Image from collection of the Dumfries Educational Trust, Gracefield Arts Centre.
In February 2017, NG Archaeology Services carried out excavations at 3-4 Belford Road, Edinburgh. This was the site of the Dean Free Church until 1890, and after, "Dean Studios" a sculptors' studio, associated with prominent Scottish artists of the late 19th & early 20th Century. Our drive for engaging with the public and commemoration led us to research Dean Village and its link to early 20th Century Scottish Artistry.
Dean Village was a bustling, creative hub in the early 20th Century. In the area of Belford Mews alone, four artists had their studios, including Mary Phyllis Bone at 11a Belford Mews. This discovery inspired us to nominate her for a commemorative plaque through Historic Environment Scotland. Whilst other well-known sculptors practiced out of the same studios at 11a, it is undoubtedly Phyllis who is the most striking inhabitant. She was the first woman artist to be elected as a full Royal Scottish Academician in 1944, nominated by Benno Schultz. She is most renowned for her animal sculptures and illustrations; the most prominent examples can be seen throughout Edinburgh. Her most famous work is presented in the halls of the Scottish National War Memorial, although you can find also her work on the front of and inside the University of Edinburgh's Ashworth Buildings.
Our successful application for a commemorative plaque scheme was supported by the Royal Scottish Academy and the Sculptor's Workshop. Sandy Wood, a Collections Curator from RSA, noted, "In the past, the Academy has been directly involved with and supported the commemoration of the nation’s great artists, such as Henry Raeburn, Alexander and John Runciman and David Allan, through physical memorials. I and the Academy enthusiastically support a commemoration of the first female Academician, something that would go some way to redressing the neglect of female artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century." Gordon Munro, of the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, also commented "It is vitally important that women such as Phyllis Mary Bone are remembered for the important role they played in the shaping of the cultural landscape of Scotland. It is also important that such artists can be appreciated as positive role models for anyone wishing to follow a career in the arts."
The Historic Environment Scotland Commemorative Plaque scheme celebrates the life & work of significant historical persons from history. The plaques serve to highlight the link between them and a building connected to their life. Each year, the scheme recognises 12 notable recipients. Unfortunately, plaques can only be awarded to spaces that have not been significantly altered. As our site was, unfortunately, in a ruinous state due to a fire in 1954, nominating artists from the "Dean Studios" space was not possible. We are, however, continuing to strive to find alternative ways to commemorate the studios and their former inhabitants, through public outreach and much needed interdisciplinary communication.
We will continue to uphold our high standard for engaging the public, through a relaxed open policy approach to our archaeological activities. Where opportunities arise to step outside the traditional tasks of archaeology, we look to actively engage with the social and political context of our work.