With their porcelain skin and calm, otherworldly demeanour, twin sisters Julie and Lauren Scott could have stepped out of the covers of a Victorian Gothic novel by Dickens or the Bronte sisters.
The sisters are two of the most imaginative and talented young designer- makers in Northern Ireland and their unusual upbringing may give a clue to the dark symbolism of their work.
Having both graduated with first class honours in Fine and Applied Art from the University of Ulster, the pair have embarked on what promises to be stellar careers in the contemporary craft industry.
The girls were brought up in leafy Helen’s Bay, where they would spend endless hours visiting National Trust properties, fuelling their imagination and love for beautiful old furniture, fabrics and clothes.
But it was their idyllic summers spent in a refurbished cottage nestled at the foot of ruggedly beautiful Mount Errigal in Donegal that gave them their love of nature in all its imperfections.
The cottage was shorn of modern amenities, there was no running water or no television and the girls had no interest in playing with the latest toys. The dramatic Donegal landscape was their playground and they spent their days collecting frogs from ponds and riding horses on the beach.
They would sit up all night making dolls and other crafts from the natural materials they had found in the countryside and pieces of fabric from their father’s linen business. They even opened their own little craft shop, where they would sell their exquisite, childlike pieces to locals and visitors.
The sisters, who have just turned 23, were part of the Perspective: Inspiration Unveiled exhibition that showcased the work of 13 contemporary designer makers from Northern Ireland at the Craft Central Gallery at Clerkenwell in March.
Now the organisers, Craft NI are giving the Northern Ireland public the chance to view the exhibition at its gallery at Cotton Court in Belfast’s Waring Street from April 4-26.
During the London exhibition Lauren and Julie met leading members of the city’s artistic community including gallery owners, buyers and commentators and sold some of their highly distinctive work to collectors.
They will now be exhibiting their work at the prestigious New Designers Exhibition 2013 which is taking place at the Business Design Centre in London this summer.
Their work shares some similarities and is indicative of their childhood influences – they both work with three dimensional figures that are steeped in the decaying, dusty atmosphere of old Victorian houses and are gothic and literary in mood.
Lauren’s figures which she describes as ‘veggie taxidermy’ are gnarled, textile-based sculptures of dark, anthropomorphic woodland creatures – the Wind in the Willows as re-imagined by Tim Burton.
Julie’s sculptures as exemplified by her ‘Seven Faded Sisters’ series, depict phantom women in faded grand dresses that almost reek of the damp, dankness of crumbling old mansions. There are elements of Poe and Dickens in her work.
It is no surprise to learn that both sisters are avid readers and cite Great Expectations as their favourite book. One of Lauren’s characters, Lady Rat is based on Miss Havisham, while Julie’s figures are also reminiscent of Dickens’s tragic heroine, forever frozen in time in her tattered wedding dress after being left at the altar.
Julie, who is the older twin by ten minutes, revealed that her younger brother calls her ‘The Victorian’ because of her lack of knowledge of modern technology.
“We were brought up in an unusual way. Our mum and dad are very creative and love old buildings and they bought a derelict rural cottage in Donegal and refurbished it. We still spend a lot of time there.
“The cottage is at the foot of Mount Errigal in Donegal, there was no TV and we got the water from a well. We used to sit up at night and make little crafts and set up our own craft shop.”
Both girls worked as riding instructors from the age of 16 and still enjoy riding horses from the local stables in Donegal.
Indeed Lauren’s work is made up of recycled material, including horsehair from the stables, bleached bones found on the beach at Dunfanaghy and offcuts from her father’s linen business. She also uses handmade porcelain teeth and ceramic feet with bunions and misshapen claws to emphasise the ageing process.
“I have a very dark imagination and I like to personalise my animals. I look at a person and think of what sort of animal they would be. A lot of my characters come from members of my own family,” she added.
Julie spends much of her time visiting National Trust properties getting ideas and inspiration from vintage clothes and furniture. Her favourite place to spend a few hours is the Victoria and Albert Museum. “I have a real love of history and a passion for anything Victorian,” she added.
Even when they were studying Art ‘A’ Level at Glenlola College, their work was different. Julie was into extremely fine detailed drawings while Lauren was more wildly experimental, working on vivid, three dimensional textile art.
While Lauren is hoping to continue exhibiting her animals, she is exploring the possibility of using them in Stop Motion Animation to create stories. She is also moving more into ceramics and is doing more outdoor work including the Walled Garden Sculpture Exhibition at Bangor Castle in June.
“I hope to seek advice and fit them with an internal armature which will in turn allow them to be used in advertising, television or ideally film. I have just started a writing course and have begun putting together a dark story book with the animals as the main protagonists.”
Julie meanwhile is hoping to exhibit more of her work throughout the UK and in Ireland in the future and is also looking at working on larger figures for outdoor exhibitions. She is currently working on a piece for the ‘Sculpture in Context’ Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in Dublin in September.
The sisters still work from home but are looking for a studio in Belfast or North Down so they can develop their work.
Julie added: “I think in time we will eventually collaborate on a project but at the moment we are concentrating on our individual work to really establish ourselves.”
The Perspective: Inspiration Unveiled Belfast exhibition launches on April 4 (6.30pm-9pm) and continues until April 26 (10am-4pm, weekdays only). All are welcome. Further details can be found at www.craftniperspective.com