Decorators of Portobello: Bannerwork


Portobello, Edinburgh: wrapped around a 1906 bottle kiln is a 37 metre banner, the result of creative collaboration between five women, former decorators who originally worked on this site at Portobello’s A. W. Buchan & Co Thistle potteries. In the late 1960s, most were in their teens, painting thistles, among other motifs. Each decorator had her own mark, which she would paint on the bottom of any pottery she decorated. In 1972, Buchan’s closed their Portobello site and moved to Crieff.

The creation of the banner builds upon Nicky’s first project for Art Walk Projects’ The Decorators, 2019-2021 and the accompanying book The Decorators of Portobello: In Their Own Words. However this time around, an essential part of the process for producing the banner was three workshops, in which the former decorators shared research, ideas, and created artworks towards its design. These included gathering information from personal items of Buchan’s pottery to pieces being sold on eBay, and a striking image from Soweto of a bottle kiln fully decorated from top-to-bottom. So alongside Buchan’s famous thistle, the banner includes references to other designs such as Brittany, Edinburgh, Hebrides, Iona, Summertime and Sutherland, in addition to other unnamed Buchan decorations. Iona, which appears continuously in the banner’s top border, has special significance for the group, having also been designed by Head Decorator Irene Forbes.

A Collaborative Bannerwork by The Decorators of Portobello, 2023, has been commissioned by the City of Edinburgh Council whilst fundraising takes place to renovate the kiln.

A Collaborative Bannerwork by The Decorators of Portobello, 2023:
Wraparound Vinyl Banner with information vinyl panel, 37 metres x 1.5m high

The Decorators Team:

Original Artworks by Mairi Fortuna née Keenan, Irene McIntosh née Kozok, and Elizabeth McMillan née Purvis, supported by Linda Clarkson née Auchterlonie, and Karen Mackay née Mackie.

Project Coordination:
Nicky Bird, Artist

Design and Production:
Rosy Naylor, Art Walk Projects
Eastern Exhibition & Display

Unveiling new artwork at Portobello Kilns by Phyllis Stephen, The Edinburgh Reporter, 8 July 2023

TOP IMAGE (detail): A Collaborative Bannerwork by The Decorators of Portobello, 2023.