Dye Garden 1

Eleanor Mackinnon, Place Makers: Microcluster Networks

Eleanor Mackinnon, Place Makers: Microcluster Networks

During the Covid-19 lockdown period (2020-2021), The Rockfield Centre (TRC) worked closely with CHARTS to develop a Place Makers initiative in partnership with the Innovation School at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA). This led to the Eco Creative Cluster receiving a Place Maker Microcluster Networks award from CHARTS in Feb 2021. The Dye Garden Project began with conversations between local artists and The Rockfield Centre’s Heritage Officer, while I supported the project’s evolution. The project was principally organised by Deborah Gray, a resident textile artist with Icelandic cultural links and interests, and Naoko Mabon, a Japanese curator whose past experience includes community engagement in Argyll and Bute, other parts of Scotland and internationally. CHARTS provided us with the opportunity to support local artists and our volunteers to bring the project to life. 

TRC was at the start of moving into a newly refurbished building and this small project enabled us to grow our cultural offer and maintain engagement with the community against the backcloth of the pandemic. We had to use our ingenuity in the development stages to maximise the scope for digital communications and outdoor activity at a time of very strict restrictions. The project included a series of talks by webinar exploring horticulture dye heritage, in relation to people and place, engaging local, national, and international audiences. Talks included Jamaican indigo and slavery heritage, the use of urban invasive plant (weeds) species in Sao Paulo, heritage and identity through the use of plant-dyed textiles in performance art, and universal links through the heritage and contemporary use of organically grown dyes.

This small project was important to The Rockfield Centre as it allowed us to grow artist engagement, whilst also providing us with an opportunity for our own local community to establish a dye garden and be active despite Covid 19. This was found to benefit the volunteers by offering social inclusion in time of COVID restrictions as well as physical activity, wellbeing, and knowledge growth in horticulture, natural dyes and heritage. The area opposite the main entrance to the Centre was improved significantly for staff, local community and visitors. The artistic community showed growth through new collaborations, workshops and projects that evolved based around our dye garden.


Team photo of Oban Heritage of Colours project with “Heritage Hero Gold Award” from CHARTS. From right, Mhairi Ross (Heritage Volunteer at The Rockfield Centre), Eleanor MacKinnon (Heritage Volunteer at The Rockfield Centre), Deborah Gray (Textile Artist) and Naoko Mabon (Curator)