The Dumfries Historic Buildings Trust’s “Set in Stone” exhibition is now on display at the town’s Museum until August 31.
On Thursday, The Trust hosted an event to celebrate the hard work and inspiring research done by volunteers during the year-long Dumfries Stonecarving Project.
Young people who took part in stonecarving classes were on hand to see their works on display.
Over the past year, the Dumfries Stonecarving Project has been celebrating the history and continuing tradition of stonecarving in Dumfries – working with volunteers to interview local people and finding hidden gems in local archives.
The project has also hosted stonecarving courses and worked with local photography clubs to document buildings with sandstone carvings. Some of these incredible images are now on display in the Dumfries Museum.
In the exhibition, ‘Set in Stone – Dumfries’ Sandstone Carvings’, visitors to the Dumfries Museum will discover the art and craft of stonecarving, from local quarries in Locharbriggs to carved gargoyles in the town centre.
This exhibition brings together stories from people involved in the trade, contemporary stonecarving, and new images and research – all to tell the tale of one of Dumfries’ most important industries.
Project volunteers interviewed local stonemasons to find out more about the trade, and to record their stories. The quotes included in the exhibition were chosen by these volunteers, who also helped to conduct the interviews.
Speaking about working as a contemporary stonemason and the years of experience it takes to develop skills and become confident carving stone, Neil Davidson said: “Everybody makes mistakes, especially in a trade where one wrong hit with a mallet could ruin it and you’ve got to start again. That’s just the way it is. That’s just the job, and that’s why you learn to take your time.
“That’s why you get better at it: because when you’re doing it, you’re constantly cautious of not making mistakes, because you know if you make a mistake, you’ve got to start again. It’s scrap and you start again.”
In addition to interviewing contemporary stonemasons, the project has organised a team of volunteers to find out more about historical stonemasons and the buildings they worked on. Research on stonemason William Flint, who ran a successful workshop in Dumfries in the 1800s, was conducted by volunteer researcher Margaret Smith.
Speaking of her experience with the project and about William Flint, Margaret said: “It has been great to see what this humble man achieved. He came from a little village outside of Dumfries and set his workshop up at St. Mary’s Place. He had an artistic bent and a real talent, and he was really well-read in the principles of art. He was a very knowledgeable man, and he must have used that as he carved the fantastic features on Greyfriars Church. I just find that very powerful.’
At the event, Chair of the Dumfries Historic Buildings Trust Luke Moloney, added: “It has been great to have the opportunity to highlight the rich sandstone carvings in Dumfries during this project, and to collaborate with volunteers to research the carved stone decoration of important buildings like Greyfriars’ Church and the Queensberry Hotel. Working with volunteers and staff in the Dumfries Archives, and by collaborating with local photography clubs, we have gathered information and documentation about some of the beautiful buildings in Dumfries’ town centre.”
Councillor Andy Ferguson admired the scope of the project saying: “The local community has really got behind this project and added to the wealth of knowledge that we have about the local tradition of sandstone quarrying and carving. Hosting the exhibition in Dumfries Museum seems most appropriate as it house some of the most intriguing finds from our local quarries – the fossilised footprints of creatures that roamed land before the dinosaurs”
Councillor John Martin added: “This project has made people look again at the beautiful buildings we have in our town centre and to think about the talented sculptors who created the carvings that make them so special. The project volunteers have brought together details that give us an insight into the sculptors’ lives and how they ran their businesses in the town.”
The Dumfries Stonecarving Project has been generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Holywood Trust, and the People’s Project.