Detail of Sea Beams, by Donald Urquhart, (with a mirror filter).
Image credit: Blue Noun English Langage School (as all images on this page)

Hello friends of Blue Noun Language Hub in Crieff, Scotland.

Welcome back to our blog. 

Today I’m going to share some contemporary landscape art with you; and in particular describe one wooden artwork in Dysart, Fife, by Perthshire artist Donald Urquhart.

In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll share some basic descriptive details and then tell you a bit about how it came to be. I’ll try to explain what I love about it too. 

I’ll also show you a bit of outsider art to be seen at the same location, with a nod to the implicit hierarchy in these two terms. 

As ever, we have an English language challenge for any ESL English speakers reading our language school blog.

Read on and find your language challenge at the end of this post.

Installation shot of Sea Beams, by Donald Urquhart

Fife Coastal Path Artworks

Sea Beams is a sculptural installation by contemporary Scottish artist Donald Urquhart, installed at Dysart Harbour.

In fact, Sea Beams is only one part of an award-winning public art project installed permanently on the Fife Coastal Path.

The sculpture itself is a simple collection of 9 painted beams of wood planted upright into the ground. It’s on the edge of the coast, between the car park, harbour and seafront (and just at the point where charmless, utilitarian infrastructure morphs into a gorgeous, old-world harbour).

The varying colours of the beams are derived from photographs of the Firth of Forth taken under different light conditions.

These photographs were taken by local residents – a nice link to the people of the place.

Installation shot of Sea Beams, by Donald Urquhart

A Coastal Landscape of Art

Sea Beams is just one of several artworks placed along this stretch of coast, as part of Dysart Art Project. 

Each artwork is united in its remit to not be one more bit of public art plonked into a place, but rather a sensitive frame to view different aspects of the coast with.

Each artwork is a way of looking at or experiencing the coast anew.

Together, the artworks collectively share the story of the coastline both in detail and in panoramic views.

They waymark the journey of those walking through it, as well as commemorating those who have lived – and who continue to live – from it. 

Other Artworks

For example, Nest Boxes by Alec Finlay is a series of 12 bird boxes fixed to trees in the arboretum of Ravenscraig Park.

Nest Boxes is a subtle, lovely artwork that no one would ever initially perceive as art, other than in the context of an art trail (which has already opened your eyes to the possibilities of every object along the trail).

Who Left That Bit of Art Lying There?

Sea Beams uses a more traditional, visual language of art than Nest Boxes, but it is certainly not overpowering.

When you first glimpse Urquhart’s sculpture, you sort of wonder if anyone knows that it’s been left there.

Sea Beams echoes the upright masts of boats and the structure of the bridges and even the industry – on the River Forth.

Like an empty flag pole or mast, you first assume that it is for something. 

I also like the weathered paint and cracking wood Sea Beams is becoming, I very much prefer it to the look of the original installation. I appreciate that it was built to change – to be changed and shaped by the sea it represents. 

Art by Design

The Dysart Art Project was installed in 2007, to celebrate and promote the Fife Coastal Path. That year, it won the Landscape Art Category of the Scottish Design Awards.

It was an 18-month long collaboration between landscape architects, artists, poets, the local authority and the local community.

As a resident of a town that has been half-heartedly considering some kind of sculpture trail within it for over a decade (and without any kind of coordinated plan), I have to add that this is a remarkable, subtle and very intelligent way of putting artworks into a public space.

It’s really amazing that it has been elevated by collaboration and consultation – not dragged down by committee or crowd pleasing.  

What Should You Do with a Dead Boat?

Sea Beams is both sea and boat in equal measure.

In my mind, it is a memorial to the painted wooden boat fragments you sometimes discover on beaches.

If you ever find one, you touch the wooden scraps and flaking layers of paint and feel the stories of the sea and of journeys.

You can even sometimes even trace the lettering of the boat’s former name, and say out loud the name of a dead boat.

But then, what do you do with it?


Art Talk

As an artist, I’ve always wanted to rescue such pieces and make something from them.

One time I lugged a large part of the prow of a boat home and made a planter in the garden.

It looked naff.

Like something you would find on a roundabout. 

I feel these fragments are really powerful when you find them – but I’ve never found the right visual language to commemorate them.

Garage door, Dysart

Vernacular Architecture?

Like many seaside villages and towns, many Dysart residents like to decorate their houses and gardens with beachcombed objects – detritus thrown up by the sea, patinated by the wash of waves and the lives of sea creatures.

In this way, a second tide line creeps up through the town – busy at the seafront and lessening on its way through the town. 

One resident seems to share my love of old boat names and has decorated their shed with such bits from the sea.

I guess we would describe this as outsider art or vernacular architecture – if we had to give it a label.

The garage doors are a fine celebration – a bit like a museum display case and fascinating to look at – each object so loaded and emotive. 

Installation shot of Sea Beams, by Donald Urquhart

A Contemporary Artwork in the most Tradition-filled Place.

What I love about contemporary art is its ability to speak metaphors.

Unlike the garage doors, Donald Urquhart’s Sea Beams is about every boat: about the ones currently moored patiently in the picturesque harbour – or stacked around it. It references the tall ships which formerly sailed into Dysart Harbour, bringing cargo from the Netherlands, and setting off again with coal, beer, salt and fish. 

Sea Beams frames the shoreline, includes the townsfolk and salutes the sea – all without any rhetoric.

It manages to be unsentimental, but it still feels very much a memorial.

As a sculpture, it’s just there if you want a bit of help to appreciate the place you are in.  For all its size, it does not intrude and it especially doesn’t tell you what to think or feel.


It’s OK to keep Simple

For some reason, people get annoyed by art that doesn’t look difficult to make, like it’s trying to trick them.

For me, it’s just thrilling when an artist gets something perfectly right in just a few marks or lines or words.

Well done to the whole team of Dysart Art Project for making such simplicity possible.

Such an ambitious land art community art project is anything but simple to do.

swift in flight Logie Kirk by Blue Noun English language school
swift in flight Logie Kirk by Blue Noun English language school

At Blue Noun we love chatting about all things art and celebrate having excellent, talented people all around us to do it with. We facilitate real cultural and creative exchanges happening, whether it’s in our language learning space – the Blue Noun Hub – or out and about visiting studios and workshops.

We also love showing off the beauty of Perthshire and the food and craft produce that is making it world-famous. Our whisky tastings are legendary!

Our business is also intended to be of benefit to the artist/maker economy of Perthshire. We bring our international creative guests into studios for a genuine exchange of cultures and art-making. Yes it’s an English lesson, but it is so much more!  (Plus we pay all our artists and guest speakers for their time)

Come and join us for an English language learning holiday and grab a taste of Perthshire! 


Find out more about Dysart ArtProject here.

Read about Donald Urquhart here. 

Learn more about visiting Dysart here.

Your English Language Challenge

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Donald Urquhart’s wooden sculpture in Dysart.

If you are visiting Fife, you might like to read:

English Language Class Photography Trip | Fife


This week’s English for Creatives Language Challenge is to describe an artwork, design or piece of architecture that you love, that references the sea.

 “An artwork that references the sea”