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2 Apr 2020

Upcycling with the Lorimers

Written by Antonia Laurence-Allen, Regional Curator Edinburgh and East
A painting of a drawing room with a large sash window, through which sunlight is pouring.Two gilt-framed mirrors hang either side of the window. On a console table before the window stands a model of a ship and two vases of daffodils. There is a rich, golden hue to the painting.
‘Sunlight in the South Room, Kellie’ by John Henry Lorimer c1913
In the East Neuk of Fife, near Pittenweem (home of an annual arts festival), you’ll find Kellie Castle. It’s a home filled with furniture, art and textiles collected and made by the Lorimer family. Below are some of Mary Lorimer’s ideas for making things for your home – Mary lived at Kellie during the 1950s.

Kellie Castle was first leased in 1878 by Professor James Lorimer, who was looking for a holiday home and found a project. It took many years to restore what had become a dilapidated building.

It’s fairly well known that James’s sons, the artist John Henry Lorimer and the architect Robert S Lorimer, both lived and worked at Kellie, as did their nephew and son (respectively) Hew Lorimer, the 20th-century sculptor who made Our Lady of the Isles for South Uist. They were all creative artists inspired by Kellie’s history and architecture.

What’s less well known is how Kellie inspired Hew’s wife, Mary. Hew and Mary met at art school in Edinburgh in the 1930s; she was an excellent painter, he a budding sculptor. They moved into Kellie Castle in 1942 (first leasing it from the Earl of Mar and Kellie), and finally bought the property in 1948.

A black and white photograph of a very tall statue of a lady holding a child. It stands in a cluttered studio space, surrounded by wooden pallets, benches and smaller stone sculptures.
Hew Lorimer’s studio in the 1950s; it can be seen in the stable block at Kellie.

Mary launched herself into the task of creating a home. It was the able Mary who pumped water from a cistern by hand and lit lamps, paraffin heaters and candles when they first moved to Kellie (there was no heat, running water or electricity at first). It was Mary who painted rooms, fixed the wall panelling, dug and replanted the garden, repaired and re-designed furniture, all while raising their three young children.

A black and white photograph of a young woman standing in front of a wooden bench, holding a toddler in her arms. The woman wears a black dress with a white collar and cuffs. It is a sunny day and the bright sun casts their shadows on the white stone wall behind them.
Mary with one of her three children in the early 1940s

Here are just a few of the things she did to improve the house and make it a home, which will maybe inspire you over these coming weeks:

Mary’s ingenuity and creative eye helped provide for her family during post-war hardships. Maybe it’s in times like these, when we’re forced to look about our homes, that something forgotten might be the inspiration for something found.

For another story on the inspiring women who lived at Kellie, read about Hannah Lorimer.

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