• Family and friends including David Dimbleby, Martyn Rix and Richard Demarco gather for weekend celebration of Rory McEwen
  • Fundraiser aims to provide free artists’ residencies at Fogo Cottage 
  • Six further exhibitions planned for the USA in 2023

The children of Rory McEwen, the 60s Scottish folk and blues legend who changed direction to become one of the world’s finest botanical artists, have launched an exhibition of his paintings and sculpture.

Adam, Christabel and Flora helped set up The Spirit of Rory McEwen which is showing all this week at Marchmont House in the Borders, which was their father’s childhood home.

The exhibition includes around a dozen botanical pieces but extends far further. There are also a large Scottish landscape, collages featuring family photos, and small sculptures. Some come from the collection at Marchmont House, which is now a home for the arts and creative activity, others belong to the McEwen family.

The weekend, during which they were joined by Rory’s other daughter, the artist Sam McEwen, also saw a series of events celebrating his life and achievements and marking what would have been his 90th year.

This included talks involving journalist and former BBC Question Time presenter David Dimbleby, artist and promoter Richard Demarco, writer, botanist and philanthropist Dr Shirley Sherwood OBE, botanist and author Martyn Rix, Royal Botanical Gardens exhibitions curator Ruth Stiff and the four siblings.

Musician Jools Holland, who is married to Christabel, took part by Zoom after testing positive for COVID.

The weekend also saw the launch of an appeal by the Marchmont Makers Foundation to raise funds to provide artists’ residencies at the nearby Fogo Cottage, which Rory bought and used as a studio after he turned away from a career in music and TV to concentrate on art.

Christabel Holland, a child psychotherapist, said: “It feels quite moving to be showing Rory’s work, not only at the house he grew up in but in this new centre of art and creativity which he would have so admired and applauded.”

Sam added: “The Creative Spaces studios are a wonderful showcase for Rory’s beautiful depictions of nature. We are so pleased that Hugo Burge and his team were able to put this exhibition on and hope that lots of people will be able to enjoy it over the next week.”

The Spirit of Rory McEwen exhibition is also the precursor to a much larger series of exhibitions due to take place at six locations in the USA in 2023-25 (see details below).

Flora McEwen Brooks, said: “We have just confirmed a series of six shows across America in collaboration with Kew Gardens and the Oakspring Foundation – this is incredibly exciting as Rory has many fans in the US who haven’t had the chance to see his work and we hope it will allow a broader audience to enjoy his vision of nature in all its glory.”

Rory’s work was much admired in America, with two of his paintings being hung in the Kennedy White House – which will both be in the US exhibitions.

Adam McEwen, a renowned visual artist who has just an exhibition at the Gagosian, said: “Coming back to Marchmont along with many of Rory’s oldest friends and family in what would have been his 90th year feels like an wonderful way to honour and celebrate the beautiful work he did. We are immensely proud of his legacy and grateful to Marchmont House for allowing us to share his art with others.”

Such was the quality of Rory’s botanical paintings that a tulip was named after him in 2002 and Martyn Rix’ exploration of his art, The Colours of Reality, continues to be Kew Gardens’ top selling book.

To many Rory was best known as the host of the ground-breaking folk and blues television show Hullabaloo and for his performances playing the 12-string guitar.  Guests included luminaries of the folk revival scene Martin Carthy, Rambling Jack Elliot and Sonny Boy Williamson. 

But for nearly two decades, between 1964 and his death in 1982, Rory concentrated much of his prodigious talent on creating exquisite renditions of plants and flowers in watercolour on vellum, as well as sculptures and landscapes.

Marchmont bought his cottage at Fogo last year and transformed it back into a studio and the Marchmont Makers Foundation now wants to create annual free residencies for artists. 

Lucy Brown, the foundation’s Managing Director, said: “The Fogo residency will allow today’s artists the time, space and financial freedom to concentrate on the development of their own work without the demands of deadlines or public presentation.”

