The island of Benbecula and its history have inspired artist Donald McKenzie since childhood and are a major theme in his exhibition, which opens at Museum nan Eilean in the Castle Grounds, Stornoway today (Friday July 1).
Donald is a painter, sculptor and writer who combines a conceptual approach to his work with traditional techniques and materials. His inspiration draws strongly on his Hebridean family connections and island heritage.
The exhibition explores the thread that runs through families. McKenzie has strong family connections to the Outer Hebrides. His grandparents were Lachlan MacRury, who was a blacksmith in Benbecula, and Maggie MacRury (nee MacQueen). Donald’s mother Mary McKenzie (nee MacRury) was one of six children of Lachlan and Maggie. The family home was originally in Griminish from where they moved to Liniclate. In 1935 the family moved to Finlas of Aird.
‘Threads’ includes paintings, photographs, collages, writings and objects collected by Donald while he restored the family home in Aird. The artist draws on responses to family mementoes, childhood memories and the connections between local, national and international themes, the past and the present. It is nostalgic and will hopefully evoke many memories from visitors and generate reminiscences.
Donald explained how he has always found inspiration in the Outer Hebrides. He said:“I remember when I was a teenager and my grandfather’s health was starting to deteriorate. It was thought that Lucozade (advertised as a ‘glucose energy drink’) would help him. Lucozade had an offer for art materials at the time. If you sent away six labels with a reduced payment you would receive in return a box of oil paints with brushes and a sketching easel. I sent for the materials, which were the first oil paints I ever owned, and two of the first paintings I completed were of my grandparents in Aird. I still have the box and the paintings which launched my career as an artist.”
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Donald’s wife Jane who died unexpectedly in August 2016. Jane had family connections to Scarp and loved the Outer Hebrides. For the 43 years they were together, annual visits to Benbecula were never missed.
The exhibition opens at 2pm today Friday 1 July at Museum nan Eilean Stornoway and runs till 1 October. It was previously shown in 2018 at Museum nan Eilean Benbecula.