Leith heritage celebrated at new exhibition

Diana Morton with one of the models of a historic Leith ship. Picture: Jon Savage
Diana Morton with one of the models of a historic Leith ship. Picture: Jon Savage
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From its shipbuilding past to the urban buzz of today, Leith’s heritage is being celebrated at a unique exhibition in the city centre.

More than 100 pieces – from artwork by well-known Leithers such as Eduardo Paolozzi to pictures crafted by school children – have gone on display at the City Art Centre, in Market Street.

Developed to engage the people of Leith – and in particular young people – with their heritage, the fascinating Citizen Curator has been a year in the making.

It features a mixture of art collections, historic artefacts and participants’ own work, exploring themes of identity, diversity, Leith at play, ships and the sea, landscapes and celebrations.

Among them are depictions of the area by established artists including Alexander Nasmyth, Jock McFadyen and Kate Downie, new works by up and coming artists and a specially commissioned film exploring Leith’s diversity.

“To me the star of the show has to be Great Junction Street by Jock McFadyen of the Mecca Bingo Hall, because so many people have fond memories of going to the cinema there in years gone by,” says artist Duncan Bremner, who helped organise the event.

“And having community groups submit art work has been really valuable. In a way, it reflects the different perspectives of Leith and it was interesting to see how many people picked out the same views and shops. It all points to the diversity of Leith and that’s a key thing that we are trying to celebrate here.

“The quality of the work that came out was excellent too and it really does stand up next to the official artists.”

Combining contemporary works with older pieces that offer up social history, the exhibition is likely to appeal not only to Leithers, past and present, but anyone interested in the history of the Lothians.

“Many [artists] focused on Leith’s strong sense of identity and diversity, with ships and the sea the strongest theme that came through,” adds Duncan.

“To me, part of what makes Leith is its diversity. It stems from the position of the docks, transient communities and cheaper house prices – perhaps a little bit of the darker, seedier side of Leith – industrialism and post industrialism.”

Originally from Glasgow, Duncan came to Edinburgh to go to art college and has lived in Leith since 1992.

“In that time I have seen Leith really transform,” he says. “It has had its ups and downs, but recently there’s been a real economic and 
cultural transformation.

“Businesses on Leith Walk have been pretty hard hit by the trams but there appears to be a real spirit in the air – and a lot more investment in local facilities.”

On display are sporting items including boxing gloves, golfing materials and a Hibs scarf, some old photographs of Leith Rangers Tug-o’-War Team from 1907 and Leith Licensed Victuallers Cycling Club from 1905.

A film has been created as a part of the project with Young Saheliya, a black and minority ethnic young women’s group, talking about their experiences of Leith – its food, languages and famous Mela.

Items relating to Leith’s maritime heritage include objects crafted by ships’ carpenters and a even the skin from a catfish once caught in Leith 
Harbour.

Making a reappearance are the A Leith Walk pigeon sculptures that used to stand in Leith but were removed for the tram works. And a Sunshine on Leith record by Leith’s most famous sons, The Proclaimers, has also been sourced – particularly relevant as the film of the same name continues to enjoy box office success.

“It’s really to get people engaged in the art and heritage of Leith, and, obviously, to show off our collections,” says curator Diana Morton.

“Quite a few people have come in already and said they are very excited that Leith has been given this stage in the city centre.

“Leith has been at the heart of so many events. A lot of it boils down to it having been a port.

“There were lots of things coming in and out of Leith, people coming in and leaving – a lot of 
diversity.”

Organisations taking part in the exhibition include the Leith School of Art, Leith Festival, Young Saheliya, Leith Late, Leith Library, Leith Academy and Home-Start Leith and North East 
Edinburgh.

Citizen Curator: Discover Leith’s Artistic Heritage is free and runs until Sunday, February 23 at the City Art Centre, in Market Street. The exhibition is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and Sunday 12pm to 5pm. For more details, visit www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk or call 0131-529 3993.