Pittenweem Arts Festival

Joyce Laing OBE

Festival 2022 August 6 - 13

Joyce’s work as an art therapist, especially at the special unit in Barlinnie and her espousal of the recognition of  Art Extraordinary are recognised and well-documented elsewhere. The piece below is a brief account she wrote of the Festival’s beginnings, taking us from 1981, its first year, up to 1985. 

Early Years of the Pittenweem Arts Festival

In 1981 an exhibition of old photographs of Pittenweem entitled Pittenweem Yesterday was presented in aid of Lifeboat funds, at Kellie Lodging, one of the village’s oldest houses. The response locally was overwhelming and three artists then living in Pittenweem planned to establish a Pittenweem Arts Festival the following year. It aimed to show high-quality exhibitions of visual arts and include evening performances of drama, music and poetry.


In July of 1982 the first Royal Burgh of Pittenweem Arts Festival took place. Invited artists of note exhibited in the few public venues we had access to while residents were encouraged to open a room in their house to display artists’ work. A number of workshops and demonstrations of tapestry weaving, pottery and dance were also included.

Invitation card for Ian Hamilton Finlay’s exhibition

Our first invited artist was Ian Hamilton Finlay with his exhibition Diamond Studded Fishnet based on fishing boats and boat names. He entitled our first Festival, A Pittenweem Fancy using  fancy in its old meaning of a celebration. With the positive reports we were encouraged to make the Festival an annual event.


In 1983 The Ring-Net by Will Maclean was shown in the Scout Hall, looked after by some of the older fishermen who demonstrated net-making at the same time. The Old Town Hall in Cove Wynd at that time was kept entirely for our theatre and music events and also a few tea-dances and evening French Bistro events.


In 1984 with Dr Hew Lorimer, our then patron, the Pittenweem fishermen invited us to join the annual fishing Gala event, usually on the first Saturday in August. 


The Gala was a memorable happening with all the fishing fleet decorated in bunting. Each boat carried a fisher lassie, often the skipper’s daughter. The boats took visitors and disabled children in convoy around the May Island and back.

Gala Day 1984

In 1985 the Festival began to invite a personality to open the combined festival and Gala. That year Sheena MacDonald, journalist and broadcaster, welcomed visitors from a rostrum erected at the edge of the harbour by the fish-market. When the boats returned from their trip, each boat first landed their fisher lassie who wore the name of the boat on a sash over her posh evening dress. Sheena then presented the Cup to the winner. 


A one-man play about the arrival of St Fillan, specially written for the Festival by Tom McGrath, was performed in St Fillan’s Cave. St Fillan arrived by small fishing boat and, dressed as a monk, clambered up the ladder, accompanied by a small boy playing a fiddle.


In the Granary that year of 1985, an exhibition of photographs by Oscar Marzaroli was shown. In Kellie Lodging The Smoke Box by Keith McIntyre, illuminated only by the light of smoking fish, was made into an installation.


Press articles were more numerous now and in 1982 the Scotsman devoted a colour section to the Festival.


Artists who have shown at the Festival include: Keith Brockie; Dorothy Stirling; Richard Demarco; Robert Callender; Elizabeth Ogilvie; Joan Eardley; Lil Neilson; Jurek Putter; John Bellany. 


Visiting poets include: Norman MacCaig; Ian Crichton Smith; George Bruce and then Poet Laureate Edwin Morgan.

Oscar Marzaroli exhibition 1985

Reinhard Behrens who has lived and worked in Pittenweem for 0ver 30 years made the burning galleon when Invited Artist in 2000. 

The Royal Burgh of Pittenweem Arts Festival

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Charity number SCO 24165

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