Scott’s Treasures

Project Date: 2014 –

Scott’s Treasures was an exciting partnership project between the Abbotsford Trust and CABN. The project, which ran through 2014, built on a Borders Poets’ Showcase held at Abbotsford in November 2013 which inspired both partners to develop further opportunities for contemporary writers to engage with the eclectic collection at Abbotsford. The concept of the Scott’s Treasures project was inspired by the National Museums of Scotland ’26 Treasures’ project, which Borders based poet Stuart Delves had been involved in, and was developed by Dr Sandra Mackenzie of the Abbotsford Trust and Jules Horne (CABN Advocate for Literature).   Funding was then secured from The Scottish Book Trust (Live Literature Funding) to deliver the Scott’s Treasures project.

On the launch of the project in 2014, Dr Sandra Mackenzie said: ‘Sir Walter Scott described Abbotsford as “a museum for living in” and filled his home with an astonishing collection of artefacts, objects and treasures from home and abroad which inspired his writing. Following the success of our first Poetry Showcase event last year, we are delighted to work with CABN again and encourage local writers to follow in Scott’s footsteps as they take inspiration from our fascinating collection.’

Poets interested in Sir Walter Scott’s magnificent collection of quirky treasures were invited through a national call to take part in three workshops at Abbotsford House in June 2014 to inspire new poems around the collections. The workshops were run by Borders based poets Julian Colton, Anita John and Dorothy Alexander who led the poets through different approaches and forms of poetry. Dr Sandra Mackenzie of the Abbotsford Trust illuminated the stories behind the individual objects, or ‘treasures’ and these formed the starting point of new writing over the summer. The three lead poets – Julian, Anita and Dorothy – provided valuable feedback and review over the summer to the individual workshop participants. All poets were then offered the opportunity of reading their work alongside the three lead poets at a Showcase in the Library of Abbotsford House in November 2014. The event was structured as a ‘virtual tour of the house through poetry’.

Each of the 16 poets who took part had been inspired by different objects in different rooms of the house, including: the head of Robert the Bruce in the Hallway, a Toadstone amulet in the Study, Gasoliers and portraits of Scott and his French wife Charlotte Charpentier in the Chinese Drawing Room.

In the week before the Showcase, poets attended a skills performance workshop with Ellie Zeegen and Janet Coulson from Firebrand Theatre Company, who sensitively led them through various warm up and performance techniques which were invaluable for building the confidence of those who had less experience of reading their work in public. Ellie and Janet also provided support and staging of the event on the evening of the Showcase itself. An added surprise for the audience was the appearance of Sir Walter Scott himself (played by John Nichol) who led the audience from the Hallway to the Library, and introduced each poet in turn. It was an unforgettable experience for the audience who assembled that night in the candlelit atmosphere of the Library to listen to the range of voices and poetry forms – which also included a sung poem and two performance poems.

There are further ideas for new writing projects, continuing the vibrant partnership with Abbotsford Trust.

Many thanks to Dr Sandra Mackenzie, Kirsty Archer-Thompson and staff at Abbotsford Trust, to Jules Horne, Stuart Delves, Ellie Zeegen, Janet Coulson, John Nichol, Kevin Greenfield and to Julian Colton, Anita John and Dorothy Alexander for inspiring and supporting the poets through the process. And… of course to the individual poets who took part in Scott’s Treasures, for their wonderful new work.

Scott’s Treasures was made possible through Live Literature Funding from the Scottish Book Trust (Live Literature Fund), Scottish Borders Council and the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation. A selection of the poetry which was generated through the workshops was published in Issue 25 of the Eildon Tree.

Read this article and poems by the 3 Lead Poets from the Scott’s Treasures project – Julian Colton, Anita John and Dorothy Alexander by downloading Issue 26 of the Eildon Tree.

All images are copyright:  Kevin Greenfield Photography