In early 2013, Derek Robertson was invited by Scottish Natural Heritage to be artist-in-residence at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve to celebrate Year of Natural Scotland 2013. Derek began sketching the wildlife and landscape around the reserve and researching the history, geomorphology and biology of the site. He quickly began to make plans for developing art projects that would continue through the following year and beyond.
“It has been an absolute delight and privilege to have Derek as our Artist in Residence at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve to celebrate 2013 Year of Natural Scotland. We had hopes of what a residency could produce for the NNR but Derek has far exceeded our expectations in every respect. Not only has Derek captured the many facets and species of the NNR through a collection of truly stunning artwork but has opened up the NNR to new audiences through media coverage and an innovative programme of collaborative and outreach projects such as creation of the first virtual trail. His work to explore the links between science, art and nature lead him to bring together a collection of artists and scientists for some exciting events exploring the boundaries and connections of these disciplines and challenging our knowledge and understanding of this very special place. His knowledge of the natural world, undoubted natural talent and infectious enthusiasm has inspired new and old visitors to the NNR and produced a lasting legacy which will extend well beyond this year.”
Caroline Gallacher. Scottish Natural Heritage. Area Officer Fife.
The projects developed from the project included local and national exhibitions as well as individual work from Tentsmuir exhibited in shows across the country and overseas. The project attracted considerable interest in the press and was featured on local and national TV and led to features on BBC Countryfile, BBC News, STV News, BBC Radio Scotland, Real Radio, Radio Tay and numerous articles in the local and national press. A major feature was published in the SNH magazine “The Nature of Scotland”. Derek has already given over 25 talks about the residency including a prestigious presentation for Creative Scotland – and more talks are booked over the coming year. Incidental to the residency were a number of wildlife observations made in the course of fieldwork which were of real conservation interest: Derek discovered that the wet dune slacks were an important wintering site for woodcock, carried out a tape-callback survey of water rails which provided the first reserve count for the species and proved breeding, and conducted a survey of breeding woodcock for a national project by the BTO.
A feature of the artist residency project is an on-line exhibition trail which links to images of artwork created at Tentsmuir through this website, together with trail-camera video of wildlife at Tentsmuir filmed by Derek, through QR codes accessed on a physical trail around the reserve. Derek has also contributed to a series of outreach projects at Tentsmuir including Family Fun Day (mural event), Red Squirrel Day (clay modelling), Virtual Art Trail Launch (sketching demo and class) and events at other SNH reserves including Art on The May (collaborative event with musicians, crafts and artists on the Isle of May NNR) and Art Masterclass (sketching wildlife at Tayvallich NNR).
The children’s events, in particular, were devised in collaboration with reserve wardens and environmental practitioners to discuss themes developed in a series of art-science collaborations that took place through the year. The mural project was used as an opportunity to develop themes on ecological webs and the Red Squirrel day sculpting event was produced in collaboration with the Red Squirrel officer, Sophie Eastwood to explore ideas of habitat suitability, evolutionary niches and adaptation.
“When the Year of Natural Scotland 2013 was first mooted , I had the idea of having an Artist in Residence for Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. I first thought I might be fortunate to get the interest of a student at the local art college College. However, I thought Derek might want to be involved for a month or so; I crossed my fingers and phoned Derek. Derek’s response was that he would leap at the opportunity and, since then, Derek’s output has been inspiring, innovating and utterly fantastic. I have had many highlights in my career as Reserve Manager here, but without doubt, securing Derek as our Artist in Residence has been the most rewarding in terms of personal satisfaction, and in the amazing benefits for the Reserve and SNH. ”
Tom Cunningham. Reserve Manager Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve
Visit the gallery and project pages on the site to see how the various projects and the artwork have developed. Derek’s website at www.derekrobertson.com shows his paintings of wildlife and countryside while his website at www.creativepastures.com represents his poetic narrative paintings and installations.