Language of Ornament: Frances Priest

Image credit: V&A Museum, Owen Jones, Original drawing for The Grammar of Ornament (Moresque No. 5)’

I am fascinated by languages of ornament from different cultures, places and periods in history, exploring their use, construction and the origins of their design. For this new piece of work I wanted to begin at the beginning, developing a language of ornament that originated from a Scottish landscape, distilling colour, textures and form into a collection of decorative motifs. Whilst exploring the Isle of Skye over the summer of 2014, countryside ranger John Phillips suggested I meet with botanist Stephen Bungard on Raasay. A few emails later and I found Stephen, Vice County Recorder for the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, ready and willing to share some of his vast knowledge and expertise.

Stephen spent a day introducing me to some of the habitats and plants of Raasay; Woodland, Coast, Moor, Bog, Loch, Limestone, Mountain. My usual experience of the Scottish landscape, striding out over significant distances to scale Munro’s and traverse ridges, was transformed, into a slower, detailed pace: my perspective downward, away from grand vistas, toward the individual details of plants and flowers. Stephen’s interest in the flora of the islands began over 23 years ago and has developed into a full time vocation, covering an area of 1962 square kilometers that takes in Skye, Raasay and the Small Isles. His encyclopedic knowledge was inspirational and from this first meeting the seeds were sown for this project, Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats

The Island of Raasay sits to the east of Skye, adjacent to Applecross on the mainland, and a short ferry trip from Sconser, across the Sound of Raasay. The ferry lands at the front door of Raasay House, a grand but welcoming affair, originally built by the Macleods of Raasay in 1747, with the current Georgian frontage and wings added by Henry Wood in 1876. In James Boswell’s travel journal of 1773, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson’, the following account of Raasay House is recorded:

“… come in a black narrow ship, in a storm, anchor among the winds and the breakers, land your boat in the surf, ride to shore on the back of a Highlander, and, from a dark night of wind and rain, tumble headlong into the complexity of silks, and muslins, and beauty, and lights, and plenty, and elegance; into festivity and conversation, music and the dance.”
— James Boswell

A clan house, a private home, a hunting lodge, an outdoor adventure school, Raasay House has a layered history with many voices having played a part. Sadly the decorative details, that might have marked the personal stories and tastes of the various owners and occupants, have mostly been lost, partly through neglect, but predominantly due to a huge fire that swept through the building in 2009. Tragically this fire marked the completion of major renovations by the Raasay House Community Company who bought and took charge of the property in 2007. To the credit of the local community, this devastating blow did not ultimately mark the end of the buildings story and, in 2013, Raasay House opened its doors once again, welcoming people back to Raasay Outdoor Centre.

It is against this backdrop that I am making a collection of ceramic pieces for Raasay House that will re-introduce a decorative language into the fabric of the building. My intention is that the work will celebrate the abundant plant species and habitats of Raasay and the dedicated work of Stephen Bungard to map and record these riches, encouraging visitors and guests to explore patterns of flora, both across the island and around the house.