Nicky Bird Residency

From Nov 2019 to March 2020, Nicky Bird worked on the first phase of a project called ‘The Decorators of Portobello’, as part of Art Walk Projects ongoing 'Land Mark' programme about Portobello’s working and material land.

Nicky focused this time on initial research sourcing and working with a number of women who worked as decorators for the potteries in the late 1960s. Mostly in their teens, the women painted thistles, among other motifs in workshops near the present-day kilns site. Each decorator had her own mark that she would put on the bottom of any pottery she decorated. In 1972, Buchan & Co closed the Portobello site and moved to Crieff. Some of the women ceased to be decorators at around this point, either through redundancy or moving onto to married life. The kilns are the only physical traces of the pottery on Bridge Street. On her site visits, Nicky was struck by how the history and work of the decorators was invisible.

Working with Margaret Munro of Portobello Heritage Trust, Nicky made contact with Mairi Fortuna, one of the decorators, along with a number of others who came forward through the process of research.  Along with the sharing of memories, many archival photographs that captured the decorators at work and at play were found.

Nicky’s residency for this first phase of the project attempted to make visible this social history through a number of artworks on display in the location of the potteries. Interview extracts from three decorators were heard in the kiln over two weekends (29 Feb/1 March & 7/8 March). Artworks in the area included one of Mairi’s photographs as a large photobanner on Bridge Street, and a large banner wrapped around the kiln under restoration, including the names and signs of all the decorators, who have either taken part or been remembered by Nicky’s interviews. The residency events have proved to have enduring interest for the decorators worked with so far, including those who have a strong family connection to a decorator, and other pottery workers. By paying attention to voice, image, pattern and marker associated with Buchan pottery, the artworks show how the decorators have left their marks on the Portobello landscape.

A second part to this project is planned for 2021 enabling a lot of this research material from the initial phase to be brought together to form a book and exhibition documenting the whole project.

Special thanks to: Mairi Fortuna, Irene Forbes, Irene Kozok and Barbara Naughton Margaret Munro (Portobello Heritage Trust)

Image credit above: courtesy of Mairi Fortuna



To hear extracts of the Decorator interviews that were played inside the kiln during March 2020 and full project images
view here


Nicky Bird was interviewed by Genevieve Fay about her project 'The Decorators'. They discuss how the project evolved, the inspirations behind it, and what we can expect from the upcoming events that mark its completion, read here

Other Related Resources:

Porty Podcast 'The Decorators' –
Art Walk Porty Residence, November 2019

Porty Podcast 'The Decorators' – Part 2, 29 February 2020
‘The Decorators of Portobello’ residency with Nicky Bird, a-n The Artists Information Company, February 2020
The Afternoon Show, BBC Scotland, 5 March 2020


Sat/Sun 29th Feb/1st March 2020
& Sat/Sun 7th/8th March - 11am to 3pm
Kilns, Bridge Street, Portobello EH15

Kiln opening featuring the voices of three Decorators with accompanying outdoor visual artworks.

‘The Decorators’ Tea Party - Sat Feb 29th 3.30-5pm
The Wash House, Adelphi Grove, Portobello EH15

Opportunity to share pots, stories & other memorabilia.
Welcome Introduction from Margaret Munro, Portobello Heritage Trust.

Kiln Artist Walks with Nicky Bird
Sun 1st 12noon & Sat 7th March 2pm



Nicky’s work investigates the contemporary relevance of ‘found’ artefacts, their archives and specific sites through collaborative art processes with people who have significant connections to a hidden history. She is interested in how such artefacts, archives and sites carry both social and personal histories. This leads to a key question: what is our relationship to the past, and what is the value we ascribe to it? She has explored this through photography, bookworks, sound, the Internet and New Media. Dialogues with archivists, archaeologists, local community members, local history groups, and museum volunteers are instrumental in her practice. This means the collaborative process, and the physical site, shape the form of final artworks.


Special thanks to Portobello Heritage Trust with the help in delivering this initial phase of the project, and to Print Vision for printing the 38 metre long wraparound banner.