  • The Spirit of Rory McEwen is free, with a suggested donation of £3 to the Fogo Residency fundraiser, and open to the public May 1-8, 10am-4pm at the Old Squash Court Studio, Marchmont House, near Greenlaw in the Borders.  
  • Donations to the Fogo Residency can be made at https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/FogoStudio-Residency

– Ends –

Notes for Editors

The US 2023 exhibitions

  • Museum of Fine Arts St Petersburg                         Sept-Dec 2023
  • Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston                          Jan-April 2024
  • Cheekwood Estate and Gardens, Nashville             June-Aug 2024
  • Davis Museum at Wellesley College, near Boston  Sept-Dec 2024
  • The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach               Jan-March 2025
  • The Driehaus Museum, Chicago                               May-July 2025

This series of shows has been made possible by a collaboration between The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, which was endowed by the late Mrs Bunny Mellon who was an early collector of Rory’s work and responsible for lending two paintings to the Kennedys at the White House. 

About Rory McEwen

  • Rory and his brother Alex played their way across America in the early 1950s, cutting ‘Scottish Songs and Ballads’ for Smithsonian Folkways Records and appearing on the coast-to-coast Ed Sullivan Show on CBS before returning to the UK.
  • By 1957, Eton and Cambridge-educated McEwen had become one of the leading lights in the post-war folksong revival. He was a regular on the daily BBC Tonight TV programme, while also working as art director for the Spectator magazine.
  • In the early 1960s, Rory and Alex hosted their own live shows to sell-out audiences at the Edinburgh Festival three years in a row. George Melly, Dave Swarbrick, later of Fairport Convention, and Bob Davenport were among their guests.  
  • In 1963 and 1964, McEwen presented and performed on the folk and blues music programme Hullabaloo for commercial ATV television.

About Marchmont

  • Marchmont House is a 1750 Palladian mansion near Greenlaw in the Scottish Borders.
  • It was awarded the 2018 Historic Houses/Sotheby’s Award following a seven-year restoration, which was described by the jury as “stunning”.
  • The house has one of the finest Georgian and Arts & Crafts interiors in Scotland.
  • It is open to the public for a limited number of days each year, for tours and special events. 
  • The Marchmont team is dedicated to bringing the house alive as a home for makers and creators, celebrating innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship
  • The Creative Spaces project is entirely privately funded by Marchmont Farms Limited and has not called on grants from the public sector or charities – which are facing immense demands for their limited resources.
  • The studios and workshops have been created by the conversion of a series of 19th-century outbuildings round a courtyard near the house and its spectacular walled garden.
  • The project’s value has already been demonstrated by the establishing of The Marchmont Workshop, which has saved the great 19th-century tradition of Arts & Crafts rush seated ladder-back chairs for a new chapter in the Scottish Borders.
  • Visit www.marchmonthouse.com for more information.
  • For information about The Marchmont Workshop see https://themarchmontworkshop.com

About Hugo Burge

  • Director of Marchmont Ventures which is building sustainable creativity in the arts, crafts and purpose driven business.
  • Director of Marchmont Farms Ltd., which operates Marchmont Estate, with a focus on restoring Marchmont House and bringing it back to life after a period of institutional usage.
  • Chairman of Motorway.co.uk, the UK’s fastest growing digital marketplace for selling your car from the comfort of your home. 
  • Former CEO of the Momondo Group which powers pioneering brands that shape and inspire global travel search.  

About Marchmont Makers Foundation

  • The foundation makes grants, donations and gifts to individuals and organisations who share its ambitions. 
  • The key focus areas for supporting artists are:
    • funded residencies in the creative spaces.
    • Providing opportunities/places to nurture creativity in the local community including garden/environmental/work spaces/organisations
    • Enabling access to creative opportunities that would not otherwise happen.
  • The foundation has developed partnerships with Visual Arts Scotland and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland amongst others, but is keen to establish links with charities using creativity to further their cause within the Scottish Borders and beyond, welcoming approaches from like-minded organisations.
  • Marchmont Makers Foundation is a registered charity No. SC048981 – v124
  • See https://marchmontmakers.org

The McEwens and Marchmont

  • The McEwen family are key figures in the history of Marchmont. Major changes were made between 1914 and 1917 when the then owner, Robert Finnie McEwen commissioned the eminent Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer to enlarge the house and it stands today as perhaps the finest example of his “grand” house refurbishments.

For media information contact Matthew Shelley at Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org or 07786 704299.