Gavin Maxwell Centenary

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2014 is the Centenary of one of Wigtownshire’s famous sons, Gavin Maxwell (1914­-55). Maxwell was the author whose poetic descriptive prose about simple living with otters both captivated and stirred a generation. We are delighted to announce that the Gallery is now exhibiting the Centenary edition of Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Brightwater during our September/October exhibition – Art Inspired by Literature. This annual exhibition ties in with the local Wigtown Book Festival and includes a pop-up gallery in the Hut at Reading Lasses for the ten days of this years’s Festival. It is wonderful to host the book in this local gallery.

The impact of Maxwell’s writing resonated with a post­war society who were looking fearfully towards even greater real/imagined threats from the East than had just recently been abated. After 1945, Maxwell, whose war contribution had seen him based in the Highlands training Czech resistance fighters, spent a period undertaking failed enterprises and extensive travel (about all of which he wrote impressively) before finding his Albion in a tumbledown west­facing former lighthouse cottage far removed from the hurlyburly world. So began his highland life with otters which subject provided the basis for his most iconic work, Ring of Bright Water. The title was taken from Kathleen Raine’s poem Psyche was applied to the circular channel of water at Sandaig Bay nr Glenelg where he lived and he named his new found home Camusfearna.

To commemorate the centenary The Eilean Bàn Trust have produced a very special edition of the classic otter tale to help raise funds for the Bright Water Centre on Skye which lies opposite the Island to which Maxwell moved after the fire that destroyed the house at Sandaig. Bàn is now reached via the Skye Bridge under which it lies and there now is to be found a small Maxwell museum, a lighthouse and an animal hide all of whch are run also by the Trust.

The book itself has been specially hand bound by Laura West on the Isle of Skye and it is signed by Sir Richard Branson who met Maxwell after winning the Maxwell Literary Prize at Stowe School; Sir John Lister­Kaye, who helped Maxwell try to salvage his finances and now runs Aigas Field Centre near Beauly, which is dedicated to the author’s memory; Virginia McKenna OBE who starred in the film based on the Bright Water story and who leads the Born Free Foundation which helped establish the Eilean Bàn Trust in 2000; and the fourth signatory is Jimmy Watt who features in the book as a boy helping Maxwell keep his menagerie and to whom Maxwell bequeathed his Estate. There are to be just 200 copies of the book and it features many never before seen plates. The binding and interior are of the highest quality and provide a wonderful context for this beautiful tale. The book is priced at £1500. Recently, Virginia McKenna said of the book, it is, indeed, a treasure and I am very honoured to be given a copy. Richard Branson said early this year that Gavin has been a great influence on my passion for conservation and exploration and that they had become firm friends in Maxwell’s later years.

Jonathan Supper, who produced the book will lead an event at the Festival describing the rationale behind this very special tribute to Gavin Maxwell together with an account of the trials of completing this task and he will be accompanied by Andrew Martin from The National Library of Scotland who will talk about the Maxwell Collection and Laura West who will  explain how the book was bound. The event is at 10.30am on October 5 Unbound ­ in the Main Hall at the County Buildings.

Contact for information and book orders:

Come along and see it (or buy it) from our Gallery during September/October.

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