See all stories
2 Jul 2021

The Solas Point: Canna’s new art installation

Written by Fiona J Mackenzie, Canna House Archivist
Stone cairns with old tractor seats attached to the top stand beside each other. Slates lie against the cairns, with names painted on it. Across the bay, in the distance, can be seen St Edward's Church, pictured through a large iron cartwheel hoop.
Canna’s new ‘contemplation’ rural sculpture installation overlooks the bay.
A new multi-sensory art installation is taking shape on Canna. It is based around the images and sounds of the landscape that inspired so much of Margaret Fay Shaw’s film and photography work.

Photographer Margaret Fay Shaw lived on the Isle of Canna in the Inner Hebrides from 1938 until her death in 2004, at the age of 101. From the moment she first heard about the island, she was entranced by the landscapes it presented to her, the wildlife around her and the connections between the people who lived there and the land and sea.

This summer sees the installation of a piece of rural landscape art on Canna, which will mark Margaret’s favourite views on the island as well as provide a place for visitors and residents to sit and contemplate their beautiful surroundings. One of Margaret’s favourite spots was overlooking Canna Bay from beside the Rhu Church. She filmed there many times.

A view of Canna Bay, filmed by Margaret Fay Shaw

Recently, with the very kind and generous support of our friends at the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, we have been re-digitising and restoring the Canna media archives. During the course of this project, I came to realise how important the area around the Rhu Church was to Margaret – it inspired much of her work. The church remains a popular place with visitors, and I thought how nice it would be to have a place where people could sit and take in the landscape around them.

An old colour photo of a church on an island. It has a spire shaped a little like a rocket. In the background is a conical mountain.
The Rhu Church, photographed by Margaret Fay Shaw, 1968

After discussions with Canna farm manager Geraldine and the chair of the Isle of Canna Community Development Trust, I invited two creative artists to come and build a ‘contemplation’ circle, just in front of the Rhu Church. This area of land is known as Rubha Cairinis, which lends itself very nicely to being renamed Rubha Sholais (The Solas Point) for the purposes of this project. I wanted the sculpture to reflect on the sounds and sights around us, and to meld sympathetically into that landscape, representing the rural and agricultural heritage of the land around us. Artist Raine Clarke and musician Yvonne Lyon of Glasgow were keen to develop their own creative practice by moving into the sphere of landscape art, something they had both longed to do for some time.

Before the team arrived to begin the installation, my husband Donald (the Canna harbourmaster) prepared the site with some heavy duty strimming work. The weather was beautiful at this point! We both then collected ‘found’ objects, as well as stone from the island, to use in the project. We identified lots of smaller agricultural relics from the past, which could now be given a new lease of life.

The team then began to mark out the ‘circle’ for the seats. We felt that a circle was a very appropriate motif to use for this project – symbolising the rotation of the seasons and the ever-lasting nature of the landscape around us. Many of the agricultural pieces we wanted to use also incorporated a circle in them.

The weather over the course of the week proved ‘interesting’ for the team! June on Canna is not always a balmy early summer experience ... Very wet weather meant that work had to stop several times, but this allowed time to work on the slates that accompany each seat.

Each seat has an individual name, all related to features or places on the island. These names – An Doirlinn, An Coroghon, Càrn a ’Ghaill, Tallabric and A’ Chill – are taken from John Lorne Campbell’s own map of the island, and the seat faces towards its namesake area.

A group of people sit in a circle on a rural sculpture. Others stand nearby or sit on the grass, looking out across the bay. An iron hoop is in the centre of the circle.

When the cairns were completed, all residents and visitors were invited to gather at the site for a few moments of music and contemplation. Yvonne composed a fiddle tune in memory of the late Magda Sagarzazu, the previous Canna House archivist who died in 2020. Harbourmaster Donald recited Kathleen Raine’s poem ‘Canna’s basalt crags’. Yvonne and Raine played and sang one of Yvonne’s songs entitled ‘Enjoy not endure’; a reading was made about ‘circles, seasons and life’; and to conclude, Yvonne and I sang a song entitled ‘Seasons’, in Scots and Gaelic.

The sun shone on our little gathering as we enjoyed the new vista, where perhaps some of us had not ventured before.

We hope that all visitors and residents will enjoy this simple, peaceful spot this summer, and we thank all our friends who contributed to the project.

Perhaps at Rubha Sholais, you’ll be inspired to take some photographs of your own. Or maybe just a rest awhile, enjoy a moment of contemplation and allow the beautiful views to clear your mind.

A view looking to the west from the Isle of Canna. A large iron hoop in the middle frames a white cottage on the horizon. The sky is blue and the water in the bay is shimmering.

I love this place

By joining the National Trust for Scotland, you can protect the places that matter to you and experience the best that Scotland has to offer.

Join today
A young woman walks along a clifftop path, with binoculars around her neck. >