CULLEN PET CEMETERY – OUTSIDER ART ENVIRONMENT
MAKER : STEPHEN FINDLAY (born 1928) Retired, former forestry worker and refuse collector
MATERIALS : BEACH STONES, SHELLS, PAINT, TYPOGRAPHY, WILDFLOWERS.
LOCATION : The Pet Cemetery can be found by going east past the harbour, along Portlong Road nestling in the shelter of the steep brae on the shoreline path.
OSGB36: geotagged! NJ 5136 6745 [10m precision] WGS84: 57:41.6539N 2:49.0555W
Outsider art environments:
According to SPACES the online archive of Outsider Art Environments the definition of this term is “customarily used to refer to immobile constructions or decorative assemblages, monumental in scale or number of components. Art environments may be interior or exterior, and typically include elements of sculpture, architecture, bas-relief assemblage, and/or landscape architecture. Such composite works, produced additively and organically without formal architectural designs or engineering plans, owe less allegiance to folk, popular, or mainstream art traditions and the desire to produce anything functional or marketable, and more to personal and cultural experiences, availability of materials, and a desire for personal creative expression. ….. Studies of individual sites usually reveal the labours of a single, passionate worker (an artist in our eyes, but not always in those of the creator), typically—but not always—begun in the later years of their lives. “
I have been searching and researching these Outsider Art Environments for many years now, exploring far and wide from Thailand to Finland and even the beaches of Brighton or Leven. I have enjoyed many rich and rewarding visits to some incredible sites in often quite different places from rural forests to people’s family gardens. The inventiveness and creativity of these makers and places is a wonder to behold.
So while walking and exploring the coastal villages of Moray over the first few months of my residency I was both astonished and delighted to find CULLEN PET CEMETERY. Like may outsider art environments its known locally and by tourists as a touching and interesting place but in terms of an OUTSIDER ART ENVIRONMENT it has both national and international significance. It fits with every aspect that defines such a place in terms of place, materials, maker and purpose.
It is a complex pathway of flagstones and beach stones which weave organically around the site and connect the dozens and dozens of animal graves, each individually constructed and personalised for the various animals interred there. Begun when Stephen buried the pet of a local friend and expanded when his own pet died, the environment grew and grew over the following 16 years until it was forced to halt 2 years ago due to complex EU regulations around animal burials.
Over the years Stephen has buried a seal called Sammy, a Porbeagle shark and several dolphins as well as dogs, cats and other pets. Each grave is personally made and tended with lovely inscriptions, shells or stones. As Stephen commented himself when interviewed by the Press and Journal upon his second forced retirement, “It was heart-breaking to have to stop. It has been 16 years, it is a long time. It started with three dogs – Ben, Bracken and my Alsatian Bruce. It carried on from there. I have filled three full books of names of pets I’ve buried.”
It is a place of raw beauty and the Pet Cemetery is a very spiritual and peaceful place, a fine addition to this coastline and often overlooked county. Having met Stephen and chatted we have agreed to film a short interview and I have begun documenting the site with help from my fellow artist Graeme Roger of Wildbird who has provided some stunning aerial drone footage of the site. It is very rare that a maker such as Stephen would consider himself an artist or an outsider artist but that is just what he is and a very good one at that. I shall find out what he thinks about this when I meet him next visit.