Unit 3 Gallery, Bladnoch Bridge Industrial Estate, which is the base for artist Lou Martin and stove maker Steve Dowling.

Joanna Macaulay, Events and Exhibitions Manager for Upland which runs Spring Fling, said: Hope’s work reaches deep into the events and experiences that have brought so much change to the region – and reflects its resilience and determination to bounce back from times of hardship.
“Nowadays Wigtown, where much of the creamery workforce came from, is thriving as Scotland’s National Book Town and the area also has a thriving visual arts and craft sector. This year we are delighted to have 14 artists, makers and studios along our Blue Route, which takes in Wigtown and the surrounding area.”

Spring Fling will see 86 artists and makers across the region throw open their studio doors for visitors from 26 to 28 May.