Open Country by Erica Hume Niven

Opening Reception of Biggar Little Festival at the Gillespie Cente' One of the main guest artist's Felt Maker Moy Mackay
Opening Reception of Biggar Little Festival at the Gillespie Cente' One of the main guest artist's Felt Maker Moy Mackay

If people ask me why I have written about a particular subject in my column I always have the same reply. Everything relates back to nature.

Nothing draws on nature so much as art. When I was leaving Bowhill to work at Scottish Borders Council I was given a gift of a Moy Mackay (below) picture in felt.

Looking at the tangled threads of Moy’s pictures makes images of the outdoors come to life. The felted wool seems to be constantly moving in front of your eyes. There is a vibrancy and movement that differs from paint. There is an unusual depth that you fall into as you observe the detail.

What fundamentally comes alive in the pictures is the weather and the time of day; when she creates a picture with her trademark ‘red skies’ the colour is ridiculously deep compared with real skies. However, the effect is a believable array of both foreboding and warmth. The deep red becomes an impression of a sunset or a warning that extreme weather is near or more abstractly that the mood of the observer is highly charged.

Nature you cannot replicate, especially trees. You cannot create a picture of the smells, sounds and the feeling of touching bark or brushing your hand against trembling grasses but you can produce a piece of artwork to induce those sensations.

Moy’s pictures are evocative in the way that you can see the wind rustling the leaves of trees, or the clouds moving and making a kaleidoscope of the hills or the richness of a flower when freshly opened.

The combination of felting and embroidery in Moy’s hands produces an extremely sophisticated depiction of nature. These are pictures that portray starlight, yet there are no pictures of stars. They are more than pictures they are expressions of what Moy sees around her and yet easy for all ages and tastes to digest, translate and experience.

This month Moy opened her own gallery at 17 Northgate, Peebles. I walked in from the pavements of a busy Saturday to be greeted by smiles from Moy and her mother Mary. Mary at the age of 75 will be working in the gallery three days a week. This petite lady told me: “Coming to work for my daughter will give me a focus. Sadly my husband now has dementia and lives in a care home.

“He does not know who I am anymore, he does not know anyone.”

Mary is small but strong. This is where Moy gets the drive to achieve and continue to achieve.

I can still smell the new paint on the gallery walls – fresh tulips and lilies, colours and textures, old folk with wee stories all fill the atmosphere of the afternoon. I’m sitting on the little staircase that goes upstairs to a studio. I watch people coming in and going out; the arty types, friendly types, those who are curious, those who are friends.

I have always known Moy as an artist who works at the Wasp Studios in Selkirk living up in an isolated cottage at Williamhope. Now she is based in Peebles with her family and is a business woman as well.

She told me: “I was actually a craft worker for many years, despite being warned against that career when leaving art school.

“I did not make a lot of money but I did learn business skills along the way. So the logistics of the gallery is not completely new; organising open days at WASPS has also helped.”

Moy Mackay Gallery is open every day except Mondays.

The exhibition space also features work by other artists including Basia Roszak, Helen Tabor and Fiona Millar. Also for sale is a collection of applied arts and crafts that include jewellery, ceramics, sculpture, textiles, glass and furniture.

The gallery offers a peaceful space in the bustling town of Peebles.